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    Oct 13, 2019

    The 18th Sunday after Pentecost

    Passage: Luke 17:11-19

    Preacher: The Rev. Canon Patricia Grace

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

     

    Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,    in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

    Psalm 111:1

     What does it mean to give thanks with our whole hearts?

    Speaking in the parlance of 21st century America,

    we might give the impression that we are

    talking about some mushy, romantic kind of thing.

    But a ramble through the rich heritage of our faith,

                found in the holy scriptures

                            paints a broader picture.

    God’s first chosen people,

                our ancestors in faith, the Israelites,

                            understood that the word, heart,

    was meant, of course, to refer to that internal organ –

    that sustains life.

    But if we go deeper,

                studying the Hebrew for heart, “lev” or “levav

    we find that word

    reveals a more comprehensive understanding of the heart.

    The word is composed of two letters, lamedh and bet –

    lamedh means to have authority, the voice of authority;

                bet is the word for house.

    So the heart in Hebrew is the house of authority…

                authority, not in the sense of the ability or status

    that enables one to control or force,

                            but the power that comes from the essence, the substance of a person – from his or her character;

    who that person really is.

    The heart was understood, then, to be the seat

                of wisdom, of understanding, of knowledge;

                the locus of fear as well as joy;

                            love as well as hate;

    the place from which we might discern

    the difference between truth and error.

    Just as the anatomical heart sustained physical life;

                the true heart of a person

    provided for one’s emotional, ethical and intellectual life.

     The heart was so important to God,

    that God wrote the Law

    on the very the hearts of God’s people – indelibly and forever.

     So, the heart is where the inner person resides,

                where we might say, the true self is formed and contained.

    The heart is the place where important choices are made…

                choices between good and evil.

     God, who created us to have hearts like God’s very own,

                knew early on that those same hearts

    had the capacity to be corrupted,

    to turn away from the light of God’s countenance

    to a darker place.

     

    Genesis 6:5 declares:

    The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

     And so God’s people were warned in Proverbs

    “to guard their hearts with all vigilance,

    for from it flow the springs of life.”

     Ezekiel, among other prophets,

                prayed for the hearts of God’s people –

    that God would switch out their hardened hearts of stone

                for real hearts of flesh.

     And Jesus spoke of the hearts of humankind as well…

                “where your treasure is” he said, “there also will be your heart.”

    Hence, the old exercise which some of us have done,

                to review our check registers and daily calendars…

    and determine, if someone were to look there,

                what would he or she discover to be our treasure?

     I remember being invited to do that during a sermon

                a while ago,

    and realizing with an unpleasant start,

                that my most significant treasure seemed to originate from Amazon,

                            local restaurants, and very infrequently (at that time)

    from gifts to the church.

     And I don’t even want to comment

                on what my calendar showed

    was at the heart of what I valued and treasured.

     This was, of course, no surprise to my Lord,

                who, as the Scriptures tell us again and again,

    “does not see as mortals see; mortals look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

     God does not just look, but knows the very heart of us,

                says the evangelist, Luke.

     So to be followers of God,

                we’re called to try to see like that – like God –

    to see through the eyes of the heart.

    Because, in the words of French philosopher and poet,

                Antoine de Saint-Exupery,

    author of the children’s classic, The Little Prince:

    “…it is only with the heart that one can see rightly;

    what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

     So our Annual Giving Campaign theme

    reflects this call, to see, through the heart,

                            like God does and respond accordingly.

    To go deeper into the heart of things,

    to better understand who we are

                and who God is calling us to be;

    to see and acknowledge what is truly essential

    in terms of the things we treasure.

     As such, then, the annual reminder of God’s invitation

                to be good stewards,

    is not just to be influenced by the information we will be sharing…

    • about the needs of the church,
    • the demands of the budget for 2020,
    • the realities of running a newly renovated structure

                which now takes up a whole block….

     All that information is important

                and is helpful in determining where we might need to stand

    in terms of giving….

    but those items are only part of the picture.

     The annual stewardship program is also an invitation

                to take our relationship to God to heart…

    to ponder how to make that primary,

                to make that relationship the plumb line,

    the standard that helps us align everything else

                in our lives needs in relation to God.

    The spiritual practice of stewardship

                has more to do with where our heart lies

                            than where we find the bottom line

    of our profit and loss statements

                                                    or net worth calculations.

    The practice begins with the cultivation of a spirit of gratitude,

                and an honest assessment of all that God has given us…

    it is a practice grounded in a mentality of abundance

                and the commitment to look for and really see

    the grace and presence of God,

    living and active in our own lives.

     The practice encourages us to give of our very best…

                what our ancestors who farmed the land

                            and herded cattle and sheep called their “first fruits” –

    that is, the first and freshest items of the harvest,

    the most succulent vegetables and flowers,

    the most tender young lambs and calves,

                the most beautiful turtle doves.

    They were taught by God, God’s self,

                to offer their first and best,

                to give out of their abundance,

    not out of what was left when everything else

    and everyone else was satisfied.

     Their standard, dictated by the Scriptures,        

    was the tithe…a tenth of what they would have for the year.

    Actually, they were asked for two tithes…

                10% for the upkeep of the temple and the priests

                and 10% for the care of the most vulnerable among them,

                            widows and orphans.

    In exchange, they understood that God would provide –

                that everything else would fall into place…

    everything else would align,

    And then, what a person believed

    would then be borne out by how he or she lived.

    What was professed by the mouth

                was acted upon by the body

    and reflected what was deep in the heart.

    By this way of living,

                a group of directionless nomads

    were formed into a vibrant people of God.

    By this way of living,

                people who once lived in fear of never having enough

                            were reminded daily of the abundance of life in God

    and developed the eyes and the heart to see it.

    By this way of living,

                their hearts, their very core, was transformed.

    By this way of living,

                they were set free to be who God created them to be,

    to be more and more like God, God’s very self.

    In these modern times, the spiritual foundations of stewardship

                can get swallowed up,

    obscured or corrupted like a bad file on our computers.

    What began as an accord –

                an expression of love,

    of mutual relationship between humankind and God

    has been distorted by our culture of manipulative advertising

    that impacts even charitable giving.

    What was an essential aspect of community –

    how God’s people would be known –

    has given way in some cases to more mercenary

    and self-serving outcomes.  

     Giving in the current environment then,

    even in our churches,

    can sometimes be symbolized more by a telethon

    or an $100 a plate dinner,

    than more humble signs;

    marks of our dependence on God,

    our trust in that relationship

    and the clear preference for practices

    that serve the common good.

    Giving of our time, our gifts and our money for the work of God

    is an expression of covenant –

    an action that must start at the core of us, the heart.

    It is not transactional like a contract –

    this kind of exchange is less like a handshake

    and more like an embrace.

    How we relate to our possessions, our time, our bodies, our money,

    tells a story that is more about our relationship to God

    than anything else we do.

     So the disciplines, the spiritual practices of stewardship,

    become an outward and visible sign

    of an inward and divine grace –

    something less rational and more mystical;

    something holy, sacred;

    something that points more to the presence and action of God

    than to ourselves.

    It is no exaggeration for me to say to you

    that the spiritual practices of stewardship have saved my life.

    As a child of two children of the Great Depression,

    I was always very aware, and often stymied by fear,

    that the wolf would soon be at the door

    ready to snatch the very bread from my lips.

    The spiritual disciplines of stewardship:

    • being grounding in gratitude;
    • learning to give from my abundance rather than my lack
    • taking the tithe seriously – offering the first fruits of my labor
    • and growing more and more comfortable with letting go of possessions, time, and money in service of God’s dreams rather than only my own

     these practices have freed me from the learned anxiety that characterized my life –

    something that I carried like a burden in my heart –

    like a constant low buzz of constant anxiety and worry

    that there would never be enough;

    that I would never be enough.

    Freedom from that is something I cherish

    and give thanks for every day.

    And when I forget to practice stewardship,

    things get off-kilter –

    I lose sight that I and others are forever and indissolubly accompanied:

    that God is with us all! – always, all of us beloved children of God –

    no matter what.

    When I let go of the discipline of stewardship,

    things don’t work right.

    And I miss the great satisfaction

    that comes from being able to give generously

    to things that I care about.

    The spiritual practices of stewardship have real power –

    they can transform our hearts; they can transform our lives.

     They transformed mine!

    Without those,

    our hearts, like the heart of the Grinch who tried to steal Christmas,

    might just stay a bit too small.

    As Dr. Seuss might say,

    “when our hearts begin not to feel so tight,

    we can whiz through the dark and all manner of night…

    and our hearts so they say,

    can grow three times the size in just one day.

    When the true meaning of stewardship finally gets through,

    it can give us the strength of 10 Grinches plus two.”

     In the brief time I have known you,

                you, the people of Holy Trinity have impressed me

                            with your joy, your deep spiritual grounding

                                        and your generosity.

    The needs of this parish are real and require your support.

    This is true.

    And we ask that you give as generously as you can for the work of God

                in this place.

    I know you will consider this well.

    But the invitation this year is to also take the time

    to rend our hearts as well as our check books.

    And recommit to life with God.

    Accept the invitation to do the heart work.

    And find your way to give thanks to God

    in the presence of the upright, in the congregation.

    Invest the time and energy to give and live from the heart.