Homily: I Feel So Blessed (Stewardship Sunday)
I feel so blessed.
I feel so blessed to be a member of this congregation, St James Church, where I see, up close and personal, how the word “generosity” takes on flesh, becomes real right before our eyes. I can close my eyes as I think back over the past two years, since our last Increased Offering Drive, and I can see, in my mind’s eye, a whole series of images that are burned into my memory and my heart. Two years ago I traveled to Switzerland with my sister Joanne, trying to discover more about our family roots. I took about seventy pictures of churches of various kinds and sizes, denominations and faiths, some o them magnificent structures. But there’s no place like home, and there’s nothing like standing before your own church family and talking about this most personal of faith experiences. After all, this is the church that I give to: this is the church of my heart.
I remember talking to a life-long member of the parish who had fallen and was bedridden. I prayed with her and anointed her, but I also told her the names of the people who knew she was there in the hospital, members of her church family who were praying for her and remembering her. I told her that the Noon weekday Mass people and the school children at Mass knew of her illness and that we prayed for her. As I went down the list of names, like a litany of saints who were holding her in their hearts, I watched a wonderful thing happen. Whatever anxiety she had about her operation or whatever discomfort she may have been experiencing seemed to melt away, and her face broke gently into the most beautiful and peaceful smile, and she said, “Oh, you have no idea how much that comforts me.”
She lived only a few weeks more, and when she died, full of years, she was gathered to God and to her people. When I hear the words from Timothy, “Take hold of the life that really is life – be generous,” I think of her, who surely knew what mattered most each day of her life. She lived in abundance, surrounded here, just as we are, by a loving faith community. She was a blessing to us, and yet when she looked back on her life, she said to me, “I don’t know what I would have done without my church.”
There are so many ways that the church surrounds us in love and care, and so many ways that the church inspires and challenges us. I look back, and my memory blurs with a multitude of images of St James parish in action – in our worship, on Sunday mornings and at weekday Noon Mass – great and magnificent, small and intimate; St James in action – in our witness, our work for justice, at the food pantry and paper bank, in educating the students at our school, our commitment to Haiti and letter writing, and our daily prayers for peace; St James in action – reaching out in commitment and generosity to those far beyond these walls, trans-forming the world and ourselves, too, taking hold of the life that really is life.
Another vivid memory for me is the images from the last gathering two years ago of over 250 priests of our diocese for five days at Ogelbay West Virginia. I don’t mind telling you that when I went there, I remember, was feeling pretty blue. The condition of the world, the country and especially our own community here at home can be pretty discouraging. I felt hurt and angry and a little scared, of what the future might have in store, and very, very sad. But after just a couple of hours of being with my priest colleagues, especially many who like Father Nick Vaskov, who the was newly ordained, Father Barry O’Leary, Father Rick Conboy and Father John Hissrich — all from St James — sharing stories of St James past and telling stories of what is happening and being done here at St James in the present, I walked to my car Thursday feeling lighter. Perhaps the world, was not transformed that week, but I was. I walked in hope that better days are ahead, and that we would make a difference, together.
More than that had happened, though. When I came home that afternoon, around 2:45, our school was letting out. Coming out into our parking lot like a flock of birds was a group of small children, and they were overjoyed to be outside, free to run around, and they were being gathered up by parents and getting into yellow school buses, that would take them home, and then, hopefully, these precious children would sleep that night, They would sleep in hope of a better day and a better life.
I am haunted by the image of those children, running around in delight and joyful abandon, in our parking lot. While I am grateful that our church has provided a space and opportunity where their educational needs can be met, I also dream – we all dream – of a better world where no little ones sleep, except safe and warm and peaceful. More than that, we dream of a world where all those little children in places like Haiti, for example, without homes today but with shelter because of the generosity of so many faithful people, will grow old naturally in homes of their own, and die, full of years, in the arms of a loving church family, with their priest or people of faith by their side.
I dream of a world where every one of God’s precious children have health care, and clean air and water, and good schools, and safe homes and neighborhoods, and plenty to eat, when God’s creatures will not be harmed by our selfish demands on the environment, and most of all, there will be peace, peace on earth, for all of God’s children, not just some of us, and there will be no more war. I know St James Church and the Catholic Church will share this dream, and that we are working hard to make it come true. And that is one very important reason why I give to this church, and why I intend to give more in the coming year.
I hear of so many parents and grandparents whose children, in college or out on their own or raising families, don’t feel a need to attend church on a regular basis, although they consider St James Church their church. Sometimes, growing in what they consider sophistication, they think church is ‘fine’ for their mother or their grandmother and they’re glad ‘it’s there’ for them; but they don’t ‘need’ to go themselves, except on Christmas and Easter.
But we watch them grow so much through the years, as they sometimes have experienced more of life’s losses and hurts — as well as its triumphs and joys. And sometimes they get the courage to ask questions like: “Mom, if anything ever happened to you, Father Metzler would help me through it, wouldn’t he?” And you answer, “Yes, Father Metzler would help you through it. He does great funerals, and so would the people, your church family, here at St James Church.”
I feel so blessed. Isn’t this what we are about, here in the church? God has called us to be a loving, generous, caring community where our children will feel and learn compassion, where we will, all of us, together, old and young, women and men, gay and straight, white, black, rich, poor, and in-between, all of us together – we will be light for the world. Not just for ourselves or for one another, but for the world.
I love Eugene Peterson’s translation in ‘The Message Bible’ of the text from Matthew about not hiding our light under a bushel. He says: : “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father and Mother in heaven.”
Be generous with your lives. My friends. the church we love, with all its problems, is more lovely than ever before, in days such as these. More lovely, and more needed, than ever before. We need to be even more hospitable, even more clear about our welcome, our vision, our hope for the world.
It will be a week or so before you receive in the mail the financial report from St James parish, I invite you, I encourage you, I urge you to consider – even to wrestle with – how you might be even more generous with your life, with your time, talent, and treasure, and with your final Remembrance to your parish when you die. I invite you to grow your giving if you can, to give more generously to St. James so that the incredible ministries that happen here, day in and day out, will grow and expand and unfold into the world that surrounds us, the world that God so loves. Giving generously will transform the world, but it transforms each one of us, too.
Especially in these past weeks, when all the constant election ads and convention images with all their negativity, continue to show us how much government has, and continues to, fail our people, our communities and ourselves, we see how urgent our call is here at St James Church, our call to “go public” with this – as public as a city on a hill. We will be light and salt and leaven for the world. We are small, but we will be the mustard seed that grows into a mighty tree of justice, of caring, and of compassion. Let’s take our place up on that light stand, up on that hilltop, and shape a beautiful city on a hill, shining and lovely so that all may see the good that unfolds here, and will give glory to God in heaven. We will be light for the world. Amen.