This morning in our lesson from the book of Exodus and again our passage from Matthew’s Gospel this morning we have stories of faith by fits and starts.
In the reading from Matthew we have the two sons of the farmer. One son resists his father’s instruction and later relents and follows through with what his father asks. On the other hand the second son gives his word to work as his father instructs and then does not do as he promised
In Exodus the people of Israel suffering under the burden of slavery in Egypt are a bit like that second son in Jesus’ parable – they give their word of assent early on – they respond to God and what God is calling them to through Moses and dare to follow Moses out of Egypt into uncharted territory. They give up every sense of normalcy they have ever known, and God leads them and provides a path of escape through the midst of the Red Sea. But then the find that life on that other shore is not magically happily-ever-after. They feel quite ill-equipped to deal with the uncertainties and unknowns of wandering through a wilderness terrain. Food is scarce, water is scarce, any comforts of a settled existence are absent, so like that second son, their initial enthusiasm wanes and they begin to fall away from following God’s plan. And in this context there is a cycle that takes place over and over: the people feel lack, they grumble and complain to Moses, Moses talks to God, God provides for their lack, they take the next leg of the journey… then the people feel lack, they grumble and complain to Moses… and the whole cycle happens again. And so it goes for the people, Moses and God and it takes them 40 years to get to the Promised Land.
Faith by fits and starts and maybe this does not surprise us, because I daresay many of us travel this way – so often it is two steps forward and one step back and our progress is spasmodic. Sometimes we express strong faith only to fall back into insecurity and fear. At others times we resist faith, only then to have life conspire to draw us more deeply into the heart of faith in God. I think the biblical point here is that none of us corners the market on righteousness – as the Pharisees Jesus was talking to hoped they had – nor have any of us cornered the market on sinfulness – as the tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus made reference to feared they had. We are all human –complex and changeable – all needing God’s grace to live as God calls us to live.
And that last part is really the key. We each need the grace of God to keep moving along our path of faith toward deeper participation in the life of God. What the passage from Exodus reveals is that all along the way God provided what the people needed, whether they were exhibiting faith in God, or looking backward longingly to the days of their captivity in Egypt, God was providing them the grace to go the next step of the journey. Sometimes that grace came in the form of water, at other times manna, at other times it came in the form of Moses exhorting them to trust God. The only thing they were required to do was reach for the grace – to let it draw them forward on the journey.
This is as you may know the kick-off Sunday for our stewardship campaign. So I thought a lot this week about what this biblical message has to do with us as stewards of what God has given us and as members of this parish. What I came away thinking is that this message about faith by fits and starts which is always deepened by reaching for God’s grace, is a good metaphor for the life of stewardship.
Most of us begin our stewardship journey not quite sure what to give. The parish provides us with some suggestions, and you will see those in the stewardship brochure that comes to you through the mail this week with a pledge card enclosed. We suggest that each household consider making a pledge of $40 a week as a starting point. For some this level will be just right. For others with more modest incomes this will not be possible. For many of us we will be able to reach well beyond that level of giving. It is just the practical truth that we need increased giving each year from our members to meet the increasing expenses of keeping the parish running in this building and with our current level of staffing and programing. Last year we raised our Assistant Rector’s position from 15 to 20 hours a week to meet the needs of our growing parish. Costs for health insurance for our staff continue to climb, and we seek to keep our staff fairly compensated through cost of living increases. These rising costs mean that our bottom line of expenses go up and so must our income. Those are the simple practical facts that will inform our pledging.
But beyond the facts are the deeper truths of pledging. One of those truths is that sacrificial giving is good for the soul, just like working out is good for the body. A practical definition of sacrificial giving that I found on the web this week reads this way:
“Sacrificial giving is the act of strategically giving something that is precious and costly or something one barely can afford as an act of worship and devotion to God with an express purpose of getting an extraordinary breakthrough.” (from the website www.nurturingchampions.com)
So as the physical workout that pushes us a bit past our comfort zone is good for our body, sacrificial giving pushes us a bit past our comfort zone and into the land of God’s grace. There we find we must trust God more fully to provide, rather than simply relying on ourselves alone. As the definition states when we do this, we dare to believe that we will receive an extraordinary breakthrough. Those who have traveled that way report time and again that God does indeed provide all that they need, sometime in unexpected and miraculous ways.
Just as importantly these givers tell how any fear they have carried into the process of sacrificial giving dissipates and is replaced with as deepening perception of the blessings God has bestowed upon them. In Luke chapter 6 Jesus puts it this way:
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”(Luke 6:38)
Let us be clear that we are not claiming that God blesses sacrificial givers more than anyone else. Rather we claim that sacrificial giving sets the giver free to perceive God’s ever present love and blessing more clearly and fully- just like the people in the wilderness all of a sudden coming to the realization that they are already in the promised land because they are traveling with God’s unending grace. This experience in turn equips us more fully to be bearers of God’s redeeming love to others which is at the heart of what Christ calls us to be.
So I invite and challenge each of us this year to be bold and sacrificial in our pledging to this wonderful community of faith we call St. Paul’s Church. Then we leave it to God to weave them all together into a tapestry of vibrant with hues of Faith, Hope and Love!
In Christ’s name and for his sake. Amen+