Daniel 7.1-3, 15-18
St. Luke 6.20-31
Can you remember who taught you to pray?
Who was it who first folded your chubby little fingers together and coaxed you to say “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep.”
Maybe that wasn’t your bed time prayer. Could it have been:
Father we thank thee for the night and for the pleasant morning light.
No? How about:
Jesus tender shepherd hear me; bless thy little lamb at tonight?
Maybe it was . . .
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us . . .
Or did you sing:
When at Night I Go to Sleep, Fourteen Angels Watch do Keep?
Just for a minute think back to the beginning of your faith journey. Who was it that was holding your hand?
Maybe prayer was not a part of your childhood. Maybe prayer entered your life only recently. But I would wager that no matter when, there was someone who either by instruction or example encouraged you to share your heart’s deepest feelings with God. Someone was holding your hand.
You might not have been aware – perhaps this someone only briefly touched your life. Maybe it was a Sunday School teacher, a friend, a co-worker. It could be someone who helped to create this space, knowing that there would always be people who would need a special place to hear the sweet words of the gospel — and to pray.
This Sunday is a day set aside for us to remember all of the Saints living and dead who have gone before us. It is a time to remember and thank God for those who taught us, nurtured us, sacrificed for us, loved us on our way. Those we love but see no more. It is because of them, after all, that we are here.
We have dedicated this day to give thanks for all saints – not just the apostles, or Mary and Joseph or Paul and Timothy. But all those who have gone before, praising God and living lives of faithfulness. Surely each one of us has a little list. My own list keeps growing: some are in this room right now. You don’t have to be dead to be a saint, you know!
When we come forward to share in the feast prepared for us, receiving the body and blood of Christ, let us thank God for the saints whose faith and sacrifice have brought us here.
This a special day in the life of St. Paul for another reason. It is autumn, and once again we come together to consider stewardship and what this particular discipline means in the life of our parish.
Perhaps you have already become aware through the church web site or the newsletter that we are gathered this year under the theme Faith, Hope, Love. (Today in your bulletin you found some notes about Faith – to get us started on our way.)
What does this theme say about us, the people of St. Paul? Anything? We are a wonderfully diverse congregation unified by Love – God’s love for us and our love for each other. And it is Faith and Hope which both feed and motivate us. These gifts of the Spirit sustain and support us and all that we do.
In this complicated time we call the 21st Century the Church stands on the brink of opportunity: the opportunity to deepen the faith we hold dear and to grow in our hope for the future.
Over the years, the people of St. Paul have consistently and with grace given of their time and their money to support and sustain the ministries we carry out as people of God. We call this stewardship.
Stewardship is a tired old expression that gets bandied about a lot. You would be amazed at the number of books that have been written on the subject. And the church’s interpretation of stewardship has evolved over time.
Recently some folks have taken to interpreting stewardship in ways that support their own particular passions. The ecologically minded focus on the stewardship of creation; advocates of exercise and healthy eating define stewardship as care of the body; those who are focused on relationships and good parenting will speak of stewardship of the family. And . . . citizenship is considered stewardship of the common good.
Of course, each of these passions has its own prescription: Decrease your carbon footprint; walk thirty minutes a day; cut down on red meat; make a date night with your spouse; spend quality time with your kids; allow your faith to inform your politics; cultivate your spirit of service.
These are good and admirable things to do, but they miss the mark.
Let me share a secret with you. Stewardship is using everything – everything – to the Glory of God. It is not just what we share or do at church. It’s what we do with our time and money in all of our life. We best carry out our responsibilities to God when we use everything entrusted to us in ways that honor God. It is meant to be a way of life.
So – what are the practical ramifications? How do I do this?
You can tithe, you can give the first fruits of their labors, you can give proportionately, you can intentionally grow your giving with each passing year. Quite frankly, I could commend any and all of these approaches to you. The method, the style, the amount of time and the amount of money is between you and God. It is not my place, nor shall it ever be, to suggest how – or how much – you should give.
So, if the options are so many and so liberally given, why should I be concerned about giving at all?
Well…. some of this is tied up in that faith-hope-love thing. These gifts of the Spirit teach and tug at us in ways that impel us to respond in gratitude to the great and incomprehensible love of God. God is inviting us to respond.
Hope, fed by faith, nourished by love becomes more than a vision; it becomes action which then nourishes others. It’s what we do.
All well and good, you say. But why?
I’d like to tell you a story about my Dad. He’s been gone for a long time now, but I still remember this incident like it was yesterday. To be honest, it was over 60 years ago; I was thirteen and stepping out into the social life of our local junior high school for the very first time. My dad’s warning lecture about my possible behaviors was short and most definitely to the point. “Just remember whose you are.”
Succinct? Yes. Uncomplicated? Mmmm, not so much. This was definitely both charge and challenge.
I was to remember absolutely everything that I had been taught by my parents about how to behave: manners, morals, everything. And that “remembering” was to govern my choices and actions wherever I went or whoever I was with. Period. This was never about thinking myself better than others. It was not about arrogance or false pride. It was about remembering. “Just remember; remember whose you are.”
It was good advice, and I took it to heart.
Later that year during confirmation class something else took place. As a part of completing our two years of study all confirmands were required to memorize Luther’s small catechism – in its entirety. That meant the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Creed along with definitions of the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar. Seems pretty straightforward. But you see, we also had to learn all of Martin Luther’s explanations for these catechetical components. The words “what does this mean” felt downright threatening as we tried to master the words, to say nothing of the meanings, so that we could recite all of this aloud.
I do not regret this process. I couldn’t recite the entire Small Catechism today, but there are certain bits I do remember – which have served more than once to hold my faith together.
The second article of the Creed and its explanation is one of those well-remembered pieces. Maybe . . . just maybe, because it always reminded me of my father’s decree.
The second article of the Apostles‘ creed goes like this, (depending on the translation currently in use): I believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
And then you are to say, “What does this mean? “
Okay, I want you to please listen very carefully, because this is my own personal, most favorite part of the entire catechism.
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, and also true human being, born of the Virgin Mary is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature from all sin, death and the power of the devil, not with silver and gold, but with his holy and precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, in order that I might be his own, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
This, dear friends, is why we are here. To hear God’s charge and challenge. It is not because we think God will love us more if we give more; it’s not because we might feel guilty if we don‘t take part. It is because we know whose we are.
We respond to God’s love by caring for the neighbor because we know we are redeemed. Redeemed.
The time is come – for us to remember all that we have ever been taught here – about loving, giving, sharing, sacrificing – and then – to remember – remember whose we are.