Homily 227 – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 4, 2016
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Even though I trained as an accountant, and still work in finance during the week, one subject I tend to avoid is talking about giving to the Church.
St. Paul has no such reservations. He writes about it frequently, and pulls no punches in doing so, as he does this morning.
Yes, I talk about giving, and about loosening our attachment to our money. To remember that God provides everything for us, so that we can be generous to others.
We know from St. Paul’s writing that when he spoke of money, of support, he was not being selfish at all. He always considered it to be essential for salvation to the ones he was asking to give.
St. Paul had his critics, too. Same as today – people assumed that this was a way for Paul to simply enrich himself at their expense. This same Paul whose singular focus was preaching the Gospel, providing the path to salvation and healing to those in need.
The same Paul who, by his own account, had been on the run from the authorities, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, arrested, and imprisoned. Eventually executed.
Perhaps back then, as today, they did have those who were looking to enrich themselves. And people were leery of supporting financially those in the service of God.
Getting the faithful to support the work of God has always been tricky.
In Old Testament times, the offerings to the gods, not the one true God but the other so-called fertility gods, was pretty straightforward. You gave in order to receive.
A good harvest. A large family. Healthy livestock. Pleasant weather. Safety for a journey. Even things like love. If your offering – your gift – was good enough, the god accepted the gift and gave you what you desired. It was, we might say, transactional in nature – contractual, so to speak.
But then the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob revealed Himself as the One True God. And He offered a revolutionary idea.
He didn’t require offerings and gifts in order to give. He gave freely to everyone, even if they didn’t give to Him first. Sunshine and rain, life, death – all things were from Him, freely given.
The sacrifices He demanded were not for Him – but for us. These sacrifices ate into us, they hurt. They reminded us that while our God was generous, and loving, we were self-centered and stingy.
As so the “racket” of using God for personal gain ended. Except it didn’t.
In the days of Jesus, every Jew paid a tax to support the temple. Didn’t matter if you went to the Temple or not. Didn’t matter if you lived in Israel or not. If you were a Jew, you paid it.
This was the tax that the Pharisees questioned Peter about in Capernaum. Does your master pay the tax? And Jesus, at that point, said that sons do not pay tax. But also instructed Peter: Cast a hook, and find a coin, and pay the tax for both of them. Jesus gave us the example – give to the Temple voluntarily. Not out of obligation.
In later Christian times, the Church would be supported by taxes from the Government. In many countries, clergy are employees of the State, and parishes receive their support from the Government.
We, however, in the United States, have no such plan. No such support. We have a separation of Church and State, and the funds of the State cannot be used to support the Church.
Which brings us back to St. Paul. We give, not out of desire for something, but out of Thanksgiving of what God has already given us. We give, not to receive, but because God gave first. And yes, some of that giving should be directed to the Church.
St. Paul could ask for support, because he knew, and had demonstrated, that he lived modestly, and that excess – whatever that might be – would be given to those in need.
In his letter to Timothy, he outlined the requirements for an overseer, in Greek “episkopos”, or bishop. One of those requirements was “not a lover of money.”
Our clergy – including me – must not be lovers of money. But neither should they live in poverty.
Our Bishop, Alexander, sets a wonderful example. He wouldn’t send me here unless there was support. “You must have a living.” He said to me, repeatedly.
And the community responded. And I am here.
And I stand before you, my brothers and sisters, and say thankfully that I take nothing from the parish. I receive a housing allowance, which I happily return to the parish.
The only thing I receive from the parish is the joy of serving you, and seeing you increase in number, and increase in holiness, and see the manifestation of God in our midst.
But, God willing, I will not be the only priest or servant in this parish. Whoever succeeds me, will need support. The mortgage will need to be paid. The utilities will need to be paid.
In my prayers and dreams, my vision is one where freely given gifts are sufficient to support the clergy who serve, a stipend for the choir director, all the needed maintenance and improvements. Money for outreach. Growing the community of believers who worship and serve here.
Then, we don’t have to rent the parsonage for income, but can offer it to those in need, freely. Refugees, homeless, hungry, families escaping abuse.
We can have support for job training. Language training. Counseling. We can participate in the food bank, and the clothing bank. That, my brothers and sisters, is why we are in this community.
The worship is for us – the service is for our neighbors.
So today, hear the message of St. Paul. Offer your support for us, for our church, and for our community.
Not for me. Not even for you. But for our Lord, and God, and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be all glory, all honor, and all worship.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!