Perhaps the most difficult part of my job over the last 40+ years has been to teach about the concept of stewardship. The word “stewardship” is common in Holy Scripture and in the church. A steward was a house manager for a king. And since the church is the household of God, we are both members of God’s family and as servants of God we are responsible for our servant hood.
Good stewardship means budgeting our time and energy and attention; it means analyzing our life priorities and counting the costs; it means being aware that we are called on by God and each other to share in the life of St. John’s.
Over the years I’ve preached every sermon that I could think of to pass on this message. Some of these sermons have been cute, some provoking, some begging, some in which I’ve described my own process of giving, but this is a different kind of a year. It’s a hard year for many of us. It’s a difficult year in our country. And cute or begging sermons simply are not helpful nor are they what I want to talk about.
I know some things—a few things—after my years in church work. I know that we get fidgety this time of the year. Some people want to avoid any talk about money and what is needed to make this parish succeed. Other people I have discovered, give something, but don’t think about it too much and very few of us actually give because it’s a joy to be able to give. I’d like to have us think about this: what would it take for each of us to be able to give generously, joyfully andabundantly knowing that you’ll be blessed by your giving and your gift will make it possible for us to carry out our ministry here? That’s a tall order—a big challenge—what would it take for you to be able to give generously, joyfully and abundantly—knowing that your gift will make a very big difference in this church and in our work in this community?
I want to talk some facts with you today.
1. St. Johns has a tight budget plan. In fact, St. John’s has had a tight budget plan for many years now. This year end, we will be barely able to finish the year within the budget raised and approved last year. The “angel” who paid off the parish mortgage made it possible to concentrate our pledging to support the work of the parish community and to do the outreach that we, otherwise, would not have been able to do.
2. Over this next year you will be spending time looking for a new rector—and that will take both time and discernment and financial commitment. And this will require St. John’s to support a new priest at the approved diocesan financial level. My work here for the last two years has made it possible for the vestry to set aside some funds to be able to meet the needs of a new rector and family. St John’s also has a caring and competent staff that supports the music, education, youth programming, and administration of this parish community. Both of the deacons—Pat and Stephen—are devoted too much of the work that goes on here and are integral to the pastoral care of parishioners. Pat and Stephen give their time freely and generously. Numerous others of you assist in the sacramental ministry of the parish. There is also generous commitments of time by many other volunteers that keep activities continuing and happening here.
3. Our whole life and ministry affirm pluralism and diversity—economically, theologically, socially and in gender orientation. We celebrate that diversity and welcome everyone through our doors. At St. John’s we emphasize spiritual nurture and personal growth. And our ministry of social concern for the poor and the hungry is a vital component of our mission.
4. St. John’s has been a vibrant contributor to the work of our diocese—not only through a number of parishioners who serve on convocation leadership and as volunteers for committees and programs of the diocese, but also through our regular and committed contribution to the fair share request of the DPA --the way we support the Bishop and staff as well as the Diocese of Oregon’s commitment to the national Episcopal Church. We can be enthusiastically proud of our support to the Diocese of Oregon.
Now, what suggestions do I have regarding what you might do in your pledge to St. John’s for 2012?
I hope that you and all of the rest of the members of St. John’s will pledge this year. I know that there are some newcomers who hesitate to make a commitment. Let me say, simply, that we count on financial gifts of all amounts. We operate here on nickels and dimes and dollars. We are a community of people, together, and we all need to carry our load. There is not one person in this church who cannot make a contribution to the work of this incredible parish. We may not all be able to give a great amount, or even as much as we wish, but for the sake of our personal integrity and for the sake of what we each receive, we need to be able to give. We all benefit from what happens here and we are all responsible to see that the mission of St. John’s continues.
Peter Drucker, the expert on management theory, makes a distinction between making sales and making customers. So it is with each one of us here in this congregation. To seek a gift from you and then not care about you is not the way St. John’s shares its love and expectation. This is a deeply caring parish that expresses that caring in lots of ways to lots of people.
The theme of all scripture and of Jesus, himself, is concerned with God’s lavish love for each of us and God’s concern for the well being of all people. We are thehands and feet and eyes and ears and heart of God. We know about the poverty of money and the poverty of spirit of many around us. When you and I commit ourselves to efforts that can heal and give hope for new life to people who have little or nothing, then we begin to know how blessed we really are.
Finally, let me offer a personal witness. I believe that God has given us a world in which to bring beauty and justice and peace. We’re to bring a world of health and plenty for all people. We’re here to shape this church, this community and a world that is worthy of every person and worthy of God. This year Chris and I will increase our pledge gift to St. John’s, because St. John’s is worthy of our support and our love and our commitment. I hope that you feel the same way. And Iinvite you to give a gift here that makes you feel joyful as well as committed about being here.
My friend, George Regas, the rector emeritus of All Saints in Pasadena, tells the story of Archbishop William Temple who was preaching to students at Oxford University during the Second World War. The hymn after his sermon was “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”. Dr. Temple stopped the singing before the last stanza and said: “I want you to search over this verse before you sing it. They are tremendous words. If you don’t mean them at all, keep silent. If you mean them even a little, and want them to mean more, sing them softly.” There was a hushed silence while every eye was fastened on the hymnal, and then the words were sung in a whisper:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,If these words mean anything at all to you, then our stewardship and our financial gifts for the work of the Kingdom of God, through the ministry of St. John’s parish, will meet every need that we have.
That were an offering far too small,
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.