Sunday, October 1, 2023 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by SPEAKER
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
What do you think? The stewardship committee went to two parishioners. To the first they said, “We really hope you’ll pledge this year.” And the parishioner said, “I will not,” but later they changed their mind and pledged. They went to the second and said the same, and this parishioner answered, “Of course I will make a pledge,” but they did not. Which of the two will receive a thank you card, and a statement of donations for tax purposes at the end of the year?
Ok, I had to start with a little bit of humor, because the start of stewardship season is always a little uncomfortable. Because we don’t like to talk about money in church. Which is completely understandable…I mean, there are all those verses in the bible about “you can’t serve God and Mammon”—the pagan god of riches (Matthew 6:24)…about “the love of money” being “the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10)…Even the gospel today happens right after Jesus overturns the tables and runs the moneychangers out of the temple.
And of course, there are all of those other verses about selling all that you have and giving it to the poor (Mark 10:17-31), and verses about the early church doing exactly that and having “all things in common” (Acts 2:44)… It being easier for camels to go through eyes of needles than for the rich to enter the kingdom…Forgiving debts…
Add to that the whole Protestantism Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism thing…it’s completely understandable why Christians—New England Episcopal Protestants in particular—have a…let’s call it a…complicated relationship with money. And so talking about money in church…talking about stewardship…pledging…making financial commitments…feels…awkward… But not talking about something…not naming it…might keep Beetlejuice and Candyman at bay…but not talking about money in church doesn’t make our need for it…for pledges…go away. So let’s embrace the awkward.
I feel awkward, because I’m aware that preaching on pledging, stewardship, money, can come across as…self-serving. Self-interested. It’s true, I have a vested, personal, and very real interest in the spiritual and financial health of this community. And spiritual and financial health are directly and deeply tied together. We are whole beings, and all those verses of scripture about money point to—not ignoring our relationship with money—but being intentional and more faithful with it. So here we go…
The stewardship committee worked really hard and created some really good resources for you. You’ll find the narrative budget along with a Frequently Asked Questions about pledging document in the pews and online. And I hope that you will take time to read them, and think about them…and really pray about them. And then I hope that every one of you will join me in making a generous pledge to God’s work here at All Saints. We really hope that everyone who considers All Saints a spiritual home, or even just an occasional place of refuge, whether that’s in-person or primarily online…will pledge generously this year.
What’s generous? Only you can decide that, but if money is tight, I’d ask you to consider making a small pledge rather than none at all. If you are used to pledging the same amount each year, I encourage you to reflect on why…and whether that reflects your true sense of generosity. If you are used to pledging and giving more, then I’d ask you to reflect on the joy and the sense of abundance that you can share with your generosity.
In the resources the Stewardship Committee has put together you’ll find: A chart for determining a pledge as a percentages of income…Information about what the average pledge at All Saints is…and what the average pledge would need to be if pledges covered our expenses…You’ll learn what the range of pledges tend to be, from very small and modest, to incredibly generous…and more. Again, only you can determine what is generous for you, but please, use these resources in your discernment of that.
Some additional facts to be aware of as you consider your pledge this year:
Over 70% of our annual income is from pledges. Which means the greater your generosity, the more we can accomplish together.
Also over 70% of our annual expenses goes to supporting staff and the programs run by staff and volunteers. Only about 17% annually goes to the upkeep of our buildings and grounds. As many of you know we will be embarking on a capital campaign soon to attend to some much needed work on the building. But a church runs on people…and so it’s right that the bulk of our annual expenses goes to supporting our staff. We know from the pandemic that while it’s hard to have a program without a building…it’s impossible to have a program or a ministry without people.
But here’s something you may or may not be fully aware of…All Saints has only one full time staff person—me. Everyone else: Stephan, David in the office, Renato our sexton, the family minister, are all 3/4 time or less.
Every year the treasury team and the vestry wrestle with balancing priorities between the personnel needs of our programs…and the physical needs of the building…which is home to not just us, but a number of community and recovery groups.
The vestry and the treasury team do an outstanding job, and they continue to make difficult, brave, and faithful decisions…about how best to balance our priorities…and fund our values. And your generosity will make that task a lot easier.
The narrative budget describes how we put our money where our values are…because where our treasure is there our hearts will be also (Matthew 6:21): and here at All Saints we find our hearts and place our treasure in worship, in community support, and in lifelong faith journeys. It is through our shared commitment to this work that we are building a community of love and strengthening our awareness of God’s presence in our lives. Which, is what I believe God is calling us to do.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians today, he reminds them that it is God at work in them that enable them to will and work for God’s pleasure. Following his lead, I encourage all of us to entrust our giving decisions to the voice of the Holy Spirit, who speaks to each of us as we follow on our journey of faith.
And may we all join the joyful procession, led by the Spirit toward the future God has planned for this parish and for each of us. Amen.