September 29, 2019

2019 Sept29

 

Proper 21- Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

A couple of years ago, I had the enormous privilege of attending the National Funeral Exhibition in the UK. I went as a member of the Church of England’s Funerals Working Group. After setting up the Church of England’s two stalls, the team got to explore the booths around the convention center, all focused on the funerals industry, at the invitation of the National Association of Funeral Directors. Among the refrigeration units, headstone engravers and the vendors who will turn your loved one’s ashes into diamonds or fireworks, was a certain casket maker.

 

The array of options for caskets was amazing! Photo wraps, wicker caskets, biodegradable caskets, ones with the Blessed Virgin Mary on the lid, or whichever saint the family chooses. But THE most amazing casket was situated in the center of the quadruple-sized stall of the London Casket Company. It was the Emperor, a solid bronze casket, the weight of which I can’t remember, but I was assured that it was not possible to be carried by pall bearers. It was actually very simple: solid bronze, with a natural bronze and black finish, fleur-de-lys trim, and a light cream velvet interior. The cost: $150,000.

 

A similar casket here in the US, The Promethean, has been made famous by the likes of Michael Jackson and James Brown. It is custom made by the Batesville Casket Company, and boasts mirror-finished hand-polished 48ozs/square foot solid bronze, a plush velvet interior and 24-karat gold plated hardware. It’s far cheaper at only $24,000. I’m sorry St Paul: But you CAN take it with you!

 

Today is the kick-off of the
annual stewardship campaign.

 

This is happening without any fanfare, without any stunning visuals, without any snazzy presentations. And we’re not getting commission on any casket sales. Today, we kick off the stewardship campaign, the annual giving campaign, by exploring the theological issues in the Bible readings which are all about money and wealth.

 

In today’s readings, the foundation of stewardship and charitable giving lies in the Psalm. Even though St Paul tells Timothy that “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it”, the nugget is in the Psalm. Almost hidden among this Psalm of praise is a warning that we might lose our Focus. Vs 2&3:

 

  • Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.
  • When they breathe their last, they return to earth, and in that day their thoughts perish.

 

If we rely on ourselves or rely on Earthly things, we are destined to fail. Salvation is not in humanity; salvation is with God. The Psalm goes on to illustrate how we are to put our trust in God: the provider of all things, who gives us all we need, who protects and guides.

 

The heart of Christian stewardship is understanding that our whole lives, our whole beings are through the generosity of God, not by our own self-reliance. Our tendency is to believe, “I, alone, can fix it.” Today’s readings suggest otherwise:

 

  • Amos warns against the flaunting of wealth, extreme opulence, a lack of concern for the world, an almost arrogance about their material comfort.
  • Paul urges Timothy to shun material wealth and instead to pursue that which is Godly.
  • Luke offers a parable which illustrates what happens after a life without God: Hades, Hell, the complete absence of God.

 

Allow me to share a story – a true story – which illustrates the sum of today’s readings.
Dale Schroeder was a carpenter in Ames, IA. He never married and didn’t have children, plus, he was somewhat frugal. He was described by his lawyer as “…that kind of a blue-collar, lunch pail kind of a guy. Went to work every day, worked really hard, was frugal like a lot of Iowans.” Before Dale died in 2005, he told his lawyer, “I never got the opportunity to go to college and so I’d like to help kids go to college.” Dale did just that with a $3 million scholarship fund from his estate. With that money, 33 young Iowans, who otherwise would not have, went to college. The last scholarship recipient, Kira Conrad, told CNN, “I grew up in a single-parent household and I had three older sisters so paying for all four of us was never an option.”

 

www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2019/07/19/iowa-carpenter-paid-students-college-3-million-dale-schroeder-ames-steve-neilsen-scholarship-cnn/1775515001/

 

The opening line in the article in the Des Moines Register reads:

 

“Some people are keenly aware that money is a powerful tool that, when wielded thoughtfully, has the power to transform lives.”

 

Dale helped others transform their lives. And we know that Dale was a religious man, because he had 2 pairs of jeans: work jeans and church jeans! He gave knowing that, even though he worked for a paycheck, what he had was ultimately a gift from God, and that he couldn’t take it with him. Dale’s story tells us two things: first it tells us that we can live much more modestly than we do without being frugal. The second is that giving away what was not ours to begin with won’t hurt how we live our lifestyles now.


Just to be clear: None of these
scriptures say that wealth is bad.


It’s the flaunting of wealth in Amos, the pursuit of wealth instead of God in Timothy and the lack of sharing wealth that that are criticized by today’s readings. Biblically and theologically, there is nothing wrong with wealth. But, as with anything else earthly, wealth becomes bad, it becomes mammon, it becomes dirty money if it impairs or replaces one’s relationship with God, and if it fails to benefit the whole of one’s community. Lusting after wealth can cause one to fall into temptation and be trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.


Wealth can serve God unless it
becomes a distraction, an
obsession, and indeed, even
an addiction.


We can pay people who will tell us how to grow our wealth, how to minimize our tax liability and what is just the right amount to donate to charity in order to maximize our gain. At some point in a person’s life, one must stop and think, “Why am I doing this? What is the end result?” Is it to secure the future, to buy more ‘stuff’, or because we have been taught that that’s what you do with your money: make it earn more, because when it earns more, we don’t have to rely on anyone or anything else? But that self-reliance, says today’s Bible readings, doesn’t align with living a Godly life. If we don’t understand that what we have and what we earn is somehow related to our faith and should be used in faithful ways, we live with greed, self-indulgence and the paranoia that everyone wants a piece of it.

 

The undertone of these scriptures, particularly Amos and Luke, is the use of wealth to serve God by serving the community, because all good things come from God in the first place, and we are simply stewards or managers of God’s abundance. When our charitable giving is rooted in this ethos, as a theology of being stewards of God’s good gifts, then we can help others flourish. Dale’s gift wasn’t a loan, and he isn’t around to repay or to thank. His was a gift with the request that they find some way to pay it forward.

 

Dale’s gift was a kind of oblation. As defined by the Catechism, an oblation is “an offering of ourselves, our lives and labors, in union with Christ, for the purposes of God” (BCP, p857). Based in Christ’s one offering of Himself for our salvation, our oblation is also a form of prayer. Because of the sacrifice of Christ, we make our oblations at the Eucharist, and they can be any sort of offering: bread and wine, of course, but also self, soul, body and, yes, our money. Then we say:

 

Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the splendor, and

the majesty; for everything in heaven and on earth is Yours.
All things come from You, and of Your own do we give You.

 

and

Praise God from whom all blessing flow.

 

Dale’s oblation is not only an example of “You can’t take it with you;” it also supports the parable in Luke, which continues the theme of the dirty money and the self-centeredness it breeds, from last week’s Gospel readings, underscored by Paul:

 

“those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

 

In the ancient story of the parable, Jesus is not condemning wealth; He is warning against neglecting the poor. Notice that the rich man and Lazarus were known to one another – they were in some form of community with one another. The poor man has a name – the only person in any of Jesus’ parables to have a name – and the rich man does not. In Judaism, to be named is to be alive; to have a name is to also be loved. Dale’s oblation illustrates that his wealth was not bad, but that his concern for the poor was the Godly act. Those 33 students and their families and friends will forever have Dale Schroeder’s name on their lips. The rich man who served no one but himself was without love, and now in Hades, is without God.

 

So, our gaining, using and giving are spiritually and theologically grounded.

 

  • all we have comes from God. We are but stewards: managers of what rightfully belongs to God.
  • how we choose to use it should somehow honor where it came from.
  • we give because it isn’t ours to begin with.

 

This informs our understanding of what it means to have a right relationship with God and God’s Children, the Body of Christ, the Church.

 

So, today is the kick-of the annual stewardship campaign, and our Bible readings support the theological underpinnings of how and why we give. Stewardship as an element of faith has been with us since the Book of Genesis when humans were made Stewards of Creation. Fast forward a few thousand years: As stewardship became synonymous with church giving campaigns in the 19C to the present day, the concept of Christian stewardship asserts that all people are benefactors of the earthly presence of the Body of Christ, of our church family, of our time together.

 

During this Giving Campaign:

 

  • Give some thought about how your life, labor and livelihoods are oblations: offerings of yourself for the purposes of God.
  • Give some thought to how your career, wealth (however you define that) and material possessions fit into “All things come from You, and of Your own do we give You” on p13.
  • Give some thought to giving being a spiritual activity, a faith-based activity.

 

The evidence is that Dale Schroeder believed ‘giving’ to be a spiritual activity, and he knew that he couldn’t take it with him. Our offerings and oblations are simply giving back to God what was God’s in the first place; we are only the stewards, managers of that which is not our own. The rich man in Jesus’ parable was criticized for not following the ways of Moses. Simply put, that is to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the resident alien. Let’s be stewards of both God’s gifts and God’s people – let’s be stewards of one another.

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