The Divine Mystery exists in each of us. We are Stewards of that Mystery.
During church services on Sunday mornings in the month of October, we have had meditations offered by members of our parish community on the four cornerstones: Worship, Seek, Serve, and Give. This morning, John David Rainey offered this meditation on Give.
By John David Rainey
Christopher called me a few weeks ago and told me about the four cornerstones, and his intention of having members of the congregation speak about each of them, and he wanted me to speak about the Giving cornerstone. My first reaction was, “Man, I drew the short straw here.” And when he asked me if I would speak about giving, he didn’t stop talking for about 5 minutes, seemingly as to not provide an opening for me to say, “no.”
Giving is a very personal, and sometimes emotional topic. I don’t need to stand up here and tell you about the importance of giving. We all get that. Where the topic becomes a little more uncomfortable though, is when we discuss “how much.” The very nature of giving is characterized by generosity, selflessness, and is done without concern for what we get in return. When someone suggest that I should give more, it’s as if they’re suggesting that I am not generous or selfless enough…and that’s where it becomes personal. We all have this remarkable ability to justify our giving, particularly to the church, as the fair or right amount based on how much money we make, or how much time we have devoted to service, or even how much we have given to other charities. Among those justifications, we rarely consider what we get in return. That’s ironic to me because in every other aspect of life, when we spend money, that is precisely what we think about: what we get in return. To be clear, we don’t give because we expect something in return. When we give to the church, we are not writing a check and walking away. It’s also an investment. As with any investment, we think about what we get in return. So that’s what I want to focus on today: what we get in return.
First, I think it’s important to clarify who the “we” is in that statement. It’s not just you or your family. “We” has a much broader application. When my wife and I discuss giving, she reminds me of a particular woman that attended our church back in Houston, Texas. Our church there was not unlike this one. It was a traditional church with a fairly affluent congregation. This woman sat at the end of our same pew every Sunday. She was a black woman, in what was an almost entirely white congregation. She was also homeless. And she arrived every Sunday – sometimes late, but always in time for the sermon – in a tattered dress, with her tattered Bible, and she would pull along a suitcase, which I guess probably contained everything she owned. But instead of seeking money from someone on a street corner, she was seeking something much more…in church. I can’t help but think how she must have felt all those years as the offering plate was passed her way. We may not all have the same means, but we ALL have the same needs. So when we give, I think it’s important to give for those who cannot.
So what is it that “we get in return?” I’d ask you to think about that for a second. I suspect that this morning we would get as many different answers to that question as there are people in this congregation. For me, I think it’s many things. But I know this: one of the things we get in return is a foundation, a foundation for how we live our lives. In this day and age when it is so easy to compartmentalize church and religion from other aspects of our lives, the church provides a foundation that carries over into our everyday lives. It helps to shape our children, it helps us deal with personal loss, with addiction and divorce, and it helps us to mend broken relationships. It is our foundation.
Christopher has been sending out his daily stewardship meditation emails, and this week the topic has been giving – and I’ve paid particular attention this week so as not to contradict anything that he has said. There are two things he said this week that resonated with me, and made me reflect on an experience I had earlier this year. Earlier this week he said that, “In His kingdom, we don’t give with money, we give with our hearts.” The second one was a passage from the Bible. It’s something Jesus said that was also made well known in Leo Tolstoy’s short story, The Shoemaker: “In as much as you have done it to the least of these my brothers, you have also done it to me.”
Earlier this year, I was flying back from San Antonio. I was sitting in first class, and after I boarded there were seven or eight people in military fatigues with duffle bags that boarded. San Antonio has a military base. Many of you have probably experienced something similar. You know that usually when you see this, those soldiers are either going home, or they are going off to serve their country. In this circumstance, it was easy to see from their long faces, and the trepidation in their eyes, that they weren’t going home. Across the aisle from me sat an 11-year- old boy. I watched him watch each of these soldiers as they walked down the aisle. I could tell that he recognized what was going on and was wrestling with the gravity of what they were about to do. After everyone had boarded, he got up from his seat – in a way not to draw attention to himself, and no one said anything to him – and he walked to the back of the plane. He went up to each of those soldiers individually and asked them if they would like his seat in first class. They each politely declined, and the boy returned to his seat. I could tell that he had tears in his eyes. He quickly sat down and looked out the window so that no one would be able to see his tears. That didn’t matter, because everyone else that witnessed his actions also had tears in their eyes; I did, the other passengers, even the flight attendant.
I was proud that the actions of this 11-year-old boy made everyone else around him have a better appreciation for the significance of what those soldiers were doing. I was even prouder, though, because that 11-year-old boy was my son. You don’t get that from watching TV or going to the donut store on Sunday mornings. You get that here…at Christ Church. In the words of the hymn we sang this morning: How Firm a Foundation.
I’d ask you to consider two things when you think about what you give this year. First, think about digging a little deeper, and giving for those who cannot. And second, think about what it is that you get in return.