Our Gratitude – A Stewardship Sermon

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
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Columbia, SC

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)

 

Footnotes:
(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)

4 thoughts on “Our Gratitude – A Stewardship Sermon

  1. Paul,

    Congrats first and foremost of preaching at the Cathedral in Columbia, SC!!!! How cool is that????????

    I had to smile about the comment that there’s never been a Brinks truck following a hearse. We know we can’t take it with us…. but I think sometimes we need to be reminded. I just redid my will from the hurried version when I was still grief-stricken after Tim’s death. I’m happy to say I did leave funds to both St. Mark’s and to the National Cathedral. I did so primarily because I’m so grateful at how supportive my church was of me in my time of need.

    The most important part of your sermon for me was the following ….
    “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:”

    I’ve learned over the last two years that nothing can separate me from God! My faith has kept me going and in spite of the fact that I lost one income after I became a widow, I’ve not lost one thing that I needed. I have a house, food on the table, a car, an RV and a great job. How can I not give back when so many people have much less than I? I haven’t turned in my pledge for 2019 as of yet, but reading your sermon that I wish I’d heard in person has pushed me forward. I still have the ultimate responsibility for my mom’s care so I still save for her in the event that her current situation changes, but I just have to remember to trust that in my relationship with God, I won’t give more than I can actually handle, but my gratitude for all I have should be worth sacrificing any unnecessary wants and instead give it to God. So thank you for the reminder!

    Much love!

    Like

  2. Thank you, Loretta. It was cool to preach at the Cathedral. I had preached there before, but not on a Sunday morning (AND at all 3 services: 7.45, 9, and 11.15! What a workout!). I had a ball! One thing I regret, at least mildly, is that the text can in no way share all that I said – indeed, in three sermons, each was differently in some ways from the others – and certainly the text cannot convey cadence and volume and intensity. For me, it was on the level – as I think about this morning in fresh light – of: If this was the last preaching I ever do, I will be satisfied.

    Now, enough about me. I thank you most especially for your testimony regarding your relationship with God. Beautiful. And your witness regarding your pledge. It warms my heart that what I have shared encouraged you to consider your giving (which I know you already and always contemplate with faithful care!). You are, as my mama oft said of those through whom she observed the light of Christ shining through: “A special one!”

    Love you

    Like

    1. I figured it was awesome, that’s exactly why I said I wish I had been there! So glad you had a great time, but WOW ALL THREE services! Nothing like hearing it in person!!

      Yes, your words always inspire me!! I made sure I didn’t write my pledge check immediately after reading your words cause I may have gone over my budget!!

      Much love

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “I made sure I didn’t write my pledge check immediately after reading your words cause I may have gone over my budget!!” As we are wont to say about each other, from time to time, you make me laugh! Love

    Liked by 1 person

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