Year A Proper 28, 15 November 2020
Eucharist and Video Services from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Stewardship Ingathering Sunday
Collect: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
I am your priest. I pray that you trust me, and believe me when I speak. Today’s lectionary reading was the one assigned. I did not jimmy or switch out anything. We could not have a better reading for our Ingathering Stewardship Sunday that I could think of. So as well delve into one of the most popular parables, one that most think they know, we can easily explore Stewardship, too.
The average for a measure of a talent was around 33 kg of gold when it was considered money. It fluctuated by culture, but let’s go with that. One kilo of gold this week was $60,500. Therefore a talent, in today’s monetization was just shy of $2 million dollars. ($1,996,500) How does that change the story?
We are not talking small potatoes here. We are speaking of significant wealth, and these slaves, let us not mince words by calling them servants. These owned souls were given great responsibilities, and were entrusted with great wealth when their Master departed. By reducing down the meaning of Talent, we belittle the wealth in our hands!
Somewhere along the way something happened, and in English, the word shifted definition. We had a virtual “Talentless Talent Show” this summer. With the word Talent meaning a skill or gift, it is a very different reading. But with it being wrapped up in massive value, $2 Million to $10 Million, we see a different story altogether.
These folks left at home in the story had choices to make to steward their Master’s money. So with that in mind, I want us to look at the full meaning of Stewardship. In Church-ese it cues the feelings that we are begging to make it through the next year, but it is so much more than that.
Stewardship is more than giving funds. Stewardship is a spiritual task. I say that because one of the biggest parts of Stewardship is discernment, choosing which good things to focus on and which to reduce or cease. None of us pick the bad, I hope, but choosing between the good and the good to have the best is the role of discernment. As parents, people want what is best for their kids. As Jesus said, (Matthew 7:9-11)
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
We want what is best, and choose the safest and best route to get there. With that goal in mind, when detours and detrimental things happen, we can deal with them and get back on track.
If I could snap my fingers and go back in time, there are places in my life where I would make different choices. Thankfully, very rarely, but here and there in my past. Every year when we enter a season of Stewardship we look at the giving side of things, but Stewarding takes all of us.
Stewarding is the planning side of things, the good use of what we have. Every year we know that we will get a bit over 90% of what is pledged, so we do not plan on 100%. We know that we will have to replace an air handler every other year or so. We know that we will need a tree surgeon to care for our beautiful and wonderful trees on our property. We have to see as far down the road as we can with the best information from what has happened along the way. Stewardship is caring for the future based on what has been.
Stewarding is doing the work that needs to be done. Sunday mornings do not magically appear. Reggie and the choir worked for hours. The Altar Guild worked and pressed, and set out, and got ready. The bulletin was drafted, edited, and printed. The Acolytes were contacted, recruited, reminded. Now all of that was in normal times. Now we are recording, editing, and uploading, but it is getting the work in before it needs to be finished. The team of folks who care for the grounds and the Memorial Garden give the equivalent of TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars by doing what they do. We could not afford them! Thanks to that whole crew!
Stewarding is about caring for others, the surprise guest that appears on a certain day. We have teams to welcome, teams to usher, teams to care. When people stop by my office they often start with, “I am so sorry to bother you.” My response is often, “I am in the people business, and you are a people!” We, collectively, are in the people business, because God is in the people business. We deal with the higher levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Need as we can, and the lower levels, too, so people can get to the higher level questions. We care with spiritual and emotional needs, with meaning and purpose, as well as, physical and social needs. If you do not have enough food, it is hard to think on a loving God. If you need medical help, it is hard to think on a loving God. If you feel unlikable or unlovable, it is hard to think on a loving God. Stewardship is about providing a safe, clean, pleasant place where people can ponder the bigger things and feel connected to that loving God that cares about the details.
Stewarding is about setting aside money for the needs that will and the surprises that might appear. This year we were knocked for a loop. We spent a good amount of money that we did not plan to spend. We bought speakers that enabled outdoor worship and an iPad to enable filming and editing the online services. That was in no one’s budget this year. But at the same time, we budgeted for things that could not happen. We had savings from lines not used in our budget which enabled us to be generous with other ministries that had hit hard times. We were able to do this quietly and prayerfully because we had folks who had cared for matters in the short run year, after year, after year.
Stewarding is about answering for the decisions that have been made and being accountable for them. In February we will have our Annual Meeting, probably virtually, where we will go over the budget that the Vestry approved for 2021. We will answer questions. Last year a great one came up about money spent on Outreach Ministries. We were able to show how much of what we do is hidden in other lines. Not to be clandestine, but we do much that is tucked into other lines. Very rarely do we go into closed session on the Vestry, and often that is to protect something confidential for a person. Those minutes are open to any member. Stewardship is about being above board, open, and honest in our dealings.
Stewarding the resources of our lives, and stewarding our communal resources are both so important. We want St. James the Less to be a gathered worshiping community in Ashland of 2120 as much as 2021. We want you to be healthy, happy, and safe. There is a reason we are not meeting inside the church building, and we will not for a while. We want you well. We want you financially well, too. The biblical standard is a tithe, 10% of what we produce. When we were agrarian in our economies, this often came in produce or livestock. Now, with a monetary based economy, we look at 10% pre-tax. Very few of us are disciplined to the point of being able to be there. That is a reality. But planning out our giving, and taking whatever share I decide to give first enables me to give. If I wait to give from what is left, there would never be much. THAT is stewardship, taking care of God’s first before I take out mine. That empowers and enables me to give more. It shows where I place the importance of what I give. Giving to God is my way of saying you have provided me with so much, I have faith that this portion will do and I joyfully and welcomingly give.
Stewardship is a lifestyle. Our budget represents that faith that we have that we will have all we need, and faith in the leadership to do well with what is given. Your pledge represents faith that you will be able to share that amount to enable the work that we do collectively, to provide for the care and upkeep of the things we have so that they can be enjoyed and used for generations to come.
Today we gather in the promises you are making to God to do the work of this community for the coming year. If we have your pledge cards, they will be blessed today. If we receive them later, they will be blessed as well. May it be said of us, what the Master said to the one who was given much: “‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Amen