1 Corinthians 16:1-4
Although many churches are observing All Saints Day today, we’re going to observe it next Sunday with a special litany of remembrance of “all the saints, who from their labors rest.” Even though we’re launching our annual stewardship campaign instead, it’s not too early to start remembering the people who have influenced our lives and have shown themselves worthy of being imitated. These people could be parents or teachers, preachers or friends, long time church members or the other saints of history, whose stories continue to inspire. As the hymn “For All the Saints” declares, this is a “blest communion, company divine!” And together, we form the one body in Christ and the communion of saints.
Although there are saints who have rested from their labors, there are also living saints. In fact, according to Paul, we all could be among the hagious or saints of God. So, do you feel like you’re one of God’s saints? And what does it mean to be a living saint? Does it mean that you and I must live perfect lives? I hope not! But perhaps this quote from Albert Schweitzer is worth pondering: “A man does not have to be an angel to be a saint.”
So, saints of God are you ready to talk about stewardship? And as our theme material suggests, we’re to be “Saints Alive! Living Generously.” Of course this theme only works if we’re ready to accept the calling to be living saints who live generous lives.
Generosity, as I’ve learned through life, is a spiritual discipline that requires consistency of practice. I like what Katie Hays, a Disciple pastor and a wonderful preacher who I met last spring, has to say about stewardship. She says that “stewardship is about the long-term, lifetime habit of deliberate generosity.” The principle of tithing, whether or not you give 10%, is the basis of such a practice, and I know that many of you practice this spiritual discipline. You don’t wait for emergency appeals. You just give in season and out of season, knowing that generosity is part of being a follower of Jesus. You don’t use your giving as leverage in the community, but you understand that it reflects your commitment to the common good of the community of faith and beyond.
As you ponder this definition of stewardship, did you notice the tree that seems to be growing out of the back window of the sanctuary? Felicia and Debbie “planted” it. And did you notice the different colors of leaves? This seems appropriate to this autumn season, doesn’t it?
Now, these three different colors represent three kinds of givers. They represent those who gave in the past, those who are giving in the present, and those who will give in the future – perhaps in the coming year and beyond. These leaves are all connected to each other by branches, a trunk, and roots, which represents the church, while the different leaves represent the saints of old, the saints of today, and the saints of tomorrow, who give generously through this church. Do you see the connection between the relationship of the leaves to the trees and our relationship to God through the community of faith? Even as a leaf can’t live apart from the tree, is it possible for us to live spiritually apart from the community of faith?
While I’m not an expert on tree science, I do know that even as the leaves draw life from the tree itself, the leaves are the means by which the tree breathes, drawing in energy and expelling energy. In our relationship to the church are we not in the same position? And is not our giving part of this relationship so that through each of us the presence of God flows in and out to the world?
As we read the passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, did you hear his request that the church take up a collection for the saints in Jerusalem who were suffering from poverty? Did you also hear him mention the example of the Galatian church? They’d been setting aside funds on first day of the week – the day of worship – so that when Paul arrived they would be ready. They did this deliberately and consistently, and if you read some of Paul’s other letters you’ll find similar instructions in them.
When you hear this request, do you hear echoes of one of Amy Gopp’s Week of Compassion requests? If you’re on her email list, you probably get one these requests every week, which is a reminder that there are needs throughout the year – an earthquake in Turkey and a famine in Africa, a tornado in Missouri and a flood in Iowa. Amy issues the request, asking the saints of God to give generously so as to touch the lives of others, perhaps people we’ll never meet.
Why should they do this? In writing to the Roman church Paul says that the Gentile churches, which had received spiritual blessings from the Jerusalem church, owe their brothers and sisters in Judea a portion of their material blessings as a sign of gratitude (Rom. 15:27). As you read the letters of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles you see and hear a call to be one body, to gather across time and space as saints of God, and consider the needs of others. These gifts are signs of our connectedness with each other.
So, as you listened to this passage did you hear an appeal to our competitive spirits? Are you surprised that Paul might create a bit of competition between the churches? What do you think about this appeal? You’ll find even more of this in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, where he tells them that they need to have their offering ready to go because he’d been bragging on them to the Macedonian churches, which has stirred in the Macedonians a zeal to give. So Paul tells them – don’t embarrass me or yourselves by not having the check ready!! (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
Returning to that definition of stewardship as being a long-term, lifelong, and deliberate act of generosity, and thinking about the leaves on that stewardship tree, where do you see yourself? Are you a past giver, a current giver, or future giver? Or are you all three?
When you leave church this morning, the stewardship group will be passing out packets that will help you discern your giving levels and your commitment to financially underwrite the ministry of the church. As you take these packets home and read through the information in it, you’ll have an opportunity to prayerfully consider what you would commit yourself to giving through the church.
While you do this remember too that some of the people that these leaves represent are the saints who no longer live amongst us, but whose gifts continue to sustain this church’s ministry as it moves into the future. Consider the legacy of those whose past gifts to purchase land and to build buildings, whose gifts to the endowments and capital funds, help sustain this ministry now and into the future. Remember that the interest and dividends from these funds help provide an important foundation for our annual budget. They don’t replace our giving, but they do amplify the effects of our giving.
Besides the endowment funds and capital funds that support our general fund and outreach giving, there is the Edgar Dewitt Jones Scholarship fund that supports Disciples seminarians in their studies. I met someone at the General Assembly who had been a recipient of this scholarship and she expressed her deep appreciation for it, because it helped sustain her studies at a crucial point in time. And another recipient of this scholarship, Beau Underwood, who graduated from the University of Chicago Divinity School, where Alex is now studying, now serves on the staff of National City Christian Church and on the staff of Faith in Public Life, where he works to organize congregations to make a difference in our society. These two ministries and countless others are a legacy of these gifts that continue to express the generosity of those saints, who are resting from their labors.
Generous giving in the past, the present, and the future, helps sustain the ministry and mission of this church. We are blessed by many saints who have taken to heart this call to be lifelong, deliberate, and generous givers to the body of Christ and the communion of saints. So aren’t you glad you’re one of the living saints living generous lives?
Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
20th Sunday after Pentecost
October 29, 2011