Love and the Pursuit of English Tea Biscuits

A Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost– September 21, 2014

David H. Knight, Priest Associate

 With gratitude and humble trust we bring our best to thee
to serve thy cause and share thy love with all humanity.
O thou who gavest us thyself in Jesus Christ thy Son,
help us to give ourselves each day until life’s work is done.

My text this morning is from Mathew’s Gospel, that familiar passage in which Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Some years ago about this time of year, a young man was beginning his first semester in graduate school. He was excited about pursuing his studies yet on this particular day, he was, perhaps, even more excited about what had happened a few months earlier.  In July, he had met the love of his life.  Now this was a young man who did not make hasty decisions. The couple had had their first date on a Sunday night in mid July after having been working together for several weeks in a summer job.  That night he knew that there was a question he would have to ask her, yet he did not want to come across as being too forward so he asked her if she would like to go out again the following Friday night for dinner.  She agreed.  Not being one to rush into things, he waited. He waited—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, all day Friday, taking all the time necessary before asking her that question.  Friday night came.  At dinner in a nice restaurant in Philadelphia, after all those days of preparation, it was now time for the important question.  And so he asked her, “Will you marry me?”  She said yes.  They became quietly engaged that night, later announcing their engagement. Two years later they would be married. Being in love, this young man would do anything to bring her joy. Somewhere, he had learned that she loved English tea biscuits. He didn’t even know what an English tea biscuit was, but he knew he had to find them to send to her at college here in Virginia.  And so on this day he went in search for English tea biscuits.  He set out on his search.  He went to store after store.  Nobody seemed to have them. Finally, he came to a gourmet shop that had them.  They came presented in a beautiful tin canister and that canister was expensive.  No matter.  Delighted with his find, he bought the English tea biscuits and left the store elated. These were for the love of his life and nothing would stop him from giving them to her.  46 years later, I still remember the joy of finding those English tea biscuits for Jeannie.  Where my heart was, there my treasure followed. Each of you, I’m sure, could share a similar story from your experience.

It is true that where our heart is, there our treasure will follow, yet Jesus put an interesting twist on this notion. He said that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.    It works both ways.  We put our efforts and our money where our heart is, yet we also find that our heart follows where we put our money.

Some time ago, our own Charlie Bryan, who has had a lot of experience with fund raising for charitable organizations, wrote a column in the Richmond Times Dispatch in which he cited four reasons why Americans give of their money.

He talks first about forced giving in which donors are pressured by others into making gifts rather than by initiation those gifts themselves. Guilt can be used as a tactic.  For example, “If you don’t give, the organization will not survive. He cites that forced giving may work in the short run but it is best to avoid this tactic.  Think about it for a moment; do you and I find much joy in giving to a deficit budget?

Then there is vanity giving.  That’s when you and I give in hopes of achieving recognition.  It can be a real motivator.

Then there is duty-bound, or obligatory giving. The donor feels a responsibility to give to something that has had a positive influence upon one’s life or has helped relieve suffering, either one’s own, or that of others.  This kind of giving is often associated with a donor’s support of an alma mater or one’s church.  It can be a positive and worthwhile motivator.

Then there is inspirational giving which, Charlie says, is usually the most generous and exciting form of giving.  Inspirational giving is often in response to new initiatives or to a sense that what they are giving to is something that is not just surviving but is thriving and making a difference in people’s lives, open to innovation and new ideas while preserving tradition.  Inspirational giving, we would hope is a motivator for each of us to give to our church, for as we read in Paul’s second letter to the Church gathered in Corinth, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Some years ago, I attended a week at the College of Preachers at the National Cathedral led by Bishop Bill Stough who was then Stewardship Officer for the Episcopal Church. The course dealt with the subject of preaching stewardship from the pulpit.  He told us that Episcopalians are some of the most generous givers on the planet when it comes to schools, foundations, hospitals, and many charities, but that Episcopalians are among the least generous givers when it comes to giving to their church.  Why?  Because, he said, conversations about money are often avoided in many Episcopal churches.  Talking about money becomes the elephant in the middle of the room.  Often clergy think that if we talk about money from the pulpit, people will be offended and we will become the proverbial skunk at a lawn party. But it doesn’t have to be that way, he said. We spent the week looking at ways to talk about money as part of our responsibility as preachers and as pastors.  Then there was Bishop Alexander Stewart of Western Massachusetts, who knew human anatomy well, who once remarked in his own crispy manner of speaking that the most sensitive nerve in the human body is the nerve that connects the heart to the pocket book.  A couple of years ago, Clif Christopher, author of the book, Not your Parents’ Offering Plate, a book which we have studied here at St. Mary’s, spoke at our Diocesan Council. He said that clergy need to know who the givers are.  Any other way, he said, is foolish. Preaching involves dealing with how we use our money as a spiritual matter. Jesus himself knew that well.  In the gospels alone, he talks about money more than about any other subject—more than 36 times.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I simply want to share with you about what our pledge means to Jeannie and to me as only one example. You will have your own story to tell. This is what seems to work for us:  We have always tried to make a pledge that is a meaningful proportion of our income. In making our pledge to the church, not only is that pledge where our heart is but we also find that in turn, our heart follows where our money goes. Our current pledge is about 11% of my cash salary not counting benefits. It is a joy for us to make a pledge to St. Mary’s. It comes out of our gratitude for what the church has always meant to Jeannie and to me, in good times and in difficult times.  And then recently, we have had an interesting experience that gives us some further insight into what Jesus has said.  We have made a pledge to the campaign at Virginia Seminary to build the new Chapel for the Ages to replace the seminary chapel destroyed by fire in October of 2010.  Our pledge is to be paid over five years.  Every month we feel it when the long arm of the seminary reaches automatically into our bank account.  I can tell you that every time now we are in the northern Virginia area, we stop by VTS to see the progress of that new chapel. There’s also a videocam on the VTS website where you can check progress 24-7 on our computer.  Do I check it daily? You bet!  We have discovered once again that Jesus was on to something when he said that where our treasure is going, so goes our hearts as well!  It’s a joy to see that new chapel rise from the ashes.  It is a joy to be part of that and we sure want to see where our money is going! The evidence is conclusive that God wants you and me to experience joy in our giving.

And so, some questions for you and me to ponder as we think about returning thanks to God through our pledge for this coming year to the mission and ministry of St. Mary’s Church:

Have you and I thought—seriously thought—about why we give, and why we make our gift in the form of a pledge to St. Mary’s Church?

What does St. Mary’s mean to you and to me? How, for example, has St. Mary’s improved the quality of your life, the quality of my life?  Has St. Mary’s been there for you and for me at a time in our lives that made a difference, either during a celebration or during a tough time or crisis?  Has St. Mary’s been there for us in ways in which other places where we put our money may not have been there for us simply because the church provides things we cannot receive elsewhere?  Then follows the question, “How can I do my part with my generous gift to empower St. Mary’s not just to survive but to thrive and move forward?”

Do you and I find joy in making my gift to St. Mary’s? When you and I give out of an abundance of gratitude, it will feel right and good. When you and I give cheerfully and until it feels good, there is joy to be had. I think you and I know the difference.

There’s something else. When our giving is a generous and joyful act we also find that we become more engaged in the life and ministry of the parish. That engagement of each of us in turn brings increased vitality to our common life for when the church is doing what Christ is calling us to do, we will not have money issues because you and I will give generously.  If we love the Lord and if we believe that our lives are changed for the better here at St. Mary’s the money we give and our engagement in the life of the parish will serve to strengthen our common life as we strive to be about Christ’s mission in this part of his vineyard.  And the good news, folks, is that there is plenty of money out in these here woods.  It’s all in our wallets, yours and mine, waiting to be offered joyfully in support of the mission and ministry of St. Mary’s Church.

You and I have been given a gift. As recipients of this gift of St. Mary’s to us, what is our grateful response then to be? May your giving and my giving come forth, not reluctantly or under compulsion, but with gratitude in our hearts, for God loves a cheerful giver. And now,

A world in need now summons us to labor, love and give;
to make our life an offering to God that all may live;
the church of Christ is calling us to make the dream come true;
a world redeemed by Christ-like love; all life in Christ made new.

As we profess our faith in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and giver of life, let us stand and say together the words of the Nicene Creed…