The Rev Cynthia KR Banks; The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost—PR 26—Year C; Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 119:137-144; II Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-14; Luke 19:1-10
So, Jacque Dunbar preached a wonderful sermon last week about stewardship—I want to thank her for that—and today, it’s my turn to pick up that stewardship ball and run.
It seems to me that it is as simple as two questions…First, why give? And second, why give to St. Luke’s? And the first does not necessarily lead to the second.
So, let’s explore that first question, “Why give?” And today, Jesus gives us the answer, “It’s for your salvation.” I remember several years ago when Bishop Taylor had come to speak at a dinner in the evening and talk about stewardship—he said the same thing, “You have to give for your salvation.” Do you remember that? I do, because people went bezerk. Somehow, people understood him to say that you had to give to secure your place in heaven. That’s not what he meant, but I distinctly remember having lots of conversations in the weeks that followed untangling that perception. Over the years since, I have come to believe that Bishop Taylor was right. By the way, he actually thinks that everything in our lives is about our salvation; so do I, but here’s what I mean by that. In the greek, saving has to do with rescuing, with bringing back something that has been lost, with healing. Salvation is about being brought into the wholeness that God longs for us to have and that wholeness goes out in all directions and permeates every layer of our life.
So, what does this all have to do with money? Let’s look at the story today from Luke. Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature (isn’t that an elegant way to say he was really short). So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he [Jesus] was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble (not just the bad ol’ Pharisees and Sadducees, not just the bad ol’ lawyers and scribes, but “all,” which presumably included “all” of Jesus’ closest friends, disciples and followers) and they all began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner” (Tax collectors were considered sinners because they were notorious for swindling others out of their hard earned money—Jesus was prepared to sit down to dinner and spend the night in the home of one whom others considered to be an unclean sinner at best and an enemy at worst!). Zacchaeus stood there and said to Jesus, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Wow! Zacchaeus knew that something in his life wasn’t right, that it rang empty and hollow. Oh, he may have had a lot of money and a lot of material things, but he wasn’t happy; he wasn’t fulfilled. He didn’t have a circle of friends; shoot, nobody would have him and his family over to dinner; nobody would ask him out for a cup of coffee. Something in him knew that there was something about this Jesus that he needed to see. But something was in his way. Actually, everything was in his way. He couldn’t see, and it wasn’t just because he was short that he couldn’t see, but his relationship with money, the gap between his wealth and those who suffered so that he could have his wealth; that disconnect between him and his neighbor, that also made it so that he could not see. But to his credit, he got resourceful. He probably didn’t know what lay ahead when he climbed that sycamore tree. He didn’t know that not only would he be able to see Jesus, but in a moment quite beyond his control, he exposed himself so that Jesus could see him.
And when Jesus saw him, when Jesus reached out and pulled that man back into relationship, Zacchaeus couldn’t stay the same. And the scales fell from his eyes, and all the sudden, he could see what he couldn’t see before. His money, his relationship with money, his relationship to money at the expense of his relationships with others who didn’t fare well in this economic system—all of these things kept him out of communion. But now that Jesus had pulled him back into communion, he couldn’t go back to viewing people as means to his economic ends. Now that he was in relationship, he had to stay in relationship. For him, that meant giving half of all his possessions to the poor and paying back four times as much to any one whom he had defrauded of anything. Can you imagine if that became a guiding principle in our society??? But Jesus knew it was salvation for Zacchaeus. It was the way Zacchaeus found healing. It was the way Zacchaeus found wholeness. It was the way he was found. It was the way he reclaimed that he, too, was a son of Abraham connected to all the other sons and daughters of Abraham. Zacchaeus had to give because money had trapped him and cut him off from others. He had to give because giving was his way to wholeness and his way to communion with others. For Zacchaeus, giving wasn’t about guilt, or duty, or obligation; for Zaccheaus, giving was about wholeness and life and relationship.
Why give? Because money, and our relationship to money, can be such a trap for us. We can get swept away into a world of possessions. We can get consumed with notions of security. We can forget our kinship to our neighbors, to our brothers and sisters with whom we share this world. We can forget that in God’s economy, there is always enough, if we don’t cling to it. So, we give because it has all come to us as gift to begin with. We give as an expression of our communion with one another and with the Giver of Life. We give to participate in the flow of love that is always pouring itself out. We give because in doing so we find wholeness. We give for our own salvation.
So, giving is not negotiable; we are made to give; we need to give. But that doesn’t answer at all to whom we should give. My answer to that question has always been, “Give anywhere you see God’s work being done. Bless that work. Bless it with your time, bless it with your particular gifts and skills, bless it with your energy, bless it with your passion, bless it with your money.”
So, why give to St. Luke’s? Because this is a place where God’s work is being done in a multitude of ways. Take this week. Friday morning’s book study held a profound conversation about violence and nonviolence as they studied John Dear’s book The Nonviolent Life. Yesterday morning, the Social Justice Training Group met to continue our exploration of current issues in light of our scriptures and our Christian ethical tradition, all the while committing to deep and difficult spiritual practices. At Noon yesterday, we celebrated Peggy Atzel’s life, and once again, you gave such beautiful loving care to the family as you provided for and hosted a reception for the family. In the afternoon, we opened our doors to an organizational meeting for a forming chapter of the NAACP in Watauga County. Just as we open our doors to all kinds of 12-step groups to help individuals heal their demons around addiction, so too we open our doors to groups who are committed to helping our larger community heal societal demons, like racism. This morning our children learned about the ancient Temple in Jerusalem in Godly Play and the reality of hunger in our local community and across the globe in the older class. Adults explored the spirituality of dying. And other adults practiced the spirituality of singing. This afternoon after church, the Women’s Group will meet for fellowship and study. Tonight, we will host our next experimental worship service, a Service of Lament using improvisational music on piano and trombone to give voice to the cries of our hearts, but not just to lament, but to help transform that energy into something lifegiving. This coming Wednesday, our 4th-5th graders will gather for Quidditch and faith formation. Next Sunday, we will launch a new group of folks who want to explore their Christian faith and the Episcopal Church, and our children will launch a program that they have dreamed up in the inaugural gathering of the Adopt a Grandparent/Adopt a Grandchild program. Our building is used every day of every week for 12-step groups and dance groups and all kinds of other activities, as well as all the St. Luke’s activities, and outside our building there’s the Mary Boyer garden to feed the hungry in our community.
Why give to St. Luke’s? Because we are alive! I have never felt more life and energy in our faith community than what I do in this current season of our life. We are reaching out far beyond our doors. Exploring and experimenting in ways we have never tried before. We are going deep into what it means to claim Jesus and his way. It’s exciting, and unsettling. I told the Bishop this week that I left my comfort zone about 4 football fields ago, but I believe deeply in what we are about in this community.
I need to give for my salvation, I need to give to align myself with God’s never-ending, overflowing abundance that is always more than I can ask or imagine, I need to give to experience what it means to stand in the flow of God’s love, I need to give for my wholeness, but my family gives 10% of our income to St. Luke’s because we believe with every fiber of our little three-person collective being in the work that God is doing through this community of faith.
Jacque gave you a lot of numbers last week, and a letter will come out this week that will help explain that again. We can’t do what we do without you and your support—we can’t do the work that God has given us to do without your prayers, your passion, your energy, your gifts and skills, and your financial resources. And so, the Stewardship Committee asks you, your Vestry asks you, I ask you to join us in this wonderful and sacred mission of being Christ’s body in Boone, NC. What we are doing at and through St. Luke’s matters. It matters to the world. It matters to God. It matters for our own individual salvation; it matters for our collective salvation. Join us, as together, we discover the wholeness that God longs for the whole creation to know. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
November 3, 2013