Monday, September 22, 2014

One Nickel, Five Pennies

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things.
Those are the words we hear in the opening collect this morning.

Oh, how we do worry and fret about earthly things!

In doing a little research
what I discovered is that worries about money and finances
are at the top of the list
for most of us,
the top of the list for what causes worry and stress.

Other things made the worry list, too of course--
worries about health, about relationships, about our lives having meaning--
but worries about paying bills
and having enough money for retirement and meeting budgets
and managing our assets--
top of the list for most.

Earthly things.
Our concern with earthly things starts very early in life.

I can’t remember exactly how old I was,
but I know that I received an allowance
from the time I was a very, very young child.

Certain responsibilities came with this allowance--
at various times I was in charge of setting the dinner table
or drying the silverware after my older sister washed dishes.
Sometimes I was in charge of dusting the living room--
my dusting skills have not increased proportionately with my age.

For accomplishing these tasks
(or at least attempting to accomplish them)
I received ten cents each week.
Later my allowance increased
but ten cents is where I remember beginning.
One dime.

Except I was never given a dime.
I was always given one nickel
and five pennies.

I got paid on Saturday evening
and on Sunday morning
(and yes, we did go to church every Sunday)
the expectation was very clear--
I would tithe a portion of my allowance.
One penny--10% of one dime--went into the collection plate--
as it was passed down the row.

I never questioned this. 
My mother had explained that this is what we do
as people of God.
We give away part of what has been given to us.

You may not be familiar with tithing.
It’s not an invention of the Baptists.
it is actually biblical.
The word tithe is a variation of the word tenth,
so tithing means that you give 10% to God, to the church.

Now I think I have told you before
that a special treat for my brother, sister and I
was that sometimes we got to go and spend the weekend
with our grandparents.
We got to go separately.
We got to be an only child for the weekend.

One of those weekends when I was with my grandparents,
just like clockwork,
my grandfather gave me my allowance.
Saturday night. Ten cents.
He gave me a dime.

I put the dime in my purse.
I don’t remember how old I was,
but I clearly remember that purse.
It was shaped like the head of a panda bear
and was black and white patent leather.
Being that it was patent leather and I lived in the south,
that means it was summer time when this story happened

The next morning we got up and went to church.
I was quite dressed up and I had that little purse with me
and was so happy to be sitting next to my grandmother.
Now church was church
and we prayed and sang and stood up and sat down
and then it was time for the offering to be collected.

The ushers began to pass the collection plates--
we Episcopalians call them ALMS BASINS.
And then-- it suddenly hit me.
I did not have my usual one nickel and five pennies.
I had one dime.

And as I have said,
I don’t know how old I was
but I do remember one thing:
I remember thinking there was NO WAY
I was putting that entire dime in the collection plate.

I loved Jesus
but Jesus wasn’t getting my dime.

By the time the collection plate started down our row,
I had a death grip on the handle of that little patent-leather panda purse.
My grandmother took that shiny brass plate, put in her own giving envelope
and held the plate towards me.

I looked straight ahead.

She nudged the plate towards me and I looked the other way.
When I glanced back up at her,
she was looking right at me.

Not saying a word
but let me tell you,
those eyes--that look--said it all.
She held the plate directly in front of me
and I realized that she wasn’t budging--
that plate was going to rest right under my nose
for all eight verses of that hymn and beyond.
Blessed assurance
that plate wasn’t moving.

Finally, I unsnapped my purse,
pulled out the dime and dropped it into the plate.
My grandmother nodded and smiled and returned the plate
into the hands of the waiting usher.

I don’t think I cried,
but I wanted to.
I didn’t have bills to pay but I knew that by giving up my whole allowance,
I wasn’t going to be making an afternoon trip
to Mr. Joseph’s corner candy store.
Or buying a new comic book at Pope’s Dime Store.
I was broke!

The ride home from church was quiet.
We got home and soon lunch was on the table.
When I went to sit down,
there was a shiny dime right beside my plate.

I looked at my grandmother who looked at my grandfather.
He said,
“Generosity always comes back to us.”
That was all that was said
and soon our mouths were filled with fried chicken and green beans
and boiled potatoes.
But I have never forgotten that day.
Generosity always comes back to us.

Paul writes to the Phillippians, your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

I think that is what my grandparents did
and my parents
and now I try,
I TRY, to do that.

Even though my grandmother forced my hand a bit that day,
to get me to part with my dime,
she never intended that giving be painful.
She truly believed that giving to God was a joyful act
something we did in thanksgiving.

Because you see,
even if we tithe,
it means we keep 90 cents on the dollar.
We give 10 cents on the dollar for God’s work in the world.

Oh I know.
We don’t get to keep the full 90 cents.
Part of that dollar goes to taxes and to utility bills and all such as that.
But somehow giving 10 cents of every dollar I am blessed with
seems like a great and generous bargain.

Every person has to make their own decision,.
What you will give.
If you will give.
It is a very personal decision
but I believe it is a decision that we don’t make by ourselves.
It is a decision to be made
between each of us and God.

It is a conversation with God I encourage each one of us to have--
about earthly things and heavenly things.

There is no doubt in my mind how much you love St. Paul’s.
It shows in a myriad of ways.
How you give your time,
how you share your immense and diverse talents.
The love you show one another.
But we fool ourselves
if we think that we are not called to share our wealth.

Wealth does not mean we are Bill Gates rich.
Wealth means we have been blessed with enough.
The question is: What is enough?

We hear the Hebrew people complaining in the wilderness.
They wanted to go back to Egypt--
back to slavery and Pharaoh!
They want to have their “fleshpots”--that’s not a pornographic desire--
a flesh pot in that time period just meant a great big cooking pot--
they want more bread and meat than they can really consume.
Imagine that.
They are willing to return to being slaves
so that they can have MORE.
Enough is not enough for them.
What is enough for you?
For me?
Can we be happy with enough rather than more?

Today we begin our Annual Giving Campaign.
What we pledge to give over the next year,
in 2015, will enable us as the Cathedral Church of St. Paul to live more fully
into being a house of worship and prayer
and community.

What we give will provide music and preaching and pastoral care
and programs for all ages.
What we give will reach out into the community and around the world.
What we give will pay electricity bills and salaries and keep the walls standing.

What we give is completely up to each one of us.
I hope we each take the time to prayerfully consider our gift,
to be honest about all we have, all we have been given,
to pray about what is enough for us
and what might we joyfully give away?

Grant us not to be anxious about earthly things.
Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Generosity always comes back to us.

+     +     +

Sermon for Year A Proper 20
September 21, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

Let Love Loose

If we look up the definition of the word conflict,
as used as a noun, we find this:

+ a fight, battle, or struggle
+ controversy; quarrel
+ discord of action or feeling;
+ antagonism or opposition
+ a striking together; collision.
+ incompatibility or interference

The truth is most of us do not have to look up the definition of conflict.
We know what it is.
We have felt it in our gut on more than one occasion
and we don’t like it.

Google the word conflict and you find over 87 million entries.
Type the word “conflict” into the Amazon search box
and it immediately shifts to “conflict resolution”
and offers 57,000 possible books to read.

I am not sure if Amazon includes the gospel of Matthew
as one of those books,
but, indeed, this is what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel reading:
conflict resolution.
More specifically, how to resolve conflicts in the church.

His shared wisdom is not long or complicated.
If there’s a conflict, go directly to the person and talk with them about it.
Just the two of you.
Don’t tell your best friend, don’t call your momma,
don’t post obtuse comments on Facebook,
don’t just sit and stew about it.
Go and talk directly with the person.
Sometimes that is all it takes.

But if that doesn’t seem to work, Jesus says,
take one or two others with you and have another conversation
with the person.
Not a harsh, accusatory conversation
but take others with you who might be able to listen in different ways,
to communicate more clearly than you have communicated.
In other words,
Jesus is saying, don’t just give up
that you can be reconciled.

But if that doesn’t work,
bring the matter before the whole church.
Is there any way we can find away to be reconciled?

But if that doesn’t work,
you may just have to accept
that the person does not really want to be part of the community.
Sometimes people choose to remain on the outside.
It’s not what we hope or dream
but sometimes it happens.
Sometimes we have to walk away.

Jesus can be a realist when he needs to be.

Jesus knows that being a community of faith
takes work.
Being a church is not about our own individual journeys,
it’s about journeying together.

It’s about climbing out of our own little kayak
and joining the crew of a much larger sailing ship.
A ship that can carry us to deeper and more meaningful waters.
But it takes learning to work together.
We can only go so far with our own little paddles;
traveling together is a far richer journey.

Jesus knows that being a church,
a community of faith, is difficult.
We human beings like to do things our way.
But the message here is quite clear
that we need to work to love one another
and when that love seems to develop some cracks
we need to be intentional about reconciliation.

We need to not allow
our differences or our disagreements to bind us.
We need to let love free us, to loose us.
Always remembering that God is with us.

This scripture is not about giving us permission or a procedure
to judge other people.

The Church is not called to be a place of judgment.
Jesus is trying to teach us that the church needs to be a place
of love and healing and reconcilation.
The church should be a positive model
of how we can live and work and be together
in community.
And celebrate this!

There are, indeed, some who interpret this passage from Matthew’s gospel  very literally
as a way to include or exclude,
to shame or to shun,
to turn their backs on those whom they perceive
as outside the boundaries and laws of the church,
as unacceptable to God.

We must always remember
that no one,
no one,
is unacceptable to God.

Some of you know that I have a bumper sticker on my car
that reads:
God loves everyone. No exceptions.

I am not really a bumper sticker sort of person,
but  I believe what this bumper sticker says.
I also know that it is not easy.
It might be easy for God to love everyone,
but it is not easy for me.
But it’s how I want to be, how I want to live,
how I want to love.
With no exceptions.
And I need the Church-you--
to keep helping me along this journey.
And I will try to keep inspiring and helping you.

One day I had a meeting at another church
and I had parked in their parking lot (not sure if that was allowed or not),
gone in, had the meeting and was leaving,
heading across the parking lot to my car.

About the time I approached my car
this very large, burly man shouted out to me,
“Is that your car?

I turned and said, “Yes. It is.”
I thought I was about to get a stern talking to
about parking where I should not have parked.

The man walked toward me
and said,
“I have a problem with you.”

Okay, I thought, breathe, breathe, smile.
“You do? Why is that?”

“I have a problem with your bumper sticker.”

Breathe. Breathe. Smile.

“Why is that? “ I asked.

“Do you believe that? Do you really believe that God loves everyone??”

Oh boy, I thought. Here we go.

“Actually, I do believe that.”

“Well, I don’t!” said the man, now standing right in front of me.

“Oh. Why not?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t for a minute believe that God loves the N.Y. Yankees!!”
and he burst out laughing.

After a little chat about both of us being loyal Red Sox fans,
he was still laughing and he waved me good bye.

God loves everyone.
Yes, the NY Yankees included.

God’s deepest desire is that we find a way to love one another, too.
To work things out.
To resolve our conflicts.
To come together.
To always give one another a chance to start over.

Yes, there are rules.
Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t covet.
The Ten Commandments aren’t suggestions--
they are commandments.
Do this. Live this way.
We can’t just always do what we want,
act with disregard or disdain for others.
It doesn’t work.
It hurts people and ultimately it hurts us.

Live honorably. Stop quarreling.
Put aside your jealousy.

All those things destroy community.
They destroy churches too.
We are so blessed here at St. Paul’s.
This is a loving, caring, welcoming church--
and my prayer is that it will always be so
and will only become more and more and more so.

There is a song that was popular a few years back,
one of those semi-irritating songs that becomes an earworm,
that had a refrain,
“Who let the dogs out?
Who? Who? Who? Who?
Who let the dogs out?”

God calls us to sing a different song.

Who let the love out?
Who? Who? Who? Who?
Who let the love out?

Jesus calls us to loose love.
Not to LOSE love.
But to LOOSE love.

To let love run rampant.
To let the love out.
Every chance we get.
To let love out
and leave the gate wide open.

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Sermon for Year A Proper 18
September 7, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, VT
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan