A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on October 23, 2011 (Proper 25, Year A)
When I was a young curate serving a large parish in downtown Baltimore I kept a small yellow post-it note attached to my computer. On it, I had written the words “It’s the Gospel, Stupid.” Whenever I’d sit down to write a sermon, it served as a constant reminder to focus on the essentials (newly minted preachers tend to wander a bit). While I no longer have the post-it note itself, I would like to think that I’ve somehow indelibly attached that message to my heart.
This particular gospel passage can play a similar role for all of us. Jesus distills the whole life of faith down to the basics. And the message is simple enough and short enough to fit onto a post-it note: “Love God and Love Neighbor.” That’s it; the whole thing is narrowed down to four little words. For all of the religious complexities, all the theological debates, all the Scriptural commentaries, faith itself is a pretty straightforward proposition. That’s not to say it’s always easy to live this out in our daily lives but the basics are pretty clear. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” You could use this as a mission statement and hold it up to your daily calendar. At the end of each day you could look back and ask “In what ways have I loved God and loved neighbor in the past 24 hours?” And then vow to try a bit harder tomorrow.
I’ve talked to a lot of really stressed out people in the past few weeks. People who find themselves moving from one activity to the next at a frenzied pace; people who have no time to themselves; people juggling work and family and volunteer activities; people who know that the balance is out of whack and yet feel powerless to realign the priorities of their lives; people who feel guilty about slowing down for fear of losing momentum; people who want to attend to their faith lives but just don’t seem to have the time.
Believe me, I can relate to much of this. But at a certain point you have to start wondering what’s the point of living life on a treadmill? Where’s the space to simply be? Where’s the joy?
And that’s when Jesus steps in and says “stop.” ‘It’s not that complicated. Love God, love neighbor and everything else will fall into place. You don’t have to do it all yourself; you’re not as important as you think you are; the world won’t fall to pieces if you don’t get everything done.’ This passage is for everyone who is feeling as if life is living them rather than the other way around. Like a cool drink on a hot day it offers relief. The question is whether we will slow down long enough to drink this message deeply into our souls or just keep marching along to the beat of our own anxiety?
It also offers some much-needed perspective. In this context it’s helpful to take a step back and examine your own life’s priorities. What is most important to you in this life? Family, friends, work, hobbies, sports, music? What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning? What are you most passionate about? What role does faith play in your daily life?
When you consider that which brings you the greatest joy, it’s impossible not to see God’s hand at work in the midst of it. Ultimately everything comes back to the grounding of your faith life. Through faith, joy is more complete; passions are better realized; life itself is fuller. These are all big questions and I think it’s important to ask them in the context of financial stewardship (you knew I’d get there eventually). Last week I talked a bit about the theology of stewardship – and even mentioned ferrets in the process. This week, I’ll be a bit more practical. The good news is that we have all the money we need to grow our church, to strengthen our programs, to continue to make this place the most dynamic parish on the entire South Shore. The bad news is that it’s still in your wallets.
Now I know that not everyone is in a financial position to give as much as they might like to St. John’s. I know that many are affected by the turbulent economic conditions. I know that many are on fixed incomes. But I also know that many people – myself included – can do more to support this place. From my own perspective, I love being here, I love this community, I love what we’ve been able to accomplish together the past two years, and I love the direction in which we’re headed. My own pledge will reflect this.
There are as many reasons to love this community as there are people sitting here this morning, wondering when I’m going to stop talking about money. But I’m talking about it because I care, because I invite you to fully immerse yourself into this community, heart, body, soul, and wallet. As an act of thanksgiving, giving is infectious; generosity leads to a wonderful feeling of freedom and letting go. And it helps to root the priorities of our lives and allow us all to get back to the basics of our faith; to the basics of loving God and loving neighbor.
There is hard work to be done when it comes to raising the financial resources to sustain and build upon the vision that’s taking shape around here. In order to annualize the youth minister position, fund S.W.5 (our new Saturday Worship at 5 pm), expand the many ministries of the church, and keep up with rising costs, we need an additional $85,000 in pledges for 2012. It will take some serious financial commitment from each one of us to realize our dreams for St. John’s but I’m confident that by broadening and deepening our support we can attain this lofty goal. The good news here is that when we take some chances, trust in God, and invest in our future, the possibilities are limitless.
This week you’ll be receiving a stewardship packet that will contain information about annual pledging at St. John’s including a narrative budget and a pledge card. I pray that rather than just fill in an arbitrary number, you will be intentional about your giving. How much does this place mean to you and your family? What is the value (financially and otherwise) that you place upon your faith? Do you believe in what we’re doing and are you willing to deepen your commitment to ensure future and continued success?
If you have never pledged before or if it’s a relatively new concept, you should know that without pledges we quite literally can’t do the ministry to which we are called. Your pledge allows us to proactively plan the upcoming year rather than be reactive and timid in both our spending and ministry. Now I realize that from the outside it probably looks like we don’t need any additional resources – this is a big stone church, it looks like a castle, and it’s set high upon a hill in the middle of Hingham ‘They must be doing fine – my pledge would just be a drop in the bucket.’ But that would be wrong on two counts: first, we do rely on parishioner support to keep this place running at a cost of about $1,600 per day and second, we all have a spiritual need to give. Fostering a spirit of generosity is an important piece of any Christian community. And so I encourage your commitment and generosity.
But it all comes back to the basics of loving God and loving neighbor. That’s what we are called to do; that’s what we are challenged to do; and that’s what we must do to follow Jesus as our Lord. Love God, love neighbor. Four little words that say it all.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2011