SERMON ON STEWARDSHIP: THE GIFTS OF ‘BREAD AND WINE’ Fr. Matthew Johnson, November 17th, 2013. STY-WARD I remember, more than 2 decades ago, attending a clergy conference focused on the critical matter of ‘Stewardship’ in the Church. In retrospect, it was one conference, that I could have missed! The main address was given by a priest, who explained to us, with enormous excitement, that the word ‘stewardship’ in fact derives from the contraction of two English words. ‘Sty’—as in “pig sty”. And ‘warden’ — as in the person in charge. “Sty-warden” . . . Steward I remember him thrilling all of us with the blinding insight that to be a Christian, meant that we were all —somehow— “Sty-wardens”. Not so much believers in Christ, it seemed to me, but people in charge of enclosures for pigs. Well to this day, I’m not sure quite what his point was! But I thought I should mention it while speaking of Stewardship. STEWARDSHIP And so, we proceed this morning with one in a series of homilies on the topic of guess what. . .? Stewardship. And, leaving behind the ‘sty’-‘warden’ approach, I’d like to explore stewardship with an eye to the diversity of all of us who come here to worship at St James’. MONEY & MORE Although ‘stewardship’ can involve the giving of money, this word, and the idea behind it, is much more than a pious-sounding euphemism for “financial giving”. At another Church I recall once preaching about financial giving. At the coffee hour afterward a very religious lady told me that it was not appropriate to speak about money in Church. As if it were somehow, profane or irreligious or indecent to use words like ‘money’ in a sacred place. I tried to clue her in, that money, whether it is much or little, is an instrument which makes possible that sacred place she spoke of. And indeed, money is a part of it . . . Stewardship, that is. It’s how buildings get built, and how bills get paid. And without financial giving, we’d be worshipping outside perhaps in that parking lot across the street — standing there in the rain. So, yes it’s true money does have a place in stewardship — but only when it is considered alongside other equally important gifts.
Page |2 BREAD & WINE You who attend worship here may have noticed that — at that place in the Liturgy called the Offertory — it takes more than 1 person to bring forward the Offering. Sure, there is someone who carries forward the plate with cash, coins, cheques, and envelopes . . . But other worshippers go forward with that person too. Bearing with them other gifts. Can you remember what they are . . . ? Gifts of Bread and of Wine. Gifts that make our act of Holy Communion a material possibility. Gifts that will become — through the Great Thanksgiving — the actual Body of Christ and His Precious Blood. At the preparation of these gifts, a number of ‘secret prayers’ are offered inaudibly by the priest as the gifts are prepared. Two of these prayers, are particularly important here . . . blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life. Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink. These prayers point up two key matters: GOD PROVIDES THE GIFTS First — it is God himself who provides the gifts we are offering — “through your goodness we have this bread . . . this wine to offer.” God provides the bread “which earth has given”, and the “fruit of the vine”. There is nothing we can offer God, that does not, in the 1st instance, come from God. Second thing to notice — in these prayers, is that the preparation of these gifts involves all of us at a symbolic level — for the bread and wine, are the “work of human hands.” Human endeavour is key — tilling the earth, tending the vines, gathering the harvest, milling the wheat, fermenting the grapes, and so on. You and I may not have directly baked the bread or made the wine — but these primordial symbols are offered:
on — behalf — of — us — all! As we offer our selves, “our souls and bodies”, to God — in
worship and in the service of others. MONEY NOT REQUIRED Last Sunday, as I worked the front steps, a couple from the neighbourhood had stopped on the corner, and were looking up at the sign on the Church wall. Taking this for interest, the introvert-evangelist within me was moved to intro myself and ask: “Hey. Would you like to come in and check us out?” The man nodded, but with a dubious look. “Yes, I believe in God, and so does she…” “We’d like to come in, but we don’t have anything to put in the plate.” — He was talking about money . . .
Page |3 I am fairly laid back in my interactions, but here I made a clear point of explaining: “No one is required or expected to bring money to this place.” “The only offering you need to bring is yourself.” “If you want to pray to God, or worship Him, or light a candle —please come in.” As someone who walks the sidewalks outside these doors, who works with those on low incomes, or even no income, I can tell you that others share this mistaken belief — that one must bring money “for the plate” — to come to church. It is a mistaken perception we need to correct. And then there are others . . . both in Church and on the Street. I have received in my hand, many times, coins given by those who are giving everything they have. What might have bought some small but real comfort in a single cigarette or a bag of chips, converted into an offering as sacred as anything ever given. And as wonderful as the gems of the Temple, in this morning’s Gospel. One thing about money is true. Money is something we can offer to God. And it is how we pay the bills! Yet, the health of a church is measured in something more than balance sheets and budgets. And there are in this world many churches that have closed, not due to lack of finances, but because their members no longer attend. We all contribute to the life of St James in different ways. All of them — including financial gifts — are precious to God. But for those of us here, or in the community, who have no money, We can simply offer ourselves: as it says in the prayer book — “our souls and bodies” . . . This offering includes the Time we have taken for worship, the Prayers we offer for others, our grateful Hearts, the unselfish Acts and Deeds we have done for others, our Care for God’s creation and God’s creatures. All of which are symbolized in the bread and the wine, “which earth has given and human hands have made”. A bit later in this Liturgy, as you see the gifts of bread and wine go forward, know that they represent you, me, and us all — brought together in this place at this time, in Jesus Christ, who makes use “one bread and one body”.