Year B Proper 27, 7 November 2021
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Stewardship Sunday “Broken Open”
Collect: 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.
As Jesus taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Friends, today is Stewardship Sunday. Today is the day we focus on our Giving, and give thanks for what is being brought in for the year to come. And I might even mention money. Wow! Not a surprise in the slightest, I know.
But seriously, we do ourselves a disservice when we hear money when we say Stewardship. As Lou, our Senior Warden, said last week, “Stewardship is using the gifts God gives us to do the work God gives us to do.”
Stewardship is about Giving and Serving. And for us to give it has to be about Faith. We have to believe that we have been given enough for us to have extra, and that when what we have is gone there will be more to come.
A story is told of children who had escaped the horrors of the holocaust in the Nazi concentration camps when they were treated as less than human. We cannot even imagine. They had suffered so much and their trauma was so deep. In one orphanage for these kids, they had a situation. Many of the children woke in the night in terror, screaming that the nightmare they had lived was still with them. But one of the people running the orphanage they were in came up with a simple but genius solution. They sent the children to bed with bread. A simple roll made all the difference. Why? When they awoke in the dark, not knowing where they were, they would find the roll they were clutching and know that they were safe, and loved, and had enough. They had gone to bed content, and that tomorrow there would be enough again. The orphanage stewarded the resources so that the childrens’ needs, physical, emotional, spiritual, were taken care of, so that they could move beyond where they had been stuck.
We are convinced by the powers that be to worry and feel like we do not have enough, and that we need more and more and more. We have a consumer economy, and are bombarded with the message to CONSUME, CONSUME, CONSUME. That goes against the message of a God of Abundance where we have all we need, where we have no need of worry, where we have enough to share.
Stewardship is not about money. Stewardship is hearing the call, and doing something about it. The Steward of a household anticipates the needs of the Lord of the Manor and makes it happen with the resources the Lord of the House provides.
Stephanie and I enjoyed watching Downton Abbey, the PBS show. Not everyone’s cup of tea, pun intended, but we did. All the silliness and heartbreak, and the comedy of manners and the tragedy of class. It was fun.
One of my favorite characters was Charles Carson, the Butler of the House. He kept the downstairs (the servants’ area) flowing, and the upstairs meticulous. While his title was Butler, he was actually serving as the steward of the household. The definition of butler is one who buttles, a butler is a manservant having charge of wines and liquors. In this most trusted position, he kept the wine cellar and the liquors, and held the keys to the entire household. Buttling was a small part of Carson’s responsibilities. A steward is a person who manages the property or affairs for another entity. Carson was a Steward who buttled.
When Carson did his job well, he knew what his Lord wanted before being told, maintaining and anticipating where the next need would be and preparing in advance the desired outcome. He showed, repeatedly, that spontaneous magic takes a lot of behind the scene work. Just ask the Altar Guild here. Much the same.
We come together to worship in the Lord’s House. We use the resources of the Lord to be of service to the Lord’s desire. Even our form of worship, liturgical, comes from the word which means the work of the people. We come together to be of Service to our God, singing praises, raising and educating the next generations, encouraging and strengthening ourselves for the trials of this life, deepening our discipleship to help us more closely follow Jesus, and serving and giving to our community with love and grace. It takes all of it. It is like the old act on variety shows, the plate spinner who could never rest or slow down. He would get one going, then another, then another, adjusting, correcting, maintaining on and on and on. Some days it may feel like we are spinning plates. But we are Stewarding, this facility, this community, our very lives to the glory of God. We have been given so much, and it takes work to keep it going. We steward these things because that is what we do. We are responsible and will answer one day for how we have cared for the Lord’s House. We steward this parish to the best of our abilities, and we anticipate and fulfill the Lord’s desires in the place that has been put in our charge. May we do so as well as Carson did on Downton Abbey.
Today’s Gospel lesson is perfectly timed for Stewardship Season, and I see no accident or coincidence in that. This is the right time of year to be looking ahead.
We are given two pictures in the reading. One of the Scribes who like to have the best, and take from widows to have more. And one is a widow who gave all she had, trusting that she would have enough and more would be on the way.
This powerful witness resonates still today because we all can picture it. We might feel like we do not have two pennies to rub together, but for the widow that was true. When she dropped them in the box, she was stepping out on faith that God would provide. The Jewish name for the God-who-provides is Jehovah Jireh or YHWH Jireh.
The biblical account is replete with stories of God’s provision. The first I mention is where the name comes from. Think on these...
Picture Abraham with knife raised, God provides. Don’t kill your son, here is a ram stuck in a bush. Jehovah Jireh, God provides.
Like Moses leading the people into the desert. Daily, for years, manna from heaven appeared. Jehovah Jireh, God provides.
Joshua in the battle of Gibeon prays for God to stop the sun and moon so that they can continue to fight in daylight. Jehovah Jireh, God provides.
The Prophet Elijah and the Widow at Zarephath, she was down to her last meal but somehow her flour and oil remained, feeding the prophet, her son, and herself miraculously. Jehovah Jireh, God provides.
Like Jesus feeding 5,000 with a young boy’s lunch. Jehovah Jireh, God provides.
Friends, if God is calling you to do something, God provides. We have to step out in faith. The widow did, and we are still talking about it. Did her two mites make that much of a difference? To the Treasurer and the Temple Treasury, probably not. But it did to her, and it does to us, when we look through the eyes of faith.
Stewardship is about Giving, giving of our very selves, and Giving takes Faith. We have to see the need, and we choose to respond to the need. And like all good stewards, may it be said of us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” We are all limited in what we can do and what we can give individually. But collectively we can accomplish great things, in the power of God and to the glory of God. The only thing that is up to us is how we give, the attitude in which we give to the Lord.
Do we give thankfully? Do we appreciate the gifts of God, from the moment we are given another day on this beautiful earth to the moment we snuggle into a bed with a roof over our head and everything in between? Are we thankful? Do we give our portion back with Thanks?
Do we give prayerfully? Do you pray about what God is doing and how you can best serve and give to God’s service? Do you pray for this place, and the Gospel Life we share? Please pray for me, and Becky+, for our bishops and all other ministers. Do you pray for the role of the Church Universal in Ashland and Hanover, in our state and country and world? Do you feel connected to the greater good and the one holy catholic and apostolic Church? Yours may be a drop in the ocean, just like the widow’s mites, but an ocean is made of drops!
Do we give faithfully? When you give, do you do it trusting that your needs will be met? Do you do it believing in the God who gave you all you have to continue to be the Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides?
This year’s theme across the diocese is the Broken Open. It has a beautiful logo which is on your pledge card. It comes from the image of Jesus at the Last Supper. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’” Matthew 26:26
Just as Jesus pointed to the widow’s mite and made a case for faith in giving, I point to Jesus as the ultimate example of what we are talking about today. Faithful giving is what Jesus did himself, giving up himself in loving commitment to us and all humanity, relying on his faith in the God he knew, the Lord he served, the Father of himself and all of us. Jesus pointed to the elements of the Passover Meal, and we remember it weekly reminding ourselves of him and his ultimate Stewardship of all that he had been given, his very body and soul.
And just as Jesus blessed and broke the bread at the Last Supper, transforming the plain bread into something special we celebrate today, Jesus continues to bless us and give us for the sake of the world in need of his love. We are Broken Open not to be hurt, or lessened, or sacrificed, but to be transformed, and multiplied, and blessed.
So fellow Stewards, as we bring our gifts, let us do so with joyful and thankful hearts. If you are not able to do so today, that is okay. We shape our budget and planning for the year ahead on the pledges we receive, we would encourage you to get those in as soon as you can.
We have been blessed and cared for in this time of upheaval to what became our normal. The God who has been with us in the past, is with us now, and will be in all that is to come. Jehovah Jireh, God provides. Thanks be to God! Amen