The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Psychologist, Albert Ellis, once said “The art of love is largely the art of persistence.” In the epistle for today St. Paul encourages Timothy when he writes: “I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.” In short keep on with the good work—even when times are challenging, even when circumstances are less than that for which we had hoped—keep on proclaiming.
Today’s sermon is about stewardship—specifically, the importance of pledging. At first glance, pledging may not seem to have much to do with persistence and “the art of love”; but I would suggest to you that it does. This morning, I would like for you to consider that persistence in giving, even when times are challenging, is a gift—not only to St. Paul’s and this community of faith, but also to you. Persistence underscores what matters—it is an act of faith.
There are a variety of ways to go about speaking of our giving campaign at St. Paul’s. I could talk about the anticipated rise in heating bills, inflation, and our response in cost-cutting measures and how we want to keep the lights on and doors open. But what I’d really rather speak of is you and your spiritual life, your relationship not only to this community of faith, but also to God. Because, ultimately, this is what I think really matters. This is why I believe you are here in these pews, and watching online, because God, faith and community are of value to you.
So, allow me to begin by thanking you for being good stewards over the past year—and, indeed, throughout the challenges wrought by a world pandemic which has not lasted months, but years. Your persistence in giving—your willingness to continue onward when the pews were empty and worship was entirely online, to today, as we continue our efforts of regathering—your persistence is of great value.
Which is what brings me to this morning’s parable of the persistent widow. One way to unpack this parable is to understand God as the judge and Christians in the role of the persistent widow. While that might make for a nice example, it holds a major flaw. Because the point Jesus makes in telling this parable is that God is NOT like the judge at all. God’s nature is to love and to give lavishly. God doesn’t simply listen to our prayers and either give or give in to get rid of us. Instead, God’s goal is to have a relationship with us. God’s goal is love.
And that goal—of building relationships with God and bringing God’s promises to the world is the reason we exist. This is why I am asking you to pledge—and, specifically, to be persistent in pledging.
Your financial giving is a statement of value. We give money for things we believe are of worth. Phil and I are pledgers of St. Paul’s. We give to St. Paul’s for a variety of reasons. First, because it is a spiritual discipline. There is joy to be found in generosity. Created in the image of what we have found to be a generous God, we believe we are made to reflect God’s generosity. By giving of our wealth, we are continually reminded of God’s claim on our lives. Giving helps us place our own needs and wants into a larger perspective. Phil and I give off the top—not from what’s left over. And over the course of thirty one years of life together, Phil and I have never found that we haven’t had enough. That is saying quite a bit because neither of us come from wealth—we’ve spent a good portion of our married life paying off school loans and simply getting by.
So, as I ask you to consider your pledge to St. Paul’s in a mailing going out in the next week and a half, I ask that you consider pledging as a spiritual discipline—making a pledge not based upon what the church needs, but upon your gratitude for being a child of God, for having been promised the gift of salvation, for having a place to come, week after week, to praise God and gather in community, to share in the sacraments and hand down faith to our children. Ask yourself, what is that worth?
On a practical level, your pledge allows your vestry, elected from among your members, to make a budget—to anticipate what financial resources we have available. Over the past few years our number of pledgers have decreased. This is due to death and moving out of the area—so, we need to make up some ground. If you’ve never pledged before, do so—you can go online today to make your pledge. If you’re accustomed to pledging, be sure to continue—and do so with joy and generosity. Every pledge here matters—large and small. All pledges of all amounts are important.
Yet, you may wonder how much should you give? While I can’t answer that in specific terms—I do suggest that your standard of giving should, in some ways, reflect your standard of living. In short, consider making a pledge that is both responsible and significant based on your financial situation. While St. Paul’s has an endowment, the truth is our church is dependent upon your pledges to make up the majority of our funds.
I began today’s sermon with a quote: “The art of love is largely the art of persistence.” We grow through those acts which take effort and patience and not leastwise, sacrifice. We grow through persistence. The lessons appointed for today—from Jeremiah, to Second Timothy, to the Gospel of Luke, each speak to us of a God who wants to be in relationship with us—and of a faith which is written on the hearts of God’s people and found in what we have been taught, and finally, in Luke, forged in partnership with God through the persistence of prayer. Thank you, in advance, for your commitment to God, to this parish and our ministry together. In Jesus’ name. Amen.