Stewardship Resources

Posted: Nov 4

Preaching Stewardship - Year A, Proper 27

Preaching Resources

Stewardship Sermon Trajectories
for preaching and teaching on stewardship, fund-raising and spiritual depth regarding money and choices
for the readings of Year A, Proper 27
The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond
Canon for Congregational Life, The Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire
© Concord, New Hampshire, October 2011

(Disclaimer: What follows are some thoughts based on the exegesis of upcoming, Sunday readings as well as from my own reflections on fundraising, life and stewardship, which might lead the reader towards a sermon or class which supports work being done in stewardship (fundraising.) Work to raise money in church (fundraising) and to teach spiritual depth regarding money choices (stewardship) which assists fundraising is a spiritual work with logistical implications and not a logistical work with spiritual implications. The pledge cards may be fantastic with moving, inspiring, full color photos and beautiful design, but if the spiritual formation of the receiver is anemic, the pledge card and all the hard work that went into it is for nothing. Likewise, churches may have both amazing fundraising tools and spiritual teaching around money and choices, but if the mission and outreach among the poor and marginalized is anemic then, because the church does not really deserve the money being asked for, the money will not be given (invested) by generations younger than baby-boomers whose giving is based on a case-for-support which actually changes lives in states of human, physical need. That said, the preaching office is only able to make impact on stewardship/fundraising if a church’s mission and extra-liturgical teaching and formation is being done well.)

Exegetical Resource: Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume Four

The Lessons Appointed for Use on the
Sunday closest to November 9
Year A
Proper 27

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The preacher on these readings will best go with the trajectory of the combined messages of the readings which have at least one locus in the issue of conversion of life and the formation of the soul. As we begin to see a ramping up of media advertizing around shopping and purchasing, we are aware that, as a society, that we are pummeled by the coaxing of envy. These passages invite us to a different, if countercultural way. This is what we mean when we say “in the world and not of the world” since “world,” in the terms of scripture, is not the globe or the earth but rather is noise and stimulation, over-work and under-rest, envy and greed. What does it mean to purify? What does it mean to be like a man-God who lived a life of having nothing but life and then gave even that away in order to allow our venting of anger and rage? What does it mean to speak in stewardship seasons and these passages as a ramping up to Advent while Advent ramps up to Christmas and Epiphany?

Amos 5:18-24
Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:
Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why do you want the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, not light;
as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

The preacher on Amos is dealing with an uber-prophet’s 8th century oracle around the juxtaposition of God’s point of view on worship versus God’s point of view on relationship. This passage has powerful potential for a bold preacher to tease out the themes of God’s unwillingness to accept worship and liturgical niceties when underneath them real relationship is being subverted by the worshipper’s unwillingness to have their behavior match their worship.

We see this all the time in church. People come to church singing God’s praises, bowing, scraping, processing, taking bread and wine, making idle chit chat in nice clothes over coffee while all the while what their friends and neighbors in church do not know – their “dirty little secret” – is that they are stealing from God by living so far beyond their financial means that they are unable or unwilling to make the pledge to God through the church which God requires they make to make right their relationship.

In this passage, God excruciatingly lists the various things God refuses to accept from his worshippers:

1. A desire for the day of the Lord
2. Feast day worship
3. Offerings of grain and meat
4. Singing and praise
5. Music

God simply demands justice and righteousness rather than all this empty speech and action. For us, justice and righteousness is much more than good stewardship but still, has good stewardship in its core. How would we feel if our dinner guests spent hours over cocktails telling us how much they like us only to steal our silver from the dinner table while eating a meal – sweetly smiling and batting their eyes the entire way?

This is the deal: God gives us everything: our heartbeats, our talents, our friends and family, our jobs and our incomes. What God expects back is an acknowledgment that we understand that all we have was not earned but was given. God demands a portion back (10-20% is suggested in our scriptures) even if it is 3 or 4 or 5 percent…but we tend, on average to give less than one percent (statistically.) So what God is saying through his prophet is this:

Do not bow and scrape, sing and praise, process and commune if underneath all that you are going to spend your money as if it is yours earned and not mine given to you. What God is saying here through this powerful prophet is: live with integrity (integer – whole number) by matching what you say to ME with what you do with your money to heal a broken world in which the giving of money from the rich to the poor is a form both of mercy and righteousness.

To preach this in our society will take courage and should only be attempted by clergy whose own integrity, pastoral care provisions and courage are a match for the Word. Righteousness is a question of right living in relationship both with God and with each other. What we DO indicates righteousness, who we are indicates holiness. If worship is a smokescreen for the evil of inequality or greed such as that which is making today’s headlines, then God will call us on it! As does in this passage through this prophet. Our courage to preach it is yet another matter entirely and will emanate from our prayer lives.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This passage is demonstrating the tensions involved in being in the world and of the world. The Thessalonians are in a town and of a new religious expression called Christianity and we can see the same tensions for the Corinthians. They and the author wonder out loud if that is even possible. If we are honest we do too. What would a sermon look like if the preacher re-wrote the reading and inserted “Americans” or “Concordians” or “Littletonians” or “Portsmouthians” (make up a word like this for your town or village) in the place of their own situational geography? Getting playful and a bit silly while being mischievous is a great combination for a preacher of a hard message.

They are incorporated into the Body of Christ they call “the church” and yet they are also a part of the political machine of their place and area. The tension between their new lives and their old ones come to play in this passage and call us to ask the extent to which we have settled into a contract with spiritual and social mediocrity with regard to what we say in church intercessions about the poor and what we do with our money and our pledging to the poor through the church. Does action follow speech and worship or are they disconnected? This is a theme for all the readings and the psalm (the sung reading) this Sunday.

The focus could be on the first lines of this reading:

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

What does it mean to live the Christian life? What does it mean to be different from your unbelieving neighbors? What does it mean to be informed that we are to be giving a portion of our blessings back to God through the church and what does it mean that we should live with the kind of Hope which causes us to give with celebration and joy rather than withhold our giving with miserly fear and greed as a form of internal death over which grief would be appropriate?

Matthew 25:1-13
Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, `Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, `No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, `Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, `Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

We have in this parable an allegory in which the following equations are extant:
1. Bridegroom = Jesus in His final coming
2. maidens (actually virgins) = members of the church
3. wedding banquet = the realization of God’s Kingdom
4. foolish maidens = final judgment

So here Matthew’s community is teasing out the difference between wise and foolish people of which, in this parable there are five each.

The question of readiness here is pointing to the deeper question of discipleship. What are we doing to conform our lives to the Gospel and to what we say we believe. We are back to the question of integrity and happily or sadly (depending on one’s resistance to bold preaching on stewardship and money issues) this Gospel joins the other readings in a demanding requirement that we not pretend to worship a God whose requirement is that we live with our resources in such a way that a portion of ALL of them are given back to God through God’s “body” which we call the church.

(Note: The very real question of whether the church to which the funds are being given deserves the gift of the donor is not a spiritual question but is most definitely a fund raising and social question which could present a barrier to the making of a robust pledge.)

To employ responsible acts of discipleship with our money, which bring us back to both pledging and to Amos’ concerns about mercy and righteousness, is the issue of this passage, these readings this Sunday are the molten core of the work we are doing in stewardship and fund raising in our church.