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

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