We Give Because of What We Have Been Given Year A; October 26, 2014
Episcopal Church of the Ascension The Reverend Dr. Howard J. Hess
I. Introduction. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” These words are part of a prayer called “the SHEMA” found in Dt 6:4-9, which is prayed twice daily by all pious Jews. To the Shema Jesus added a passage from Lev (19.18): “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In the context of Hebrew understanding, “love” is an action verb. No only does one “feel” love, but one acts vigorously out of love. This kind of active love was described by Dr. Miroslov Volf here at Ascension two weeks ago as all about the giving and receiving of gifts. Such gift giving has been initiated by God in creation, personified in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ who became one of us, and exemplified by God’s sending the Holy Spirit to enliven us. As Miraslov Volf so eloquently writes, we give because God has given so generously to us and because God invites us to participate in that giving with him. We give, argues Volf, because God continues to give constantly to us. It is really that simple – all that we have, all that we are, and all that we will ever become has resulted from God’s gifts to us. God’s gifts are more exquisite, consistent, deeper, and broader than we can ever imagine. This is the power of one Holy, loving, triune God at work right here among us.
II. One of the greatest of God’s gifts to us is the church, the Body of Christ. It is where and with whom we gather to experience God’s presence in particularly powerful ways. The Church also provides us with a vital opportunity to respond to God with the reciprocal gift-giving of our own resources and talents. This Sunday each of us is being invited to place a pledge of our financial gift to the church on this altar. Our pledge is an opportunity to give back part of what we have received and take a step of active love, to express our gratitude for all we are given, and to share in the work of the Body of Christ, without which most, if not all of us as Jesus’ disciples, would flounder. As members of Christ’s body, we have opportunities to study, pray, and have fellowship together, and to minister to one another and to others. The talents and resources that we each give to the Body of Christ are multiplied many times over through our shared faith, service, and love. So today, please be generous.
One of the gifts that the church is receiving this week is an excellent letter written for the Parish Paper by our Associate Rector Brett Backus. I have asked Fr. Brett to share his letter with us this morning because I believe it to be a powerful articulation of the grace-filled presence of God in our parish and in the Episcopal Church. As Fr. Brett comes to join me, I also want to thank God publicly for the gift of Fr. Brett Backus to this parish. Those of us who have ministered with him as well as those of us to whom he has ministered know of the gifts he has brought to this parish – his wisdom, his compassion, and his commitment to helping lead us in the building of God’s Kingdom here at Ascension. Fr. Brett . . .