Sunday, April 26, 2009

Third Sunday of Easter, 2009

Facing Reality

I feel that what I am finally getting around to talking to you about today is one of the most difficult things a minister has to do. I believe it is part of the responsibility of every minister---vicar, rector or bishop, but I confess that personally I find it difficult to talk about. I have to talk to you about our support for this mission Church of the Resurrection. We have to face the reality of our financial situation.

Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright, once remarked, “ When I was young, I used to think money was the most important thing in life; now that I am older, I know it is.” We do not believe that money is by any means the most important thing in life, but we can understand, and we do understand, that there are things that are important that just can’t happen and do not happen without the finances to back them up.

Let’s look at the Bible. There are some 500 verses on prayer in the Bible. There are 500 verses on faith. There are 2000 verses on money and possessions. In the Gospels one in ten verses deals directly with the topic of earthly treasure. Jesus spoke more often about money than he talked about heaven and hell. Money, what we have, is not the most important thing in life, but what we do with it is certainly way up there. And when it comes to sharing what we have, Jesus offered this divine and exuberant guarantee. “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” (Luke6:38) Paul in his Second letter to the Corinthians wrote: “You voluntarily give according to your means, and even beyond your means, even begging earnestly for the privilege of sharing in our ministries…you gave not merely as expected. You gave yourselves first to the Lord…You excel in everything, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in love, so we want you to excel in this generous undertaking…And Paul goes on, “God loves a cheerful giver, and God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance…You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity.”

Now let’s look at our budget. And these are only the basics. There are the costs involved with our worship. There are costs involved with our hospitality. We have to provide a stipend to our organist every week. There are printing costs for our Sunday bulletin and other materials. There are office supplies we need. There are equipment and supplies for the Sunday School. What about reaching out to the community? Every year at Christmas time we have an ecumenical service of Lessons and Carols at the Church of Sant’Andrea with a reception afterwards. Last year that event cost us 400 Euros. What kind of charity can we offer? Shouldn’t we make a donation to the relief of the people in Aquila and the Abruzzi region? What about spreading the word about our presence here in Orvieto? What about the costs involved in growing our congregation, and to survive and thrive we must grow? What about the rent for this our new home; that’s 550 Euros a month, plus utilities. We have a donor helping for a while, but at some point this help will come to an end. What about our role in the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe? We are expected to cover the costs of sending delegates to our convention. Lastly, I do have to mention that I am more than okay with lots of pasta and I have found wine at 99 centesimi a liter that isn’t bad, but there is a stipend involved in having a full time priest. There are the costs for the apartment I’m living in, and that’s 500 Euros a month for rent, plus utilities. As I say, these are only the basic costs. What would you figure these basic costs add up to?

Bottom line? The total cost of keeping our doors open adds up to 2870 Euros a month. That’s 700 Euros a week. Along with our benefactor who is temporarily helping us with the rent for our church, currently St. Paul’s in Rome is covering two-thirds of our costs. It goes without saying that were it not for St. Paul’s support and its belief in our mission, there would be no Church of the Resurrection. So here then is the question which we each have to answer. How much should each of us offer to meet these costs? You can do the math. Look around each Sunday and take note of how many are here. So, what should your share be? What should you offer regularly, and this means what should you offer even when you are not here? When you are not here, the costs are the same. Being welcomed among us, being part of our spiritual family, should never depend, and will never depend, in any way whatsoever on the financial support a person can offer. But, don’t we all have to decide what our honest share is? The Church of the Resurrection wants to be here for you, but how can we be here for you and for anyone and everyone who comes to us, unless each and everyone of us offers what we can for its necessary support, unless we each do our part in showing how much we believe in this mission and how much it means to us?

This is about a lot more than having the resources to pay our bills. This is about real sacrifice. This is about us. It’s about us. It’s about what we truly believe in. It’s about what we believe in together. It’s about how deeply, how personally committed we are to what is happening here and to what can and should happen here. It’s about our Gospel vision of the Church. We are a living vision of a Church in the making. We are creating a vision of the Church which we hope will make a difference in the way people see the Church. We are making a miracle happen. Does that sound too romantic? Well, that’s the truth of it.

Jesus is Savior, but we have to understand that our relationship with Jesus, and Jesus’ relationship with us, is not one on one. That’s not the way it works. We are each one with Jesus as members of the community of faith, members of his Body, members of each other. Christian and loner are contradictory terms, just as human and loner are contradictory terms.

This is about taking our faith seriously. This is about taking our love seriously. If we want to know who we are, we should look more than where we spend our money. We should look at where and how we give it away. This is about saying thank you for the blessings in our lives. This is about saying thank you for the wrong turns we did not take, for the crosses we did not have to carry, and for the grace to carry the ones we did. This is about where our heart is. Where our treasure is, there will be our hearts also. Life is not what we have time for. Life is what we make time for. Generosity is not what appears possible. Generosity is what we make possible.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples, “You are witnesses…and see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised.” Jesus is saying the same to us, telling us that we have been clothed with power from on high. The very Spirit of God, the same Spirit who dwelt in Jesus, the same Spirit sent upon the disciples, dwells in us and among us. This is all about our faith that all things are possible with God, that we can do all things in him who strengthens us.

“Tutto posso in colui che mi da forza.