Sunday, August 27, 2023
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Being Faithful Stewards is about more than money
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Katy TX 77450
I am going to shift gears today and take a moment to reflect on our Romans passage. We have been readings bits and pieces of it and Herb preached on the Romans passage at the end of July.
Romans is probably Paul’s most well-developed statement of theology and short of the church councils that were to come formed the basis of Christian theology for the early church and that is why he wrote Romans. This is not a letter written to a specific congregation or person but to the larger church of Rome which at this point he has not yet visited nor does he know the people he is writing to for the most part.
Most of these passages in fact all of Romans up until chapter 12 have been a teaching about the Gospel to the Gentiles in Rome (the Jews had all been exiled so the community in Rome were all non-Jews). Paul now moves to the exhortation portion of the letter and tells them what life lived and informed by the gospel should be like.
There is a basic premise a lens if you will that I would like you to read Romans through. Jesus never once tells his disciples to worship him. Jesus asks the disciples or us to follow him. This is a huge difference and is at the heart of today’s passage from Romans. So how are we to accomplish this?
What is interesting is that a portion of our Romans passage is one of the suggested Offertory sentences. I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
I have been working with a cohort of folks from a variety of parishes along with several of our members to look at our stewardship plans for the year. One of the things we have done is to look at all the Offertory sentences and consider how they apply to our concept of Stewardship. Now some of you may be thinking, ”Why is Mark talking about stewardship now, it’s only August?” Well, it is August, and the Stewardship Committee is meeting today, but we all need be thinking about Stewardship all year. A key difference is that stewardship is much more than just meeting our budget. Stewardship is about how we care for creation, each other, and ourselves. How to we care for our facilities and even more important how we use the many gifts we have to bring the kingdom into our community.
Most clergy have a favorite passage and mine has been “Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; brings offerings and come into his courts.” (psalm 96:8) I realized in the discussions it was just habit and I had never really thought about the others. I had this one memorized and just kept using it and I’ll bet none of you really think about it when I say. It’s perfectly good, but is it what we as a congregation believe is the essence of stewardship?
So open up your prayerbooks to page 376 and look at the various Offertory Sentences. I want to give you some homework this week. Look at these and talk with your family or with some friends from church about which one really speaks to you. Over the next few weeks I will use different ones. If you identify one you really like, let me know.
So what about today’s passage? First of all this concept shows up in the Rite One Eucharistic Prayer. “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee….”
What is the implication of this? Let me turn to the Message translation for a moment. “Rom. 12:1 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. 2 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Stewardship is really about our everyday, ordinary life. We are set in a culture that is all centered around the individual, our own needs, wants, desires. Just watch the commercials on TV if you doubt that. Even more just watch many of the shows on TV. Plots even entire shows are based on gratifying these wants and needs. There is the siren song of always buying more and then you’ll be happy. As football season ramps up it seems that besides alcohol and online betting the next most important thing is investment firms. Underlying all of these campaigns is will you have enough for the lifestyle you want. Now I have no problem with wise financial planning but in working with my planner I’m also concerned about being able to continue to support the many charities that are important to Wendy and me. I’ve set up a planned gift, written in my will to leave a portion to Virginia Seminary who gave Wendy and I such a wonderful start as priests. That is also good stewardship of the resources God has given us.
All of this is about being in a right relationship, which to Paul meant a righteous relationship with God through Christ. For if we have the right relationship with a loving God then we can use the gifts that God has given us to further the kingdom. That is what the second half of the passage is about.
In this second portion he speaks of how we all have gifts, skills to offer for the good of the church. This is also stewardship! Some of you offer gifts that help in worship as altar guild, lectors, acolytes, chalice ministers, ushers and choir members. Others help with Christian Formation, caring for our grounds, taking communion to shut ins and of course outreach. Then there is the group that helps with our money stewardship.
But we have other ways of furthering the kingdom. There is a big emphasis from the national church and something I have worked to promote for many years on utilizing space in our buildings. The Episcopal Church Foundation devoted an entire issue of their weekly newsletter on examples of how churches are creatively using their building space and their grounds. And to be honest we could have been one of the parishes they were talking about for we have made some important strides forward over the past couple of years. There are quite a few groups that use our buildings for a variety of civic functions. Toastmaster, scout troops, tutoring, Then the senior center and the library have used space when they have either run out of space or during election season when the library is used for early voting, they need a place for their groups to meet. The neighborhood garden is a wonderful use of unused space and is proving to be a springboard for even more projects for Josh.
And yes our work with Hutsell is incredibly important. This goes beyond welcoming the parents and kids from Hutsell to use our parking lot. I’m working on meeting and talking with the families. We gave out popsicles the first day of school. These acts of hospitality send an important message to the community around our church. This tells them that we welcome and support the neighborhood. We dropped off the school supplies at Hutsell, where we met the new guidance counselor and Katy elementary where they are definitely needed. We talked with the Hutsell person about the coat drive and I am scheduled to meet with her next week to establish a relationship with her. These are ways we build relationships with the people who live around the church.
You see stewardship is also about relationships, how we build them and how we maintain them. This involves people within our parish and in the greater community.
Yet there is a problem. A growing number of people have a less than favorable view of Christianity. For the antidote to this growing distrust of Christianity I offer the closing translation by Peterson of Paul’s message today. “If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; 7 if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; 8 if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.
As St. Francis said, “Preach the gospel at all times, use words only when necessary.” Care for all that God has given us calls us to not just talk but do gospel work. That is what stewardship is really all about. Using our God given gifts to do the work that God has given us to do.