October 8, 2017

Pentecost – Proper 22

Isaiah 5: 1-7; Psalm 80: 7-14; Philippians 3: 4b - 14; Matthew 21: 33 - 46

The Rev. James M.L. Grace

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

            You all are very brave, coming to church so soon after our stewardship materials have been mailed out.  Did any of you receive them?  We are today beginning a four week stewardship campaign, as many churches do during this time of year.  The campaign is entitled “The Future is Bright.”  Our logo for the campaign is a painting of our church doors opening with a great light emanating from inside.  It is a beautiful painting, created by one of our parishioners, Steve Duffin.

            We selected a verse from Scripture as a spiritual anchor for these next few weeks, and the verse is Jeremiah 29:11, in which the prophet writes: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”  I love those words, and they for me are very much of a personal anchor, because they remind me that God has hope for the future, and so should I.

            Last Sunday was a powerful Sunday for me in so many ways.  We had two bishops visit St. Andrew’s to confirm and receive a total of 13 new members at the 10:30 service and at the 2 PM services.  The joy this past Sunday both in this church in the morning and outside of it in the afternoon during our blessing of the animals service.  What a great day last Sunday was. 

            I went to bed last Sunday night, content and grateful.  And then I woke up Monday morning with the news of what happened in Las Vegas.  The more I read about it, the more I watched the news, the more I felt all that joy I had from the previous day just vaporize and float away.  All the hope I had, generated by a great Sunday, it felt like it went away. And I began to feel that the future isn’t bright, as we proclaim in our stewardship materials.  Maybe it’s all the hurricanes, all the pain we seem to be inflicting on each other - I don’t know - but for a time I didn’t have hope last week, and I know that in the wake of Las Vegas, many of you did or do not either.    

            Which brings me back to Jeremiah, my favorite of the Hebrew prophets.  I am studying the book of Jeremiah right now, and as I am reading through this book, it is so obvious how much struggle and suffering Jeremiah endured.  Jeremiah given the unenviable task to bring a very unpopular message to the Hebrew people.  Jeremiah’s message was simple: the people of Israel were to be punished for their infidelity to God.  The form of their punishment was to be exile from their homeland. Who wants to bring that message to the masses?  You can probably imagine how well it went for Jeremiah.  No one wanted to hear it, and when Jeremiah went to the temple in Jerusalem to proclaim this unpopular message, the temple priest found Jeremiah’s message so offensive, that temple priest struck Jeremiah, and had him arrested.  But Jeremiah was right.  The people of Israel lost their land, and they were forced into exile. 

              According to all appearances, there was no evidence of hope for Israel.  The strength of their past was gone.  But it is at this moment, when everything seems to be lost God says to Jeremiah: “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm - I am going to give you a future of hope.”  See that’s the strength of the verse for me.   In the verse that follows, God says to Jeremiah “when you call upon me and come to pray to me I will hear you.  When you search for me, you will find me.”   In other words, I believe God is saying to Jeremiah that hope is larger than hopelessness; the darkness which can appear so massive to us at times, is merely a tiny speck in a much larger light.   That is the strength of hope, the resiliency of hope - that it shines at its brightest during challenging moments.  Jeremiah knew that, and passes down to us this most vital spiritual lesson: our hope will never disappoint us because it is grounded in God. 

            That is why our future is bright, and always will be.  Our future is bright because it is not ours alone - our future is woven into God’s future - they are one and the same, and they are bright. 

            In light of that bright future that is our inheritance, I want to turn now and talk about the future of St. Andrew’s.  And I want to do so by addressing our stewardship campaign in further detail.   First of all, a stewardship campaign is something that we do every year at St. Andrew’s in order to plan our immediate future, in this case next year, 2018. 

            All the literature I have read about stewardship campaigns says that you are not supposed to announce the goal - the dollar amount you are trying to raise.  And there are good reasons for that.   But I have tried looked for the book on how to do a stewardship campaign at a church weeks after a category 4 hurricane ripped through your state and your city was flooded and I have not found it.  So this year we have a goal: our stewardship goal for 2018 is 140 pledges, totaling  $500,000.

            Is $500,000 ambitious? Of course. But we have the capacity to do this, together.  Look what we did with our hurricane response. Two months ago who would have thought that St. Andrew’s would be able to mobilize enough people to stockpile a warehouse of food, cleaning supplies, water, and clothing to distribute throughout our city?  That wasn’t on my radar.
            Three years ago, who would have thought that we would need more pews up here to fit a growing choir, not to mention a children’s choir?

            Two years ago, who would have thought I would receive this email from a person at the Episcopal Diocese of Texas which reads, in part: “Jimmy, I want to spend a little time gathering information on St. Andrew’s sustained growth over time to see if we can gain insight that might be shared with others.”   I wasn’t expecting that.

            Can we reach this goal of $500,000 and 140 pledges.  Of course we can.  The more pertinent question is will we?   I am asking you to pray. I want you to think about this church. Because there are so many organizations vying for your attention and your hard earned dollars during this time of the year. Where is St. Andrew’s on that list for you? Is it at the bottom? The middle? I hope it is at the very top of your list, because I believe that is where St. Andrew’s deserves to be. It is at the top of mine.

            I am asking you, humbly, to do two things.  First, if you have not filled out a pledge card, to prayerfully discern your financial commitment to this parish, and then return your card.  Second, if you have pledged in the past, I am asking you to prayerfully consider increasing your pledge.  I am asking you to increase your pledge because the cost of our ministry is not getting cheaper, but it sure is becoming more bountiful. 

            This is my family’s pledge for 2018. We have increased our pledge this year, because we believe in a future that is bright, and I know you do to.  Here’s to a bright future, made brighter by our joining together, made brightest, for what God has already accomplished on our behalf.