Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 2009 (Proper 8B)

A Sermon from All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor, New York
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on June 28, 2009 (Proper 8, Year B)

What do you do about tip jars? They’re everywhere, of course. Starbucks, Dom & Vinnie’s pizzeria, 7-11. Pretty much anywhere there’s an exchange of money you’ll see a tip jar. Sometimes it’s a coffee can; sometimes it’s a glass jar so you can see the generosity of those who have come before you. Sometimes they’re bedecked with cute slogans like “Tipping is not a city in China or “Fear change? Leave it here.” But there they sit next to the cash register, offering you a choice: to tip or not to tip? That is the question.

The tip jar used to be the sole purview of the lounge lizard piano player. Make a request; put a few bucks into the jar. But now they’re everywhere. Which makes you wonder about the motivations for tipping. Is it for exceptional service? Is it a deposit to guarantee future good service? Is it to get rid of the annoying coins rattling around in your pocket? Is it to supplement the income of the poorly compensated? Is it done out of guilt? And who does it really benefit? The employee or you? Does tossing in your 38 cents change make you feel like Daddy Warbucks while ordering at Starbucks? Or is it a defense against having someone spit in your next cup of coffee?

Charity is a predominant theme in our readings this morning. Moses says to the Israelites, “If there is among you anyone in need, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor… I therefore command you ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” Paul writes to the church in Corinth that “it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need.”

So, does tipping the barista at Starbucks count as charity? I’m not sure this is really what true charity is all about. Charity is a gift of the heart; it comes out of a place of deep love and faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Which is why there’s a difference between Christian charity and generic ‘I gave at the office’ charity. Both are good; both can provide wonderful services to those in need. But only Christian charity has the ability to transform the giver. The notion of Christian charity transcends charitable giving. It’s not about seeing your name show up on a list of alumni donors to your college or to the New York Philharmonic. Christian charity is an unlimited loving-kindness to others that springs forth from a deep and abiding faith in Jesus. Which can’t be relegated to the realm of a tax write-off.

In the name of Christ we are bid to clothe the naked, comfort the afflicted, and feed the hungry. Not because it’s the right thing to do, which it is, but because we have a gospel mandate to do as Jesus has taught us. Giving to charity is important to do not only for people in need but for ourselves and our own spiritual health and well-being. So there’s a double benefit. As the great medieval hymn says: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est: “Where charity and love are, there God is.” 

But the broader point here is that our giving, in and of itself, cannot ultimately transform us – no matter how good our intentions or how deep our generosity. It is Jesus alone who can wholly transform us through our charity by bringing us face to face with God. We see this in our gospel reading, the account of the healing of Jairus’ daughter. Jesus is moved by Jairus’ faith and responds out of God-inspired charity; the deep well of charity that inspires compassion and love and kindness. Granted, we can’t raise the dead; that’s not the kind of charity we have to offer. But imagine the possibilities if we were able to tap into true Christian charity. Imagine the good we could do in Jesus’ name. Imagine the power we hold to transform the world around us. Jesus holds this up before us through the miraculous healing of a little girl. 

And that transformation can start with just one person. It can be something as simple as acting with true Christian charity toward someone you know, a friend or family member, or a stranger. But it takes action and intentionality on our part; not just money. It means literally reaching out our hand in love; which is precisely what Jesus does in reaching out to Jairus’ daughter and lifting her up.

Christian charity must always be a balance between sharing our resources with those in need and reaching out our hands to others. It’s easy to do the one and not the other. Especially when it comes to money. Hence the tip jar analogy. And it’s important to remember that the church collection plate is decidedly not a tip jar. Though we sometimes treat it as such. We toss in some loose change or whatever we happen to have in our pockets. Or maybe we treat church as a consumer experience: ‘That was about a $5 sermon.’ Oh, it’s probably not as overt as that but at a subconscious level it’s a temptation. And what it does is shift the emphasis of faith from God’s loving grace to our beneficent generosity. The tip jar gets fed out of our disposable income; the collection plate should not. Because financial stewardship is about putting our money where our faith is.

‘Wait a minute, why is he talking about money this morning? It’s not even stewardship season.’ You didn’t realize I could read minds. But as I said, giving money is only a part of true charity. But it’s an important part. And so thinking about your pledge to All Saints’ is something you can do at any time during the year. It’s also helpful to have a plan for charitable giving whether it’s to the church or to other organizations or causes about which you’re passionate. Haphazard giving leads to a haphazard faith. 

I haven’t gotten many tips in my life, though someone did try to tip me at our Christmas tree sale a few years ago after I tied a tree onto the roof of their Lexus. And I’m not sure if Jairus tried to leave Jesus a tip after he brought his daughter back from the brink of death. But I doubt it. I can’t imagine he would then turn around and treat Jesus like the parking lot valet. I’d imagine Jairus left this encounter a changed man – his great faith had brought him to beg at Jesus’ feet and he had literally come face to face with God. Which allowed him to see the limitless possibilities of faith and charity.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2009


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