Sharing Our Blessings: A Sermon by the Rev. Lou Hays on Mark 9:38-50
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; and if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out.”
This is a very tough, very difficult teaching. Even though Jesus is speaking figuratively and engaging in hyperbole, his language is disconcerting at best
I have some tough and difficult teaching and preaching to share with you. I want to talk with you about stewardship.
Just what does stewardship mean? Basically it means how we live our lives. To be a steward is to be entrusted with responsibility for managing and overseeing something. As Christians we believe that all that we have and all that we are comes from God. God entrusts us with all of creation, and with all that we have as individuals and as a community. And God calls us to protect and use these resources wisely and generously.
In the Episcopal Church stewardship usually refers to how we share our time, talent, and treasure with others: how we give back to God and share generously with others, living out our call to grow God’s kingdom and to love our neighbor as ourself. Today I’m focusing on the treasure part, how we are called to give financially. The giving of time and talent is very important too, but without money the church cannot exist. We would have to close our doors and shut down.
Now there are always those who feel we shouldn’t talk about money in church. That we shouldn’t preach about it. That it’s unseemly or impolite. Or that it’s all we talk about it. Actually, I’m probably derelict in not preaching about it more. You see, Jesus preached more about money than any other topic except for the nature of the Kingdom of God.
Money and the right use of our wealth is a fundamental theological issue. It’s an integral part of our Christian faith and mission. As my former Bishop in Connecticut was fond of saying, “money is a spiritual issue, and how much we give is a faith statement.”
There’s a connection between stewardship and the difficult teaching in this morning’s Gospel. Jesus is talking about stumbling blocks, those things which might keep us from being faithful followers of Christ, those things that keep us from participating fully in the Kingdom of God and from advancing the Kingdom.
What are our stumbling blocks to greater faithfulness and discipleship? Might a big stumbling block be our possessions, our assets, our money? Do we own them, or do they own us? Are we willing to share, to give a portion of our money to help grow God’s Kingdom and bring life-changing hope and love to our children and to the world?
As I mentioned, Jesus is speaking in hyperbole, and I’m certainly not suggesting you’re going to go to hell if you don’t give generously. But here is how one biblical commentator has paraphrased today’s Gospel: “if your wealth should keep you from giving to the poor, sell your stocks and bonds and liquidate your assets; better your should enter heaven without a penny to your name than be condemned to hell with a well-performing portfolio.” Food for thought.
This is the kick off our annual stewardship campaign. This is the time each year when we ask everyone to consider their giving to the church for the coming year and make a generous pledge. This year’s theme is “Sharing Our Blessings.” Everyone on our parish rolls is receiving a mailing (letter, ministry brochure, and pledge card) that will provide more information about “Sharing Our Blessings.”
The theme goes back to what I said earlier about the theology of stewardship. We are blessed richly by God, and we are called to give back a portion in grateful thanksgiving.
There are two major goals of our giving campaign for 2013. One involves a major enhancement of our Children and Youth program, and the other a move toward greater Outreach.
First let me tell you about children and youth.
As you may know, we have about 250 children and youth at St. Paul’s. What you may not know is that we have more kids in our congregation than the total membership of all but six of the other 36 parishes in our Diocese. With over 1400 members, we are by far the largest parish in the Diocese. Calvary in East Liberty is the next largest with about 1000 members.
We have approximately 200 kids with 400 parents from infancy through confirmation, and about 25 Sunday school teachers and other helpers, but we only have a part time director of children’s ministry. Lisa Brown spends about half of her time on children’s ministry and about half of her time on communications. As dedicated and talented as Lisa is, there are only so many hours in her day, and she is tapped out.
If we are going to minister effectively to all of our children and parents, welcome new families, and support our many Sunday School teachers as they deserve, we simply have to add a part time assistant for Lisa and fully fund our children and youth program budget. If our Sharing Our Blessings campaign is successful, that’s what we will do.
Next, a word about Outreach. There was a time when St. Paul’s was able to earmark 10% of its budget for Outreach – helping those in need in our community, the nation, and the world. St. Paul’s was famous for outreach. We still do a lot of Outreach through hands-on work and special contributions and fundraisers. But we would like to get back on the path toward a more robust Outreach budget.
We want to double our outreach budget, which sounds much more impressive than saying we will increase it from $2,000 to $4,000. And we would also fund a modest increase in our outreach giving for the mission and ministries of the Diocese and the Episcopal Church.
In order to enhance Children and Youth and Outreach, sustain our other life-giving ministries, provide a few small and unavoidable increases in costs such as utilities, and maintain a balanced budget, we need to increase giving for 2013 by $50,000.
In the context of a proposed budget of just under $800,000 supported by a congregation of over 500 families, that’s not a huge amount, but it will be challenging none the less.
This raises the question, how much should I give?
In the Episcopal Church we do not emphasize the amount one gives, since we all have differing levels of financial means. Instead, we emphasize giving a portion of our funds, even when that produces a small amount.
The most important thing is that we all participate. Taken together, all of our giving, small and large, adds up to a large amount. You need to know that as your Rector I give over 10% of my income to the Church. I ask you to consider what percentage of your income you give, and then increase it by some percentage, even if it’s by ½ of one percent of your income.
Here’s another way of looking meeting our challenge. If 400 of the 525 families of our parish were to increase their giving by $5 a week, we would double our goal and allow us to do even more for outreach. Just think of the miracles that could come from these additional funds. But the simple fact is, many families won’t increase their giving by $5. So I’m asking you to join me in increasing your giving by $10 a week.
This is an exciting time to be at St. Paul’s. We have enjoyed so many blessings over the past year:
· We have welcomed many, many new families, most of them with children
· We have brought new life to St. David’s Episcopal Church in Peters Township
· We have welcomed the Rev. Michelle Boomgaard as our Assistant Rector
· We have joined in electing a new Bishop for our Diocese
· And we have shared our blessings and enabled life-changing ministries that have helped hundreds, maybe thousands, of people.
I ask you to count your blessings. I ask you to share your blessings. Help advance the Kingdom of God by giving generously to St. Paul’s so that we might continue to be a beacon of hope, life, and light, now, and for generations to come.