The First Sunday of Advent by Martin Elfert

Jeremiah 33:14-16

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Luke 21:25-36

Psalm 25:1-9

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Today is the day when we name, in worship, that we are the stewards of this place that we call Grace Memorial. In particular, this is the day when you and I are invited bring forward to the altar an outward visible sign of our financial stewardship of this parish in the form of a pledge card. Those of us who are worshiping here on the ground are invited to do so literally and physically. And those of us who are worshiping online are invited to do figuratively and spiritually.

On a day like this, it is often customary to talk about the many good things that you support via your financial pledge. And I can’t resist doing a little bit of that because there is an impressive list of things your gift has made possible and continues to make possible.

Thanks to your generosity, there is a thriving community here at 17th and Weidler, a group of practitioners, some of whom are members of this church and some of whom are not, all of whom are nurturing healing, belonging, meaning, love, and justice.

This community exists because of you.

You have made it possible for us to defer rent for our partners at PHAME, forgive rent for our sister organisation, Grace Institute, thus keeping our Art Camp vital. You have made it possible for us to host the Free Lunch Collective, a team of volunteers who bring food, toiletries, and other necessities to our neighbours who live on our streets – if Jesus is telling the truth when he says, I was hungry and you fed me, then their work is a huge expression of the Gospel. You have made it possible for us to never lay off any staff across pandemic – that’s something of which I am particularly proud. You have made it possible for us to create new ministries, such as the Little Free Pantry.

We could keep going. Each of these things, all of these things, invite God’s Kingdom nearer.

But I’d like to spend most of our time this morning not on what your gift and mine makes possible within this parish but, rather, what maybe your gift and mine makes possible within our hearts.

Today in Paul’s letter to the young church in Thessaloniki Paul talks about joy and about abounding love. In particular, we hear Paul say, and I am paraphrasing a wee bit,

How can I thank God enough for all of the joy I feel because of you?

Paul’s letter reminds me of another letter, written many years later. This is a letter by Thomas More written in the year 1522. And it is written because More’s young adult daughter, Margaret is away studying and she had done what generations of college students before and since have done, which is to say that she has written home to ask for money.

Here is what More says in response (as with Paul, I’m paraphrasing):

You ask for money my dear Margaret with too much bashfulness and timidity, since you are asking from a father who is eager to give…

Go spend the money well. And then ask me for more.

So that I may have the joy of giving it to you.

The great Canadian-Irish preacher, Herb O’Driscoll, says More’s letter totally changed how he understood financial stewardship. What Herb realised is that there are two ways that money leaves our possession. We can transfer money to someone else because we have to, because we are a debtor. Or we can do so because we want to, because we are a lover.

Most of the time, when we dig out our credit card or our cheque book or open up Venmo on our phones, we are doing so because we are debtors. And to be clear, there is nothing inherently nefarious about this. I’d like a cup of coffee, Peet’s makes me one, and therefore I become a debtor to Peet’s for three dollars (or more if it’s a fancy cup of coffee). I’d like my house to be warm and therefore I become a debtor to the utility company. I’d like to attend a concert and therefore I become a debtor to Beyoncé.

And I settle my debt by handing over money.

A lot of time we enjoy the things we have purchased or we need the things we have purchased. But we rarely enjoy paying for them. Handing over money as a debtor is, at best, a neutral experience, sometimes it is an experience of regret – we have this expression called buyer’s remorse: I wish I hadn’t paid for that.

Hanging over money because we want to, handing over money as a lover, is an entirely different matter.

Suddenly, there is no transaction. We are not receiving goods, we are not receiving services. We are giving a gift. And in the giving there is joy. Joy in knowing that we are helping a person whom we love to thrive, joy in knowing that we are helping a place we love to thrive.

I reckon that this joy is what Louise Tippens was getting at when she led the Grace fundraising team in an exercise a couple of weeks ago. The fundraising team is a small group of folks led by Nancy Entrikin. Our primary task these days is raising funds for the capital campaign. I suspect that we may eventually tackle things such as planned giving.

And that evening a few weeks back, Louise asked us a pair of interrelated questions about capital campaigns such as ours. The first was:

How do you feel when you ask someone for money?

And we answered, many of us, by saying that we felt embarrassed or awkward, like we were imposing, like maybe we were dodgy salespeople trying to sell dodgy products.

But then Louise asked:

How do you feel when someone asks you for money?

And suddenly we said we felt excited or pleased or flattered, that we were being invited be part of something wonderful. In short, joy.

Maybe what we uncovered that night, with Louise’s help, is that a lot of us were feeling nervous about asking for money because we had made a category error. We thought that we were asking people to be debtors when, actually, we were asking them to be lovers.

I’ve shared with you before the tithe, that giving 10% of my salary to the Body of Christ as it is made manifest here at Grace, has become one of my most cherished practices. There are a bunch of reasons for that. But one of them, one of the biggest, is that this Biblical way of supporting our parish is a disciplined and structured way for my family and me to practice being a lover of this place. And I don’t get goods or services in return. I get the joy of knowing that I am helping Grace thrive.

And how can I thank God enough for all of the joy I feel because of this place, all of the joy I feel because of you?

It is such a privilege to join with you in being Grace’s Memorial’s stewards, in being Grace Memorial’s lovers.

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