Sermon by the Rev’d Douglas Anderson for October 25, 2020, the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

A Sermon Preached by the Rector
October 25, 2020
Stewardship II

Some years ago, there was a book making the rounds called Blue Like Jazz,[1] the subtitle of which is “Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality.” In one chapter, the author, Donald Miller, talks about why he didn’t like to go to church. He writes that one of the reasons he didn’t like going to church was because

I felt like people were trying to sell me Jesus.  I was a salesman for a while, and we were taught that you are supposed to point out all the benefits of a product when you are selling it.  That is how I felt about some of the preachers I heard speak.  They were always pointing out the benefits of the Christian faith.  That rubbed me wrong.  It’s not that there aren’t benefits, there are, but did they have to speak about spirituality like it’s a vacuum cleaner?  I never felt like Jesus was a product …. Not only that, but they were always pointing out how great their specific church was.  The bulletin read like a brochure for Amway …. I felt like I got bombarded with commercials all week and then went to church and got even more. (p. 131)

I bring this up because October is the time when the clergy and people of this parish reconsider their financial stewardship.  In many places, the  stewardship sermon does seem like a commercial for the church and its programs.  I hope to avoid that.  Of course, the Advent cannot function without your financial support, but my goal is to open up the Scriptures and find out what kind of plan God has for us when it comes to wealth and possessions and money. 

I made the point last week that our stewardship of time, talent and treasure is sacramental: how we spend our money reflects our inward spiritual disposition.  Your checkbook is a moral document.  Open it up sometime this week, and take a look—you can clearly see where your priorities lie: Where your treasure is, there is your heart also.  Stewardship is a spiritual matter, and that is why the clergy preach about it. 

You’ll recall an episode from the life of King David.  He’s nearing the end of his life.  He’s had a vision of building a temple for God.  He has a plan of what the temple will look like, how it will be furnished.  And he’s gathered the people of Israel together in a great assembly to receive the offering of what had been given to build this great temple.  The people of Israel have dug deep, they have sacrificed, they have given millions and millions of shekels; David himself has made a huge personal contribution.  And in a moment of eloquence, David cries out, “All things come of thee [O Lord], and of thine own have we given thee.” 

That is the first principle of Christian stewardship.  Everything belongs to God:  In David’s words, “Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.”  The earth and everything on it belongs to God. We are his stewards, his managers, his caretakers, and in him we are rich beyond measure.

Here’s a little quiz.  You can answer the questions in your head:

  1. Do you own a pair of shoes?
  2. Do you have a change of clothes?
  3. Do you have a roof over your head?
  4. Do you know where your next meal is coming from?

If you answered “yes” to each of these four questions, you are in the top 2% of the world’s population when it comes to wealth.  Everyone in this room is richer than 98% of people in the world.  I pray that we—as people and parish—know this. 

Before there can be any talk of budgets and pledge cards, we must hammer this truth into our minds and hearts: everything I am, everything I have, my intellect, my skills, my gifts, my ability to make a living, come from God—they are GIFTS.  I am but a steward of these gifts that God has given me to use during my very brief time on this planet Earth. 

The second principle of stewardship that I spoke about last week was our response:  We give back.  We don’t give God our time, our talents, our treasure, we give back to him of his time, his talent, his treasure.  All the cookies belong to him!  We give back joyfully, repeatedly and generously.

Today, I’d like us to consider together the question of how much we give back. You’ve heard of the Sermon on the Mount?  This is the Sermon on the Account.

Let me say at the outset that I have good news, and I have bad news.  The good news is that we have all the resources, all the money we need, to fund the mission and ministry of this place.  The bad news is that it’s in your pockets!

This week, in the mail, each person or family who makes this parish their church home will receive a pledge card.  On that card, you’ll be asked to make an estimate of financial giving for the year 2021.  So how might we decide what “generous” is?  Here are some ways that we might come up with our pledge.

The first is to give what we gave last year.  The effects of inflation aside, the problem with habitual giving is that there is no growth.  Stasis does not exist; no thing—plant, animal, Christian—can ever stand still.  We are either growing or dying.  It is normal that Christians should be growing in all areas of their spiritual life, including their giving.  So each year we are called to reconsider, in a prayerful and deliberate way, what constitutes “generous.”  So habitual giving won’t do.

Or, I suppose the Vestry could charge dues to belong to the Advent, and send out a bill like a club, or a union, or even the Triple A.  Based on our pre-pandemic average Sunday attendance, we’d hand out a bill of about $136 per week for every man, woman and child that occupies the pews.  It costs about $3.25 per minute to run this parish and to meet our obligations to those beyond our doors.   Based on that, this sermon is worth about $40!

The problem is that some people couldn’t afford the admission price.  This parish was founded as a “free church,” without pew rents.  Our founders thought the whole idea of charging people to worship God deeply offensive, as do I.  The Church is meant to be a house of prayer for all people.  All are welcome here, prince and pauper alike.  So no, we’re not going to charge dues.

My late grandfather homesteaded in the Peace River district of northern Alberta.  Before he became too feeble to travel, my father took my grandfather on a road trip back to his old stomping grounds.  All across the Prairies, after they’d stopped to eat, my grandfather would say, “that was a great meal,” and plunk down a whole quarter as a tip—you heard me right, 25 cents.  My father would then have to quietly leave a little more money on the table so that the waitress didn’t hunt them down in the parking lot.  My grandfather’s tip, you see, was just a random amount—it had no connection to anything, it wasn’t grounded in reality.

When you and I have that pledge card in front of us, there can be a temptation to do what my grandfather did—just pick a number out of a hat—$20, $50, $100.  The glaring problem with random-dollar giving is that it has no connection to anything.  It is not grounded in financial reality.  A dollar is of greater significance to a person who is unemployed, or making minimum wage, or on Social Security, than it is to a person who makes $100K a year.  

When it comes to giving back to God, there is a better way; a way that is not random, or unconnected.  It’s called proportional giving.  God calls us to give back not randomly, but in proportion to our income.  People have different financial circumstances.  In our congregation there are people who are riding a crest of financial prosperity—they are better off now than at any other time in their life.  There are also people who are really hurting financially.  Most of us are somewhere in between.  Because everyone’s circumstances are different, God asks not for equal gifts, but for equal sacrifice.  That is what the proportional giving is about: not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice. 

You remember the story of the widow’s mite?  Jesus was watching people putting money into the temple treasury.  He noticed that those who were rich put in much.  Then he saw a poor widow putting in her two copper coins—all that she had.  If a wealthier woman had dropped those coins, she probably wouldn’t have even bothered to pick them up.  But in the widow’s hands, those two coppers sparkled like diamonds.  Jesus is telling a story about proportional giving.  What the widow gave was much less than that of the wealthy, but proportionately, it was much more.

Like I said, in just a few days, each of us will have an opportunity to give back; not in a habitual way; not in a random or haphazard way; but in a conscious, deliberate way, prayerfully considering what we will offer to God through his Church in the year to come.  If you are not already a proportional giver, please consider becoming one this year. 

So that’s it.

  • One: God is the owner of everything, we are his stewards. 
  • Two: In response, we give back. 
  • Three: We give back in proportion to our blessings. 

This year, your goal and mine should be to offer a good pledge, a worthy pledge, a pledge that reflects spiritual growth, a pledge that is pleasing to God.

I was joking earlier that I had good news, and I had bad news.  Really, though, I only have good news. 
The good news is that I know you to be people who take our common life seriously.
The good news is I know you to be committed to the mission and ministry of this place. 
The good news is that we have all the money we need to fund the mission and ministry of this parish. 
The good news is that it’s in your pocket! 


1. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. Donald Miller. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.

 

Common Questions about Stewardship

What is Christian stewardship?

“Stewardship is everything I do,
with everything I have,
after I say, I believe.” 

Christian stewardship is not first and foremost about collecting dollars to pay the bills, though this is not unimportant!  Rather, it is an opportunity to express, in an outward and visible way, the spiritual truth that  God is the owner of everything—our time, which is in his hands; our talents, which are from God; and our treasure, which is that portion of the world’s wealth that he allows to us.  God is the owner, we are his managers (stewards).

How is the Advent funded?

About 35% of the Advent’s operating budget comes from the Sunday giving of our parishioners (gifts of the living). Our endowment (gifts of the dead) keeps the building standing and the lights on; your pledge provides for the ministry we do from this building.

How much does it cost to support the mission and ministry of this parish?

It costs $4,691 each and every day to meet our obligations to our parish family and to do ministry beyond our doors. $1,642 of this comes from pledge and plate. Or to put it another way, $1.16 put in the plate pays for one minute of ministry!

How much of our budget is given to ministry beyond our doors?

About 18% of our operating budget is given to support the ministry of the church and various charities in the community, our nation and the world.  This does not include funds given to the Rector’s Discretionary Fund, Associate’s Discretionary Fund, and various parish organizations, for outreach.

Why is it important that I fill out a pledge card?

Could you imagine how difficult it would be to plan your household finances if you did not know how much income you could count on or when you would be paid? Your personal finances would be in chaos. It is the same with the household of God. We cannot plan if we don’t know what our resources will be.  Simply put, we ask you to pledge so we can plan. 

What is proportional giving?

As opposed to habitual or “random dollar giving,” giving proportionally means calculating our giving in relation to our wealth or income. Because we have different financial circumstances, it is not so much how much we give, but what that amount represents.

I don’t know what my finances will be like next year.  It depends on my commission, or how my investments do.

Your pledge is not a legal contract. It is an “estimate of giving” which helps the parish leadership plan. We understand that sometimes financial circumstances change. If you find yourself in this situation, please speak to the Stewardship Chairman or one of the Wardens about modifying your pledge.

Remember:

Pledging helps to determine Budget

\/

Budget Determines Program

\/

Program Determines Mission and Ministry of the Church and to the World.

If it’s not pledged, it’s not included in the budgeting process. Filling out a pledge card is a tangible sign that God’s work is important to you and your family. 

What is our target date for turning in pledges?

As is our custom, we ask that pledges be returned by Advent Sunday, November 29th.  This deadline reflects our Feast of Title, an appropriate date for us to return our gifts to God. 

I have questions; to whom do I speak?

Members of the Stewardship Committee are most willing to talk to you about stewardship and giving.

Francesco Piscitelli, Chairman  
C. Thomas Brown
Thatcher Gearhart
Paul Roberts
Adam Rutledge
Julianne Turé
Fr Douglas Anderson, Ex officio                    
Fr David Thompson, Ex officio

How to arrive at your pledge amount

1) Write down the amount of your annual income.

It doesn’t matter whether you use before-tax income or after; you decide. If your circumstances change you can always adjust the amount of your pledge!  
$ _______________

2) Decide a proportion of God’s wealth that you will return to him. 

If you’re new to proportional giving, try using the national charitable giving average of 3 to 4%. Or, if you’ve been a proportional giver for a while, take last year’s percentage and try adding 1% or 2% to it.

Proportional Giving Chart
(click on the chart to view full-size)

How do you feel about this number? Have you prayed over it?  Is it in proportion to the importance of God in your life? Is it in proportion to the importance of the Advent in your life? How is it in proportion to the other ways you spend money?

Collect for Stewardship.

Eternal Father, merciful Creator, thy hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for thy loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account we must one day render, may be faithful stewards of thy good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

2021 Stewardship Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,

We are now at that time of year when the clergy and people of the Advent are taking stock of the many blessings that God has given us, both as individual Christians and as a parish family.  As October draws to a close, we write to you – as the leadership of the Advent has written for 176 years – to ask you to make a declaration of your financial stewardship for the coming year.

In the stewardship mailing this week, you will receive a pledge card on which you are asked to make an indication of your financial giving for 2021, with the request that these be returned to the office by Advent Sunday, November 29th. You can also pledge online if you choose, by going to our pledging page, https://www.theadventboston.org/pledging/. Then, with pledges in hand, our budget will be put together, based on the resources that God’s people make available for mission and ministry.  We ask you to pledge, so we can plan.

Christian giving is both sacramental and sacrificial.  Sacrificial because our giving is meant to make a difference in our life and lifestyle; sacramental because our giving is an outward and visible sign of our inward and spiritual disposition. As Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” 

Good things are happening here, even amidst difficult circumstances, and your generous giving allows us to have a vital ministry to our own members, and to those beyond our doors. 

Please do take a moment to thoughtfully examine your present level of giving, and prayerfully consider how that giving might grow in the year to come.  As the Rector said in a recent sermon: Your goal and mine should be to offer God a good pledge, a worthy pledge, a pledge that reflects spiritual growth, a pledge that honors God.

The Vestry works hard to be good stewards of your generous contributions.  We appreciate your commitment to the Advent, and rely on the giving of every member of this parish family to ensure the success of our mission and ministry, both for ourselves, and for generations yet to come.

Yours faithfully in Christ,

Fr Douglas Anderson
Rector

Thomas Brown
Rector’s Warden

Paul Roberts
People’s Warden

 

Common Questions about Stewardship

Sermon by the Rev’d Douglas Anderson for October 18, 2020, the Feast of St Luke

A sermon preached by the Rector
St Luke the Evangelist 2020
Stewardship I

This Sunday, the Church observes the heavenly birthday of St Luke.  Luke is mentioned three times in Paul’s letters, once as the “beloved physician.”  As a doctor, he would have been educated and Greek-speaking, and indeed his Gospel is written to a non-Jewish audience.  He, of course, also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, which is the history book of the primitive Church.  The October 18th date for his feast probably dates from the transfer, on this day, of his relics to a church in Constantinople in the mid-fourth century.

That trivia aside, we celebrate Luke because of God’s grace at work in him, his healing arts, his literary skill, and how he told the “old, old story of Jesus”: our Lord’s preaching, his mighty works, his love for us, and the salvation he comes to bring.  And we can honor St Luke no more highly than by joining in telling the story of Jesus, which this parish has done for now more than 175 years!

Apropos of telling the story of Jesus in this place, this Sunday and next I am going to speak on the theology of stewardship, of money, of financial resources, of giving.  There are lots of churches who don’t ever talk about money, and then there are those churches who are always talking about money, but we’ll aim for a balanced approach.

There is a well-known New Yorker cartoon that makes the rounds of bulletins and newsletters during stewardship time.  It shows a man and a woman with a newborn baby greeting the pastor at the church door.  The woman says, “Sorry about all the sobbing in church; the baby is teething.”  The pastor asks, “What about your husband; why is he crying?”  “Oh,” comes the woman’s reply, “he’s tithing.”  Some of you don’t know what tithing is.  You will.

Our aim this Sunday and next is to open up the Scriptures, and see what plan God has for us when it comes to money. Then, at the end of the month, each household is asked to make an estimate of giving for the coming year, so that we can plan a budget. And the truth is that God does have a lot to say about the way we deal with our resources, our money, our wealth. 

This first principle of Christian stewardship is this:  The earth, and everything on it, belongs to God; we are his stewards.  God has more wealth that we can possibly imagine. Scripture metaphorically says, “The cattle of a thousand hills are his.” Or, as the song puts it, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”  Everything to do with this earth is his; and not only the earth, the whole universe is his. And over this God appoints us his managers, his tenants, his stewards.

I wonder if you’ve ever considered the vastness of the universe, that huge expanse of space. What kind of God created that universe, and even now holds it in existence? What kind of God indeed. Do you remember when you were in grade school and you made a scale model of the universe? Do you remember the teacher trying to put it in perspective for you? No? Let me try. If the sun were the size of a VW bug, the Earth would be the size of a marble a football field away. If the sun were the size of a VW bug, Pluto would be the size of a peppercorn 3 miles away from the VW. The nearest other sun to us, Alpha Centauri, would be the size of a house, the length of the diameter of the Earth away from the VW. Consider the vastness of the universe! Consider the God who created it and sustains it! It’s all his. Everything we call ours is really his. God is the owner; we are his stewards. That’s the first principle.

So how are we to respond to our generous God? The answer is the second principle of stewardship: We give back. We give back joyfully, generously and repeatedly. We don’t give God our time, talent and treasure. We give back to him of his time, his talent and his treasure. What is the verse from Chronicles? – “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”

I want us all to be quite sure why it is that we give back to God. (And notice that I didn’t say, “Give to the Church.”  No, we give back to God through his Church.) We give back to acknowledge God’s lordship over our lives. The Creed of the first Christians was quite short: “Jesus is Lord.” That’s it. Not the Empire, not Caesar Augustus, not Jupiter or Hermes, not the sun or the moon or the stars, but Jesus. At some point each of us must settle the question of who or what is to be lord of our lives.

Jesus realizes the temptation for you and me to make “things” our lord, to put our trust in them, to direct our energy to obtaining them, and to spend our time worrying about keeping them. You see, there is a great danger that you and I will believe that we can achieve a spiritual state (happiness) through a material event (money). Only when I have enough money, we think, I will be happy, or I will be free or I will be secure. A psychologist will tell you that in fact it is not the things themselves we want, but the feelings those things bring: happiness or freedom or security.

Deep down, however, we know that trying to achieve the spiritual state through a material event is futile. It simply won’t work. Those who try are always searching, always grasping, always dissatisfied. Someone once asked William Randolph Hearst how much money was “enough,” and he replied, “Just a little more than I have now.”

The Apostle Paul is in prison. One day he receives a care package from one of the churches he has founded. It probably contained some parchments, some personal letters, odds and ends. Paul, like the good Jewish son that he was, sat down and wrote a thank-you note. The Letter to the Philippians in the Bible is that thank-you. Basically, Paul writes, “I appreciate your gift, but I don’t really need it. You see, I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself: in good times and in bad, when I’m well-fed, when I’m starving, when I’m abounding and when I’m abased, when I’m successful, and when I’m a failure. I’ve taken all the guess-work out of my life and put my confidence in Jesus.” So says St Paul.

We might say, All the little lords I used to put my trust in: like my job, and my money, and my possessions, I now put in the one true Lord, Jesus. Whether I drive a brand-new BMW or a 20- year-old Chevy, or take the T, whether I eat out at the fanciest restaurant or at McDonalds, whether my house is small or big, I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I’ve learned the secret to being content – Jesus – and because of that I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Do you see how that works? We look for a material event to produce spiritual reality. With Paul it’s just the opposite. The spiritual reality produces contentment, joy and peace. When Jesus warns us about money, it is because there is a very real danger that people will become possessed by their possessions. Instead of focusing on the one Lord, they focus on the little lords of this life, put their trust in them, direct most of their energy to obtaining them, and to spend their time worrying about keeping them.

If you think back to your history classes, you may remember that in the Dark Ages when the missionaries did baptisms of whole pagan tribes (usually in the closest river), the pagan warriors would hold their swords above their heads so that the sword would not be part of the baptism and they could go on to use it to wage war. Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that as Christians our checkbooks are held above our heads, and what we do with our money is not part of our faith. The register in your checkbook is a moral document.

So we give back. “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” What we give back to God is the first. What we give back to God is the best. What we give back to God is the highest. The best always goes back to the source—God. Not our leftovers, but something meaningful—a sacrifice. That’s the definition of a sacrifice, “something that makes a Difference.”

Do you know where the expression “small potatoes” comes from? Many years ago, Chinese farmers operated under the theory that they should eat the large potatoes, and keep the  small ones for seed to go back into the ground. They did this for many generations, and over time the laws of heredity reduced all their potatoes to the size of marbles. They’d kept eating the best ones and returned the leftovers to the ground. They learned that you can’t keep the best for yourself. They learned that the harvest would reflect the planting.

The law of small potatoes is this: if you return to the source the first and the best, the source will return to you the best first. Jesus puts it this way: The measure you give will be the measure you get back. Not some measly portion but good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. If you return to the source the first and the best, the source (God) will return to you the best first.

The first principle of Christian stewardship is that God is the owner, we are his stewards. The second is that we give back to God to acknowledge his ownership and to proclaim his lordship, his rule, his kingdom, his will into every part of our lives.

I want to leave you with a little rhyming story to drive my point home, and to give you something to think about throughout the week.

A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
With several hours to go before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shop,
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.
She was engrossed in her book, but happened to see
That the man beside her, as bold as he could be,
Grabbed a cookie or two form the bag between–
Which she tried to ignore, lest there be a scene.
She read, munched cookies and watched the clock,
As the gutsy cookie thief diminished all her stock.
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, “If I weren’t so nice, why, I’d blacken his eye!”
With each cookie she took, he took one too.
When only one was left, she wondered what he’d do.
With a smile on his face and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered her half, as he ate the other.
She snatched it from him and thought “Oh brother –
this guy has some nerve, and he’s also very rude
why, he didn’t show the least gratitude!”
She had never known when she was so galled,
And sighed with relief when the flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate,
Refusing to look back at that annoying ingrate.
She boarded the plane and sank in her seat,
Then sought her book, by this time almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise –
there was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes!
“If mine are here,” she moaned with despair,
“then the others were his, and he tried to share.’
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.
                   (The Cookie Thief, Valerie Cox, edited)

Remember, dear friends, the next time you take a cookie, to whom the bag belongs.