By Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
This morning’s gospel lesson from Matthew records one of Jesus’ many encounters with the religious leaders who worried about Jesus growing popularity and authority. In it, they ask Jesus a question that Matthew says was “to test him”.
I’m wary, as I have remarked before, about Matthew’s pretty consistent attempt to discredit the Jewish religious authorities; I’d like to think that perhaps the Pharisee’s question to Jesus about which commandment was the greatest may have been offered sincerely.
Certainly, those great life questions – “How shall I live my life?” and “How do I choose what is right?” are questions we all should wrestle with.
We’re now in a time of year we call Stewardship Season. In it, our tradition invites us to reflect on our blessings and asks us to consider the ways we choose to make use of the gifts God has given us.
So, think with me about this…..
That concept of Stewardship reminds us that we are stewards of our lives - we could also say “caretakers”, or “trustees” – they all mean the same thing
We don’t choose to be born,
We don’t choose, AND we don’t earn
These are gifts provided – not always easy gifts, but gifts given into our keeping by God – AND THEY ARE ALL IMPERMANENT.
All of the benefits we “possess”, all of the things that make life comfortable and convenient, all of the pleasures that make our lives meaningful, can disappear in a flash. We’ve seen it, this year in particular, that illness and accident strike, and natural disasters and human evil change the course of lives overnight.
We are stewards, caretakers, trustees of our lives and the blessings that fill them
To use an image from Brother Curtis Almquist of SJE, in a sermon I heard years ago, but which has remained with me since that time:
If we truly believe and understand that what we have is gift, something we hold in our safekeeping, how can we do other than live generously, in thanks?
I read an article recently in which the author distinguishes two kinds of economies – transaction economy, and gift economy.
In a transaction economy everything has a price, and we pay for what we need.
Most of our lives are lived in a transaction economy.
In a gift economy, on the other hand, what is given is given without expectation of anything in return. Healthy families and friendships are examples of gift economies, in which people extend themselves for others on the basis of love, without expectation of return or reward.
God’s gifts to us of life and freedom are gift economy. As is God’s gift to us of God’s own self, in the life of Jesus, showing us what it means to hold the gift of life in open hands and share it without expectation of repayment.
In a gift economy, we know that we are loved; we care and are cared for, we give and receive, living a cycle of kindness and generosity in which we deepen our relationships and understand the meaning in our lives.
Our challenge and our possibility as Christians, as “members of the Jesus Movement”, is to live in the reality of the transaction economy of the world WHILE ALSO striving to live with open hands and generosity, offering and sharing, in acknowledgement and gratitude.
So, practically speaking, how do we approach this?
And in particular, how do we figure out how to respond to the request we have all recently received, to make a pledge of support to this parish in the year ahead?
Each of us needs to figure this out, in prayerful conversation with God - what we can share and with whom.
The biblical standard is to tithe – to give 10% of what comes in to us back out to others. In “Bible Study for Nerds” this week, in fact, we read the passage in which this idea originates – Jacob’s prayerful declaration of gratitude to God after his dream at Bethel of the stairway open to heaven. He declares that Surely God is in this place and I, I did not know it!
Jacob then goes to pledge that “of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.”
Tithing is affirmed by Episcopal Church as an appropriate proportion of our income to share with others.
Not everyone feels able to reach this standard, and given existing financial circumstances for so many in these days of pandemic and uncertainty, many of us feel less confident about the future that we would otherwise. Let me suggest a few principles to think about in considering how and what we each might share with others:
Living generously is one of the ways we can “love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind… and love our neighbor as ourself.’
Living generously frees us from being hostage to our possessions. Living generously reminds us whose we are, and helps us to trust the one who gives us life, who surrounds us with a world of beauty and opportunity, who preserves and sustains us all of the days of our lives. Living generously is the way to freedom, and to peace.
In the name of God. Amen
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