Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Twentieth-Second Sunday after Pentecost – October 24, 2010
May God spread the feast before the world, may Christ Jesus invite us all to come and may the Spirit join us all into the wonder of human community. Amen.
Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, once said that the last of the human freedoms is to change one’s attitudes. The gospel story is a perfect example of that. Here we have one individual who is just so self-satisfied with what he has accomplished, so very self-righteous. He scorns those whom he deems are unworthy, who are different from him and is not able to see them as God sees them—beloved daughters and sons of the Creator. His pride is in his wealth.
Then there is the other, whom you must remember is a crook, a Jew who worked for the Roman government collecting taxes but adding extra fees so that he got a good cut out of the deal. He, on the other hand, is not satisfied with how he has lived his life and in humility and repentance begs for God’s forgiveness. Knowing how hated he was by the religious community, he took a big risk just by coming to the Temple but he is exercising his freedom to change—to change his attitude and his priorities in life.
This is a story of how two totally different people approached their relationship with God, their relationship with the community in which they lived, and with the dream God has for our world. It is one of many, many stories in the scriptures and one of many, many stories in all of our lives. Jesus told these stories to help us see that we do have the freedom to change the way we perceive things and what we value as really important in our lives, the freedom to be transformed.
Yesterday, at the Diocesan Convention in Hartford our Bishop, Ian Douglas, said “when we tell our own personal stories of how we have been swept up in, connected to God’s healing, restoring, reconciling work in the world, then we find new meaning as the Body of Christ as a whole.
This new identity in the Body of Christ, this new creation in Jesus, then gives us as the Church new focus, new possibility, new energy to serve God’s restoring, reconciling action in the world. As we tell our individual stories in God’s story, we discover anew our common story and are empowered for new action in service to God’s mission.”
And yesterday, Nancy Esposito, our parish clerk, related her story to our staff and vestry via an email and has allowed me to share it with you today. “I support the mission and ministry of St. Paul’s by my regular giving,” she said “because committing my life to God through our community is the single most important decision I have made in my entire life. It is a decision that has resulted in me realigning my priorities and making a conscious decision to give everything I have to give to explore my journey of faith.
“I was hopeful, but unsure, that I would ultimately find something. I could not have even begun to imagine what was in store for me. I found that by giving everything I can, I am actually finding myself. The real me. The person who believes in the innate goodness of what life holds for us when we strive to live the way that God wants us to live. “Not only with our lips, but with our lives.”
So what’s your story? How have you been swept up in, connected to God’s healing, restoring, reconciling work in the world? How has your presence here, the power of our worship, the preaching of God’s word, the nurture of your clergy, the relationships you have formed, the support you have felt—how has all of that made a difference in your life and, perhaps the even greater question: How has your life been transformed in such a way that you have made a difference by carrying out God’s work in the world?
The Old Testament reading we heard today reminds us that all we have received is a blessing from God and that, in gratitude for God’s abundant giving to us, God asks us to give as generously as we can afford in order to advance God’s dream for our world. Each year during these autumn weeks you, as faithful members of this community, are asked to consider how you will give back from the resources that God has given you so that St. Paul’s can continue to be here for you in all the ways you need it to be, and to empower you to minister in a world that so desperately needs to know God’s grace and unconditional love.
In past years, I have spoken about generous and radical giving and about proportionate giving. I have given my own witness as someone committed to the tithe. Today I come before you as your rector and friend and ask you to consider exercising that human freedom to change one’s attitudes by making what recently I have been talking about with our staff and vestry as a “serious” pledge.
What do I mean by that? Well, I know that many of you have told your story about how you have been swept up in and connected to God’s healing— how the power of our worship, the preaching of God’s word, the nurture of your clergy, the relationships you have formed, the support you have felt—how all of that has made a difference in your life. So, for me, a serious pledge is one that gives power and meaning and authenticity to your story, to your words, to your gratitude for what you have received here. A serious pledge means we express our thankfulness, our love for, our pride in this church not only with our lips, but with our lives and what, by God’s grace, we earn in our livelihood.
How serious are we in our conviction that our community desperately needs this kind of church, one that unabashedly proclaims God’s Radical Welcome? The number of gay teens who committed suicide this month as a result of bullying now stands at ten and a survey this week reveals that two out of three Americans believe gay people commit suicide because of messages coming out of churches and other places of worship.
How serious are we in our certainty that there are many people in our city and beyond who are hurting and longing for affirmation, support and life transformation—all of which they might discover here as we have? How serious is our belief in the innate goodness of what life holds for us when we strive to live the way that God wants us to live and what a difference that can make in the world? How serious are we about really building the kingdom of God on earth?
A favorite stewardship story is one told by one of our members who, after filling out her pledge card last fall with an amount that was an act of faith and of sacrifice, said out loud to herself, “I don’t believe I just did that!” That’s a serious pledge. Now, if you are gainfully employed or receiving a decent pension as a retired person, how serious your giving can be will be different from those who are unemployed or living on very limited income. But I am convinced that every one of us can give to the Most High as he has given to you and as generously as you can afford.
I know that you are a very intelligent as well as committed congregation. You see all the things happening at St. Paul’s and how we continue to grow in our faith and to minister in God’s world. You recognize that this is not the run-of-the-mill kind of church that we take great pride in everything we do. You know that we are a community with a mission and led by the Holy Spirit and are all ministers of the Gospel who are a strong presence of God’s unconditional love for those we meet in our daily comings and goings.
The rector of a church not unlike St. Paul’s preached these words a few years ago: “Boring, timid churches are cheap. They ask next to nothing of their members. Inspiring churches that seek to live a God-honored vision –and do it with excellence—are expensive. I believe you want this church to be numbered among the latter.” How serious are we about that? The answer to the question rests in your hearts and in your attitude about you will do to support what God is up to in this place.