Sermon preached by Charlie Marge on Sunday, October 30, 2022
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Last month, I was invited by the new priest in Arlington, Fr. Bob Archon, to give the homily to the St. Athanasius Greek Orthodox Church about Stewardship on their Stewardship Sunday. Today is our Stewardship Sunday and, with Fr. Antony’s blessing, I am going to share those same thoughts with you.
So what is Stewardship? Being a steward is all about how we take care of what God has entrusted to us. We often talk about it in the context of the three “T”s: Time, Talent, and Treasure. These are all gifts from God that we must choose how to use. This community wouldn’t exist without your love and dedication of your time, talents, and treasure. In other words, stewardship means to provide care for God’s church here on earth. We maintain it, we nurture it and we help it grow. We serve and care for the church in whatever way we are able. We care for the Church when we give financially; when we teach or sing in the choir; when we make meals for the needy; when we serve food or visit and care for the sick; when we plan or help with events; when we pray for one another... All of the things we give to the Church is stewardship be it a portion of our income or our time in service.
I’m going to talk about four principles that form our Orthodox understanding of Stewardship:
- God gives to us
- We give back to God
- We give of the First Fruits
- We give in proportion to what God has given us
1. God gives to us
When we say God gives to us, it is a recognition that first and foremost, everything we have comes from God. Not just our time, talents, and treasure, but everything, our very life, our families, our Orthodox Faith. Yes, we work hard to earn an income, but if we think of it as our money, we’re missing the very fact that we’re using our God-given talents to work, and even that opportunity to work has come from God. Think, for a moment, of all of the blessings that God has bestowed on you. His generosity is very humbling indeed.
2. We give back to God
So how do we show appreciation for all the blessings bestowed upon us by God? By giving back to God. This is the second principle. And we should do it joyfully. As St. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, 9:6 “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
3. We give of the first fruits
The third principle is that when we give back to God, we give of the first fruits. We find many instructions in scripture to back up the idea that we give back to God from the first part of what we have been given.
Exodus 34:26 “You shall bring the very first of the first fruits of your soil into the house of the Lord your God.”
Proverbs 3:9 “Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce”
Deuteronomy 26:10, Moses instructs the people as follows:
“And behold, now I bring the first fruit of the ground, which thou, O Lord, has given me. And you shall set it down before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God; and you shall rejoice in all the good which the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.”
You see, we don’t give after we have spent our time or money first and then see what we have left over for God. Rather, we give of the first fruits of what we have received.
4. We give back in proportion to what God has given us
The principle of proportional giving originates in the Old Testament and is commonly referred to as “tithing,” which means giving one tenth.
To see where this principle comes from, we go to Genesis and the story of Abraham and Melchizedek the priest. Abraham has just rescued his nephew, Lot, from his captors and has acquired many possessions in the process. On his way home to Jerusalem, he is met by King Melchizedek the priest, who blesses him and says: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then look at what happens next. Abraham gives Melchizedek the priest “a tenth of all”, setting the precedent of the “tithe.”
Now many centuries later, about 400 BC, the prophet Malachi is registering a complaint against Israel on behalf of God. Though beloved of God, these people have neglected Him. For one thing, they make “polluted offerings,” bringing only the poorest and worst of their flocks to the storehouse. Further, everyone in Israel has become unfaithful, and Malachi tells the Israelites that they are “robbing” God. They object and say, “In what have we robbed You?” And what does God say? “In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation” (Malachi 3:8-9)
But what follows is the only place in the Bible where God challenges us by saying “Put me to the test.” In the very next verse, we hear, “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test,” says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” If we are faithful in tithing, God is promising to bless us.
And then he continues, “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes.” Who is the devourer? Well, in this context, it’s the locust that devours the crops. Today, it’s all the things that devour your paycheck – home expenses, car expenses, unforeseen expenses, inflation, etc. I think we can all agree that we want the devourer to be rebuked!
So what does 10% amount to? Think about how much money you earn per year and do the math. It becomes evident that instead of talking about how many hundreds of dollars to give to God each year, we’re talking about how many thousands of dollars to give. If you look at it that way, it admittedly sounds like a lot. You might even call that realization a religious experience in itself! But there’s another way to look at it. Start first with considering how much God has given you and how much of that you are able to keep. Say God has given you 10 cows. Then giving back 1 cow to God essentially amounts to saying (pointing to the congregation), “Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, God’s” It’s a very different way of looking at it, isn’t it? Think you can’t afford to give proportionately? Given God’s promises, perhaps we can’t afford NOT to give proportionately.
So that’s the scriptural basis for Proportional Giving, but it’s more than just understanding “in the head” that God asks us to give based on what we have been given. Giving is also about our hearts and our relationship with God.
Fr. Jeremy Davis, the Protosyngellos of the Archdiocese, the tall priest who joined us for the Parish Life Conference on Cape Cod, wrote this newly-published book entitled “Welcoming Gifts: Sacrifice in the Bible and Christian Life.” In it, he talks about giving as never being intended to be an end in itself, but rather “a way of pledging faithfulness to God in order to build a relationship with Him. Another word for this faithful relationship with God is obedience.” He goes on further to say that gifts in the Old Testament were established as a way of “inviting God into one’s life through a symbolic pledge of faithfulness. Therefore, they were a means of communication that could set the stage for a relationship, like a girl’s gift of a friendship bracelet to her new neighbor, or a boy’s gift of baseball cards to a classmate. Like these gestures, [gifts in the OT] expressed goodwill toward God and the desire for a closer bond with Him.” The concept of first fruits comes into play here as well. Imagine if that girl’s friendship bracelet was dirty or frayed, or if those baseball cards were worthless extras? What impact would that have on the relationship we were trying to establish? Not exactly the way we would want to start a relationship, is it?
Here’s another take on it from Ron Nicola from the Antiochian Archdiocese Department of Stewardship:
“First and foremost, what we give to the Church in terms of our time, our talents, and our resources is a part of our worship, just like attending Divine Liturgy and other holy services. We need to do this as part of our salvation. We need to offer ourselves and everything we have to God and to His Church in order for us to survive and in order for us to do God’s will. Our salvation depends, among other things, on our pattern of giving back to God based on what he has given to us”
So when you fill out your pledge form, think about these principles and pray about what you can give back to this wonderful community of St. Mary’s in terms of time and financial support.
To conclude, I’m going to quote our own Bishop John:
“It is time indeed to ‘put our money where our mouths are,’ and place God in the center of our lives. Proportional giving, like praying and fasting, puts God first and teaches us to trust Him, rather than ourselves, as our leader. When we give proportionately, God is given the first part, not what is left over after we pay our bills and have our recreation. When we give proportionately, we enter into His ministry at a serious level that will allow the parish to minister as it should. Only when the parish has the funds it needs to operate can it call the world to Christ as we have been commanded to do. Proportional giving represents a significant shift in thinking. That is why proportional giving, like praying and fasting, is a spiritual gift that deepens our relationship with God and changes our life.”
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.