Note: This is the third in a three-week series on stewardship. For the previous sermon please click here: https://emilycheath.com/2016/10/30/good-seeds-good-soil-sermon-for-october-30-2016/
Over the past three weeks I’ve been preaching a sermon series on stewardship. The first week we talked specifically about financial giving and this church. And last week we talked more broadly about the good seeds that God has given us to plant and how it’s our job to find good soil.
All through it I’ve been stressing the point that stewardship is about more than money. Instead, stewardship is about life, and it’s about taking every good thing you have been given, and being a good steward of it, which in 21st century terms just means being a good manager.
Stewardship is about recognizing what God gives us and then deciding to use it well. Our time, our talents, our treasure…no matter what we have, we make the choice.
So, this is the last day of our stewardship season, which means it’s also Dedication Sunday. Today we are collecting pledge cards for next year, and after worship the stewardship committee will be tallying them up. Then they’ll go downstairs to coffee hour, ring a bell, and announce the total. It’s an important annual tradition for us.
But today is also an even more important day. It’s All Saints’ Sunday. For Protestants, All Saints’ is when we remember the people we have loved and lost. On All Saints’ we proclaim our hope in Christ’s love, and we talk about what is called the “Communion of Saints”. That’s a confusing phrase, but to simplify it, by Communion of Saints we just mean this: all who have lived and died in this faith, who we now believe to be gathered (or in community) with Christ and each other in the next life.
Because I’ll be out of town on our usual pledge Sunday, these two events had to fall on the same Sunday this year. That made me a little uneasy at first. Money is hard enough to talk about. Money and the memory of people we have loved is even harder. And I didn’t want anyone to think we had done this deliberately to try to emotionally manipulate anyone into giving more. This isn’t “your grandmother was a saint and she would given more than you”.
But as I thought about it, I really came to appreciate the beauty of talking about stewardship and talking about our whole lives. I’ll tell you why.
One of the traditional readings for All Saints’ is the Beatitudes, which you just heard. Blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the merciful. In other words, blessed are people who, in reality, are nothing like me. I want to be all those things, but I stumble on a daily basis.
And on All Saints’ my flaws are front and center. Martin Luther said that we are all simultaneously both saint and sinner, but I can testify that my saint is far outweighed by my sinner. And this talk of saints…those are the holy people, the ones who seem to walk around with halos on their heads. That’s not me.
But our faith says something a little different. We believe that people are not saints in life, no matter how good they are. We are all imperfect. But we teach that when we die, we don’t become angels like Hallmark tells you. Instead, we become saints.
In fact, the biggest barrier between you and becoming a saint is not that you are imperfect…it’s that you are still alive.
There will come a day when we will all leave this life. We do not have to fear that day. We belong to a merciful God who has given us extraordinary grace. And on that day we will find that we have joined the great Communion of Saints.
And so, that means that we, you and I, are saints-in-training, whether we believe we are worthy of that title or not. We are not going to get it entirely right this side of the kingdom of God, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take our work of preparing for sainthood seriously.
Mary Luti, who some of you know from her writing, once said that the best way to learn to be a Christian was not by reading more theology. Instead, it was by studying other people. In particular, she said to study the people whose lives and faith you admire, and then do likewise.
So, who have been your saintly teachers? Who have been the people who have taught you just a little more about what it means to live a life of faith?
For me, one of them was a man named Sammy Clark. Sammy was my college chaplain, and some of you might remember that I flew to Georgia for his funeral when he died suddenly last spring. I met Sammy when I was a college freshman, and a new Christian, and he changed my life. He’s the one who set me on the path to ministry.
I was one of many who learned from him, and recently I wrote this about him in a daily devotional:
“As a college chaplain Sammy loved, and was loved by, everyone. He advised a fraternity that was perennially about to get kicked off campus while at the same time affirming gay kids coming out long before it was culturally acceptable. He prayed with us on Wednesday nights in the chapel and then snuck out back to smoke the cigarettes that his Methodist ordination was supposed to ban.
Sammy was good, but he wasn’t perfect. He was a human being who messed up, just like all of us. And he wasn’t a saint in life. Had anyone suggested that he was, he would have broken out in a grin, shook his head, and laughed.
But Sammy is a saint now.”
Those of us who knew him are better for it. And so on this first All Saints’ Sunday without him, I give thanks for him. And I give thanks for the way he used his life.
Sammy taught me about being a good steward of the life I had been given. He taught me that we are called to give not just parts of our lives, but every bit of it, back to God.
Sammy had left an Ivy League PhD program in English to go to seminary. In the late ’50’s, instead of becoming an English professor, he went back home to south Georgia and worked for Civil Rights. But he still always loved poetry, and it’s a poem that reminds me about what he taught us about that kind of life.
Mary Oliver writes in “The Summer Day” these words:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
So tell me…God has given you this life. This “one wild and precious life”. What is it you plan to do with it?
Whatever your answer is, that is stewardship. It’s that simple. And it’s that hard. Stewardship is nothing less than figuring out what you will choose to do with every moment, and every gift you’ve been given, in your “one wild and precious life”.
On this All Saints’, I give thanks for the saints in my life who have taught me with their lives about how to choose well. Amen?