In the year 2000 we spent a little over $149,000 from our budget to fund the mission and outreach of this parish. Approximately $94,000 of that went to support the work of the larger church in the Diocese of Virginia. That means we spent $55,000 to fund everything from our beloved Children’s Center, the Honduras and South Dakota missions, Caritas and so much more. I would like to double that figure to over $100,000. Out of a budget well over one million dollars we ought to be able to give at least 10 percent to the work of God in the wider world.
This year we had an opportunity to purchase additional space for Sunday school, the Children’s Center and other programs. But we did not have the money or the strategic plan in place to take advantage of that opportunity. We need that space. As a parish locked into a fully developed area of the city we need to be ready to purchase additional space that will allow our congregation to grow and thrive. This year alone we have performed over thirty baptisms and we wonder where they will go in a Sunday school already full to the brim. I want St. James’s to have the freedom it needs to grow and together we can make that happen.
1205 West Franklin Street, the parish house, is one of the oldest homes in the fan, so I am told, and it is not getting any younger. Every year at budget time we intend to put away very necessary money to ensure that we can maintain our buildings over the long haul, and every year we have to sacrifice that money to meet more immediate needs. That can’t go on. We have to protect our assets.
I can go on and on and on. I can talk about the financial needs of this parish ad infinitum to anyone who is interested. I can speak volumes about each of those, “Did You Know” statements on the cover of your Sunday Chimes. But while that might be important information, it isn’t the point. You see, I do not think Christian stewardship is about meeting the needs of an institution. Rather, stewardship is about how you and I see our lives in relationship to a giving God, and how in all aspects of our lives we respond to God’s tremendous generosity. St. James’s needs your money, your pledge, and your commitment of time, make no mistake. However, I don’t want you to give your money because we need it; I want you to give the church a portion of your time, your talents and your dollars because you want to give back to God, something of the enormous gifts God has given to you. Like the ten lepers Jesus made clean, our stewardship is critical so that we too can be like the one leper who came back to Jesus to show his gratitude. As our theme for this years says – All things come from You and of Your own have we given you.
Shortly after Constantine declared Christianity to be the religion of the Roman Empire there were mass baptisms of Roman citizens. It was reported that when many of the soldiers in the Roman army were baptized, as they were going under the water, they held up their right arms up to keep them dry, to keep them out of the waters of baptism. They did this because their right arm was their sword arm and they wanted to be able to continue to fight. They did not want their sword constrained by the limits of Christian morality. In a similar way, I think many Christians hold their wallets high above the waters of baptism. God can have the rest of us, we say, but leave our money alone. We love the Lord, but we need our cash. Yet, Jesus spoke about money, wealth and possessions almost more than anything else in all the gospels. He knew that where we place our treasure is where we have given our hearts. In fact, if you want to know what is really important in your life then look through your checkbook and see where you spend most of your money.
Why is it you may ask that during this stewardship season we have not heard about budget targets, projected income needs, asking levels and percentage increases requested of individuals? If the church has not asked me for a specific amount or given us a target then they must not need the money as much as they say. But as I have said, the church has huge needs trying to maintain these buildings and offering the many ministries that are important to this community. But raising money is a secondary goal not the primary goal. After all, the church has survived for two thousand years and it will make it a few more. What is primary is your relationship to God, my relationship to God and how we acknowledge that relationship. As Christians, the point of stewardship is not to give from the bounty of our lives in order to make budgets, but to give something of what God has given to us back to God in thanksgiving for life.
I have no doubt that we will fulfill the financial needs of this community more effectively and more faithfully if we concentrate less on needs and more on blessings.
I can implore you to meet the needs of this institution but in doing so, I may not have done much for your relationship with the God who created you and sustains your life.
Therefore, I want you to think about the immense blessings God has bestowed upon you and me – our children, jobs, families, homes, friends, our health, the joy that surrounds us most of the time, the challenges we face and the opportunities that lie ahead of us – and with all that in mind to prayerfully decide what we want to give back to God in thanksgiving. In other words, I have been so blessed – what do I want to do to say thank you to God for those blessings?
Does this mean we have to give everything to the church? Am I asking you to give to God only by sharing your time, your talents and your dollars with God’s church? No, our Lord works throughout this community and in the larger world in numerous ways. There are so many good organizations and projects that are worthy of our gifts.
The point is not that we are to give all to the church. The point is that we are to give. To give in thanksgiving for this precious thing we call life. And recent events in our country have reminded us all once again just how precious is this life.
What is my job as your priest, as your pastor who is responsible for your spiritual well being? My job is to tell you that giving is everything – it is an essential part of the Christian faith and critical to the well being of your souls. Loving means giving. For me, giving is like a spiritual antibiotic, cleansing me of my natural inclination to self absorption, healing me from the disease of constant consumption, helping me to feel good about myself and my place in God’s scheme of things. Each of us grows and becomes more fully God’s people when we learn to give more freely. Each of us becomes more human, more holy, more Christ like when we learn that the most important thing in life is not to take but to give – to give to those we love, to those in need, to those struggling to make this world a better place.
Next Thursday night is the Feast of St. James’s. We have worked very hard planning this event and we have had a lot of fun creating some special things for the evening that we hope you will enjoy. If you have not rsvp’ed, I hope you will do so today, we have to give a final count to the caterer. There is no cost to you for this dinner, no pledge cards will be handed out and you will not be asked to write any checks. It is a time to get together in celebration of our life as a community, to hear a great speaker and to enjoy one another’s company. Following the dinner, pledge cards will be mailed to everyone. When you receive your pledge card, I ask that you prayerfully consider what you would like to give to God’s work at St. James’s and to bring your pledge card with you to Church on October 28th, Stewardship Sunday. We will have joint a 10:00 a.m. service that day in place of our normal 9:00 and 11:00 services. Canvassers will go out following the service on the 28th to call on all those did not return their pledge cards.
We have an amazing church, God has blessed us but he has also placed us in a location where there is much to do. Thank you for supporting the ministry and witness of this church. Thank you for the many gifts you have given to support this parish. I hope you will continue to give. Let us pray.