Proper 20; Pent+18– Year C September 18, 2016
Stewardship Kick-Off Sunday
Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Brookline, MA
Amos 8:4—7; 1 Timothy 2:1—7; Luke 16:1—13
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus shows us two things:
- It is okay to talk about money in church
- It is okay to do so without anyone understanding what you are talking about when you do.
I hope this morning to do the former, while avoiding the latter.
It is hard to parse through the story of the property manager who is congratulated by the owner for acting shrewdly. In it, Jesus appears to be praising those who deal dishonestly with others.
I imagine Jesus trying to tell this complicated parable and looking at the faces of his followers who, it is clear, he has lost completely.
To sum it all up, to make things simple he tells them plainly, “You cannot serve both God and wealth.”
Much simpler than the parable of the dishonest manager, but it still requires some unpacking.
You cannot serve both God and wealth.
Though we often hear this as a dichotomy between our lives of faith and money, it isn’t.
Jesus doesn’t say you can’t have money and have a relationship with God.
Jesus says you can’t serve God and serve wealth at the same time.
Wealth is not having money. Wealth is, according to the dictionary, “an abundance of possessions and money.”
The idea of serving wealth is about placing all of our time and energy working toward the goal of amassing things. If wealth is your master, then everything you do is in service to getting more. Serving wealth isn’t the same as making money. Serving wealth is about a loyalty to having more than one needs, it is about one’s own identity intertwined with a sense of having more than others.
So serving wealth is a choice to act in the interests of one’s self above all others.
You cannot serve wealth and serve God.
This is true for two reasons, at least.
The first is, I think, the most obvious. If our loyalty is to having more than we need, then we are forsaking our responsibility as children of God to make sure that everyone has enough. I cannot possibly use my resources for the care of others if my primary goal is to have as much as I can for myself.
The second reason we cannot serve God and wealth at same time is because if our identity is intertwined with a sense of having more than others, than we have lost our identity as beloved children of God; daughters and sons of God, made in God’s image.
Living one’s life serving wealth is a life of scarcity, of never having enough, of always needing more.
Living one’s life serving God is a life of abundance, of there always being enough. It is a life of always being enough.
So Jesus, in today’s Gospel, points that out. Following him meant leaving everything else behind, quite literally. For Jesus’ followers, it was impossible to serve wealth and follow him.
For us, the difference isn’t always so clear. We are pulled, every day by impulses to serve God and the draw to serve wealth. We are reminded by the world around us where we are lacking, how far behind others we are.
And behind all that noise, God longs to whisper in our ears that we are enough, that, because we have God, we have enough. God calls to us to let go of a life of scarcity to enjoy the riches of a life of abundance.
That is our job in this place. That is our vision as a community of people trying to follow Jesus; to live lives of abundance by serving God through our service of others.
I don’t know about you, but this is the one place in the course of the week where I can let go of all the other forces at play in my life and focus first and foremost on what serving God might truly look like. And I don’t mean serving God simply by being a priest, I mean serving God like you are all trying to serve God, by putting down all the demands of the world and living as fully as God made us.
I find myself all week looking forward to this time we will spend together on Sunday morning. In these days, Sunday morning have become my balm, they have become my inspiration and they have become a steady reminder to me of what is possible when a group of people make a choice to serve God first, and not themselves.
Today is our Stewardship Kick-Off Sunday. Our stewardship season is starting earlier than usual this year in order to be able to turn our attention to the possibility of a Capital Campaign later in the fall. It means a lot of talking about money in church for a bit. It’s okay, remember? Jesus did too.
But it also means a lot of talking about what is possible when we use the resources we have to serve God and to make serving God a possibility for others.
Our theme for Stewardship this year is Answering God’s Call, Sharing our Gifts. The passage from scripture we have chosen comes from Thessalonians, “Encourage one another and build up each other.” (1Thessalonians 5:11)
Encourage one another. Build up one another. What a vision. What a hope. What a great way to serve God.
As the world around us discourages, we are called to encourage, to give heart. As the world around us tries to tear us down, we work to build each other back up. When we do that, we answer God’s call. And we do that by sharing our gifts.
We have been very much blessed in this place over the last several years. We continue grow in every way – people, programs, outreach and service to others. We are not the same place we were five years ago, or even one year ago.
Each time we do this, you have been even more generous with your resources, and we have managed to work even harder, year after year, to spread the message of God’s abundant love to even more people in more and different ways.
And we are stretched. Our staff and our resources as a congregation are stretched. And it’s a good stretch. Our stretching does not come from a need to do the same things we have always done with fewer resources, as is true for many congregations. Our stretching is a stretching forward, a leaning into the next great thing God is calling us to do. My hope and prayer is that it will ever be so.
I pray that God will always keep calling us to stretch forward, and that our answer to that call will be to share our gifts freely and with abundance.
Each year, through your annual Stewardship Pledge, you trust us to use your hard earned resources toward the bringing about of a greater and greater glimpse of God’s dream for the world.
I want to ask you, that when you sit down this year to consider your pledge, you reflect on what has been possible in this place because of your generosity and then dream a little about what might be possible for us in this next year.
How might we encourage one another and encourage those who have yet to find us? How will we build each other up and build up those who are being torn down all over the world?
How will God call us to stretch this next year? How will we answer that call?
© 2016 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello
[i] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing. Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here: David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .