A sermon, based on Genesis 2.18-24, Psalm 8, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12, and Mark 10.2-16, preached with the people of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Columbia, SC, on the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, October 7, 2018
My sisters and brothers of Trinity Cathedral, that annual season hath come when you contemplate the giving of time, talent, and (yes, though treasure would make the asking wondrously alliterative, let’s be more direct!) money to support the life and labor, to sustain the mission and ministry of this marvelous cathedral community of faith. Yet I submit to you that not only hath this season dawned for you, but for all of us. For Trinity Cathedral is our cathedral, the mother church of our Diocese of Upper South Carolina. Therefore, whatever you do is a paradigmatic sign of the health of our diocesan family and the vitality of our communal stewardship.
Stewardship (I know you’ve heard it countless times!) is our faithful use of the gifts that God, who gives all, gives us. A question, on occasion, may arise: For what? Truly, the question is: For where? And the answer always is: For here! For according to Job, naked we came into this world and naked we’ll depart.(1) And, in those words of Genesis, an exceedingly, glaringly clear ontological declaration, which we recite every Ash Wednesday, we are dust and to dust we shall return.(2) Therefore, none of our life’s possessions, whether earned or given, can we take with us. Barbara Hutton, that celebrated socialite and philanthropist of yesteryear (Who knew she was an existential theologian?), once observed: “I’ve never seen a Brink’s truck follow a hearse to the cemetery.”(3) And we, as theologians, those who live in the light of our relationship with God, are called to be faithful, using God’s gifts in accord with God’s will.
This belief led the earliest Christians to embrace, indeed, embody a spiritual and material communalism, claiming nothing as their own, sharing all things.(4) This belief led the Apostle Paul to encourage the Corinthian Christians to decide their giving in their hearts (from the Greek, kardia, for the ancients, that center and source of emotion and reason and volition, thought and choice): “Each of you must give as you choose in your heart, not reluctantly, for God loves a cheerful giver.”(5) Although I’m here to tell you that God will accept time, talent, and money from a grouchy giver!
Now, for over forty years of ordained ministry, I’ve been and remain a biblically-based preacher. When Tim,(6) whom I love dearly, asked me to preach this day, I immediately said “Yes!” Then I read the Bible lessons appointed for today and I wondered, “Lord, have mercy! Tim, have mercy! What can I make of these?” Then, in a sudden flash of spiritual serendipity, it reoccurred to me that stewardship, like love, is the heart and soul of all scripture, which, after all, is all about the everlasting relationship between divinity and humanity!
So, Genesis speaks of the relationship of man and woman, which mirrors that between God and us.
So, the psalmist sings of relationship, praising the transcendent God whose “glory (is) above the heavens,” yet who grants us dominion over the earth.
So, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, hundreds of years later, astounded by the amazing grace of the God of relationship who speaks through a Son, who is our brother and God our father, echoes the psalmist’s praise.
So, Jesus wrangles with the Pharisees about marriage and divorce. They quote Deuteronomy. Jesus goes back to the beginning, quoting Genesis regarding God’s original intent of all human relationships as “two become one flesh,” which, again, is but a reflection of the intimacy between God and us.
What does all this have to do with stewardship? Everything!
For, as Christians, the chiefest relationship is the marriage of God and the church, you and me, as the bride of Christ.(7) To put this another way: What God has joined together, ontologically and eternally, that is not to be separated, that cannot be separated, to paraphrase Paul, is the love of God in Christ Jesus and us.(8)
In thanksgiving, how then can we not give unto God but a portion of all, of everything God hath given unto us. In our gratitude, may the words of that olden hymn be our daily prayer:
O love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.(9)
(1) Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21).
(2) (The Lord God said to Adam) “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3.19).
(3) Barbara Woolworth Hutton (1912-1979)
(4) See Acts 4.32-35.
(5) 2 Corinthians 9.7
(6) A reference to the Very Reverend Timothy Jones, the dean of Trinity Cathedral.
(7) For example, 2 Corinthians 11.2, Ephesians 5.25-27, Revelation 19.7-9
(8) A reference to Romans 8.38-39
(9) O love that wilt not let me go, verse 1 (1882), George Matheson (1842-1906)