A Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost + November 19, 2017

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost + Proper 28A
First Lesson: Zephaniah 1:7,12-18
Psalm 90:1-8
Second Lesson: I Thessalonians 5:1-11
Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my good friend and mentor, Wells Warren, who is the priest and chaplain at St. Dunstan’s, the Episcopal campus ministry at Auburn University. I’ve known Father Wells for almost thirteen years. Many of you know how incredibly dear he is to me and our entire family. He’s been present with us through so many important milestones in our lives and a constant source of comfort and support.

You can imagine, then, how shocked and worried I was to discover a few weeks ago that Father Wells had been in a serious bicycle accident during his long ride along the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. When I first heard the news, I couldn’t believe what had happened. Then, I learned that the accident was also a hit and run, and I became very angry. I asked myself, “How could someone hit a cyclist on the road and simply drive off as if nothing had happened?” Thankfully, Father Wells survived the accident, but he did suffer some pretty serious injuries. He’s back at home now, continuing to recover and gradually getting back into his work at the church.

If you follow Father Wells on Facebook, you’ll discover that, during his journey along the Natchez Trace and before the accident, he stopped at several points along the way to record short videos for family and friends, keeping us up to date about his progress. These videos also served as a way for Father Wells to be able to share his experience with us and to express his gratitude for all of the many blessings that God has given him in his life, especially for the gift of being able to serve as a priest in God’s church and for the gift of being able to spend time in the beauty of God’s creation.

As I watched his videos, I was inspired by Father Wells’s overwhelming sense of gratitude, and I was reminded of how important it is that we take time to give thanks. In everything we do, we must take time to give thanks to God. We often forget this. Even in our prayers, we often begin by asking God for the things that we want or need or the things that we want God to do in our lives. We forget that our prayers should always begin with, “Thank you, God.” “Thank you for all that you’ve given us.” “Thank you for continuing to be present in our lives in ways that are beyond our understanding and for showing us grace and mercy when we fall short of our calling.”

At St. Catherine’s, we’ve been talking a lot lately about giving thanks. Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard inspiring stories from individuals within our parish who have found a home here at St. Catherine’s and who are excited and encouraged about the future of our church. Two weeks ago, we heard from Deb Gray, our beloved Director of Music, who shared with us her story and how thankful she is for this place and for everyone who has made it what it is today. Last week, we heard from Michelle Landrum, a current member of the Vestry. Michelle also shared with us her story, and she reminded us of just how much St. Catherine’s is doing now in its ministry to the community and the world. Earlier this morning, we heard from our Senior Warden, Scott Reimer, who shared with us his excitement about the future of St. Catherine’s. We’ve heard three inspiring stories from parishioners who are committed to seeing St. Catherine’s continue to grow and thrive because they know that we have important work to do and that, when we work together as a parish, we can accomplish amazing things. What I heard in all of these stories is that same overwhelming sense of gratitude that Father Wells expressed during his journey along the Natchez Trace- a sense of gratitude in recognizing God’s presence in our lives and God’s abundant grace. Thankfulness begins with an awareness that everything we’ve been given has come from God, but in order to truly give thanks for all that we’ve been given, we must be willing to give back to God that which we have already received.

That’s the main reason why we decided to choose the theme “GIVE THANKS” for this year’s stewardship drive. Stewardship is more than simply deciding how much money to give to the church over the course of a year. That’s an important part of it; the Church has to have resources in order to do the work that we’ve been called to do. But, it’s also much more than that. Stewardship is a spiritual discipline- one that continually calls us to consider how we’re using our time, our talents, and our treasure to support the mission of the Church in the building up of God’s Kingdom. Good stewardship is not about expecting something in return for our contributions; it’s about giving what we have out of love with the expectation that, through our giving, our relationship with God will be strengthened.

Our lesson today from Matthew’s Gospel features another one of Jesus’ parables. When we hear the parable of the talents, it’s easy for us to become preoccupied with the actions of the wealthy man in the story, who becomes very angry with the third slave because he hasn’t invested the money that was entrusted to him and earned more for his master. Despite the approval that the first two slaves receive after doubling their master’s money, the point of the parable is not about accumulating more wealth. It’s about investing in something. It’s about taking risks. According to one author, “It is about Jesus himself and what he has done and what is about to happen to him. Mostly it is about what he hopes and expects of [his disciples] after he is gone. It is about being a follower of Jesus and what it means to be faithful to him, and so, finally, it is about you and me.”

Following Jesus is risky because it requires us to let go of those things that we so desperately want to cling to, the things that we want to store up for ourselves rather than share with others. It’s risky because it requires us to give without the expectation of getting something in return, but if we take away anything from our Gospel lesson for today, it’s this: playing it safe and investing nothing is much more risky. Not loving, not giving of our selves, not being good stewards of what God has graciously given us, according to Jesus in today’s parable, is something like the third slave experiences when he’s thrown into the outer darkness. It’s a type of spiritual death. God wants us to choose life, not death. God wants us to choose blessing, not curse, but in order to live the full and abundant lives that God so desires for us, we must be willing to give them up. We must be willing to offer back to God that which God has already given us.

We begin by giving thanks. There’s a wonderful prayer of thanksgiving in the back of the Prayer Book that I’d like to share with you- a prayer that I think beautifully captures the fullness of what it means to give thanks to God and one that I think is especially appropriate as we begin the final week of our stewardship drive and as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Let us pray. Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side. We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone. Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom. Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

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