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October 7, 2019, 10:15 AM

Fundraising and Faith-Raising - Sermon, 10/6/19


Not that most people look forward to attending most meetings with much joy, I have to admit that some of my recent meetings have been largely absent of a sense of joy. This week’s vestry meeting was, to say the least, not a joyful meeting. As a vestry, we are facing the reality of financial shortfalls, particularly related to member giving. As the end of the year approaches, these financial shortfalls are becoming increasingly stressful.

 

After some difficult conversations during and after the vestry meeting this week, I was not exactly feeling full of joy. And it’s not just the financial shortfalls that are stressing me out, either. So much of our energy and our joy are spent being stressed about the church’s finances that there is little energy or joy left to celebrate the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

 

A very insightful member of the congregation came to me this week with a similar concern. It was worded much more wisely than I could ever manage. This person said that the church has been doing lots of fundraising, but not much faith-raising. Wow. Listen again to what this person said: we have been doing lots of fundraising, but not much faith-raising.

 

Wow. Just wow. This person’s wise words have stayed with me this week, especially as I prepared this morning’s message. For months, today’s message has been designated as the dreaded “stewardship sermon.” Often, the dreaded stewardship sermon is exactly that – dreaded. It is dreaded by the congregation to hear and it is honestly dreaded by this preacher to prepare.

 

How in the world could I take the member’s wise insight about the lack of faith-raising into my heart while also talking about the reality of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church’s finances? I thought about it and thought about it. I prayed about it and prayed about it. Then I did something that I should have done much earlier: I actually read today’s readings. Imagine that!

 

And in today’s epistle reading, I found something to say. Finally. Big sigh of relief. Phew! In the midst of long, complicated, run-on sentences, I found something to say. As a side note, Paul, the presumed author of the second letter to Timothy, could have really used the services of an editor. Those long, complicated, run-on sentences make the lectors’ jobs difficult!

 

Hidden in the midst of Paul’s long, complicated, run-on sentences is Paul’s direction to “rekindle the gift of God.” It seems that Timothy has lost a sense of joy in his ministry.

 

Instead of boldly proclaiming the great Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ, Timothy has taken on a “spirit of cowardice.” Paul reminds Timothy that, as a Christian, he has been given a “spirit of power and of love.” Filled with those gifts, Paul reminds Timothy, Timothy needs to “rekindle the gifts of God.”

 

Just like Timothy, we, too, have had the fire of faith kindled in our hearts, particularly in the hearts of those who have been baptized. This fire of faith is renewed every time we renew our baptismal covenant, particularly when we promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”

 

The “spirit of cowardice” mentioned by Paul can take many forms in our lives. When we allow the “spirit of cowardice” to rule our lives, it is extra-challenging to “rekindle the gift of God.” When we allow the fire of faith to dwindle, it is extra-challenging to “rekindle the gift of God.” When we allow the spirit of love to hide in the background, it is extra-challenging to “rekindle the gift of God.”

 

What is Paul’s remedy? What is Paul’s suggestion to Timothy as he struggles to “rekindle the gift of God?” Paul tells Timothy to “(rely) on the power of God, who save(s) us and call(s) us with a holy calling.” It is the love of God in Jesus Christ alone that saves us. It is the love of God in Jesus Christ alone that calls us. It is the love of God in Jesus Christ alone that gives us our “holy calling.”

 

And that “holy calling” that comes from Jesus Christ? That is what calls us out of the “spirit of cowardice” and into the life God wants us to live. We cannot live full, spirit-filled, Christian lives when our lives are ruled by the “spirit of cowardice” instead of the spirit of love.

 

Paul ends this portion of his second letter to Timothy with one more piece of advice. He tells Timothy to “guard the good treasure entrusted to (him), with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” I don’t want the word “guard” to make us want to close ourselves off from the world.

 

Instead, Paul is challenging Timothy to hold fast to the joy and power and love that is found only in relationship with Jesus. Christian joy and power and love can best be truly experienced when it is shared broadly with the world.

 

One of the ways we share the treasure of Christ’s joy and power and love is by living faithfully in the world. Another way we share the treasure of Christ’s joy and power and love is by giving faithfully to the mission of the church.

 

After all, the mission of the church is broader than our mere survival. The mission of the church is broader than worshiping on Sunday mornings. The mission of the church is broader than keeping the lights on and the heat working. The mission of the church is broader even than paying salaries.

 

The mission of the church is deeply connected to the faith-raising mentioned by the wise and insightful parishioner this week. By faithfully supporting Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church with our financial generosity, we ensure that faith-raising will continue and grow and expand. By faithfully supporting Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church with our financial generosity, we ensure that the message of the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ will continue to spread abroad to the world.

 

My prayer this morning is that we will not allow the “spirit of cowardice” to rule our hearts or our lives. Instead, I pray that Christ will “rekindle the gift of God” in our hearts and in our lives. Amen.


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