A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on November 13, 2005.
Based on Matthew 25:14-15, 19-29 (Proper 28, Year A).
Money. It’s a topic no one wants to hear about from the pulpit. It’s fine if Jesus talks about it, as he does in this morning’s gospel. We just don’t want our clergy to preach about it. Because when we start preaching about money, people get uncomfortable. We start to squirm a bit; maybe start coughing. The pews all of a sudden seem even more uncomfortable than they already are.
Episcopalians are particularly vulnerable to this. Money seems an unseemly topic to discuss from the pulpit. It’s so…undignified. And traditionally we like to talk about money about as much as we like to talk about evangelism. Which is not much. We even refer to our annual pledge campaign as our “stewardship program,” thereby avoiding any reference to money. The danger is that we can talk in lofty language about stewardship while forgetting that this is also about money. I’ve heard stewardship sermons that don’t even say the word. They may include beautifully articulated phrases about the theology of stewardship, but money becomes the giant elephant in the sanctuary. No one dares speak of it. And an opportunity to discuss a critical piece of our relationship with God in Christ is lost.
But I don’t think it’s the topic of money itself that turns us off. Indeed, money is generally one of our favorite topics. We like money, we want money and we enjoy spending money. So it’s not the topic itself that makes us uncomfortable. I think what really makes us squeamish is the topic of giving away our money. And that’s what I want to talk about this morning. (Is it getting hot in here?)
I just glossed over the word stewardship, but I do think that it’s a critical context in which to look at our pledge program. Because this over-used word isn’t just a way to trick parishioners into talking about money. It’s not just a euphemism to soften the blow. The concept of stewardship is all-encompassing. It’s a recognition that all we are, and all that we have is a gift from God. And that faithful lives are based on the human response to this divine gift. So stewardship is the giving back to God of our selves through service and the sharing of our financial resources. God has made us stewards – caretakers – of this church, this world, and our relationship with one another. Money alone doesn’t fully define stewardship. But one of the ways we act as stewards is by giving money to our church. We can’t ignore this. And Jesus himself never skirted the issue.
This morning we get the parable of the talents. A talent was a sum of money. It has nothing to do with the traditional stewardship “trifecta” of time, talent, and treasure. In fact it was a large sum of money, equivalent to the amount a day laborer would have been paid for fifteen years of work. So rarely would the average person ever have been entrusted with one talent, let alone five. But that’s what happens. A master divides eight talents among three slaves. One gets five, another two, and a third get one. And then the master goes away for what we’re told is “a long time.” Upon his return, the master settles the accounts. The first doubles his return, making five more talents. The second also doubles his return, making two more. And the third returns the single talent he was given.
What’s curious in this parable about God’s kingdom, is the fate of the third slave. The one who buries his talent and then returns the single talent to the master upon his return. He doesn’t seem to do anything wrong. He didn’t lose the money or squander it. Yet his actions are condemned.
In the context of stewardship, this seems to be a warning to those who approach their relationship with money out of fear. Instead of joyfully using our resources, we often bury them. We become hoarders. And along with it we bury our faith; we bury our trust in God. It forces us to keep looking down, worrying about our buried treasure rather than looking up and glorifying Jesus. And many of us have adopted this posture in our relationship with our money. We’re pack rats, living in fear. Waiting for that rainy day that may or may not come. Fearful that if and when it does, God will not be able to provide.
Last month we had an amazing rummage sale. I’ve never seen so much stuff. Rummage was everywhere. This year, I’d like to challenge us all to give as freely of our money as we did of our rummage. It’s easy to give things away that we don’t want or need. We’ll do that by the truckload. Or at least the minivan-full. But what if you were asked to part with things you really cared about? What would you choose to give away? There is grief in giving something away you care deeply about. I’m not asking you to give until it hurts. But I am asking you to give until you at least notice it. We give rummage away out of our abundance. And our pledging habits often follow the same pattern. ‘Only after I have everything I could possibly want or need will I get down to the business of figuring our my pledge to All Saints.’ But unless pledging comes from your heart, unless it comes out of what really matters to you, it’s as easy as giving away the old sporting equipment wasting away in your garage. And Jesus deserves more than that.
Stewardship, like our faith lives, is not always easy. To fully realize our faith, our giving must be a primary part of our relationship with Jesus Christ, not merely a tangential one. Supporting the mission and ministry of All Saints’ as a central piece of your faith identity is crucial to your relationship with Jesus. I can’t be clearer on this. And it’s why I’m standing up here this morning asking you to give money to your parish. Even if it makes us all a bit uncomfortable.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2005