October 6, 2019

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Proper 22 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

Last week, the Psalm held a key to a theological understanding of stewardship or charitable giving. This week, the Psalm is also key. This is how one of my commentaries summarized Psalm 37:

 

Five themes may be singled out:

 

  • a warning against envying the prosperity of the wicked,
  • certainty that the good prosper and the wicked will soon suffer disaster,
  • faith that God is active in the world,
  • the conviction that goodness is valuable in itself,
  • and the practical aim of persuading the hearers to commit themselves to God.

 

If that isn’t justification enough for supporting the work of St Stephen’s and the Church, I don’t know what is!

 

What this isn’t is the stuff of Prosperity Gospel. When I spoke last week of ‘all things come from God, of God’s own do we give back’, that is true, from a Christian perspective. What isn’t true from a Christian perspective is that only the good prosper, and the poor, therefore, are bad. We know that’s not true. What we believe is that we should always give thanks to God for whatever has been given to us, and that we should always give back as a form of gratitude. That has been written in the Scriptures since the beginning.

 

The Psalm focuses on the faithful being faithful. The warning to “not fret yourself over the one who prospers” is just the beginning of a lengthy description of the evil nature of the unfaithful, which takes up a good portion of the remainder of the Psalm that we did not read. What we are to take with us is that we are to be faithful to God who is active in the world, and our goodness bears itself out in the world.

 

During this Annual Giving Campaign, this time when we focus on the budget for next year and share our collective resources for the work of St Stephen’s, these themes in the Psalm can be humbling and remind us that we are here because of God. God’s abundance – of Creation, of Grace and of Love – is what both prompts us and allows us to come together to worship God through Jesus Christ, to pray with and for one another, and to share in the Sacrament that leads to Eternal Life.

 

While reading and praying over these scriptures in the context of our Annual Giving Campaign, two dynamics came to mind that I want you to explore: Our time together, and your relationship with money.

 

The first dynamic is supported by the Epistle, our reading from 2 Timothy. Paul clearly valued the time he and Timothy spent together, and indeed, the two shared a very special relationship. The closeness of the relationship was borne out in the two letters, but more acutely for us this morning, was indicated in the language and in the name-dropping of Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Paul and Timothy’s time together was all wrapped up in spreading the Gospel, in knowing Jesus Christ, in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. They had a church relationship that was also a personal one, not unlike how many of you have relationships with one another which start here on Sunday mornings, but which extend well beyond here. You come and share the Eucharist together, but you also know the names of one another’s mothers and grandmothers, or brothers and sisters, or spouses and children. You share with one another life’s joys and challenges, and you know that you can ask for prayers whenever they are needed. You know that you share your faith in Jesus Christ, which has been entrusted to you. And this letter from Paul to Timothy could resemble a relationship you have here at St Stephen’s with only slight modification.

 

So, I want you to think about your time together as a Christian Community, either building up one another or being Christ in the world, and what you do here at St Stephen’s with others.

 

Spend just a short few minutes to share with your neighbor. Tell your neighbor about the time you spend here at St Stephen’s and the time you spend with another group of people, and what is special about those times and what is different.

 

<Time for Sharing>

 

Thank you for sharing your experiences. Our shared time together – whether on Sunday mornings at the Eucharist or at another time during the week or month – is a gift from God, and it is what our money enables us to do. Our giving helps us to spend time together in this place and in the presence of God as the St Stephen’s Family. That is also true for the other groups you belong to: your money helps you spend time with them and enables their work. When you consider what you will give to St Stephen’s, know that it enables us to spend this time together, worshiping God, sharing our faith, and strengthening the St Stephen’s Family and the wider San Luis Obispo Community.

 

The second dynamic to explore in relation to our Giving Campaign comes from the Gospel. The beginning of Chapter 17 is a collection of random sayings by Jesus. If you were wondering how the mustard seed is related to the slaves serving their master, and don’t get it, well, neither do the scholars.

 

The mustard seed, though, is a well-known teaching tool of Jesus’, and the full Parable of the Mustard Seed was a couple of chapters ago in Luke 13. Jesus tells the Disciples that one’s faith isn’t even the size of a mustard seed, one’s current faith isn’t enough. Increasing one’s faith only a little can accomplish a lot – the astounding difference in the size of the seed compared to the bush! Understanding one’s origins, one’s fertile ground, and one’s potential – whether as a seed, as a person or in your faith in Christ – are required as one prepares to grow seeds, grow as a person, or grow in faith as one embarks on the spiritual journey. This understanding helps one to continue the growth – and for Jesus, that growth is in faith.

 

The same is with your money: what you have, how you earn it, how you spend it, and how you share it all requires an understanding of its origins, the ground it’s on (meaning in your wallet) and its potential (meaning your options of what you can do with it). So, what I want you to contemplate is: What is the story of your relationship with money and ultimately, with charitable giving?

 

Don’t worry. You don’t have to share this right now. However, over the next few weeks, I implore you to think about your relationship with money, from as early as you can remember to what it is now, and how that informs or directs your charitable giving. And I do want you to share that with another person. Talk to someone you trust who is outside your family about your history and relationship with money.

 

When I said that the beginning of Luke 17 is a random collection of Jesus’ sayings, they aren’t completely random, and they do relate to our time together as a community. Jesus is wrapping up His time on earth with the Disciples prior to His Crucifixion, and they need to learn how to take the teachings of God to the wider world. Of course, the Disciples don’t know this yet.

 

Essential to their new (and unbeknownst to them) mission is a faith deeply rooted in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and an understanding of how to live in community:

 

  • in community with one another,
  • as a nomadic community,
  • as a dispersed community,
  • and (what they will eventually find out) as a persecuted community.

 

All this will require the faith, not of the mustard seed, but of the tree that the seed becomes. With that faith in God, and as a community, the Disciples will be able to share the greatest story ever told and build the community of faith, of which we here are a part, 2000 years later, in our time, in our own place, with our own joys and challenges, and with our own need to be a community.

 

The Disciples, like us, needed to understand their relationship with Jesus, with one another and with their possessions that, in Acts (also written by Luke), they will begin to share in common for the common mission of the Church. So, like the Disciples beginning their lives together, share with someone outside your family the story of your relationship with money and ultimately, with charitable giving – which of course leads to your relationship with those charitable organizations, including St Stephen’s. Then, consider how that will inform how you help this community spend time together, WELCOMING others, WORSHIPING God, and WORKING for God and community.

 

We are all a part of the Annual Giving Campaign, and we must “guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” But we must also “increase our faith!” Both require prayer and believing that we can live by faith. So,

 

  • Share how your time being the St Stephen’s Family is important to you.
  • Share your history and relationship with money and charitable giving.
  • And from last week’s sermon, give some thought to giving being a spiritual activity, a faith-based activity.

 

Today’s readings all emphasize one point: Commit yourself to God. What you are being asked to contemplate during the Giving Campaign is not so much how St Stephen’s will pay our bills. It is about how giving to St Stephen’s is a spiritual activity, related to your faith, related to how your non-church life is connected to your church-life. Allow the story of the closeness of the relationship between Paul and Timothy to be a mirror of your relationships within the St Stephen’s Family. Allow Jesus’ random sayings to the Disciples who are about to be the champions of His message inspire you to be a champion of Jesus’ message in this time and this place.

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