Friday, November 7, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 23

Whose party is it?

Some of you are old enough
and some of you are young enough
to remember an old Leslie Gore song—
“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to..”.

That song has run through my head all week.
As I read the scripture lessons for this week.
As I read the newspaper and listened to the news.
It’s my party
And I’ll cry if I want to.
Whose party is it?

Moses goes up on the mountain to speak with God
and when Moses doesn’t come back right away
the people gather around his brother Aaron, complaining and shouting
and the next thing you know
they are melting down their gold,
taking control
creating an idol to worship—a golden calf.
A “god” that is tangible and touchable.
Did they think God wouldn’t know, wouldn’t notice?

Jesus tells a parable about a king who is trying to give a party—
a wedding feast for his son.
But it wasn’t really a very happy occasion.
People were invited and they didn’t come.
Not only did they not show up,
people were rude, abusive and destructive.

The king doesn’t take rejection well.
He strikes back—
he gets rid of the murderers and burns down their city.

But the king does not give up.
He is determined to have this feast.
He extends the invitation to a new guest list.
He sends his servants out to invite those
who are never invited to any party.
So the Father,
determined to have this feast
Sends his servants out into the streets
And has them invite everyone and anyone—
That’s right—
The gospel says they invited the good and the bad—
And soon the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Everyone is invited. Everyone is welcome at the party.
But it’s not a free ride.
The guest who shows up dressed as if it’s casual Friday
instead of a wedding feast?
He’s bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness.
I doubt there’s much partying going on
in the outer darkness!
It sounds like a place I don’t want to go!

There is a lot
of chaos and confusion, anger and anxiety
in our scripture readings today.
It’s not too dissimilar to what’s been happening in our world this past week,
especially the financial world.

Wall Street has not been having a party.
And even people without investments are worried about
what this all means.
How will this affect me? You? Us?

Read the headlines in The New York Times or any other paper
and you see words like “Panic,”
“Depression,” “Fear.”

Not exactly the most conducive environment
for kicking off a parish stewardship campaign.
But today is the day we do just that.

There’s a minister named Larry Patten
who says that stewardship is a fancy word
for asking nice church folks to give money.
And we do indeed “stew” over it!

Here’s the biblical truth behind stewardship.
We are called to give 10% back to God.
You’ll find that in more places than one in the Bible.
A tithe.
A portion.
Keep nine sheep but give me the tenth one, says God.
Keep the nine dollars but give me the one dollar.
Ten percent.
It’s easy math.

But that doesn’t mean we like it.
We are funny about money.

Not HA-HA funny,
But weird funny.
Touchy funny.
It’s none of your business funny.

But it is God’s business.
Because the question we have to struggle with is this:
What belongs to God?
Ten percent? Five? One?

What belongs to God?

I think the answer to that is everything.
Everything is God’s.
Every hair on our head.
Every coin coming in and going out of our pockets.

The mortgages we pay, the foreclosures we fear, the SUV or Prius in the garage, the oil in Iraq…

It all belongs to God.
All of it.
Just like we each belong to God.

Do I want you to make a pledge this year?
Of course I do.
Do I wish that every member of this parish would tithe?
Of course I do.

Do I believe we will be bound hand and foot
And thrown into the outer darkness
If we do not make a pledge?
Absolutely not.

But I also believe
that we do not want to be part of the crowd at the foot of the mountain
With our golden calf—
worshipping our everyday, right now wealth and abundance
with no regard to what God calls each of us
to be, to give, to offer, to trust in.

Your pledge—your offering to God—
Is your decision, your choice.
This is a generous and giving parish.
You do give with glad and generous hearts.

I, like you, want this parish to grow and thrive
and be on a strong financial foundation.
We have been blessed
with this little corner of God’s kingdom
called St. John’s Episcopal Church.
It is not ours.
It belongs completely to God.

But we have been invited to the party, to God’s feast.
We have been invited to care for this little corner of the kingdom.
How awesome it is
to know that God trusts us to offer this care.

That is our challenge.
But within that challenge is also our blessing.

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