I like talking about stewardship. This is not because of my childhood experiences of money in church. (Protip: don’t put the 15 year old who keeps showing up to church on the Stewardship Committee. This will frustrate and confuse them.)
It’s more because when we talk about stewardship well, it becomes a way to live incarnationally, which is not something we get to do most days. But framing our lives as an exercise in caring for what God has entrusted to us is a powerful way to take the heady ideas we discuss in church out the door into our lives during the week.
So here’s my Stewardship Roundup sermon from Oct 20.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
October 20, 2019
Ordinary Time, Proper 24, Year C
Luke, Stewardship, Baptism
When I was confirmed, in 8th grade, my godmother drove down to our house in Pennsylvania. And the morning of the service, she pulled me aside and handed me a new purificator—fresh from Almy, the church supply company. “Now that you’re officially an adult in the church” she said, “you need to know that you give a part of yourself to every parish you attend. That’s part of adulthood—you leave your mark on the church and hopefully make it better. So I got you this to give to this parish in order to get you started in that discipline.”
Over the past 18 months, as I’ve been familiarizing myself with this parish’s story, I find myself constantly amazed by the great cloud of witnesses who came before us in this place. Unlike many parishes in the first colonies, we have never been rich. That wasn’t in the cards for us. We started out small and poor, and mostly continued that way for one reason or another. The parish took 3 steps forward, and then two steps back. No sooner did the vestry would celebrate finally building a new addition, then struggle to retire the associated debt for years. We never had the deep, deep pockets of other churches, and at times, you can tell that caused stress.
However, what you can also see from reading the history, is the ways in which this parish always did what it felt called to do. Whereas the other parishes grew used to having one person foot most of the bills, then had to regroup when that funding source dried up—St. John’s always made its way through the dedication and generosity of a lot of stubborn, slightly rebellious, yet eminently faithful congregants who worked hard and made sure the parish could follow Jesus in this world. Through their contributions, this parish has lasted and endured and flourished through the years. People like Jennie McGraw Fiske, who gave generously to furnish the expanded church in the 1860s. The Ogdens, who sat right there, beneath where the plaque now is, and all served faithfully, giving of their time and energy. Connie Cook, who gave of her expertise as a lawyer, keeping care of our financial and legal affairs, and who sued the bishop and diocese of Central New York to make sure that the bishop recognized women priests on time. So that generations of girls to come would know that they, too, were welcome at the altar of this place.
We have always had people here who gave of themselves to ensure we could build the Kingdom here, and we are blessed to steward their legacy for a while, while we are here.
These past few weeks, I’ve been talking a lot about faith and generosity. Faith, I said about a month ago—isn’t quite blind trust, or naive denial of what’s going on. Faith means beginning to see what God is calling into shape, and putting our resources towards making that happen, even as the world is spinning chaotically around us. As people of faith, we’re called to invest in God’s dream of what the redeemed world will be, and use what we’ve been given to create it now. And that requires, as we talked about last week, coming to recognize the gifts that God has given us. Coming to name and utilize all the blessings God has given to us to use, even those aspects of ourselves we might not be used to seeing as blessings.
All of which leads to this one question, which is: how will you use what you have been given to help St. John’s live into God’s dream for us? How will you shape this place through your gifts, your talents, your work?
The parable of the unjust judge that we heard today (and you possibly wondered if I had forgotten) is another tricky one that confounds our expectations. Widows are generally thought to be meek, mild, and charming—this one is apparently out threatening officers of the court. The Greek used for what the judge fears from her is apparently a boxing term—he’s worried she will blacken his eye. Which…is an image. And judges are supposed to be fair, righteous, impartial. This is a vision of a world turned upside down and inside out. And yet, Jesus tells us, when that happens, because it will—your job is to take what you have and keep at it. Keep going. With whatever you have, even if it’s just your sheer persistence and your presence. Keep going. And somehow, in God’s view of things, that will yield a difference.
But whatever we have, even if all we have is our presence and our persistence, if we use it for the glory of God, then the reign of God comes closer. You’ve been given a estimate of giving card in your bulletin today. And I invite you to prayerfully consider how you will give from what you have been given to enable God’s reign to take shape over this coming year here at St. John’s. Maybe you’re being called to commit to giving financially, consistently for the first time. Maybe you’re called to taking on a new ministry within the church. Maybe you’re being called to a greater faithfulness in prayer, in presence here. Maybe you’re being called to a greater financial commitment than in the past, or some combination of the above.
However God is calling you, listen to that call. Show up for that call.
Because this community has been indelibly shaped by the faithfulness of those who have come before us. Those who worked tirelessly, those who gave generously, and those who shaped us by their very presence. You, just through your presence here this morning, have already shaped the story of this place. God has brought you here, and so I believe God is calling you to something. When we go, our legacy will be the ways in which we gave of what we had to shape this place. This new soul we welcome into the church this morning will know of us through our ability to be faithful to God’s call to us to be good stewards. One day, he will look around at these walls and know us, not by how smart we were, or how brave, or how wise, but how faithful we were with what God has entrusted to us. How well we cared for the legacy that we have in this place.
And one day, he too can care for it for those who come after him.