Sermon – November 11, 2018 – Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Appeal Sunday
Keeping the Faith

The story about the widow’s mite is often used, awkwardly, as a stewardship text to admonish the listeners to give like the widow gave.  ” if this poor widow could get everything that she has can’t you give a little more?”

While that may be useful, I think it misses the mark for what Jesus is talking about.   This is the story about failure of the institution of the Temple.   Jesus is calling out the leadership of the Temple whose stewardship and primary purpose is to steward the law, the ethics, the piety, even the hope of the people.

This is the place where believers came to be told that God is watching over them.

This is the place where the people hear that God has called them into something greater than their present circumstance.

This is the place where the people are told they belong in community in relationship with God.

This is the place that stewarded the command of God and the hope  of the least that God’s righteous people would protect them, and that their efforts and their prayers would be lifted up for the vulnerable.

This is the place where the story of God’s liberating power was told again and again and again to bring hope and security to the people.

This is the place where the story is told of the Lord’s command that those who have much are to glean their edges for the sake of those on the edge.

This is the place that stewarded the command  of God that the people protect the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner in the land, as the prophets reminded them again and again.

The widow knew this. She comes here because she belongs, not because of her purse or her poverty because of God’s promise.

Here she comes to embrace the hope that is engendered in sacred Scripture.

This is where she came, to this holy place, to lift up her prayers to God she trusted.

Here she comes to take her place as a member of the community, as one who belonged, to bear her own gift and lift up her own prayers.

And such was her faith that all she gave, two small copper coins, which were barely worth the trouble of counting, shamed the establishment and embarrassed the rich and called out the institution and raised the shackles of this Jesus who observed her and honored her as an example.

No, this is not a story meant to squeeze out of us comparable sacrifices as the widow. The point is this place, this temple, these stewards, those who enjoyed wealth and leisure failed in their fundamental responsibility to take care of the fragile things of God, and in doing so to worship and honor God,  to care for the gracious word that tells of God’s love for all people. Failed to reflect the generosity of God’s heart that had God returning again and again and again in love and forgiveness for God’s people. Failed to preserve the public practice of caring for the least. Failed to honor the command to care for and shepherd the least, the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner in the land.

This story is a lament.  This story is a lament that challenges the institution of the Temple, the institution of the priesthood, the institution of the Temple leadership, and the flawed notion that the wealthy are already blessed and have no call to their neighbor. This is an indictment of these failures, and the consequence, Jesus says is that the Temple will be pass and be raised up again in his person.

By his death and resurrection, the new Temple  would arise with Christ as the cornerstone as the church is called into creation. The Fellowship that carries with it the same call, the same legacy to care for the least, to honor God in serving one another,  to bring our worship and praise of God’s gracious gifts in open welcome to all, a people who delight in the mission and ministry of the gospel that proclaims Christ’s death and resurrection and loving forgiving grace is  for the sake of all people, to be called to stewardship of these gifts.

So when we read such a passage that calls to account the institutions that shepherd God’s gifts,  we ought to pause and take stock.

How are we doing? Does our vision and mission articulate our call to serve the kingdom in this time and place?   Are we living out our mission statement that we are “a fellowship of believers called to grow in Christ, share the gospel, serve God’s people?”

Does our worship reflect Thanksgiving for God’s gifts? Is it welcoming and reverent? Does it make a way for Christ to speak and for the people to hear?

Does our commitment to grow disciples from Sunday school to adulthood match our eagerness to know more of God?

Does the ministry we engage outside  of these walls reflect the gospel?

Does the practice of our hospitality reflect the promise of our hospitality?

Do we understand who we serve and why? To the lost, the widow, the orphan, the immigrants

Does our care and stewardship of this place and the faith entrusted to one another honor our relationships?

Does our giving reflect our hope or our fear?

I know my own answer to these questions, and I think we do most of them quite well. I invite you to wonder about them yourselves, see if we are doing the things that we promised to, keeping the faith.

I know my own answers to these questions and they fill me with Thanksgiving, knowing much we do well and some we could and will do better.  As I reflect, I am encouraged by the fidelity and commitments of the original Saints in this church, those who helped lead us here, many who are still among us.  And now, with that wind at our backs,  all of us turned together toward the next 75 years as we continue to keep the faith, as we continue commit to grow in Christ, share the gospel,  and serve God’s people.  To continue to be the place and the people God has called us to be.

Next Sunday, you will be asked to make a commitment as our first step together into the next 75 years.   This will be for all of us a week of preparation for that commitment. Each of us will receive a packet in the mail with details of this capital campaign, “keeping the faith: the next 75 years.” Packet will contain further details of the work we propose and commitment cards for this campaign and, and very importantly, commitments to our annual  stewardship promises.

Some years ago, as the process of expanding and growing into our mission was unfolding, we covenanted to proceed under the rubric that “all things we do reflect Christ.”

This is no different here.  Our proposed improvements are not merely tidying up, they are ways that reflect that commitment.

The care and  restoration of this physical edifice and ensuring a sound financial foundation provides a home base for continued mission and ministry to our fellowship, our neighborhood, our community, and the world.

It will enhance our caring and our hospitality

It will expand our ability for outreach and welcome to the stranger.

It will deepen our fellowship and community care.

And will help to shore up the foundation of this place that we are called to be and aspire to be – the community that keeps a tight grip on the promises of God that give clear voice for the proclamation of the gospel, that demonstrates a deep commitment to serve God as we serve the neighbor.   This is what we gauge as we take this step together to attend to the things of St. Matthew in our time.

I am in the delightful position of hearing and receiving the affirmations of the community about this church. I and many of you hear the community appreciation and creative outreach of our farm that serve so many, our New Orleans ministry, our hospitality, our worship.. An even greater affirmation came from someone who is a member of another fellowship but visits us occasionally. He said I come to St. Matthew because I know that here I will hear the gospel proclaimed.”   I believe he meant not just from our worship, but also  from our public ministries.

When Jesus called to account the Temple institution that was meant to serve God and the people, he alerted all of us that our only purpose is to steward the grace and promises of God’s and to love God in service to God’s people and the world he created.     Today let us reaffirm that we will keep the faith. Strive to be community that God has called us to and that together in hope and faith and conviction step into the next 75 years.

Thanks be to God