“Together We Can: Grow”
Matthew 6: 5-14; Ephesians 1: 11-23
Today I am going to ask you to do something rather difficult and dangerous: listen out of both ears. Seriously, today’s service is a bit bifurcated — we have two distinct themes: All Saints Sunday and our Annual Stewardship Emphasis: Together We Can. Are these themes congruent or competitive? It all depends on how we listen…
All Saints — the Sunday when we remember those who have died and preceded us into the Kingdom of God.
Stewardship — the season when we speak of how giving of our time, talents, and resources can lead our church to not only sustain her ministries, but to new and even better ministries, i.e., to growth. Can we imagine doing even more to touch others with the love of Jesus Christ?
Let’s see how these interact.
All Saints Sunday
Have you ever wanted to be a Saint? No…not on your radar? Never has been on mine either. What does the New Testament mean when it says that we are “saints?” What is All Saints Sunday about, anyway?
For us, All Saints Sunday is that day when we remember with a sense of gratitude and appreciation those who have participated in the life of the church here on earth and have preceded us into the Kingdom. We must be careful to neither deify nor sanctify them unduly. The New Testament deemed persons to be saints by the grace of Jesus Christ, not by their behavior or temperament. These persons all possessed positive and negative traits such as do we — they were a mixture of “mud and manure” as one has said. If you look at the history of All Saints Sunday you will discover that it was a day set aside to remember the martyrs of the church, those who gave of their lives that the gospel might go forward. Being a “saint” is not about being holy or pure, but about being faithful to Christ, especially in difficult circumstances. Quite honestly, not all were faithful all of the time. Some had good moments, but otherwise non distinguishable lives.
So it is with our own Emerywood “pantheon of saints:
- Some were faithful to their Lord and their church — others varied in their participation.
- Some were generous with their resources — others were downright stingy.
- Some gave of their time and energy to build this community of faith — while others rarely missed an occasion to tear down those who were building.
- Some left a legacy of giving more than they took — while others took more than they gave.
What we can say about those who have gone before us is that they were here — they were of this family of God, for better or for worse, in their time and life. With all of their warts and blemishes, they were part of us, they were our spiritual “kin.” With all of their goodness and graciousness, they were our church family. They were “of us” and so, like us, found Christ in this community and served Christ through this community.
We are inheritors of their legacy; in some ways they are still around in the corridors and classrooms of our past. We do not work from a clean slate in church — we have a DNA that not only informs but also determines a lot of who we are and what we do as a church family. Those who began this church had certain theological beliefs and philosophical practices about church which are still present to this day. We walk to the beat of the drum of our past as much as our present. A sign on London’s Winchester cathedral puts it well: “You are entering a conversation that began long before you were born and will continue long after you’re dead.”
Do we realize that our worship and faith is mostly a matter of history? We talk about what has been in order that the Spirit of Christ might work in us in the present — all of which determines the future. To a great extent the future is being determined now…not 10-20 years from now. How we live and practice our faith was determined by others, centuries ago. How we live and practice our faith will determine how those of the future EBC will live and practice their faith.
All teaching is a matter of history. Whether it is science, theology, or computer programming — all teachers pass on what has been — for that is what determines what is. It is the past which determines the future, not the future. G.K. Chesterton, Catholic thinker, theologian and author, once noted how people who so often say that they are not traditionalists or have broken free from tradition are in reality slaves themselves: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”
We are a community of faith which values tradition and seeks to let it inform us in our faith and practice. We are thankful for the community of saints who has preceded us into the Kingdom of God. All Saints allows us to do just that.
Stewardship: Together We Can — Grow
Like each of these generations before us we stand at a crossroads in the life of our church. We have significant needs before us and we must rise to meet them if we are to continue and expand our significant ministries. For a congregation of our size we touch people from all walks of life in more ways than any other I know. Over the years we have challenged our church to make Missions and Worship her priorities: and so you have. In Worship our hearts are warmed and souls strengthened by the presence of the Spirit and through Missions we share that love we have received.
The legacy of Emerywood (here’s that history stuff again) is that in days of difficulty and challenge her people stepped up to the plate and delivered. Contrary to a prevailing myth our church was not populated by landed gentry of unlimited wealth. Rather, most were business and professional people who plied their trade for a living and had to balance their own books. Yes, many were successful — but none so much that they could carry the church.
These were lawyers, bankers, real estate people, stock brokers, accountants, school teachers, dentists and doctors, professors, car dealers, sales people, contractors and yes, furniture and textile people. (This list is not exclusive. I am sure to have left some people out.) We were not the church of privilege and wealth, but of those who were educated and worked for our living. As I have buried so many of these over the years I have been privileged to hear their stories. You would be amazed at how many of our families that we think had “inherited wealth” were 1 or 2 generations at most removed from an outhouse. These worked hard, “earned their keep” and in so doing faithfully pledged and supported Emerywood so that her work and ministry might go forward. Building a church, physically and spiritually, where all might be welcome to hear the good news of Jesus Christ was of primary importance to them. This was not just a place where they occasionally came, but a community which was a significant part of their lives.
So, it is today that we find ourselves faced with a momentous challenge and opportunity. Will we step forward and be faithful to God’s calling or will we wilt and step backwards, more concerned with self than with our community? Will we use our resources to move the ministries of Emerywood forward — or will we hoard for ourselves the blessings God has bestowed upon us?
There are two elements which are key if we are to be successful in moving forward and growing:
Participatory: we need for every family and member to pledge and support the financial needs of EBC. We have far too many who treat giving as an option rather than an obligation of our faith commitment. Whether you are young or old, of limited means or of unlimited wealth, we need for you to be a part.
Sacrificial: We need for all of us to take seriously how much we give. Some use the “tithe” from the Old Testament as a guide. The beauty of the tithe is that it is proportional: the less you make the less you give…the more you make the more you give. Now, I am not a legalist, but I do think we ought to look more seriously at how tithing can work to develop our faith and walk with God. I have been thrilled at how God has blessed through the years when God’s people have been faithful and used the tithe as a guide. To be honest, some of us who are older do not have the needs of those who are younger and we can give a tithe and more. For others just meeting a tithe is a challenge. I would urge you to begin now at a percentage of 4-5% and then increase by 1% per year until you get to 10% or more. Let me share with you that if you will try, you will be amazed at how God will work in your life to allow you to meet your needs (but not all your wants.)
The reality is that it all of us are needed as faithful stewards for God’s work to go forward. Over the last few years we have buried a number of persons who were faithful contributors to God’s Kingdom through EBC. We are in need of our median and younger adults to step forward and pick up the slack that we might continue to grow and minister as we have. For us to be successful “all” must be involved.
In The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, the protagonist is a seedy, alcoholic Catholic priest who after months as a fugitive is finally caught by the revolutionary Mexican government and condemned to be shot. On the evening before his execution, he sits in his cell with a flask of brandy to keep his courage up and thinks back over what seems to him the dingy failure of his life. Greene writes:
“Tears poured down his face… he was not at the moment afraid of damnation…He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him at that moment that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint…He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted - to be a saint.”
All Saints — Stewardship…past and present…maybe they do go together after all.
Robert U. Ferguson, Jr., Ph.d.
Emerywood Baptist Church
1300 Country Club Drive
High Point, North Carolina 27262
November 2, 2014