The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
I bring you good news today. I have discovered the key to wealth and fortune, and the great news – I am willing to share the key with you. Here it is: Grovel before God, and then pray for your friends. Look what happens for Job. Life and friends have beaten him down. He’s frustrated, mad, and demands God come and explain why. God comes, but instead of answers, God bombards him with questions Job can’t answer. Overwhelmed by God’s power and majesty, Job rakes up a pile of dust and ashes, dives into them and grovels. I guess God’s impressed.
Look what happens next. Old friends come to visit and bring Job money and gold rings. Job’s bank account doubles. He has more new stuff than ever; a new and improved family, and he gets voted back in to the Country Club. Job hits the mother lode. That’s the key: grovel; pray for friends; and then get ready to praise god from whom all blessings will flow. If this actually works, and you find wealth raining down on you, I know you’ll feel so blessed and thankful that you’ll give generously to St. Paul’s, right?
You know I am kidding, don’t you? After years of preaching stewardship sermons, I’ve run out of ways to get your attention. I see how eyes glaze over when the stewardship emphasis starts. In one parish I served, church attendance dropped during this time every year. Someone is yet to come up to me and say, “Steve – you really got to me. I finally get it. I’m doubling my giving to the church.” I’m no longer holding my breath. I can’t argue, force you, or make you want to pledge to the church. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Once I did say something people took to heart. I said God doesn’t really need your money. They took me seriously. They kept their money. I won’t do that again.
Some years ago a retired gentleman stopped by to tell me he’d have to reduce his giving to the church. I was astonished by his sad story. He had to pay a $10,000 assessment that year for the new Country Club building. His dues at his beach side dinner club were going up. His Yacht Club dues went up, and his men’s dining lodge dues were also going up. I felt like saying, “And Job thought he had it bad.” Don’t get me wrong. He was a decent fellow, a good church member – he loved God and his family. But I wondered as he left – do you realize the god you are worshipping?
New York City pastor Timothy Keller describes the aftermath of the recent economic unpleasantness in a new book, Counterfeit Gods. He lists CFO’s, CEO’s, executives who lost jobs, high-end money managers – who took their lives when the bottom fell out. That can happen when lesser gods fail us, when what we worship and invest ourselves into lets us down.
So let’s get honest. What do you truly worship in your life? That’s the only question I ask you to consider as you think about this church, and your commitment to God through the church. Thank goodness we don’t live in ACC Basketball Country, where people are confused about their gods. A friend in Durham once preached a sermon series on the Ten Commandments. People were okay with not killing, coveting and adultery stuff. But Bob suggested that giving more to the Duke or Carolina Athletic Departments than the church, including season tickets – may violate the First Commandment. “Next time mama’s in the hospital,” he said, “call Coach K to visit her.” That didn’t go over so well. That’s a stewardship issue. To look at how we manage our lives, and what we truly worship – can be scary.
God is not after your money – but your heart. Get the relationship right and the church will be fine. We can learn from Job what matters – what is eternal and everlasting. That’s why Job grovels, dusty and dirty. He’s awed by God’s faithful, powerful, trustworthy love – even when he doesn’t understand why bad things happen. He trusts God and regains faith in God – and thus can be restored to God.
God’s work through the church, when we get it right, is the work of restoration – to restore all persons to right relationship with God and one another. Our mission, our purpose for being, is to raise up men and women, boys and girls – all people into God’s new life – to encourage people with lots of faith, and welcome people with no faith; to restore people who are lonely and scared to a safe and loving place; to heal those who’ve been burned by the church; and restore to God those who long to be loved eternally. We give money and ourselves in service to support the structures and means to do this. That’s why music is ministry, not performance. Choirs of youth and adults are a means to raise up and train musicians. Their gifts lead us all in worship, prayer and praise to God. Christian Education is a means to grow families, individuals, from birth to grave love to embody God’s love, not just learn information. This building is not a museum for people to visit, but a means, a place for worship of God, for forming and growing in love and grace to do ministry so God’s love for all can be experienced. You give to support ministry, not create programs, or pay for a budget.
Experiencing God’s love evokes the heart of gratitude. An experience with God is different than knowing about God. So if I am not helping you experience how much God loves you, I apologize. The experience of awe before God instills gratitude in us. If you are not excited about all that is happening through this church to restore a broken world to God’s love and life, I apologize for not inspiring you sufficiently. If you have fear, disappointment, anxiety, I invite you into a journey that will call you beyond yourself – to become open to God, to be loved and to love others as antidote to your pain. I believe in what God calls to do in ministry through St. Paul’s, and I hope you do, too.
The good news I bring you today: we have enough money to fulfill our dreams and plans for this next year – and more. The challenge is: Do we have the will to give, sacrifice and offer ourselves to God to make the vision real – to work with God to restore people to eternal, joyful, loving life – life with God and with one another.
Yes, it is about money and our relationship to it. Is money an end or a means to do God’s will on earth as in heaven? Is our money an end – or a means to help us restore people to God – even ourselves to God and one another? How we answer will reveal what stewardship means for us – where our priorities truly are – and expose the God we truly do worship.