Sermon by The Rev. Patrick J. Wingo
Sunday, October 7, 2018
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The Gospel: Mark 10:2-16
Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Stewardship Sermon – Church of the Ascension 10-7-18. PJW
I wonder: what are the things in your life that put a lump in your throat?
Can you identify times when you were minding your own business and all of a sudden a memory of a beloved friend or family member took you to a completely different time and place?
Or a time when you were focused on getting a task completed and a child, or a pet, or song playing in another room made you stop and realize that the oh-so important task wasn’t as important as you thought?
Does that happen often in your life?
Here’s another way to put the question:
Is there any one place you can count on that can consistently keep you centered on the things that have value in life, the things that touch you at your deepest places?
Is there any one place that you can always count on to give you a vision, however brief, of the way the world should be but is not? (as Frederick Buechner puts it)
While certain kinds of art or music other media might put a lump in our throats sometimes, and while Facebook photos might remind us of special people who are or were in our lives, and while every so often we are able prioritize people and things we love over tasks to be accomplished, I think that the place that is most likely to give us a vision of the way the world should be but is not is the church.
And when I say church, I mean the gathered community of people who come together to worship God in Jesus Christ.
For us in particular, this means Church of the Ascension.
But there is a bit of a problem in saying that, because when we put so much stock into the church’s ability to hold up the vision of the way the world should be, we then get so disappointed in it when it acts like the world often is.
Cynicism. Disagreement. Arguments. Brokenness. Bad behavior. Sin.
The list could go on, and we often see the institution of the church at its worst played across the headlines and the news reports, which is one of many reasons why more and more people who are surveyed choose to identify themselves as having no religious affiliation.
But here’s what I know, what I have discovered in the short four months that I have been with you:
this particular gathered community of believers deeply desires to be a place where there is the possibility of experiencing God, of experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit, that lump-in-the-throat, knowing-what-is-valuable way of living that is simply not found in very many, if any, other places.
Yes, you have had struggles; but you are not stagnant, you are open, you continue on your journey to discover God through Christ.
Some of you have heard me say this before, but I don’t think I can say it enough:
it is a good thing in today’s world, in today’s church, to be a community like this.
I spent over ten years working with dozens and dozens of congregations in two different dioceses, and one of sadder parts of that job was the number of churches that I worked with who, although there were faithful people among them, were also mired in conflict, or apathy, or sadness because they remember when their church was vital and they can’t recapture that feeling.
I know some of you are worried that Ascension might be like that, or become like that.
But I’m telling you that you are not.
And if you can focus on gratitude and faithfulness, the chances are good that you will continue to be healthy and vital.
Gratitude and Faithfulness.
Those two words perhaps most succinctly describe what Christian Stewardship means.
We begin our focus on Stewardship this week with this phrase: “Walk in love, as Christ loves us and gave Himself for us.”
We hear that piece of scripture every week when we move from the Liturgy of the Word to Holy Communion.
It is a bridge for us, in this way: in the Liturgy of the Word we hear the story of God’s redemption, God’s consistent and dogged love for us.
We are challenged to share that love with those who may not know of it or feel it;
and we affirm that we believe that story of redemption.
We agree that we miss the mark, but in the confession of our sin and the absolution we are reminded that our missed mark is not the final word.
God has the final word in Jesus Christ, and as we walk in love we cross a bridge to be strengthened by Christ’s body and blood to go out and tell the world that we have glimpsed a vision of how the world should be.
And we have seen it in the gathered community called Church of the Ascension.
In the next several weeks you will hear stories from your fellow parishioners about their own thoughts about this and about their own views of Stewardship.
Today I want to tell you a story of my own:
My wife and I have three daughters, ages 27, 22 and 20, and several summers ago when they were considerably younger we took a family trip out to the Grand Canyon.
On our last night there, around dusk, when we got back to our room my wife and I waited until it got completely dark outside, and then told our kids to put on their sweatshirts, because we had one more thing to show them.
There’s a very long road that runs along the rim of the Grand Canyon, and every so often there are places to turn into a parking lot and get out and walk along the rim.
That last night of our visit we drove down that road until we were far away from the hotels and restaurants and bright lights, and we came to one of the turn-ins and drove into a parking lot, which was dark and deserted.
This was in early June, and as we got out of the car a cold wind was whipping around us.
I brought out a small flashlight, and we walked up a path to the rim of the canyon.
We walked through a stand of trees to a sidewalk right next to the canyon, and told the kids to close their eyes and lie down on their backs on the pavement.
I turned off my flashlight, told them to open their eyes, and there before them, on that cold, clear night, lying on the ground next to one of the grandest places on earth they saw the grandeur of the heavens, more stars than they could have ever imagined existed. “Wow,” they kept saying over and over. “Wow!”
It is one of my fondest memories, and what I remember about it was that as we lay there in the dark while my children exclaimed their sheer awe, the words of Psalm 19 kept running through my head:
“The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament displays his handiwork.” Wow!
Stewardship is having the eyes to see the awe and wonder of God in our lives.
It’s not about giving our fair share.
That’s great for the United Way, but it’s not Christian Stewardship.
It’s not about paying our dues.
That’s fine for the country club or the PTA, but it’s not Christian Stewardship.
Christian Stewardship recognizes that the God who made the Universe, the God who made those millions of stars that my children saw only when we took them to a place where it was possible to see them, is the same God who made me, and you, and has given us the blessing of life itself.
And at it’s core, it is being grateful to God for that gift, and being faithful to God as God calls us out of that gratitude to serve one another and the world around us.
It’s being grateful to God for this place, where it is also possible to be awe-struck by God.
As I mentioned, you will hear from some of your fellow parishioners over the next few weeks about why and how they pledge to Ascension.
If you come to the Annual Meeting in November you will hear how your grateful gifts to God through Church of the Ascension are used to do our best to be faithful to God’s call for this parish.
What I hope you will hear throughout this Stewardship season is that making a pledge is about saying “yes” to the possibility that you will meet Christ here, and that others might meet Christ in you as we worship together and as we encounter the world in our daily lives.
Here’s the thing: the tears in our eyes, the lumps in our throats, the awe and wonder that we might see on a starry night at the Grand Canyon all come as gifts from God to remind us of what is of value in our lives, a God who wants to meet us here among like-minded, like-hearted people.
So let us Walk in love together on this journey.