Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Sermon on Stewardship, given by Melody Oliphant on October 14, 2018

I’d like for you all to look up at the ceiling. See how it looks like the inside of the hull of a boat? Just to remind you, the hull is the water-tight part of the boat that sits in the water.
You can look back down now. :)

The area of the church where you and I are right now is called the nave. The word Nave derives from the Latin word “navis”, meaning “ship.” It is thought that the design of the main body of the church is called a nave because a ship is a symbol of the church.
Now, there are other parts to the church - as a reminder, the entrance is called the narthex, then there’s the nave, then the chancel, where the choir sits, and then the sanctuary is where the high altar is located.
Today, though, I want to focus on the nave.

There is a quote from a tv show I’ve been watching lately called “The Newsroom.” Makensie has been given a huge promotion and she is really nervous that the role is too big for her and that her new boss is too difficult to work with. Will, her co-worker and also her husband,  who is a storyteller and uses metaphors for everything tells her,
“There's a hole in the side of your boat. That hole is never going to be fixed, it's never going away, and you can't get a new boat. What you have to do is bail water out faster than it's coming in.”

I think that is a perfect way to think about stewardship.

Regarding the money: the bills come in. Opportunities come up. Maintenance needs to be taken care of. Tragedies happen. In other words, the hole in our ship will never be fixed. All we have to do is do the best that we can to provide for those needs. After all, this is OUR boat.

Regarding the responsibilities to be performed. Same thing. This is OUR boat. What jobs do we need filled at St Mary’s Church that individually we know how to do or are willing to learn, and that we also enjoy?

How much time do we have to offer St Mary’s and its people? Don’t underestimate or overtax yourself, but find that sweet spot that gives you the tension that you need to grow. That is what Peter+ advised in one of his last sermons before he retired.

We are all in this ship together. We need captains to navigate & steer - Steven & Jim are filling in right now with help from the Bishop’s Committee to do just that; we need people to swab the deck, and to feed the crew, to look after the children, to watch over the finances, and to find a new captain. There is room and need for all of us to do our part.

In the Gospel reading today, we hear again the story of the rich young man.
He WANTS to follow Jesus and has been doing a terrific job up to this point.
He asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus tells him, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”
He said to Jesus, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
“When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

I thought it was interesting that the Gospel reading said that Jesus "looked at him and loved him." Jesus wasn't trying to trick him, or make things too difficult for him by setting the bar too high. He looked at him and loved him, and then told him to sell all he had and come follow him.

Now, when we think of this young man, many of us assume he went away grieving and we leave it there. But life isn’t like that - we all have these “Aha!” moments where we are given a choice to decide what to do with that new information.

Perhaps the young man decided to do what Jesus said. Perhaps he went on to do great things, even if the scriptures didn’t document them.
Perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps the request to sell everything and give it away was too difficult.
But this isn’t just the rich young man’s story; it is also ours. What will we do now that we also know what Jesus requires? Perhaps we don’t have to sell everything and give it to the poor, but we have been asked to give a tithing.

I am not going to get into the fine details of talking about what a tithe means for each of us. We know that it means one tenth. People will debate whether that means 1/10 of gross or net income. Before or after large debts paid? What about if you’re burdened down with medical bills?
I am not qualified to say what a tithe means for anyone but myself. It is a matter that is between God and me. Likewise it is between God and you.

At the TENS training that I went to (and TENS stands for The Episcopal Network for Stewardship), we discussed how sometimes people don’t give because what they can offer feels to them to be too insignificant. I hope that if that describes us, we remember how Jesus talked about the widow when she gave her mite, which was all that she could give.
Luke 21: 1-4
And (Jesus) looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”

Never be discouraged or embarrassed if you only have a mite to give. After all, $1.50 will buy a roll of toilet paper, and we all know that we go through a lot of toilet paper during the week here at ST Mary’s as we host support groups, CMOP projects, and a Catechism class every week. Never underestimate what even a dollar will do.

What about service? What do you long to do or at least like to do? What is stopping you from doing it?
When I think about this portion of stewardship, I think about Moses who had a reason why he shouldn’t do just about anything that God presented for him to do.
Or Jonah, who ran from God and only gave up his running because an entire shipful of people would have been dumped out of the boat during the storm if he hadn’t - so he got out of the boat and was immediately swallowed by a whale; God let him sit there a while and think about it.
I also think about Ester who did what she could for her people even while she was afraid.
Or Joseph who was sold into Egypt as a slave and went on to be given a high position of trust.
What will your story be?

When I think about my own stewardship of talents and my vocation, I often feel imposter syndrome and have to remind myself about the speech that has been attributed to Nelson Mandela, but according to snopes.com was really written by Marianne Williamson in her book, Return to Love. In any case, this is the quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we subconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

What do you have to offer to St Mary’s Church? Are you great at hospitality? Do you like working with children? Do you like to beautify areas? Do you like to read or speak in public? Do you like to shovel snow? Do you like to garden?
Those are just a few of the needs that St Mary’s Church has. Search your soul and find what you love to do; there is certainly a place here for you to serve!

Frederick Buechner said that “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”

Last spring I encouraged us all to “Find Your Happy” and I told you about a book by that same name that Ginny, Shaunna and I purchased in the gift shop of the airport on our way home from TENS - This autumn, I am doing the same: Find Your Happy.
Amen.