Don't be a shrimp!

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Thoeni
Rector

September 01, 2019

Several years ago I learned an amazing fact about shrimp. Shrimp are the least likely animals to give to charity. That’s an odd fact, I know, but it’s true. Shrimp are very stingy. You see, it’s because they are shellfish. Yeah, I know. That’s the daddiest Dad joke I know.

But I was thinking of it a great deal this week as I spent last Saturday with a couple of parishioners at our diocesan Stewardship conference. One of the main points of the conference was to highlight the fact that we live in a world of abundance.

This theme struck home to me as I have long taken comfort and even challenge in Jesus’ words that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. I have mused about how profound that promise is and, if I truly believe it, what type of life am I to live? It is, in the end, a stewardship promise.

Jesus came to give us life and to give us the abundance of life, a life abundantly blessed, fulfilled, rich with meaning and purpose. Jesus came that we might share the abundant life with him and with others.

The thing about abundance is that you can’t hold it with two hands. It overflows, it pours forth. It is a life of sharing rather than keeping. You cannot live an abundant life without being generous; generous in love,in hope, in compassion and in faithfulness.

A few years ago I read a good book about fundraising entitled “Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate.” In it the author stresses that the pastor of a church should preach directly about money at least four times a year. I haven’t lived into that suggestion very well, and frankly I won’t today. Because today I am preaching about Stewardship, not fundraising. Money is only a fraction of stewardship. In fact living a life of stewardship, living a life of abundance, money is really only an indicator of our spiritual health. As rector I must be concerned about fundraising, but as a pastor, as a priest, I am more concerned about your life as a steward of all of God’s gifts. Within my ordination vows there was not a single vow that I would balance a budget or run a successful pledge drive. Instead I vowed I would share the reconciling love of Christ, that I would labor with others to build up the family of God, and offer my labors to God. These are vows of stewardship.

In our Baptismal Covenant we have each vowed to continue in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship and breaking of the bread; to persevere in resisting evil, to repent and return to the Lord, to proclaim the word of Good News of God in Christ by word and example, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. 

Those are vows of stewardship, a description of the abundance of life. I would like to think that all of my sermons are about that. I would like to think that at every service when we bring up the Offertory we each know deeply that we are presenting to God so much more than money. The Offertory is a moment when we are called to reflect that all our lives, all that we have and are are gifts that we have been given and are called to share with God and God’s children.

Now, I have a confession to make. Twenty-five years ago when I led my first service as a priest and it was my place to pronounce what we call the Offertory Sentence, I realized at the very moment I was supposed to pronounce the words that I could only remember one of the sentences. So out came the words, “Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.” I have used those words ever since. 

Last Saturday, at the Stewardship conference, the leader suggested we switch up our Offertory Sentences, print them in the bulletin with, perhaps, a few words explaining why they are being used. In other words, teach about stewardship, teach about the life of abundance. Today I will start doing that. Week to week, at least over the next year, we will be having a different sentence, mostly from the saints, some from poets, some even from lines of our hymns. Most will have nothing to due with money. All have to do with being stewards of this abundant life God has graciously given us to share. 

So, don’t be a shrimp. 

© 2019, Tom Thoeni