a sermon by
The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond
Proper 28, November 13, 2011
Holy Cross, Weare, NH
When I was a child, I had a collection of post cards from my grandmother. One day, a friend, staying at my house as our guest, ripped the corners off most of them to steal the stamps. When I saw what had happened, I confronted him and he said he did not think I would miss them. The relationship was permanently damaged. That experience was my first exposure to what I do now as my life’s work – encouraging this conversation we are having in the church around stewardship. I did not love my friend less, however, I was always aware that there was less joy in our friendship after that. When we hold back our pledge, it is not the love between us and our god which is sapped – rather it is some of the joy that is reduced. And the irony is that it is OUR joy which is withered by the self-worship of that particular flavor of greed.
This morning’s readings from the prophet Zephaniah, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians and from the Gospel are all pointing to right relationship. The entirety of the Holy scriptures of the Hebrews and the Christians can be summed up as a story about the difficult relationship between God and God’s created humans. And this set of readings is no different.
As is so often the case in the readings before Advent, the focus is on waking up. We are being called to wake up to the reality of the divine relationship and to live into that awareness. In these weeks before Advent, we are like the dozing shepherds and shepherdesses on the hills around Bethlehem just before the rising of the Star which would draw humanity to a stable. We are in the in-between stage of the night which Thomas Merton calls “le point vierge” – the virgin point – that hinge when night’s slumber is soon to turn to pre-dawn’s awakening.
God is calling us to wake up. God is calling is to pay attention to the Divine Relationship.
The prophet Zephaniah is expressing God’s anger and frustration that humanity is not acknowledging God’s sovereignty.
That day will be a day of wrath,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
In a reversal of Genesis 1, God threatens to sweep away what God has created. If the people who have been given life and a beautiful, productive place on which to live that life, are unable to function properly in the creation and its renewal, then God is willing to undo it – one day at a time. “a day… a day… a day…a day..” this is an echo of the day after day creation story.
God is establishing that worship is infected by greed, envy and idolatry. God has given humanity the earth as a beautiful “play pen” and is furious that we are so consumed with our toys and our comfort that we do not look up at the Giver of All Good Things. God is saying that beautiful worship and Sunday outfits and liturgical bowing and scraping, kneeling and singing is undone by secrecy in which what we pledge and what we say we believe do not match up.
Be silent before the Lord GOD!
For the day of the LORD is at hand;
the LORD has prepared a sacrifice,
he has consecrated his guests.
The call to be “silent” (the Hebrew is actually closer to “be hushed”) is a call to step into the awe of a God who can and has given all and expects only a symbolic portion to be returned so as to be acknowledged for the gift.
We are being called to climb down off the throne of our hearts so as to leave it to God’s being re-seated as Advent approaches. We are being reminded by the prophet and the evangelist that God demands right relationship. We are being invited to make our pledge not because the light bills need to be paid for this church, but because returning a representative chuck of our income to God through the church is an act of making the relationship right – of acknowledging God as the giver of all we have.
“Enter into the joy of your master” says the farm-owner to his stewards in today’s gospel. The gospel, like the Hebrew Prophet is not arguing for quantity but rather for fidelity. In the Gospel, the land-owner who has given money to his stewards, gives different amounts because he knows they have different abilities. And when we pledge we too have different abilities. This is not about amounts. It is about relationship.
God is not asking us to pledge to keep lights on or to pay priest or to pay mortgages. God is asking us to make the relationship right so that the joy might not be in any way infected.
I often wonder about Peter, my friend who stole those stamps. I was a coin collector as a child and he a stamp collector. We would often spread out our collections on the floor in front of a roaring fire and show each other our latest finds. But after the theft, the joy seemed to dry up like a old bit of road-kill on hot pavement.
I congratulate you on your hard work to be church. You are often referred to by me as I travel – it happened just last week at the Cathedral in Denver. I mention you often as an example of the best I have seen – a church first as community center and only then as sanctuary and temple. You set the standard in our diocese, in my opinion, for how the church is going to have to change. You have worked hard in your stewardship campaign. As you enter into Advent soon, you also enter into the joy of the God you worship. An un-encumbered joy.