Sermon given by the Rev. Skip Windsor
October 28, 2018
Come Holy Spirit, come. Come as the wind and cleanse. Come as the fire and burn. Convert and consecrate our lives to our great good and your great glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is a pleasure to be with you this morning and I would like to thank your rector, Todd, for the invitation to be your preacher today on this your Consecration Sunday.
This Sunday comes in the midst of stewardship season recalling for me the words of a clergy colleague who started his stewardship sermon to the congregation with some good news and some bad news. The good news is that they had all the money they needed to operate the church. The bad news was it was in their pockets!
This morning I would like to focus on good news. And the Good News given to us is found in Jesus Christ. The words from the Collect of the Day for this Sunday provides the foundation for our meditation this morning:
“Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope and charity; and that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command…”
The story of Bartimaeus in our Gospel lesson talks about the gift of faith and of obtaining the promises Jesus makes to us if we follow his command. The healing of the blind Bartimaeus to sight is the last miracle in Mark’s Gospel and ushers in Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem. From there Jesus will soon reveal from the Cross the fullness of God’s love and generosity to, and for all, of God’s creatures.
Bartimaeus is blind, poor, forgotten and alienated from his community. He is an outcast. He may be blind but his hearing is good. He can hear conversations, rumors secrets and gossip sitting quietly by the side of the road as clouds of dust by oblivious people passing by settle on his face and upon his cloak.
No one notices him. He blends in with the landscape. He is a no body.
Yet, Bartimaeus is not stupid. He hears rumors of a rabbi, a holy man, who makes the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the blind see.
Then his day comes when Jesus and his followers pass through the village of Jericho on their way to Jerusalem. As Bartimaeus hears voices cheering on these visitors he believes this holy man of God is among them, he cries out:
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy!” the crowd tries to silence him but he cries out even louder: “Son of David, have mercy!”
Jesus hears his voice and responds by commanding him to come forward.
Encouraged by others, Bartimaeus steps towards that singular voice of Jesus. Throwing off the only thing he owns—his cloak—leaving him even more penniless and vulnerable, Bartimaeus, comes to Jesus who asks him what he wants.
He asks Jesus that he might see again. And Jesus says to him: “Go. Your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus immediately regains his sight and from that moment on becomes a disciple of Jesus.
The Christian author, Henri Nouwen, writes, “The converted person sees, hears, understands with the divine eye, the divine ear, the divine heart.” The healing of Bartimaeus is a conversion story of a “nobody” that becomes a “somebody.” He sees, hears and understands who Jesus is and who Jesus is for him.
The irony of the encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus is unmistakable: The man without sight can see while others around Jesus have sight but cannot see His true glory.
Seeing with the eyes of the heart recalls for me one of our most beloved hymns in our 1982 hymnal, “Be thou my vision,” that begins, “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; all else be nought to me, save that thou art—thou my best thought by day or by night, waking or sleeping thy presence my light.”
The vocation of a Christian is to trust God and God’s call to us to be faithful disciples seeing clearly, what God in Christ has in store for us as we live out the disciplines of service, worship and stewardship. This triad of disciplines forms the basis of our Christian life in community.
Stewardship is less an action of giving but more of a way of being. Stewardship seems to me, to be identified more with a community in a covenantal relationship with one another than the dualism of a contractual relationship.
In pre-marital counseling, my last meeting with a couple is to reflect with them on the difference between a covenant and a contract: A contract is an agreement between two parties to do some agreed upon action like paying a mortgage, attending a meeting or buying furniture at Bernie and Phyl’s.
A covenant is different. A covenant is the trusted mutual understanding, not to do something, but to be someone to another person, like a spouse, or a member of a wider community such as a church.
My understanding of stewardship is it is a covenantal relationship among a faith community of generous people with God at its center. It forms a sure foundation for confidence and for righteous living – trusting that God will be God for us and that we will be faithful to God by being responsible to all for all.
Geoffrey Tristram, a brother at the Society of St. John, puts it this way in a recent blog:
“When the New Testament talks about coming to faith in Christ, it is always in terms of community. The way to grow into the full stature as children of God is not through competitive individualism but being made part of a new family, a fellowship, or what the New Testament calls “Koinonia” of love. It is in community, the Church, the Body of Christ, that we become who we truly are meant to be, and gain our true identity.” (Brother, Give Us a Word—October 19, 2018)
Fundamentally at the heart of a covenanted community, this fellowship of love is to bring Jesus to people and to bring people to Jesus. As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, says of our denomination rarely do we mix the two E’s together: Episcopalian and Evangelism. But, as Bishop Curry says ours is the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement. It is our mission as evangelists to call others into a covenanted relationship with Jesus Christ sharing in community our gifts and our treasures.
In his book, Not Your Parents Offering Plate, Clif Christopher writes about four important ways to deepen a church’s identity as disciples of Jesus Christ and to become better stewards of the gifts god gives to us:
- Have great worship – People want worship, good music, inspiring sermons. People want to be inspired in their daily lives.
- See lives changed – People want to make a difference. They want to see transformation in the world and in themselves.
- Strength for living – People want something to get through the tough patches of life. People look for a community that provides sustenance and support.
- Opportunities to make a difference – People want to know that their lives count for something. People want to know that their lives have purpose.
The author concludes by inviting churches to examine those pockets of excellence that can transform people’s lives and make them true disciples in Christ.
In my own experience a priest and pastor, at first I found the season of stewardship to be the hardest time to preach when it should be the easiest. As I look back I think I brought along the baggage of modernity where everything was a transaction: “I will do this if you will do that” kind of thing.
This translated into tired, repetitive, sermons attempting to develop new approaches for pledging. It was not until later through prayer and conversation that I came to a paradigm shift.
Stewardship is incarnational. I was inspired by the witness of my former parishioners, Priscilla and John, who tithed 10% of their retirement to several churches and a portion to the diocese. I asked them how they made the decision to tithe; and they replied it wasn’t a choice for them to give or not to give.
For Priscilla and John it was a way of living—a way of being in relationship with God. By believing that “every good and perfect gift came from above” only strengthened their relationship to help make God in Christ real in other peoples’ lives. By their words and example, they showed me that stewardship is less about a seasonal campaign or an Every Member Canvass to be avoided but about a vital spiritual relationship to be embraced.
I want to conclude my sermon this morning with another personal story. Years ago I had the privilege of sitting at dinner with the noted author Alex Haley, the writer of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the novel Roots. Early in our discussion it turned out that Haley was born in Ithaca, New York, where my first son was born while I attended graduate school at Cornell. He told me he almost would have never been born if it had not been for The Man on the Train.
Haley’s father, Simon, was the son of a former slave and part-time sharecropper in Georgia. As a young boy, Simon worked with his father but held dreams of going to high school and having an education to better himself. Through working countless part-time hours and dedicated study, Simon was accepted North Carolina A&T College on a land grant scholarship for one-year. At the end of the year, with his funds dissipated, Simon planned on returning to Georgia to work as a sharecropper with his father.
Before leaving college for Georgia, Simon received a letter from the Pullman Company telling him that he had been selected as one of the black college men to be a summertime sleeping car porter on the night train between Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
One night while Simon was on duty a man in a bathrobe came up to him and told him he was having trouble sleeping and asked for a glass of milk. Alex Haley told me that his father had never talked to a white man before and was extremely nervous.
After serving the man his glass of milk, Simon waited for the man to go back to his bunk. But the man in the bathrobe started up a conversation with Simon asking where he was from and what he as going to do after his summer job with the Pullman Company.
Simon told him that he had been a student at North Carolina A&T but that he was returning home to work with his father in Georgia since his scholarship had run out. The man wished Simon well and returned to his bunk.
Returning to A&T after his summer job to pick up his belongings Simon found a note on his dorm room door to see the president of the college. In his meeting with the president, Simon was told that there was a letter postmarked for him from New York City. He was asked if he had met a man on the train who asked for a glass of milk one night. Simon said yes he remembered him.
The college president told him that the letter was from a man named Boyce a retired executive from the Curtis Publishing Company that published the Saturday Evening Post and was making a donation to Simon for enough funds to complete his entire college education.
That gift allowed Simon not only to finish college but to also graduate at the top of his class earning him a scholarship for graduate school at Cornell where he met his wife and where their son, Alex, was born. By the generosity of Boyce, Simon Haley’s life was changed and where found his wife who gave birth to Alex.
As Haley concluded the story to me about his father, Simon, which was later published in Readers Digest called “The Man on the Train,” he told me that each person is blessed with the obligation to share those blessings with others. This all happened because of one person’s generosity to pay it forward.
When we ask God for faith, hope and charity – God in turn asks us to share these gifts with others. In following God’s command we then become what God intends us to be: Stewards: Consecrating our lives to God’s great good and to God’s great glory through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let us pray:
Most merciful God, as we seek to be stewards of your creation, our communities, and of our selves, may we be mindful of the Bartimaeus’ of the world who are no bodies, but in your eyes are somebodies.
Let us be instruments of your peace and reconciliation remembering before you this day the people of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh who grieve the loss and injuries of members within their community of faith.
Sustain them with your healing love this day and in the days ahead and drive far from us all the forces of hatred and division that seek to separate us one from another. For in you and through you is the gate of eternity where there are no walls, no divisions, no intolerance, but only your divine love that binds up the wounds of today and gives us a tomorrow filled with faith, hope and love. Amen.