Today begins our Stewardship canvass—the time when we ask each of you to pledge money to support the work of St. John’s for the coming year. Next Saturday night we will participate in our annual Harvest Dinner—a time to be together as a parish community and to begin to understand the needs of St. John’s for 2011.
Over the years a number of my clergy colleagues have counted the number of years to retirement by the number of stewardship sermons that they had to preach. Having said that, I want you to know how important and how committed I am to our life of faith together and I never regret talking about how critical our financial gifts are to maintain the vital and exciting ministry that we do together at St. John’s. A long time ago I stopped apologizing for asking for money, because I believe strongly and have a passion for what the church means to me. And I know that St. John’s means that to you as well.
All of us are used to being asked for money. Most of us are deluged with requests to support all kinds of organizations. We know that every organization has to appeal to us in order to continue to do the work that they do. We also know that each appeal tells us that more money is needed than was received last year and that without our help the programs will not go on. And that’s true of St. John’s this year: just like at our homes, the heat, light, gas bills are going up every single year. And I know that this year is a difficult year to ask for money and a difficult year for us to make our decisions as to what we can give.
Every one of us has to evaluate the many appeals for our support. We have to decide, “How important is this to me?” “What difference would it make if this or that organization didn’t exist?” And each one of us who are asked to support St. John’s has to ask the same questions. “What is it that we are supporting when we give our money to this church, and how important is it to us?”
I don’t know how to answer those questions for you. But I do know how I answer them for myself. I would like to take a few minutes and tell you what my commitment means to me when I consider making a pledge.
First, I support the church—and I know when I say that you may be thinking, “Well, yah, he works here.” But it might surprise you to know that what I truly believe is that this church brings people—all kinds of people—together in the search for meaning and value in life. I’m not interested in a church that has all of the answers handed down in a neat package. I’m committed to a community that gives me a chance to search. And with my pledge I know that I am supporting a parish community that knows what questions are being asked about life and life’s meaning—and I’m committed to being a part of an atmosphere where questions can be faced honestly. St. John’s is such a place and it allows this kind of openness for me—and I deeply believe that it allows that for you, for our families and our children as well.
Secondly, I support this parish because it preserves a tradition of worship that has a dignity and breadth, a height and depth, against which my experiences of life can be measured and seen. It was a parish where my children were declared to be God’s children and welcomed, through their baptisms, as part of a family that stretches across the centuries. And it is this parish where I am reminded week after week that bread and wine are gifts to me of the divine life. It was a parish church that reminds me that Chris and I took vows in marriage that meant we would love, honor, comfort and care for each other in sickness and in health, and it also means that we have a place where we can go when things are not right in what we promised to each other. And it has been the church where we have been together when loved ones have died and where I will be buried in the context of God’s love and promise of an even more abundant life.
Thirdly, St. John’s is a place where the Christian story is told and retold. It’s an absurd story about how the creator of the world did something pretty spectacular with a Galilean carpenter that said “LOVE” so loudly that we can still hear the echoes. The heart of the Christian faith, the simple nub of it, is that in the darkness that surrounds us, and toward which we frequently travel, we are shown the outstretched arms of a loving God. If the retelling of this story ever ceases, we will all live in a crueler place and a world without hope. So I gladly support this church where the ancient story is told over and over again because hope is so very critical to life.
Finally I support the church in order to strengthen the Christian voice in the affairs of this community, our nation and the world. And I need to support that voice and that influence most of all when it disturbs me and hauls me out of indifference and selfishness. A church which only comforts us and never challenges us is only a moral tranquilizer. And the world is too big a place and too difficult a place for that. So I want to support the church particularly because it is a place made up of all kinds of people. This parish is well known in the Milwaukie area for its programs of outreach and love on behalf of the people who have not been cared for enough in this world. What I give does a lot on my behalf to bring life to the people who need every ounce of support and love.
These are the reasons for giving to this parish church. It’s one of the few places that puts the search for meaning and value at the top of the agenda. It provides a set of traditions and ceremonies without which we would be poorer in meeting the many downsides of life. The story it has to tell about God who loved the world and gave himself for it in Jesus needs to be told over and over and over again.
This church has a claim on my money and on my life. And even though this is a hard time for so many of us in terms of this economy, my giving here is still a top priority.
I ran across a helpful paragraph in Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book titled When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough. Kushner writes: “Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it.”
Kushner is right. Pledging is not just a matter of dollars—it is really a matter of values and what is truly important to us.
This parish is a light on a hill. It is a beacon of love and care. I hope that this reflection of what I believe is important to you and will help you think about making your financial commitment to St. John’s this year. It’s one of the most important decisions that we make every year.Amen