This matter of giving seems to come up every year, doesn't it? We have folks get up in front of us and talk about giving, what inspire them, and it leads us to consider what inspires us and what we are about to commit to the church for the coming year.
One Sunday the pledge drive speaker was a man who had done very well in the community. He had been successful in a number of businesses. And he was not especially modest about telling folks of his successes. He got up that Sunday and gave a rather lengthy recitation of his career. He ended by saying, "All of this is possible, I believe, because when I was down to my last thousand dollars I said to God, 'God, I'm gonna give you everything I've got, and leave it up to you!' And you know what happened? I gave everything I had to the church and God made me what I am today." He sat down with a self-satisfied smile. Someone from the back of the church muttered, "Do it again."
This story fits nicely with the story in our Gospel today, doesn't it? Jesus was warning his followers about the perils of showing off while giving to God. This guy was definitely showing off, wasn't he? But the man in the story I told, though it's only a joke, was also mirroring the widow in the Gospel. Because a long time ago he was poor, he was concerned about his future, and he did give all he had to God.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves what happened to this fellow, what happens to people who put their trust in God. Things got considerably better, but they took credit themselves rather than giving God the credit.
This business of giving is not a simple matter. During the fall season we explore the various ways we give to the church. Money comes last. We start with time and talent and we have some pretty interesting presentations from parishioners who tell us how and why they give of themselves in the church. You've heard their stories; so have I. It moves me to hear people say that their life in the church has enriched their own life.
It was that same practice in churches I attended before I was ordained that drew me closer to my faith. Making connections between what I was doing about my life and how I wanted to feel about my life opened my eyes to see how I thought or imagined God felt about my life. It wasn't a simple process or a fast one, but it got me here and I am deeply grateful for that.
When I was told by a priest friend that she thought I should start asking what God wanted me to do I was able to hear her. I think it took me a while before I could imagine a clear sense of what God was calling me to do. But I was ready to hear it.
What I was told, and what I came to believe, is that the purpose of the church is to help that exact exchange happen for everybody. I think it's pretty obvious that if we're sitting in church we're probably not thinking about mowing the lawn or washing the dishes or painting the front hall. We're trying to think about God. We're trying to connect with God and end up with a plan for our own lives that fits God's ideas.
That is giving of ourselves. That is trying to connect with God's values and ways rather than the more mundane, human ways. That is when we start looking for ways to change our lives to pursue a faithful life.
When we talk about our time and our talent and making it available to God in the church we recognize that most of us are not concert pianists or opera singers. Our talents, such as they are, are welcomed by God and, hopefully, by the parish. We organize the life of the parish around the giving up of time and talent through our various groups and committees in the church. There's an opportunity for everyone to express their gifts and their individuality in this way.
When we come to the subject of money, however, we sometimes find folks a little less disposed to share. There is a constant back and forth about tithing, about proportional giving, about shares and percentages and higher math. The bottom line is this: we give out of a desire to fulfill God's invitation to life here at St. Paul's. We are not living in faith if we are not giving what we are called to give. Knowing we are not called to give more than we can afford we know God is not going to begrudge us what we cannot give. So the answer to what we should give is personal and it's between each one of us and God.
Once we've made the decision we can reflect gratefully on what our life in faith makes possible for us. It enables us to revisit the Baptismal Covenant, for example, and remember how we have decided to live our lives and the commitments we've made to God, in case we've lost sight. Our life in faith allows us to turn to the church for inspiration, from the Bible or from the relationships or from the worship service or from the joy we find in worshipping in this fine old church.
Our faith is enhanced by everything we bring to it and give to it. Our own experiences enrich our faith, inform our practices of the faith. And they give us clearer vision of the immense generosity of God, the gift of creation and life, of comparative comfort and freedom and safety.
Because we want to recognize God's goodness we need also to remember today the veterans of this country whom we honor on this 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. We are grateful for their willingness to serve when their nation called on them; we admire their sacrifice and their spirit. We will pray for our veterans at the prayers of the people.