The Rev. Joshua Rodriguez-Hobbs
The Rev. Joshua Rodriguez-Hobbs
Confession time: this is my first stewardship sermon, and I am terrified that it is going to sound like an NPR membership drive.
I don’t know if you listen to WYPR, our local NPR station, but this past week was their fall membership campaign. As luck would have it, I spent a lot of time in the car this week, so I got to hear a lot about this membership campaign. It seemed like every few minutes they would cut away from the program I was actually listening to and tell me that for a pledge of just $5 a month, I could be the proud owner of an NPR phone charger. It was maddening. I’m halfway convinced that public radio and television fund raise in this way so that people like me will get frustrated and make a pledge just to end the campaign. I hope you don’t feel this way about our Walking the Way stewardship campaign, so let’s get back to our regularly scheduled Gospel lesson.
What a Gospel lesson this is! For the past few weeks now, we’ve been heard how the Pharisees and the Herodians and the Sadducees have been asking Jesus trick questions, hoping to trip him up. Today, we’re hearing the final exchange in this series of questions and answers, and Jesus knocks it out of the park with his answer.
One of the Pharisees, an expert in the Law, asks Jesus to name the greatest of the six hundred and thirteen commandments in the Law of Moses, and Jesus responds with what is unquestionably the best possible answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” What makes this answer so great is that it’s an excerpt from the Shema, the central passage of the Torah. The Shema is found in the book of Deuteronomy, and its name comes from the first words of the passage in Hebrew: sh’ma Yis’ra’eil…
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep this words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign upon your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
This is the first passage of Torah that Jesus, and the Pharisees, and all Jewish children learned. The Pharisees began the custom of reciting it twice a day, as the first words they spoke in the morning and the last words they spoke at night. If you visit the home of a Jewish friend, you might notice a mezuzah, a small box on their doorframe with this passage of Torah written on a piece of paper inside it. This is a passage that expresses a central truth of what it means to follow God: there is only one God, the Lord of heaven and earth and all things in them, who has chosen a people as God’s own to love and serve God.
Jesus’ response to this expert in the Law’s question is so simple that any child could have given it. But it’s also an answer that we spend our entire lives figuring out what it really means to love God with all that we are and all that God has given us.
That brings us back to stewardship. Loving God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our ind is going to impact how we use our money. I know, this isn’t the fun part of the sermon. But it’s important, and that’s why I don’t what this sermon to sound like an NPR pledge drive. Making a pledge of your time, talent, and treasure should not be something that you do so that we will stop our stewardship campaign early, and Arianne and I will stop preaching about money. Yes, your pledge is important because it supports the life and mission of this community. It allows us to pay the bills and keep the lights on. The time and money you donate allows us to serve people who are in need through outreach ministries like Neighbor to Neighbor, Our Daily Bread, and Loves and Fishes. It allows us to provide quality programs for our children and teenagers. It provides for the upkeep of this beautiful blessing that we have been blessed with. But more than all of this, what you pledge to the church is the best possible barometer of where God is in your priorities.
I didn’t always think this way. When I sent to seminary, I was not a pledging member of St. Christopher’s Church in Lubbock, TX, the congregation that sponsored me for ordination. I told myself that I was just out of college, I was about to go to seminary, and that I would start pledging when I got a “real” job. And besides, I gave to the church. Each Sunday, I would dig around in my wallet and put a few bills, generally the smallest, in the collection plate. Now, in seminary, I had to do an internship in a local church, and as luck would have it, almost as soon as I started there, they began their fall stewardship campaign. And this campaign was all about how making a pledge to the church was not about meeting an obligation that we had to God. Instead, the act of making a pledge was our grateful response for the blessings that God had given us through our parish family. Now, every month while I was in seminary, I got a check from St. Christopher’s, and there were some months when that check was the only thing that allowed me to make ends meet. I didn’t pledge to the church, and yet they were supporting me with their prayers and their finances. In response, I wasn’t showing any gratitude to them, or to God, who had placed them in my life to be a blessing. So, that year, I wrote my first pledge.
I would be lying if I told you that it was easy to make that first commitment. It wasn’t a big pledge, but for me at the time it represented a sacrificial amount of giving. And I would be lying if I told you that it was easy this year to meet the vestry’s challenge to raise my own pledge to Good Shepherd by five percent. It’s never easy to do that. But it’s important. It’s a way of expressing the profound gratitude that I have for being a part of this parish community. It’s also a way of loving God with all that I am and all that God has given me.
So, as we continue to talk about walking the way with Jesus in the coming weeks, I invite you to spend time in prayer, asking yourself how your pledge of time, talent, and treasure reflects where God is in your priorities. Ask yourself is that is where you want God to be. Ask yourself how you can best love the Lord your God will all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Amen.