September 24, 2107

 2017 Sept24

Proper 20- Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M. Delinger


Money.

We see that it was a point of contention in Biblical times. People have been squabbling over money since the dawn of time. Money makes the world go round. I wish it didn’t, but it does. As Christians, we are to be good stewards with all God has given us, and that includes our money. We are also called to be good stewards of God’s people.

 

Jesus speaks about money quite a lot. He uses money to illustrate that we should focus on Heavenly things, as with today’s Gospel. But He is also very careful to ensure that we are good stewards of the money that we have. Even with the Rich Young Man, to whom He said that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven, He was telling the Rich Young Man how to be a good steward of his money, to give it to the poor.

 

Today, Jesus is using money to illustrate the generous nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. Within this story, we see that the landowner is a good steward of human labor, and makes shrewd decisions with his money in order to care for others. Jesus is illustrating that we need to take care of our vineyard. The landowner needs to be a good steward of the vineyard whatever the cost, and so do we. If the landowner has the hired help that he needs, the vineyard will grow and produce. If we ensure that this vineyard that is St Stephen’s has what it needs, we can hopefully grow and produce.

 

The back story of Jonah is also about being good stewards, about taking care of a city and its people. How many people here are left-handed? I am left-handed. In the story in Jonah, God’s assertion that the people of Nineveh did not know their right hand from their left was not about them being ambidextrous or confused. What was the main problem in Jonah’s time if you didn’t know your right hand from your left? One was used to eat, and the other was used to wipe your bottom. So, getting the two mixed up was a serious health issue in Jonah’s time. For God to say that about the Ninevites was to assert that they were self-destructive. The Ninevites were in such bad shape that they didn’t know their left hand from their right, they were completely self-destructive!! Jonah was sent to fix the Ninevites, and he didn’t want to, so he ran away…it was better for him to die!!!

 

What we do here at St Stephen’s is a lot like the landowner and his vineyard, and hopefully nothing like the problems in Nineveh – then when it was a large city in, and eventually the capital of Assyria, and the city it has become, the modern city of Mosul in Iraq. Like the landowner, we are to treat no one with partiality. And both staff and volunteers endeavor to do that:

 

  • Ann gives food to the homeless.
  • Diane and Bob make sloppy joes starting at 7:30am and have a team for serving.
  • Dianne Long does VBS.
  • Katie has her team of money counters.
  • The Choir rehearses every Wednesday to help us worship every Sunday.
  • Chris magically gets building works done.
  •  And so much more.

 

All of this is keeping St Stephen’s knowing our right hand from our left so that we are not self-destructive.

 

All of this takes time, talent and
treasure: Precious time, skills
and abilities that lie within each
person, and money.

 

Bud and Katie will launch the Stewardship Campaign next month. During the month of October, you will hear a few short stories of how important St Stephen’s is to certain individuals. You will discover what you probably already know:  We all work hard, as volunteers and as paid staff, to help St Stephen’s as a corporate Family live a life – exhibit a life – in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

It is good for Paul to remind us
that our earthly life is not simply
waiting for Christ’s return, but
that waiting requires living a life
in Christ and worthy of Christ.

A large portion of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians is concerned with how to live a holy life. Paul notes several times in his writings that the Philippians were generous people, and that he is grateful for that. Living a holy life is the concern of St Stephen’s, as well. To aid in your spiritual journey, we have Adult Education, Outreach Programs, Prayer Groups, and of course weekly worship.

 

Historically, we have been good at sustaining our corporate spiritual journey with the time, talent and treasure each of us offers. We could do more, though. If we want to grow, we need to find new ways of reaching out to the wider community of San Luis Obispo. We have done that in a variety of ways: Joining the Chamber of Commerce, publicizing worship services and events more, and sponsoring the “Out of Darkness” Walk are just a few ways. And many of these efforts add to our budget.

 

Growing a vineyard, our
St Stephen’s Family, is challenging.
It requires not only finding ways
to get ourselves in front of more
people, it requires heartfelt
invitations from each of you to
your friends and neighbors.

 

Once a person comes across our threshold, we need to provide genuine hospitality that is borne out of the love we know from God. We need to engage them in our worship, which more often than not will involve educating them on who we are and what we do as the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement, as the Presiding Bishop is keen to refer to us as. There are indeed budget implications to growing this vineyard. But we can do it, because we are, as Paul puts it, “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by our opponents.” The Stewardship Campaign and your contributions will enable us to do that.

 

The Collect is calling upon God for assistance with not being anxious about earthly things, yet here we are embarking on a Stewardship Drive.

 

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly…

 

The truth of the matter is, we are anxious about earthly things. But as a church, we try to focus on heavenly things. Being part of the St Stephen’s Family allows us to better focus on the heavenly things when our earthly things become a burden.

 

Sundays is when we focus on heavenly things together, corporately. But as you may have gathered from the Mid-Year Business and Operational Report, there are many activities during the week. That report dispels the myth that clergy only work on Sundays! If you look at our expenses, that stuff we do during the week to enable us to focus on heavenly things on Sundays, the bulk of our expenses are for payroll and running the office – just under 70%. That is no surprise for a parish of our size. I hope that you all agree that we should pay a fair wage for a day’s work! The other 30% is used to enable us to worship, to publicize what we do so that the Good People of San Luis Obispo know we are here, and other ways of doing ministry.

 

Let’s just be abundantly clear that in today’s Gospel, Jesus is placing a high value on paying a decent wage to the laborers! As we start the Stewardship season and begin to develop next year’s budget, let’s not think of that 70% to salaries and benefits. Those wages that you, the landowner in today’s Gospel, are paying, are going toward working in the vineyard. That short list of activities I mentioned earlier is just part of the working in the vineyard. The Mid-Year Business & Operational Report shows even more of what goes on in our vineyard. It shows how much we do during the week to ensure that we know our right hand from our left, and that don’t lapse into self-destructive behavior.

 

And there are many activities in the vineyard that are not captured by any report. What doesn’t get recorded are activities like:

 

  • one-to-one meetings with parishioners and people in times of need,
  •  hone calls, emails and text messages of support,
  • coordinating all of you to support one another when you need us the most,
  • fixing a bicycle to enable someone to get to church on Sundays,
  • and finding new ways to reach out to the Good People of San Luis Obispo so that our vineyard might grow.

Yes, the Collect tells us to focus on heavenly things, and St Stephen’s is very good at that. But Jesus is also telling us to be good stewards of our money and to help support the work that needs to be done in the vineyard. Jesus says that “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” The Kingdom of Heaven is not the landowner, it’s not the vineyard, and it’s not the laborers. The Kingdom of Heaven is all of that put together.

 

At the end of the story, the landowner questions those who complain. He asserts that he is allowed to do what he chooses with what belongs to him, and he has chosen to be generous. One can assume that the workers, too, were generous in their labor.

 

The story as a whole is a story of
generosity. It suggests that we
should give of our time, talent,
treasure and our faith from an
attitude of abundance, not one of
scarcity. In the Kingdom of
Heaven, God is generous – God’s
love is abundant.

 

As we look toward what to do with our own money and the money of St Stephen’s, let us also be generous so that we can welcome in the laborer, new members of St Stephen’s, whatever time of day they arrive.

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