Sunday, October 18, 2020
GIVE TO GOD WHAT IS GOD’S
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
October 18, 2020
Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Tuesday morning’s bible study didn’t take long to figure out that a stewardship sermon might be coming this week and yes they are right. Now those of you watching online, please don’t wander offer to another website but stay with me. Today we start our fall Stewardship Campaign which is all about the money we need to do the mission that God has given us to do. What’s different is this is 2020 and nothing is normal and nothing feels certain.
In a diocesan stewardship cohort that we are part of one of the overriding themes in congregations is anxiety and fear. Divisive elections, the economy, and the coronavirus make for uneasy times and charitable organizations all over are feeling the pain. Living in times of anxiety though is really nothing new. We think we are under pressure, imagine Matthew’s community both at the time of Jesus and at the time the gospel was written somewhere around 70 AD. The zealots have revolted in the 60s and Rome has responded by destroying Jerusalem and the temple. Matthew’s small community is under pressure from the rest of the Jewish world and the Roman oppression has only gotten worse. Yet they kept the faith.
As we were looking for a verse to base our campaign on the First Song of Isaiah kept coming to my mind. It is one of my favorite canticles and we have sung it several times this summer. It is the opening line which grabs me and is an anchor in unsettled times. Surely it is God who saves me, trust in him and not be afraid. Time and time again in the Hebrew scriptures in particular we hear this message from prophets and in the psalms. God is there for us especially in times of need, danger or anxiety.
Between the Finance Committee and Vestry we formed a stewardship committee for the first time to oversee this campaign and also to examine stewardship in a larger context throughout the year. The first task that I set them was to tell me what St. Paul’s believed about stewardship. I have only been here 16 months and for 6 of them we have been in this altered universe of what Bishop Andy calls Covidtide. The season of Covid where nothing is normal.
When we first met we talked about what the church teaches us about stewardship. To start with consider the words we say at the offertory. All things come from thee O Lord and of thine own have we given thee. Everything comes from God and we give back from what God has given us.
In Rite 1 the Eucharistic prayer I say, “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.” We are not offering just some of us, but all of our being. We are giving back to God what is his, which is all of us, not just 10%.
We looked at the sentences that I can use at the offertory that pick up on this theme. Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God. Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and make good your vows to the Most High. I appeal to you brethren by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his name. Bring offerings and come into his courts.”
We spoke of all the instances of God’s providing like the loaves and the fishes of Jesus. The story of the manna and the quail for the Israelites while in the wilderness. The generosity and care of God is a central theme of scripture and our theology.
I challenged the committee and the vestry to write a statement about what we as a parish believe about stewardship. You will find it in the letter from the committee and on the back of the pledge card that you will soon receive. Here is what they wrote as the Stewardship Statement for St. Paul’s.
WE BELIEVE that God is generous and knows what we need. God is present both in times of abundance and scarcity. God’s blessings come in many forms: large and small; direct and indirect.
WE COMMIT to trust God and respond to God’s abundance by returning to God a generous pledge of our time, talent, and money. We commit also to expanding our ability to connect with and assist the people of our community.
WE INVITE you to live boldly, trusting God to satisfy both our spiritual and earthly needs. We invite you also to joyfully and faithfully respond to God’s generous blessings, allowing St. Paul’s to reach more people in our community.
I invite you to take some time this week when you get your letter to read this statement several times and ponder what it means to you. One of the vestry members shared with me some thoughts on giving that she used in her letter to her shepherd group and I asked if I might use them this morning.
You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.
We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
Mother Teresa famously said, “This is the meaning of true love, to give until it hurts.” Personally, I find this statement very hard to live up to. To explain further, St Paul tells us (in 2 Corinthians 9:7), “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”. That phrase, “God loves a cheerful giver,” is significant, because of the word “cheerful”. The Greek translation for the word “cheerful” means “hilarious”. That would mean that God wants us to give joyously.
Because of your generosity this year, in this challenging time we are still able to make our annual gifts of money to Katy Christian Ministries and Christ Clinic. We have continued to support the children of Katy though backpacks and other means and to supply the KCM food pantry. We do this joyfully for we know what a difference it makes.
I would like to conclude today with a prayer written by St. Ignatius. It is one of his most famous and is known as the suscipe.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me..
And now I would like to say a prayer over the stewardship letters that will go out to all of you this week in hopes that you will read them prayerfully and consider joyfully your commitment to St. Paul’s for this coming year.
Gracious and loving God, source of all we are and all that we have. Send your life giving, loving Spirit with these invitations to share the bounty that you have given us. Open our hearts to respond joyfully, hilariously to the invitation to support St. Paul’s in the coming year. All things come from thee O Lord and of thine own have we given thee.