Posted by: dacalu | 16 November 2018

Charity for Richer and Poorer

Last Sunday, I preached at St. Stephen’s for Stewardship Sunday, when pledges are made for the coming year.  Here is the sermon I shared. (My talk from the Monday before covers the same ground in light of economics.)

 

Prayer for the 25th Sunday of Pentecost

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Readings

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 (“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin”)

Psalm 127 (“Unless the Lord builds the house, their labor is in vain who build it.”)

Hebrews 9:24-28 (Christ “has appeared once for all at the end of the age”)

Mark 12:38-44 (The Widow’s Mite)

 

Sermon

This year, we get the end of Ruth, but not the beginning.
In the first chapter, Ruth marries Elimelech and takes his family as her own.
In particular, she becomes close to her mother-in-law, Naomi.
Elimelech, dies, but the two women form a lasting friendship,
	and a lasting family.
When Naomi proposes a return to Jerusalem, Ruth goes with her.

“But Ruth said, 
‘Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; 
your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, 
if even death parts me from you!’
When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.”
(Ruth 1:16-18)

There are many troubling things about this story
	having to do with the property and place of women
	in Israelite culture.
They thought about family differently.
They thought about finance differently.
But, the story ages amazingly well.

It ages well because it is a story of two women,
	thrown together by circumstance,
	facing hardship together,
	with love and faith.

The story does not tell us if Ruth loved Elimelech, her first husband, Naomi’s son.
It does not tell us if she loved Boaz, her second husband.
It tells us she loved Naomi.

There is nothing romantic or mystical here – 
	at least no more romantic and mystical than everyday friendship,
	the love we find and make.

There is no joy so great that it cannot be increased by sharing.
And there is no pain so great that it cannot be lessened.
 
If you hear nothing else, hear this.
God is love.


There is no greater treasure than love for God and neighbor.
We aspire to love of all,
	but we work with what we have.
We love those who are easy to love,
	so that we may learn to love others.
Naomi’s family was amazing, because it grew.

You can only be so happy for yourself,
But shared happiness has no limits.


We live in strange times, in a strange country.
Perhaps all times are strange, and all countries.
I cannot say.
I do know that our culture, as wonderful as it is
	pressures us constantly to be self-sufficient,
	to think of ourselves as independent, individual, and self-controlled.
And so, when we think about giving,
	we tend to think in terms of an exchange.
I give up something and I get something.
	We buy or rent or subscribe.

But none of these ideas work well for friendship.
We do spend money on our families.
	Money is a wonderful tool for sharing
		and sharing comes very near the core of love.
	And yet, we must remember that money is not an end in and of itself.
	Money is not our worth; it is our servant.
	Money was made for humans and not humans for money.

When I read today’s Gospel – often called the widow’s mite –
	It reminds me that giving is not about exchange and it is not about abundance.
Giving is a sharing of self.

We give when we are rich, and we give when we are poor.
We give when we expect, but we also give freely.
Above all, we give to build relationship.
 
The tithe is a way of changing from a market mindset –
	all about individuals and exchange –
	to a community mindset.
Giving money to the church helps.
	As a spiritual practice, it encourages gratitude, mindful spending, and trust in God.
	But giving money is only the beginning.
We give TO the church so that we can use AS a church.
	We decide together what our priorities are.
	We decide together who we are as a community.
We learn to be friends and family with one another.
We give of ourselves, so that we can find our true selves.

That is a very counter-cultural.
	It is often scary.
But, we find our greatest good in community.
When we choose mutual faith, hope, and love.


God did this.
Strange as it may seem,
	God defined Godself in community
	as both Father and Son,
	as the breath that creates and the Spirit that proceeds.
We say that God may be known in Jesus,
	“for in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Colossians 1:19)
I do not think that God may only be known through humanity,
	but I do think that God may be fully known through humanity,
	in Jesus.
I cannot overstate the significance
	that God became one of us
	and lived with us
	subject to our will and whim.
In some ways, the story of Jesus is a tragedy.
	He trusted and suffered.
But, it is also a romance and a mystery,
	because he gave of himself
	to find his true self with us.

St. Stephen’s witnesses to this
	every time we give TO the church and decide as a church.
We say, and we learn
	that money is made for people and not people for money.
	
 
At the end of the service, you will have an opportunity to think
	and pray about how you give to the church.
This can be a spiritual practice, 
to encourage gratitude, mindfulness, and trust.
It can also be an opportunity to make yourself a better individual.
More than that, it can be an opportunity to commit to community,
	to say something to yourself, to your friends, and to God
	about the joy we create together.
In a world of individuals,
	we can share the good news that we need not be alone.
We are always learning to be together,
	in faith, hope, and love.




 

 

 

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