Last year I invited Mary Sorrells to preach during our stewardship campaign. Mary chaired our Diocesan Stewardship Commission for several years. She was truly excellent and the congregation responded to her so positively, as did I. What a blessing it is to hear new and heartfelt voices from the pulpit.
This year I thought: I need to invite another lay person to preach during our stewardship campaign. Yes, I pledge to St. John's as do most of the members of our congregation and I do not have a problem talking about money. After all, Jesus talked about money--a lot! But I also realize that some might see my giving as somewhat self-serving; after all, I am paid for my priestly ministry. So I began to pray, to discern whom I should ask. One person kept coming into my prayers over and over. So finally I sent him an email asking him to consider my request to preach. What a blessing that he said yes!
This past Sunday he was our guest preacher at both services at St. John's. His name is Chris Rhodes and he is a longtime member of St. John's and a gifted lay person with many talents--which he shares abundantly with our parish. He is truly one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. It wasn't until he stood in the pulpit this past Sunday that I discovered he is also a fine, fine preacher. What follows is his sermon.
Sermon at St. John's Episcopal Church for September 17-18, 2011
Several weeks ago I got an email from Jeanne, entitled, “a few things.” She had asked me if I would get up and talk about “giving.” My first reaction was, is that woman crazy, I’d be scared to death. After my heart settled I thought, what magic words could I possibly give to this congregation that would make them want to give more than they already are. No way. Later I realized, anything I can give this church to help in fulfilling her ministries, I’ve got to be willing to try.
I’m not a preacher, I can’t call this a sermon. I’m not a politician, so I won’t make a speech. I am a teacher, I could call this a lesson plan, but we’re not in school. I am who I am, so I guess I’ll just call it, the world according to Chris……..or perhaps I could call it “a few things……giving, in chronological order”.
Somewhere back between 1964 and 65 I can remember sitting on the living room floor of my grandparents home on Bell Road. While sitting on that unraveling braided rug one dark evening, thunder and lightning in the background, me, my brother, and my cousin were getting a lesson in Revelations. I appreciate my grandfather for making things easy for me to understand. He compared God to Santa Claus, someone who was always watching me, and of course was making a list and checking it twice. Well I’m here to confess, I’ve been naughty, but I hope I’ve also been nice. So I guess the best way for me to get into heaven is to give.
Then I grew to a young teenager, dropping coins in a mite box. I don’t remember why or anyone telling me why but someone probably said, “it was for the needy”. Needy, I would have thought, who’s needy. I had never seen a homeless person, I’d never seen dirty, holey clothes or rotten teeth, and of course I didn’t know about poverty in this country or starving children around the world. Like most kids growing up I guess I was too well protected.
Sammy was taken from his family at a very early age. I remember him crying for two days and daddy kept telling him, “Sammy, we love you.”
The college years were just a blur, so we’ll skip that. However I do recall loosing a contact because a little 8 year old mountain girl needed a spit cup.
I remember a conversation my father had with Sandra and me. He told us that we live financially backwards. We never have enough money when we’re young and we usually have all we need as we get older. Well at that time I felt like we were the needy ones. As I’ve grown older I tend to lean towards the feeling of today’s collect, to hold on to heavenly things.
So seriously, when did I start to make giving an important part of my life?
Perhaps it was when St. John’s went one Sunday afternoon uptown to the Church of the Advocate to feed the homeless and John Fisher boiled the biggest pot of rice I’d ever seen in my life.
What about when Gene Melton, during a fall festival would put on that silly, ridiculous wig and nickel and dime everyone in sight.
And the bake sales from the ECW, Anne Bryant deserves an award for all the hours that she spent in the kitchen.
How about Wolfgang, nailing plywood up on the roof of the shed so we would have more room to store more junk.
And Betty, sewing those precious clothes for dying infants.
From time to time some of the women here at St. John’s will bring a friend from Black Mountain with them to church on Sunday. I don’t know if anyone ever says thank you, but we do.
You know, we never had a hard time getting volunteers to work on the habitat house as long as Jane was around.
I remember seeing a commercial on TV about sponsoring a child and Sandra said, “why don’t we do that?,” and the day came when a representative from Food For The Poor visited St. John’s.
Maybe I began giving when I witnessed three dedicated ministers in Sonja, Bobby, and Jane, who, while between priests, held this church in their hands.
And you always felt so special when the bishop would smile at you if you accidentally forgot and addressed him by his first name.
I think of Paul, I believe he was wearing a Tux, serving chicken dinners to the congregation for a fundraising dinner and sing a long that the choir had sponsored. He kept telling those of us in the kitchen, what an excellent job we were doing.
I remember when someone let a homeless man spend the night here in the church for a while.
And I’ll always treasure the heartfelt thoughts and words of the outgoing senior wardens and how what they say, feels so real.
I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of seeing a small church develop its own habitat program and Patsy along with this small church gave practically everything they could to a poor woman who had nothing and finally for once, the last was first.
And I’m so proud of my aunt, for all the art work she has given this church.
As I wrote this and prepared for this day, I felt a deep appreciation for what Jeanne has to go through each week to give some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard. Jeanne you are our blessing.
I think of all the hard work and perseverance from the hearts of today’s congregation, as I can now look out and see God’s creation at this moment.
I think of all these people and I see how truly blessed I am to be among you, my brothers and sisters. We are a small church but we are a strong church, whose bound by love.
Giving is not something that happens or begins when you’re 4 or 13 or 25. It’s a culmination of experiences you breathe, see, and feel when God somehow finds his way to your heart.
I remember being in the choir room before my grandmothers funeral, my mother was calling out the hymn numbers. 318, and Penelope said, “oh no, not that one, I’ll never make it to the end.” And I thought, what’s that about. So I looked it up. “Here O my Lord, I see thee face to face.” I don’t want to miss out on that.
I sometimes wonder if God sends modern day Jesus to us in the form of a person holding up a cardboard sign. Jesus did not turn his back on us and remember, He’s making a list.
I don’t know if I’ll get to heaven. I give because there are people out there who are less fortunate than me and they need it.
I was watching the History channel 2 years ago on Easter morning before church, “The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ”. Can you imagine being laid on a cross, on the ground, your arms stretched out and having a nail driven through your palm and bleeding to death.
I received a thank you letter from the Food For The Poor organization one time and in it was this piece of paper that read, “And the king will say to them in reply, Amen, I say to you, whatever you did to one of these least brothers of mine, you did to me.” I don’t want to turn my back on Jesus.
I give because I have everything I need. I’m satisfied. I’m here………and I can thank God for that. Amen.