Proper 21, Year B
September 27, 2009
St. James’s Episcopal Church
I wish everyone here could have been present for our Feast training dinner a couple of weeks ago. It‘s an event we hold every year a week or two before the Feast. It’s designed as a training dinner for all those who have volunteered to give their time on the night of the Feast. This year we had two guest speakers who spoke very briefly but their message was powerful and moving. I mentioned a little bit about this at the Forum last Sunday. They weren’t visiting clergy or stewardship experts from out of town. Rather, they were two people whose lives have been changed, improved because of the programs and ministries that take place in our church.
Our first speaker was Robyn. Several years ago Robyn found herself on the verge of homelessness. She and her family were on the brink of losing everything due to medical problems and a loss of income because she couldn’t work. She had heard about our ACTS Program (Area Congregations Together in Service). ACTS is a ministry designed and supported by churches around the city to help people in crisis from falling into homelessness. St. James’s was one of the founders of ACTS and our very own Nancy Warman is the principal architect of this amazing ministry. Robyn knew about ACTS but she never thought she would be in a situation where she would need that kind of help. Embarrassed, she approached Nancy to see if she might qualify for some assistance. Nancy, who has amazing pastoral skills, assured Robyn that this was exactly the reason ACTS was created to help good hard working folks like herself who have fallen on hard times. Robyn was given some assistance with her rent and utilities and because of ACTS she was able to keep her family afloat and weather the storm. As a consequence of this experience Robyn felt that she needed to give back. She is now the Director of the Respite Care Program at the Daily Planet. Respite Care provides a place for homeless folks who have been discharged from the hospital. It gives them a free, short term, safe place to recover from their illnesses. Rather than leave the hospital and have to live under a bridge or in someone’s alley, with Robyn’s leadership these homeless people have a place where they can receive care until they get back on their feet.
Our second speaker was Bill. Bill has been a member of one of our AA groups here at St. James’s for almost 20 years. Some of you may not know this but we provide space for more than 20 different NA and AA groups to meet. They gather in what we call the catacombs, the basement space underneath the parish house. For years we have made this space available to the community and different groups meet there all week long from early in the morning to late at night on weekends. Bill shared with us what this space has meant to him. It’s the place where he found sobriety, and where he maintains his sobriety. It’s the place where he found friendship and community. He told us that for the last 19 years the catacombs has been his living room. He shared with us that although he has never been inside the church, St. James’s is a deeply important place to him, a place that had literally saved his life.
The preacher John Killinger, in a sermon called, “The Great Importance of Little Deeds,” once wrote, “It’s an exciting thought that when we die and come into the presence of God and all its fullness, it will not be our major achievements that speak for us, ‘He was president of a bank. She was the first woman senator from her state. He was the author of 22 books,’ but the small apparently inconsequential things that we long ago forgot. ‘He mowed my lawn when I was sick. She cared for my child when I went to the market. He sent me flowers when I needed them most. She washed and mended my socks.’ These are the little things that hold the world together. They are the small stones that comprise the great cathedrals where God is worshipped. They shall be remembered,” says Killinger, “like stars in the crown of the saints.”
It’s easy to stand up here and talk about stewardship from the point of view of the big stuff – utility bills, staff salaries, and program costs. But when we use these kinds of categories our need to give gets reduced to paying the bills. We give to keep the lights on, we give to pay the staff, we give to have the programs that educate our children. But what we often forget are the thousands of little ways our giving to support God’s work at this church changes lives in ways we may never see and with people we may never know. Sure, we need to keep the lights on and I can tell you the staff values their paychecks, but more importantly we need to give because by this church being here, by this church being open and offering ministry – we change lives.
You and I are the body of Christ. I am not the body and you are not the body, we – together are the body. It is our communal love and concern for others, guided by the Holy Spirit, which makes it possible for the healing love of Jesus Christ to be experienced by people like Robyn and Bill. If St. James’s wasn’t here, if we weren’t doing what we’re doing, there would be a much bigger hole in the life of this city then just the empty space left vacant by our pretty buildings. In fact, the buildings aren’t the issue, the staff isn’t the issue, the programs aren’t the issue – it’s the ministry made possible by these things that matters so very much.
Today is pledge Sunday and when you come up this morning and place your pledge card on the altar, I want you to remember a few things. We don’t come up to the altar so that everyone can see who pledges. We don’t do it so we can create some sense of drama. We do it because I want everyone to know and understand that every penny you give to the work of this church you give to God. You don’t give it to me. You don’t give it to the Vestry. You give it to God who, through people like Robyn and Bill, does things with our gifts that we can’t imagine. You give it to God in thanksgiving for the grace you have in your own life and with the knowledge that God will use your gift to bring grace into someone else’s life.
The fact of the matter is, if our faith is ever going to be more than what Flannery O’Connor called an, “electric blanket” intended only to make us feel warm and secure, then we have to not only take comfort in Jesus – we have to follow Jesus. And that means giving from our lives to improve the lives of others. That means sacrificing for the sake of the body of Christ. That means believing that my gift matters because by grace, through the Holy Spirit, God will make it matter. Amen.