Rector’s Stewardship Sermon Oct. 2020

Pierre-Henry Buisson, Rector

October 17-18, 2020 — Proper 24A

The enemies of my enemies are my friends, says an old adage. It’s exactly why Pharisees and Herodians who could not stand each other allied in order to trap Jesus. Pharisees despised the Roman power but tolerated it. They saw it as a divine punishment for Israel’s sins. So, they did not call for rebellion or violence. Rather, they called for a renewed spiritual life. The Herodians on the other hand were devoted to King Herod and allied with the Roman Power. The tribute was a special tax imposed on all Jews, except children. It was seen as a reminder of their submission to Rome. So, the trap prepared by the Pharisees and Herodians was simple, and apparently, they were sure to be successful. If Jesus answered that it was unlawful to pay the tribute to Caesar, the Herodians would denounce him to the Roman authorities as being rebellious and subversive. If Jesus answered that it was lawful to pay the tribute, then the Pharisees would denounce him as being an ally of the oppressor, and he would lose all credibility among the people.

But we know that Jesus did not fall into their trap. He managed to not  answer their question by demanding  to see the coin and then simply asked a simple question of his own: “Whose head is this and whose title?” The answer came: “The emperor’s”

So, said Jesus, give back to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and give back to God the things that belong to God. Jesus’ answer is not about the separation of Church and State. It’s not about the lawfulness of paying taxes either. Jesus’ answer is about to give back to God what belongs to God: worship, praise, honor, glory. The coin belonged to Caesar because of Caesar’s image on it, and because the inscription read “Tiberivs Caesar Divi Avgvsti Filivs Avgvstvs” (“Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”), claiming that after death Augustus had become a god.

Render to God what belongs to God. Human beings have all been created in God’s likeness. As the coin bore the Emperor’s image, each one of us bears God’s image. We belong to God! When we were baptized the priest marked on our forehead the sign of the cross saying: “You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.” We bear the mark of Christ, and we belong to God.

On this first Sunday of our Stewardship season, it could be very tempting for a rector to use these words of Jesus and to tell the congregation: See, Jesus is telling you to give 10% of your income to the church! But that would be a very poor interpretation of this passage. Jesus is not talking about tithing, he is much more demanding: Give back to God what belongs to God. We are not invited to give a portion of what we have and what we are to God, we are not invited to give even 10% of what we have and what we are, we are invited to give back to God what belongs to God, us, our whole life, everything!  It’s not about money, it’s about giving God the first place in our lives. It’s about honoring God with all we have, all we are, and all we do. It’s about abiding with Christ and in Christ. It’s about following Christ’s teaching to love Him, to serve Him, and to love and serve our neighbor. We belong to God, our whole life, our time, our talents, our treasure belong to God.

The Stewardship season is precisely this time of year where we are invited to think hard about what we do with our lives, what we do with our time, what we do with the talents and gifts entrusted to us, what we do with our money. What part of my time, what part of my talents, what part of my treasure do I want to give back to God? God is not an accountant! God does not care if we give 5%, 10%, 50% of our money to the church, or to charities.  What God is calling us to do is to be generous with all that we have been entrusted with. When we realize that all we have, and all we are belong to God, when we realize that we are only the stewards of God’s bounty, then we can really proclaim with our lives that we believe in God from whom all blessings flow.

All of us, for a reason or another, have been called by the Lord to be part of St Luke’s community. You might have come here because you searched us online, because you are a creedal episcopalian, because you were looking for a church like us, or like me because you applied to a position, but the deep truth is that the Lord chose us and sent us here. Being part of St Luke’s family is our way to fulfill our Christian vocation at this point. We belong to God, and St Luke’s as a whole belongs to God too.

Maybe a good question could be: give me a reason to give to St Luke’s?  Most charities and non for profit organizations have a large base of donors who trust them and can see how their gift will impact others. St Luke’s can only count on the generosity of its members and friends. It’s good to remind ourselves time and again that all we do at St Luke’s  through all our ministries is to serve the Lord, to worship the Lord, and to love and serve our neighbor. All we have at St Luke’s, our beautiful building, our grounds, our hard-working staff, our members, our volunteers, are concrete tools working toward our goal to be beacons of Christ’s love here and now in the Quad-Cities area. All our ministries are concrete ways to reach out and to bring Christ’s love. By serving the Lord and our neighbor, St Luke’s is in the business of touching and changing lives. Many people shared with me how they have been touched by the grace of the Lord here within our walls, during worship,  a meeting, the celebration of a sacrament, a discussion, and outside our walls through visits, help, support. St Luke’s is an amazing and generous congregation!

Every year the trap for us is to think that our stewardship campaign is  just a fundraising campaign to fund our budget. Every year we have the same talks and discussions among us: how much the Vestry is going to give to such and such commission? All the money we spend, in a way or another, allows us to fulfill our mission.  It’s true that St Luke’s has financial needs, and your Vestry, your treasurer, all commission chairs, and your rector are doing the best they can to find the right balance to allow us to grow and bring Christ’s love in and outside our walls. Maybe we have not always been able to convey these needs correctly to the congregation, and we want to do a better job to share with you our needs, our wants, and where we are at. But the primary goal of the stewardship campaign is not, and should not be about our budget. It is about generous giving to honor a generous God.

As I wrote in this week’s E-pistle: Pledging is not about helping St Luke’s pay its bills. First and foremost, pledging is a spiritual discipline allowing us to generously give back to God part of our time, talents, and treasure. We generously give back to God out of abundance, not out of scarcity; out of love for the One from whom all blessings flow. We don’t have to pledge, this is not an obligation, this is not a burden. Rather we get to pledge because this is a privilege, this is our desire, this is our way to give back to the Lord.

I pray, and I invite you to pray for a successful stewardship campaign. Success in my opinion, will provide us with more than we need or dream of to accomplish our mission. Success will provide St Luke’s with plenty of resources to fund our programs and ministries, to maintain our building and grounds, and to support and help those less fortunate than us. A successful campaign is a campaign where all, or most, of our families and households will give generously, not for a budget, but rather from a deep desire to give back to God what belongs to God, in order to put all our dreams into action for the Glory of God.

We are living in a very difficult time. Many people are anxious about the future. Many are wondering whether they will be able to pay their bills. We are invited to put aside our fears. We are invited to put aside our earthly anxieties because we belong to God, and Jesus is always with us. We belong to God; and to God alone we want to give honor, glory, worship, and praise. Let us give back to God what belongs to God. Amen!