OUR FAITH IS ALL ABOUT GIVING?

Stewardship Sunday 2014 at Sts. Constantine & Helen Church in Webster, MA

“We all need to pray more, and focus on our spiritual lives! How much do you actually pray every day?” What do you think when I say something like that?

“We all need to fast more, and be more disciplined in our lives! How many of you fast on Wednesdays and Fridays? Or are fasting for this Nativity Lent?” What are you thinking?

“We all need to be more loving, kinder, more compassionate, and more forgiving to everyone around us! Have you forgiven that person who offended you?” What is your reaction?

“We need to place Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, before all else! Is Christ central and first in your life?”  Not too many of you would feel uncomfortable if I said this.

As a priest, when I challenge others to become more Christ-centered through various spiritual disciplines, I don’t find people get offended by what I say. In fact, most will agree that they should be doing more for their spiritual lives, and need to focus more on their Christian walk.

How do you feel though, when I say to you, “You need to give more money to the Church, to those in need, to charities that reach out and help others! How much of your money do you actually give to support the Church and different ministries that reach out to help others?” What are you thinking now? How do you feel when I begin to talk about your money?

I know quite well that people’s hearts start to beat faster when I talk about one’s money and the topic of giving – whether to the Church or to some other charity. Parishioners, and faithful Christians alike, can willingly talk about almost any spiritual discipline comfortably, but for some reason, when the topic of money is raised, they feel unsettled. Many even try to believe that money is not a spiritual topic, and therefore the priest shouldn’t talk about it.

And yet, do you know that of all the themes that Jesus preached and taught about, he talked more about riches and treasures and money than he did about other such themes as prayer and fasting. You see, the topic of money, and specifically good stewardship of all we have, is a spiritual topic, because Christ understood well that where our treasure is, our heart will be also!

One day, a person complained to his priest that the Church and Christianity is one continual “give, give, give.” To which the priest replied, “Thank you very much for the finest definition of Christianity I have ever heard. Your right, Christianity is all about a constant “give, give, give.” God giving His only Son to the world to show His unconditional love. His Son Jesus giving His life on the cross to forgive our sins and destroy death. Then our Lord’s disciples giving all they had to make sure God’s Good News of love was preached to all people everywhere. They not only gave away their homes and businesses, but even gave up their lives as martyrs in gratitude to God! And after all that giving of God to the world, yes, God does ask His followers to imitate His own generosity by giving – by offering back a portion of all that He ultimately has given each person! So, yes, the Church and Christianity is one continual “give, give, and give,” but in a good and holy and spiritual sense!

Think for a moment about some of Christ’s lessons on treasure. One day, he meets a rich young man who is so connected to his riches that Jesus says, “It is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” Another day Jesus sees a poor widow put in two copper coins into the Temple treasury, and praises her generosity by saying, “She who offered so little gave far more than many others who seemed to give more, because she offered sacrificially from the little she had! One of our Lord’s most memorable teachings is the Parable of the Talents, where a king gives three servants different sums of money. The lesson is all about what each servant did with the talents/money that he received. Jesus was reminding us that we all will be held accountable for the riches and blessings that God has given each of us. And of course there is the story of the Rich Fool who thought he could retire early and enjoy all his wealth for himself. Christ called him a fool for being rich towards himself, and not towards God and others. Through these stories and lessons, Jesus is asking each one of us, “What are we doing with His riches? How are we using them to glorify His name? What type of stewards are we?” And not only in the Gospels, but the New Testament is filled with advice about how to handle the treasures and riches we possess, so that we may become good stewards in sharing God’s wealth with those in need!

Thus, even though some people feel uncomfortable when I preach about money, when I ask everyone to make a financial pledge for the upcoming year on Stewardship Sunday, we all need to realize that such talk is a spiritual matter. The spiritual reality is that Jesus taught, “Where you treasure is, your heart will be.” What we do with our treasure will show where our heart truly is! Thus, a commitment to proper Christian Stewardship is an sign of spiritual maturity – evaluating and deciding what we are going to do with the blessings God has given us!

And this is why it is my responsibility as the pastor to bring attention to one’s giving, just as I try to bring attention to one’s prayer life, or one’s spiritual ascetic disciplines, or one’s knowledge of the faith. I realize that the Stewardship of money may be an uncomfortable topic for some, but we all need to be challenged to evaluate whether we are giving in proportion to the way we have been blessed! Can we give in a cheerful, joyful, generous manner, understanding that we are simply offering back to God from the countless blessings He has already given us!

One barometer to check our spiritual maturity would be to take a good look at our check book, and see where we spend our money. As our Lord said, ‘Where our treasure is, there will be our heart.”

On this Stewardship Sunday, the Church asks each one of us to reflect upon what type of commitment we can offer back to God through His Church. Can we increase our Stewardship of not only our finances, but also in the giving of our time and talents. Our challenge is to increase our commitment of using the many gifts and talents we possess for the Church and her ministries, as well as to increase our offering of time to the Church and God’s people.

Ultimately, though, God doesn’t want us to give anything out of a sense of grudging duty, or arrogant pride, but He wants us to offer and give a portion of all that we have in an authentically spiritual manner – out of gratitude, with joy, in love, offering back to our Lord the first portion of all He has first given us!

Fr. Luke Veronis is the Pastor of Sts. Constantine & Helen Church in Webster, MA