The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; All Saints—Year B; Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44 — Video
We’ve got one of those wonderful, holy collisions today—as your Priest and Rector, it’s my turn to address Annual Giving and it’s All Saints Day—that’s some fun stuff to work with.
I want to start by thanking Lynne Getz for her powerful, powerful sermon a few weeks ago as the Vestry Liaison for Stewardship and Finance. Lynne posed a question, “What is the Church to you?” and then, she proceeded to answer that question from the depths of her being and told us what this church means to her. She gave a witness—yes, Episcopalians really can give a witness. And, as she spoke, I watched you, and you resonated with what she said—St. Luke’s embodies our best hopes about what the church can and should be. We come here and get fed in so many ways, so that we can go out there and be bread for the world. That’s what it means to be Christ’s body—together, for the sake of the world.
And I want to thank Lynne for her great interviewing and Jim Banks for his editing of this year’s “Why I Love St. Luke’s” video. A great range of people and ages all spoke to why they love this community. This is a place where we can stretch and share our gifts; this is a place where we can refine and discern and release our passion in a multitude of ways; what happens here is worth our time, and our energy, and our money.
But there is always a prior question to the why-give-to-St. Luke’s question, and that question is this, “Why give at all?” Lynne Twist is the thinker who continues to capture my imagination here. In her book The Soul of Money, she talks about money as currency, as current, as energy that flows. And she tells story after story about what happens when you align your use of money with your deepest core values; she describes how this sort of alignment unleashes all this energy. She notes that currency, like current, is meant to flow. It makes me think about how Richard Rohr talks about God and the Trinity as the flow of love and how sin is anything that blocks the flow of love. Love, life, energy, current, currency—they are all meant to flow.
Lynne Twist joins others in talking about the difference between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea—the Jordan River flows into both, but one is alive and one is dead. The Jordan River feeds the Sea of Galilee at the north end, and the Sea of Galilee is full of abundant life, and at the south end, the water flows out and continues south as the Jordan River. The Dead Sea receives the water from the Jordan at its northern end, but it holds everything; nothing flows out, the salt content is 33%, and nothing can thrive in that environment.
We are constantly being invited into this dance of giving and receiving—try to close your arms in and hold it all, and it all starts to shut down. Creativity shuts down, dreams and possibility shut down, sharp edges rise up, fear sets in, anxiety starts to hold sway, “there’s not enough” messages start encroaching on our imaginations, and we don’t step out as much, try as much, risk as much. There’s too much at stake; too much to lose.
These are the stories that we start to tell ourselves, but as people of faith, there is a deeper story that holds us. The saints remind us that we always stand in this stream, this flow that transcends time and space, that is bigger and more alive than we can imagine. We stand in the flow of the God who makes all things new, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. If God is holding the beginning and the end and everything in-between, then you and I are free to leap out and take risks knowing and trusting that God is always taking the offering of our lives and making them new.
We have to give—it is a matter of our salvation—not to get into heaven—that’s really bad theology, but it is a matter of our wholeness. We have to give to remember that all that we have and all that we are come from God, and our task is to receive all that is poured toward us—all the love, all the gifts we’ve been given, all our talents, all our material treasures—our task is to make sure that all that has flowed toward us keeps on flowing. We’re not meant to hold it; we’re meant to steward the flow.
Giving is spiritual practice—it enables us bless, not only with our lips but with the whole of our lives, and it’s how we learn to trust that we will indeed be given our daily bread. So, giving is one of those bedrock, foundational, spiritual practices that hits a lot of us where we live. Even when we get the spirituality of it, taking seriously our practice of giving will always drive us into a wilderness where we have to confront our deepest financial fears and anxieties. And, like all spiritual practices that the church sets before us, that’s a really good stretch for our souls.
Wrestling with our giving practice is also a way that we wrestle with our commitment to one another in this community; it’s a way to incarnate, to make tangible that this community matters to me. It’s one of the ways that we lay claim to the fact that St. Luke’s is my community; it’s the way I can say, “I’m all in, and I take responsibility for our common life here.” Committing to a group of people, some of whom think like I do and some of whom don’t—it’s big—it’s not the done thing in our culture—but there is wisdom and power in saying “to you, I belong, and to me, you belong,” and we will find our way forward together.
I don’t care what you pledge; what I care about is this—if you consider St. Luke’s to be your community, I care that you pledge, that you make some tangible commitment to this community as a way of owning that we share responsibility for our common life. And I care deeply that you wrestle with the amount because the wrestling is good. I care that your giving practice helps you examine, deeply, how and where your money is flowing, and helps you ask, “These places where my money is flowing, do they represent the values, the passions, the commitments that I hold most dear?”
The amount that will draw us into this creative wrestling will be different for each one of us. I have always believed in leading by example, and be assured, our family wrestles with this. For us, 11% of our gross income is that sweet spot that invites us to wrestle deeply with these questions—10% of that flows to St. Luke’s because this is the place that embodies our deepest core values, and the rest goes to places in the local community and across the world that are doing work aligned with our passions. Your tithe includes all the places you bless with support, not just the church.
If the flow of your money and your values are in alignment, there’s going to be energy and life. If your money and your values are out of alignment, or if they’re out of balance, you’ll feel a drain, a drag. If that’s the case, then what is one step you could take, right now, to start to align that flow differently? If you haven’t pledged before, a pledge of $1 in alignment with your values can shift the flow.
Annual Giving Season is an invitation to all of us, as a spiritual community, to wrestle with our relationship to this thing that holds so many of us captive.
And this wrestling can also be such a source of blessing, and a means of dreaming. I am really struck by the story from John’s gospel today. Lazarus has been dead for four days—stinky dead—and yet, Jesus calls Lazarus to come out of that tomb of death, and when Lazarus comes out, he is all bound up, his hands, his feet, his face—bound with strips and layers of cloth. And Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
How are we all bound up with money, with our fears, with our anxieties, with our dreams, with our hopes? What are those layers that we need to peel away and shed? What needs to be unbound in us, as individuals, as a community, so that we may be set free?
On this All Saints Day, I am mindful of all of our St. Luke’s saints—some in this room and some in that great and glorious communion of saints that lives beyond us—and how they dared to dream big dreams, big scary dreams with big scary financial implications. They dreamed of a church that would remain downtown and bought a piece of land and built this beautiful, holy, sacred space, and it was such a financial stretch. I think of all the saints who gave of their money, and their skill, and their sweat, and how a community came together to accomplish something that seemed far beyond them. I think of the saints who made provision for this church in their wills that enabled us to pay off our mortgage just before the financial crash which enabled us to weather a difficult financial season that hit many of our families hard. Those who have gone before us dared to dream big dreams, and they trusted that there would be a way to get there.
And year after year, the faithful of this community, we find a way to get the Lord’s work done—together. What does that look like in numbers? $327,000 flowing through this community—72% of it coming from pledges, 8% from the collection plate, 5% from the Hunger Basket, 12% from other income sources, and 3% from pure faith (as opposed to the financially-sound-reasonable-assumptions-and-expectations kind of faith).
And where does that money flow? Some of it flows through us very quickly and right back out into the world blessing Hospitality House, the Community Care Clinic, the Hunger Coalition, and WeCan. Some of it flows to our Diocese helping to support creative ministry all across the Diocese, and in wonderful Trinitarian fashion, even flowing back to us through Diocesan Support of the Campus Ministry at ASU. It flows into care of our building, and resources for ministry, and care of our staff who provide leadership and the support that enables this community to be the church that we are.
And let me flesh this out a little more—there is only ONE MISSION—to be in the flow of God’s love—to receive it and to give it—in our lives, in this community, in the world. Sometimes, we make these distinctions between monies that go for outreach and monies that take care of the building or pay our utilities or compensate the staff, and we often weight that money for outreach more heavily. But it’s all ONE MISSION.
We are able to do great outreach in the world because we build up the body of Christ here—with fellowship and community and formation and worship. We are empowered to do incredible ministry in our community outside those doors because of what goes on in this community inside of these doors. Music and preaching and bread and wine and prayers and praise feed us every week. Fellowship enables us to bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys and emboldens us to risk great things for the sake of the gospel. We grow in the faith together—asking questions together, challenging each other, helping one another to discover and claim and live the way of Jesus 24×7.
Yes, it takes a lot of energy and resources to sustain St. Luke’s, but we’re not sustaining an institution—we’re feeding and clothing and caring for the body of Christ that is alive in this place, a body that pours its life out into the world.
Some of our dreams for 2016 are in that realm of good, sound, regular care of the body:
- supporting the work of our staff who lead us, and create the container for music and worship, and who support those often unseen structures that keep our body sound
- caring well for this physical space—our building and our grounds—and setting money aside for future maintenance needs that we know are coming
- and, in good early church fashion, binding ourselves to other Christian communities across western North Carolina through our support of the Diocese.
Some of our dreams are in that realm of allowing money to flow through us and toward those in deepest need in our community through our support of WeCan, Hospitality House, the Hunger Coalition, and the Community Care Clinic.
And some of our dreams for 2016 are in that realm of great big scary wonderful dreams. On December 31st, the Rev. Beth Turner is stepping down as the ASU Campus Minister to go ¾ time at St. Thomas, Burnsville. This is a really good move for Beth and for St. Thomas. Any time you have a change like this, it opens up the space to completely rethink a ministry. And Bishop Taylor is asking us, here at St. Luke’s, to do just that. He wants to invite us into dreaming about this ministry at ASU, and to wonder if and how it might be linked to us here at St. Luke’s, and what else might be possible.
The Diocese supports a ½ time position at ASU. What if we joined the Diocese as a partner and added a ¼ time Youth Missioner position here at St. Luke’s to work with 6th-12th graders? And then, what if we went for a Mission Enterprise Block Grant from the National Church to fund creative ministry based at 3rd Place that would reach out to young adults and others in Boone who just can’t walk through the doors of a church for a whole host of reasons, but who can get through the door of 3rd Place located just off of King Street?
What if we dared to dream big dreams for our community and imagined how St. Luke’s could reach out further into the community through being a strong base camp dedicated to new models of being church outside of this building? This spring, we will be engaged in this sort of dreaming, and it will take several months to discern the specific shape of what this could be, but we need to make financial provision now—about $18,000—to support whatever dream might emerge.
And the Vestry is also still discerning whether or not to go forward with the Picnic Shelter Solar Project.
Is it crazy to be considering all of these things? Maybe, but probably no more crazy than buying a piece of land in this location probably seemed all those years ago. These moments don’t come along very often, and there is something in being willing to leap when they do.
We don’t know what capacity exists among us until we reach for a dream. And when passion gets married to a dream, who knows what financial capacity exists among us that has just been yearning to be unleashed. Maybe there is pent up financial current that has just been waiting to be invited to flow. And it’s my guess that that current can flow in multiple directions at once, and in fact, maybe we’re more alive when it does because it means life and passion are flowing freely.
So, next Sunday, we will gather to pledge ourselves to this community, and to make tangible our commitments to one another through the sacrament of our money. This week, you will receive a letter and an email with links to Lynne’s sermon, and this sermon, and the “Why I Love St. Luke’s” video—please sit with these reflections.
Take this week and ask yourself the hard questions about your relationship to money—is the flow of money through your life aligned with your deepest values?
Take this week to think about what St. Luke’s means to you and how you want the current and currency of your lives to reflect all that you value here.
And then, come and live into the dream that God is inviting us to build—together. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
November 1, 2015