Homily for Commitment Sunday

Commitment  Sunday…

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (May 14th&15th, 2016)

Title: Both Sides of the StoryThe Gospel of Christian Stewardship…

Text: Matthew 6: 19-34

 

A bright, young and tremendously successful corporate attorney was leaving his beautiful home for the office one Monday morning.  In the doorway, blocking his exit, the attorney’s three year old son Jonathan sat on the floor, playing with his wooden blocks.  The father stepped over his son, patted him on the head and said, “Have a nice day Johnny”, and walked out to the driveway where his cherry red BMW convertible was parked.  He put the key into the ignition when all of a sudden a guilt bomb…a guilt bomb went off in his head. All of a sudden the successful attorney realized that he didn’t really know his own son.  He realized that, since the day Johnny was born, he had been so pre-occupied pursuing success in his legal career that he had totally and completely neglected his own flesh and blood.  In that painful moment of self-awareness, the attorney’s eyes were opened to the truth…for all intents and purposes, his three year old son was an orphan.  Overcome and absolutely devastated by the weight of his parental neglect, the attorney got out of the car, walked back into the house…threw his briefcase on the sofa…sat down on the floor and began to play blocks with little Johnny.  After a few minutes, little Johnny began to sob…his lower lip quivered and he said,   “Daddy…why are you mad at me…I didn’t do anything wrong…why are you mad at me?”.  (long pause).  You see…there is a difference…a huge difference between sitting on the floor and playing blocks with your son out of love…and sitting on the floor and playing blocks with your son out of guilt…and the difference is obvious…that even to a three year old can recognize it.

The Church has (in my humble opinion) made a serious mistake…a strategic and tactical error in the past by trying to motivate/stimulate/encourage /inspire Christian Stewardship through the creative application of guilt.  The strategy too often has been, “make people feel guilty because they don’t give, or because they don’t give enough to the church…and they will give more”.  Now, in the interests of transparency, I confess that, as a priest and pastor and as a professional fundraiser, I have used this kind of strategy from time to time.  But, over the years, I have come to realize that guilt (no matter how creatively it is applied) is a very poor, and, in the long run, a very ineffective motivator of stewardship!!

You see, there are really only two ways to think about and talk about Christian Stewardship.  You can think of it from the perspective of the Law or you can think of it from the perspective of the Gospel.  Now the Law teaches us…instructs us about what we OUGHT to do for God but the Gospel reminds us about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ…  Now I am sure that the LAW of Christian Stewardship is very familiar to most of us…we OUGHT to give (generously…joyfully…even sacrificially) as an expression of gratitude for all that God has done for us…we OUGHT to give because everything we have comes from God (we are managers…not owners)…we OUGHT to give because the church needs our money to advance God’s Kingdom of justice and peace in this community and around the world…the bottom line is we OUGHT to give and if we are not giving (or not giving enough) we are not carrying our weight…we are not doing our fair share.  That is the Law of Christian Stewardship an, if you have been involved in the life of the church, then you have all heard it before (probably not a this time of the year…after EASTER…but usually in the fall…sometime after the World Series and before Thanksgiving)…

But I wonder if we are as familiar with the Gospel of Christian Stewardship? My guess is that we are not,, because, when it comes to Stewardship, what we have heard most frequently and with greatest clarity is the Law of Christian Stewardship, and the Law without the Gospel is a distortion of the truth, so this morning, on this Consecration Sunday, I would for us to ponder, for a few moments, the Gospel of Christian Stewardship…

At the heart of St. Matthew’s version of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes an absolutely astonishing…a “counter intuitive” statement about Christian Stewardship…he says (in verse 21 of chapter 6), “Where your TREASURE is, there will your HEART be also”… Where your TREASURE is, there will your HEART be also …you can’t avoid it…you can’t prevent it…your heart will always…ALWAYS follow your treasure…just as day ALWAYS follows night and summer ALWAYS  follows spring, so will your heart ALWAYS follow your treasure.  And with these incredible words Jesus’ summarizes and describes what I believe is the HEART of the Gospel of Christian Stewardship…Where your TREASURE is…there will your HEART be also…Now you would think that just the opposite would be true…that where your HEART is…where your passion is, that is where your treasure will be…(if you are passionate about classical music, then you will think nothing of investing thousands in the finest music library money can buy, or if you are passionate about golf then you will spend large sums of money on the latest equipment and greens fees or on the gadget that is guaranteed to straighten out your slice…even the church has fallen victim to what I call the greatest myth of stewardship…if you just get people involved in the life of the parish then they will give)…but Jesus sets us straight about that…in the Gospel, Jesus teaches that just the opposite is true…get people to give…to invest in the mission and ministry of Christ’s church and they will get more involved…they will become more deeply committed and faithful disciples!?  Why…because where your TREASURE is there will your heart be also!  And friends, here is the great Good News…we can, thru our stewardship of life, influence the “Habits of our Hearts”.  We can influence and direct our hearts in the way we want them and need them to go.  We are not the helpless victims of our feelings and emotions…our obsessions and compulsions. We can have a “change of heart” and Jesus tells us how…invest your treasure in the things you want to care about or need to care about and your heart will always…ALWAYS follow your treasure.

 Where your TREASURE is…there will your HEART be also… SO:

  • If you want to experience more profoundly the joy of your salvation…if you want a deeper, more satisfying, more robust and resilient  faith…a faith which will enable you to stand firm in the midst of the “storms and vicissitudes of life”…EXPAND YOUR STEWARDSHIP OF LIFE!!
  • If you want to feel more closely connected to Christ and to His Body the Church…INVEST A LARGER PERCENTAGE OF YOUR TREASURE IN THE WORK OF BUILDING AND ADVANCING GOD”S KINGDOM.
  • If you want to love God with all your heart/soul/mind/strength, and have greater confidence and trust in the wonderful promises of God for you…Jesus teaches you HOW… EXPAND YOUR STEWARDSHIP OF LIFE… INVEST A LARGER PERCENTAGE OF YOUR TREASURE IN THE WORK OF BUILDING AND ADVANCING GOD”S KINGDOM…INCREASE YOUR GIVING…WHY??

Because where your TREASURE is…there will your HEART be also…

 

My friends, as our Eucharistic celebration continues on this Consecration Sunday…as we prepare to, once again, approach the Table of Grace and to hold in our hands the most precious treasure that we will ever hold or handle in this life…as we prepare to enter into and experience the mystery of the Risen Christ in the bread and the wine of the Holy Eucharist, let us pray that God the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Holy Trinity…the great and eduring gift of Baptism…what we celebrate on this Feast of Pentecost) will, thru Gospel of Christian Stewardship, set us free…free from our bondage to self and from the tyranny of our material possessions…free from our anxiety about our financial resources…FREE to give…generously…joyfully…even recklessly…and let us remember…let us never forget that we are never more Christ like…never more in harmony with the heart/mind/spirit/example of Jesus…we never are more closely aligned with Jesus’ word/will/way than when we “MAKE EUCHARIST”…than when we, with grateful and thankful hearts, offer what we have to offer…(nothing fancy…just the ordinary things of our all together ordinary lives) …a little bread and some wine…our time and our talents and our treasure)…believing and trusting that God will take what we offer and  God will transform these ordinary things into what we (and the world) most desperately need…what we (and the world) cannot live without…(long pause) and friends, MAKING EUCHARIST… is the essence…it is the heart and soul and center of the Gospel of Christian Stewardship…Lord…TEACH US TO GIVE!! AMEN

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