The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Last Sunday, Nick Crocker talked with us about baking bread—and what a fabulous job he did! Speaking about bread makes perfect sense because Nick is from the Northeast. But me, I’m from the South. And so, to play a bit upon his theme, I’m here to talk biscuits.
In the middle of a rural farming community, a group of visitors from a nearby church asked an older farmer, decked out as he was in bib overalls and a plaid shirt, to say grace for the morning breakfast, and so he did. “Lord, I hate buttermilk”, the farmer began. The visiting pastor opened one eye to glance at the farmer and wondered where this particular grace was going. The farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard.” And now, the pastor was growing concerned. Without missing a beat, the farmer continued, “and Lord, you know I don’t much care for raw flour”. The pastor once again opened an eye to glance around the room and saw that he wasn’t the only one feeling a mite uncomfortable. Then the farmer added, “but Lord, when you mix them all together and bake them, I do so love warm, fresh biscuits. (And he concluded) So Lord, when things come up that we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we don’t understand what you’re saying to us, help us to just relax and wait until you are done mixing. It will probably be even better than biscuits. Amen.”
You know, you really can’t enjoy a good biscuit without a grace to go along with it—it makes the butter sweeter and the jam piquant. It is that finishing touch of gratitude which fills the heart and mouth with a taste sublime.
In truth, this year has bestowed upon us a good deal of things to hate—not lard and buttermilk; but a pandemic, job losses, shortages, anxiety and a year of turbulent politics. Looking back over it all, there may not appear to be much for which to be grateful, with the exception that the year is close to being over and done. And yet—if we are to take this story about biscuits and grace to heart, we also discover that Trust and Hope are great springboards for expecting something good in the place of what has admittedly been terrible.
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at St. Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessolonica. He’s writing to people living in anxious times and he’s telling them to be prepared for the coming day of the Lord. Yet his message isn’t one of fear, its about investing in hope and placing one’s trust in God in the midst of trying times. He reminds his flock that they are children of the light and children of the day, and he encourages them to be vigilant in the manner in which they live. He writes: “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation for Jesus Christ.”
Now, let’s take a look at the parable of the talents—and specifically, the third steward who buries his talent in the ground. A talent, you should know, was a sum of money in the time of Jesus—a whopping sum, in fact—equivalent not simply to what a worker would make in a year, but throughout one’s lifetime. This steward, given this gift, buries it out of fear, and so this tremendous asset that was entrusted into his care did no good to anyone at all. He squandered it. He hid it away, and lived a life that not only spiritually impoverished himself—but also one which denied those around him, in the community in which he lived the good that investing that money would have done. Take a moment and think of how investing that sum of cash (smartly) in a poor community could have done a world of good. That’s the point of the parable. It’s that a life of faith takes courage—and it’s not simply about you—but what you can do for all those around you as well.
Here at St. Paul’s, we have plenty of talent—both in terms of ability, and in terms of money. I’m here today to you to share them—not to hide them away, as the third steward did in today’s parable—but to invest them, to grow them in this community of faith. Specifically, today, I’m here to ask you to pledge, to make a financial contribution to St. Paul’s.
I know that this past year has been difficult. It’s been chock full of some terrible things. Yet I also know, that if I look closely enough, it’s also been filled with many lessons—several of which have enabled many of us to live better lives. Throughout this past year we’ve been forced to assess what is most meaningful to us—and the conclusion drawn by a good number of folks I’ve heard from is this; that faith, family and community are what sustains us in challenging times. Faith, family and community. All of these are present here at St. Paul’s. As good stewards, I’m asking you to trust and hope, and to invest so that our community of faith might continue to do the work of God in your life, and the life of this community.
In the midst of unprecedented events we, at St. Paul’s, have pivoted—we’ve learned more about technology than we ever thought we’d need to know. We’ve found new ways of reaching out. Sunday School is online; your vestry is calling parishioners to check in and let you know we care. We’re sending out parish communications several times a week, and we’re looking forward to a season of Advent that will be filled with hope and expectation. What’s more, we’re contributing to the needs of this community in which we live. In the midst of trying times, we’ve kept on. But to continue doing so, we’re going to need your help. To be perfectly blunt, we need your pledge, your financial commitment to seeing that our community of faith continues.
Your pledge is the way in which we can anticipate what funds we will have to meet expenses in the coming year. In short, your pledge helps us make our budget. You should know that not only your vestry, but also Phil and I pledge to the good of St. Paul’s. And we do so as an act of faith. We pledge because we are filled with hope and trust not only in this community of St. Paul’s; but also because we trust that God will do amazing things with that investment—not only for ourselves, but for those around us as well.
I’m led to think again about that Farmer’s grace. “So Lord, when things come up that we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we don’t understand what you’re saying to us, help us to just relax and wait until you are done mixing.” I wouldn’t wish this past year upon anyone. Yet, I do know this—God can do miraculous things in the midst of great difficulties. I look back on this year and I know that our parish family has grown—perhaps not numerically, but certainly in terms of depth, and in quality of faith and (I pray) that we’ve increased in hope and trust as well.
This week you should receive your pledge card in the mail. I hope that as you look it over, you will find ample reasons as well to live in faith, hope and trust. Invest in what is most meaningful, build up those institutions which speak to you of truth, hope and joy and wait to see what God will do. If we’re fortunate, we’ll discover that what we’re given will indeed, be something like a beautiful loaf of sourdough bread—or maybe even a plate of flakey biscuits—both of them made all the better because there is plenty for us to share. In Jesus’ name. Amen.