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April 12, 2015, 11:01 AM

Sermon- Second Sunday of Easter

Easter II

Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them, and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    A month or two ago, Kristy and I were watching a special about Downtown Abbey. I think the last season was coming to a close, and PBS was trying to extend the fanfare by producing a special about what life in Edwardian England was really like. 

    What was so fascinating to me, was the premise that the fascination with manners during the turn on the century were predicated upon the French Revolution. In short, the passions which rocked France upside down terrified the Brits. If society as a whole could be turned upside down by fervent pleas for a New World Order, then what British society would introduce was a novel way to suppress emotion: manners. Etiquette became the way to control our emotions. By regulating our behavior into tightly controlled social constructs, we have, in essence, sublimated our fears into ritual. 

    And, as strange as it sounds, this link between fear and ritual; between propriety and passion; became the perfect prism with which to understand this morning's reading from Acts. 

    Last week, I introduced the thread which I believe runs through all the Easter and post-resurrection appearances in the Gospels--the link between fear and faith. Mark, certainly, understands that fear and faith are opposite sides of the same coin, and if you re-read Mark's gospel, you'll certainly notice a pattern of fear, faith, and promise. 

    Of course, this morning, we are reading from Acts, not Mark. But Luke understood this same link between fear and faith, and as he begins his second book cataloging the Acts of the Apostles and the Early Church, we are seeing the fruits which faith has borne out. 

    Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

    These early Christians are living in an Easter world. How do I know this? Simple--they aren't living in fear--they are living in faith. Faith that God has provided for them, and faithful that they will provide for one another.

    And then it struck me--I am afraid to live that way. 

    

    Every year, parishes gather together in the fall to start planning our stewardship campaigns. And, at its heart, a good stewardship campaign boils down to challenging parishioners to develop and deepen their faith by making an outward and visible sign of their spiritual maturity in the form of a pledge of time, talent, and treasure to their local congregation. We have ritualized the stewardship season. Scan the lectionary readings from late September to early November, and sure enough, there will be at least one which easily lends itself to a conversation about wealth and stewardship. Like the Brits, we are afraid to broach the subject of money, so we ritualize stewardship season like Captian Renault from Casablanca: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that the bible talks about our responsibility to money, and your stewardship envelopes can be found in the pew in front of you!”

    But, in this Easter season, I think we are given the freedom to talk openly about what stewardship is really about: it is about fear and faith. Those exact same concepts which dominate our understanding of Easter also control our reactions to stewardship. 

    Every single time I have heard a stewardship sermon, every single time I hear a representative of the parish ask to consider raising my pledge, the very first thing that runs through my head is a quick opportunity cost breakdown. If I up my pledge by $25, $50 a month, what would I be forced to give up? A fast-food lunch in Reno? A dinner out with the family? Now, I can say to myself "Those are both things that I enjoy and that are important to me," but what I am really saying is, "I'm scared I'm not going to have enough." What I'm really thinking about is my fear instead of my faith. 

    If...If, however, I could start from a place of faith instead of fear, how would my approach to stewardship change? Every week at the offertory we say "All things come of thee, O Lord, and of Thine Own, have we given thee." Our pledge, our time, our talents, our treasure, every week we acknowledge that everything we start with already belongs to God, not to us as individuals. How then, can I turn retreat into fear and say "Will I have enough?" if I have already declared in faith that "God has blessed me with riches beyond what I deserve." 

    Stewardship has inspired some truly terrible cliche's about giving, most of them, if we are being honest, can be truly destructive: "Give until it hurts. Think of it as your membership dues!" All of those miss the mark, precisely because they do not address the fear/faith dichotomy. The wisest words I have ever heard about stewardship comes from Anne Frank: "No one has ever become poor by giving."

    That, is the essence of Christian stewardship. That is what inspired the early Christians of Luke's community to share all of their possessions with the church. And that model of trusting our faith rather than our fears which should guide us today. 

 

    We are embarking on a new experiment together: We are going to couch our stewardship campaign in the context of this Easter faith. We are going conquer fear and insecurities with the knowledge and trust of God's grace. 

    This week, Christ the King will begin soliciting two pledges. The first, our yearly stewardship pledge drive of Time, Talent, and Treasure. The second drive, today we kick off an $8000 capital campaign to furnish St. Giles' Hall as a Sunday School and Family Ministry space. 

    Now, I will begin by saying that we, on the Mission Committee, shared concerns, worries, and fears, that we wouldn't reach a more ambitious goal. Now, in the Mission Committee's defense, those concerns were raised in Lent--and we are now an Easter People! Before we even begin our drive, I am thrilled and proud to announce that we have already received commitments totaling more than $2700! And, I am faithful that we will reach our goal successfully. I am assured that we, as a parish, will live out our Easter faith without fear or reproach. I am convinced that Christ the King, as a parish, will live into the promise captured by this morning’s collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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