Sunday, November 10, 2019


We have to keep our guard up these days
to defend our reasonable boundaries.
Panhandlers stop us on the sidewalk.
Non-profit fundraisers accost us at the grocery store.
Everyday our mail contains solicitations.

Stewardship could feel like more of that.
But it isn’t. 
We don’t guilt each other or ask anyone 
for more than they can do. 
And the purpose is different. 

Stewardship is right at the heart of Christian life;
            so if the Church doesn’t teach it, 
           we’re short-changing the people
and censoring the gospel in two ways. 

First, as disciples of Jesus,
the meaning of our life is participating
in his mission.
There are so many secular causes to support,
            from public radio to muscular dystrophy
                        to domestic violence shelters. 
Most are good and I hope you support them.
But the Church isn’t just one more good cause.
It’s the foundation for all the good causes.

Philosopher Charles Mathewes asks 
             how people can live meaningful, joyful lives
            when the world is such a mess. 
He contends the core problem in today’s society 
is a shortage of hope.

Science agrees. 
The medical publication, BMJ Journal, reports that 
       the main cause for declining American life expectancy 
        is despair 
– despair taking such forms as addiction and suicide.
In half the states, suicide rates are up 30% since 1990.
Teen suicides in Colorado jumped 58% in the last three years
        making suicide the leading cause of death 
         for Colorado youth.

That’s the tip of an iceberg
            of ubiquitous insidious hopelessness.
Escalating despair breeds desperate action
      like nihilistic violence and hate groups
      who shoot up synagogues in Pittsburg 
       and try to bomb them in Pueblo.

These are all symptoms of despair 
that there is still anything good to do, 
anything true to believe in, 
anything beautiful to love.

What the world desperately needs, 
        Professor Mathewes says,
 is people with the capacity for hope.
Hope launched ships to explore the earth
            and spaceships to take us beyond it.
 Hope gets us out of bed in the morning. 
It’s the wind in our sails, the spring in our step,
            the daring to dream of a better way.

Carl Sandburg said,
            Hope is a tattered flag . . . 
         the shimmer of the northern lights
         across a bitter winter night . . .
        the Spring grass showing itself where least expected . . . 
            and children singing chorals of the Christ Child.

But our societal hope tank is running on empty.
Today’s world urgently needs 
people with the capacity for hope.

Enter the Christians.
Hope is what we do.  
Hope is our stock and trade.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
            1st Peter says, for by his great mercy we have been 
born anew to a living hope through the resurrection      
            of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Jesus is all about hope – a living hope.
Jesus lives, we just sang in our hymn, Thy terrors now, 
O death, can no more appall us.

We can and we must take action on moral issues --
            housing, nutrition, violence, climate change.
But the first thing -- the core thing – 
       the Church of the Ascension 
       can do for the world is to cultivate 
our capacity for hope,
        to be a lighthouse in this darkening storm.
That’s the Church’s business, your reason for being here. 

The world urgently needs the Church of the Ascension
to proclaim by word and example 
the good news of God in Christ.
That isn’t just one good cause among many.

Just as despair is the root of violence, hatred,
            addiction, and suicide;
Christian hope is the root of peace, 
            reconciliation, freedom, and life.
None of the other good causes are possible 
            without hope that the Source, Destiny, Meaning
and basic Truth of this life is Love
--  and Love wins.
            As Tolkien said, the gospel story means
                        that one day everything sad will come untrue.

I am glad that non-profit charitable giving 
            was higher than ever last year.
But giving to churches has declined 50% 
            since 1990.
It isn’t just fewer members.
We members give a smaller percentage of our income  
              to churches now 
              than people gave during the Depression. 

When we value secular projects
            above the Mission of Jesus Christ,
            we are buying new curtains for a house
                        with a crumbling foundation. 

I support secular good causes too. 
But the Church’s mission isn’t just one more good cause. 
It’s the moral foundation for all the good causes. 

The second reason we give
            is for the good of our own souls.
The way of the world ensnares us
            in trying to make life secure, solid, dependable,
                        but it just isn’t.
Worldly life is transitory, always shifting. 
As Wordsworth said,
            Getting and spending we lay waste our powers. 

It’s as if we watch a movie so intently we forget it’s a movie.
We think it’s real. Then the house lights come on.
We see the screen, and the screen is God.

Christian life is the spiritual discipline
of looking past the anxious, grasping illusion 
and living into truth of grace.
How do we do that?

Jesus said, Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth
            where the moth corrupts, 
            and the thief breaks in to steal.
            Store up for yourselves treasure in Heaven 
            where the moth does not corrupt, 
            and the thief does not break in to steal.
            For where your treasure is, 
                    there will your heart be also.

Stewardship moves our hearts 
– not just stirs them –
moves them, relocates our hearts 
through the exercise of generous faith.
Faith is the opposite of fear – fear of scarcity,
fear we’ll run out, fear of not having enough.
Faith trusts God. 
We don’t have to cling so tightly to our money.
When we open our fist, 
        it opens our hearts, and lets some life slip in.

Two brothers from Zarephath, Nebraska owned a farm 50-50.
One had seven children; the other was single.
Then a famine came. 

The single brother thought, I have half the grain
            but my brother has seven children to feed.
So each night he slipped some of his grain 
            into his brother’s bins.

The married brother thought, I have half the grain
            but I have seven children to work and support me,
            while my brother has no one.
So each night he slipped some of his grain 
            into his brother’s bins.
Each was mystified. 
Though he was giving his grain away, it was not diminished.

One night they met on the path and discovered
            the miracle lay in each other’s generosity.
If either had just kept his grain,
his material wealth would have increased,
but he would have missed the real wealth,
         the discovery of his brother’s love. 

We store up  treasure in Heaven by trusting God enough
         to loosen our death-grip on worldly  security,
           and giving to support each other in Jesus’ Mission.
We support his Mission of hope 
            first because that’s where our real life is,
            where our true joy is found,
            and second because the act of giving 
reshapes our souls for eternity.

Thornton Wilder summed up stewardship 
in his immortal words,
            Money is like manure.
            It isn’t worth a thing unless it’s spread around
                        making young things grow.