November 15, 2020
+ Today, of course, is Stewardship Sunday.
It is the Sunday when we begin this short but very important season of Stewardship.
It is a time in which we look hard at ourselves and ask ourselves the important questions of what St. Stephen’s means to us, and how we contribute of ourselves and our resources to St. Stephen’s.
For some churches, stewardship time is a difficult time.
It is a time of uncertainty.
It is a time when people kind of groan and inwardly complain.
“The priest is going to talk about money!”
But for us at St. Stephen’s, it’s never really like that.
For us, here, people LIKE to be members here.
And people here LIKE to help our congregation out.
People here like to step up to the plate.
Because people can see what we do.
People can see that although we are not a mega-church, we are not a giant church, we do make a big difference.
We are a place where we don’t just “talk the talk,” we very much “walk the walk.”
We don’t just pay lip service to our commitment to making a difference in this world.
We actually work hard to make a difference.
And let me tell you, we have done so even this past year, during the worst pandemic we have ever had.
Although we, like every church, had to adjust to the pandemic, we also knew that we had to still provide something for people.
We still had to DO something.
Although we closed for public worship, we quickly adjusted to online worship and, without a beat, provided Mass each Sunday and Wednesday, even in the darkest, most frightening days of pandemic.
And because we did, as we heard from many people who tuned in, we provided some comfort, some sense of normalcy, even then.
Of course, behind the scenes, we also struggled.
We weren’t certain at times how to do what we needed to do.
None of us were tech-savvy.
We didn’t even have a tripod at first.
All we had were our phones and, thankfully, our Facebook group.
But before we knew it, we worked it all out, and we were able to provide Mass for people.
And even during the pandemic, we also did the ministry we needed to do.
People’s pastoral concerns were met, although at a distance.
We still did funerals, and baptisms and weddings, although all of them were done in new and innovative ways.
We even welcomed 5 new members into our congregation.
And we even were able to celebrate the ordination of our first Deacon during this time.
Plus, we renovated and made fully available one of our most public and visual ministries for the public, our labyrinth, which has also provided spiritual substance to people during the pandemic.
What does all of this show us?
It shows us that we are not a lazy congregation.
We could’ve been.
We could’ve closed our doors.
We could’ve chosen not to do virtual worship.
We could’ve postponed the baptisms, the weddings and said no to the funerals.
We could’ve just stopped.
But, when the going gets tough, we all rose to the occasion.
We did the ministries that needed to be done.
And we served Christ and each other the best we could.
All this talk of laziness ties in well with this strange, difficult parable for this morning.
We get this parable of the talents, of money lent and the reward awaiting those who were entrusted with the money, complete with its not-so-subtle wag of the finger at us.
Trust me, I did not purposely pick this scripture for this Stewardship Sunday; it just happened to come up in the lectionary today.
But, man, is this parable is a very good story for us today!
Most of us can relate to it.
We understand how good it is to have people invest money for us and to receive more in return.
It certainly speaks in a very special way to us in this strange, scary and unstable time in which we are living at this moment.
But, this parable isn’t really about money at all, as we probably have guessed, just as Stewardship I just about money either.
The parable is about taking what we have—and in the case of today’s reading Jesus is talking about the Gospel—and working to expand it and return it back to God with interest.
We, as Christians, are called to just this: we are called to work.
We are called to do something with what we’ve been given.
And the worse thing we can imagine as Christians is being called by that ugly word I mentioned earlier:
See. The word cuts like a razor.
I hate that word!
None of us want to hear that word directed at us, especially regarding our faith.
It is that shaming admonition we hear in this parable: “You wicked and lazy slave!”
It’s not what we want to hear.
Rather, we want to hear:
“Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
Over and over again in Scripture, we find this one truth: God is not really ever concerned with what we have; but God is always concerned with what we do with what we have.
And we should always remind ourselves that it is not always an issue of money that we’re dealing with when we talk about what we have.
The rewards of this life include many other things other than money—an issue we sometimes forget about in our western capitalist society.
The fact is, God is not always concerned about who we are or what we do.
God does not care about our ego.
God does not care about your ego!
But, God is always concerned with what we do with who we are and what we have.
And when we’re lazy, we purposely forget this fact.
When we’re lazy, we think we can just coast.
We think we can just “get by.”
We think we can just give lip service to our gratitude and that is enough.
We expect others to do the hard work while we sit back.
But it isn’t enough.
To be "good and trustworthy” is to take what we have and do something meaningful with it.
By doing something good, we are showing our gratitude for it.
In these two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, we might find ourselves thinking about all the things in our lives we are thankful for.
And we should be expressing our thanks to God for those things.
But what God seems to want from us more than anything else is to let that thankfulness be lived out in our lives.
Yes, we should give thanks to God with our mouths.
But we must give also thanks to God with our actions.
Today, we are reminded that, essentially, from that first moment when we became Christians in the waters of baptism, we are called to live out our thankfulness to God in our very lives, in what we do and how we act.
Our thankfulness should not simply be the words coming from our mouths, but also the actions we do as Christians.
As Christians truly thankful to God for all we have been given, we are to live a life of integrity and purpose and meaning.
And standing up again and again to what is wrong.
We show our thankfulness to God in our stewardship—in the fact that we are thankful by sharing what we have been given.
By sharing the goodness we have been given.
And in that sharing, we find the true meaning of what it means to be gracious.
In that sharing, we find purpose and meaning in our lives.
In that sharing, we find true contentment.
We all have our treasures in this life.
We all have these special things God has given us.
It might be our talents, it might be our know-how, it might be a blessing of financial abundance.
It might just be our very selves.
We have a choice with these treasures.
We can take them and we can sit on them.
We can store them away and not let them gain interest.
And in the end, all we have is a moldering treasure—which really isn’t a treasure at all.
Or we can take a chance, we can invest them and, in investing them, we can spread them and share them.
During this stewardship season, the message is not “Give”
The message of this stewardship time is “be grateful.”
Even in a pandemic.
Be grateful to God for the treasures of this life.
These are the things we have—our talents, our God-given abilities, the material blessings of our lives—and to be truly thankful for those things, we need to be grateful for them and to share them.
We can’t hoard them, we can’t hug them close and be afraid they will be taken from us.
And we can’t go through life with a complacent attitude—expecting that others are going to take of these things for us.
We must share what we have.
And we must share what we have with dignity and self-assurance and with a graceful and grateful attitude.
We must be gracious
We must not be the lazy slave who hoards what is given him, afraid to invest what he has.
We must instead be like the wise servant, the one is alert and prepared, the one who is truly gracious.
That is what Stewardship is really about.
It is about giving of ourselves, even when the times are tough.
And it is about making sure that we at St. Stephen’s can continue to do that and be that place in the future.
So, let us be the wise servants this Stewardship season.
Let us continue to step up to the plate and do what we must do.
Let us make sure that we as a congregation can continue to be a place of safety, of integrity, of holiness and love, when times are good and when times are bad.
Even during a pandemic.
Let us give thanks to God for all that St. Stephen’s does and is and continues to be.
And let us make sure that we can continue to be this radical place we are, this unique and eclectic and Holy Spirit-filled place we are.
And let us all do what we are called to do in our service of God and one another.
And if we are, we too will hear those words spoken to us—those words we all truly long to hear—“Well done, good and faithful one…enter into the joy of your master.”
Let us pray.
Abundant God, you provided us always with just what we need; we ask you during this Stewardship time to continue to provide this congregation of St. Stephen’s with the resources we need, with the time and talent needed, to do the work you have called us to do, to be a place of love and acceptance to those who need shelter, to embody those principals in this often dark and uncertain world, and to make a difference among those who need us; we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.