"Put in everything"-A Sermon for In-Gathering Sunday, Mark 12:38-44
So, the day before Halloween I read a news article that was title “Halloween 2018 by the Numbers”. And it was full of interesting factoids about the holiday…of which personally I am a fan…not so much a fan of the goory and bloody parts, the horror flicks and houses of terror and the like…for there is surely enough real fear and violence in our world to go around without subjecting ourselves to made up versions (just my opinion!). But I like that Halloween is an excuse to be out in the neighborhood, and knowing and being with our neighbors, is a good thing. It’s a small thing…but it would make a big difference for good and for God in our world if we all really new and cared for those who live closest to us. And I like some of the candy. And I really like the Peanuts Halloween holiday special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, which is really all about faith and faithfulness. And I like that its only one day…which avoids awkward political conversations with relatives over extended holidays and long holiday meals. And most of all I like that it is mainly focused on children. I love seeing the joy my own children take in dressing up in costumes and collecting treats and just playing with their friends.
But…back to the article…a few of the interesting facts include that 41.1 million children take part in trick or treating…and that 20% of Halloween celebrators will also dress their pet in a costume…and 2.2 million people dressed up as Batman…more than all the Star Wars characters combined. But the number that stood out most to me was that collectively Americans spend a jaw dropping $9 billion dollars in total on Halloween…from food to candy to costumes to decorations. That’s a lot of money. That could surely solve any budget shortfalls we may have at St. Julian’s for the next few millennia…while also getting us on any piece of land we would like and into finest church facilities that we could ever even dream up. And in all seriousness, it could do a lot of good for God’s loving work in the world if that kind of money was responsibly directed toward some form of human suffering.
But I don’t actually mean to make anyone feel bad about money spent on celebrating Halloween…I surely did. For though $9 billion dollars is a tremendous amount of money, what the average family or person spent on Halloween was $86.79, which depending on the size of one’s family seems a much more reasonable number. That $9 billion-dollar total was spent by 175 million different people. So, as I think about that huge number Americans spent on Halloween this year, I really want us to reflect on just two things in particular. First, that when people come together around something that matters to them, something they enjoy, something that their children care about, who are our shared future…they make room for it on their calendars and in their pocketbooks and, further, that can produce incredible, jaw-dropping abundance. And second, that huge amount of money did not come from a handful of billionaires throwing a couple of righteous Halloween parties. Instead, that huge amount of money was spent because a whole lot of people, 175 million of them, participated in the celebration of Halloween. Thus, participation matters, whether one just bought a bag of candy or spent hundreds of dollars turning their home into a Halloween wonderland.
So, as we come to another In-Gathering Sunday at St. Julian’s, when we gather-in our shared commitments of prayer, time, talent and financial resources to support God’s work among us in the year to come, I think these two ideas matter so very much and hopefully will speak to and inform the commitments we individually and very personally will make to St. Julian’s…to our family of faith…to our shared life and ministry. For, if we believe that the worship and learning and fellowship and service that happens and emerges in this place matters to us and matters for the world…if we really enjoy or time together and enjoy each other…if we believe in the foundation of love and confidence that it is laid here for our children, who are our shared future…if we believe that the God of love indeed dwells among us, that Jesus dines with us at this altar, that we are really met, nourished and filled by the alive and active Spirit of God in this place to live hopeful lives that have direction and purpose…and…and if we all choose to participate in whatever ways we can and are called to participate, for it will be different for each of us…and that’s right and good…so if we believe this family of faith matters and we all do participate…abundance in the form of good work, constant prayer, meaningful time spent together, a shared life full of joy, and all the financial resources needed to support it all…will indeed flow…into and through this family of faith we share.
There is a saying in church stewardship circles that money follows mission…and I will add that time and talent generously given…also follows mission. And, I generally believe that sentiment to be true. Further I believe that our mission or vision…to grow in relationship, love all well, and seek intimacy with Christ is needed in and for a world, that is so often shrouded in darkness, now more than ever, and surely the only moment that we can truly be an agent for good and for God is the present. So now is our time…our time to ask the good and hard question about how much God’s work in this family of faith matters to us and how and to what extent are we called to participate.
Of course, we have moved well beyond Halloween here…we are not talking about a holiday…or even a holy day…we are talking about holiness, as it is fostered in our lives through this faith community called St. Julian’s. We are talking about matters as big as life and death…for I know, as a matter of fact, that this community and its many and varied resources have been life-saving for more than one person along the road we have traveled together. We are talking about Christ’s Body, which exists in the world as the church, as us, continuing to form Christ like folk…again like us…who move out from this place and into our homes and schools and work places and volunteer organizations and community gatherings bringing light and love…Christ’s very presence in that very place…for we are there. As we continue to grow our impact on the world around us, as we eventually move to a permanent campus that will be a life-giving resource for so many within and well beyond our own community, as we continue to extend the worship, service and care giving that we do now in the year that lies just ahead…I believe that St. Julian’s is to be and become something like the city on the hill that Jesus describes, bringing light and warmth and healing and growth and encouragement and friendship to the countless folk who live around us, who are here now, and who will join us along the way. Thus, I believe we matter and that we should all participate…and grace upon grace…jaw-dropping abundance will indeed follow the good vision that is ours and that God has set before us…to be together.
The widow that Jesus holds up as our example of holiness in our Gospel lesson today is brought to our attention, again, by Jesus because of the extravagance of her loving gift. She clearly believed that God’s work through her community of faith mattered a whole, whole lot, and she felt called to participate entirely, so she gave the most extravagant of gifts. And, that extravagance had nothing to do with who she was…we don’t even know her name…or because of the size of her gift…we do know that…it was two copper coins that equaled a penny. Instead, it had everything to do with the fact that it was everything she had…and I don’t believe that meant it was all she had on her at the time…for Jesus says as much…it was just all that she had. And I lift her up for us to consider, not because I expect “for sale” signs to go up in all of our yards…for us to liquidate everything we have and give it to St. Julian’s. But I do think, like this lovely woman, we must be earnest and prayerful and even sacrificial, as we answer for ourselves the question of how much this life we have together matters to us, to those we care for, to those we share this place with, to those we don’t even know, don’t see on Sundays, but that St. Julian’s cares for and serves, as we make our own individual and very personal choice of how we are called by God to participate.
So, I want to conclude with this final thought…that I not only should but want to say to each of you. There is another reason I really like Halloween. And that is, for me, it will always remain first and foremost…not Halloween…but All Hallows Eve…the eve of the day that we give thanks for and remember the hallowed ones…the eve of All Saints Day. And so, I find myself at this time of year thinking about the lives of those for whom I am grateful…those who have been the saints in my life…those who are already feasting with the saints at God’s heavenly banquet table…but also those who are still very much alive and live alongside me. So, I want to say that I am grateful for you…my fellow saints in this family of faith. Your love and friendship have taught me how much this place matters to me and always leads me to discovering grace upon grace through my own participation here with you. Your lives matter to me…and participating in them is among the greatest blessings in my life. So, as we move on to our Thanksgiving Meal after this service and at the Thanksgiving holiday that soon follows, know my heart overflows with gratitude for you…and for the life we share in this place, St. Julian’s. This place and all we do together matters and our shared participation in this family of faith is all gift. Amen.