When you go to stewardship conferences they always tell the clergy they should tell their stewardship story to their congregations. And I am not sure I have ever done that – so I want to share with you just a small part of my stewardship story today because it relates to our Gospel lesson for today. So I am going to tell you about only one year – 1991. It starts like this:
I was so broke when I started pledging to the church. To be truthful, I only started pledging because my rector out and out asked me. I was just out of college. I was a waitress and living in Salt Lake City, Utah. I am not sure how much I was making at the time but not a whole lot. I ate a lot of rice and pasta back then – but that’s about all I cook so that worked out quite well. I was biding time between graduating from college and going to seminary. I was 22 years old, and all my expenses were pretty straightforward – I had rent to pay $250 a month, my car payment was $198 per month, my parents thank the Lord were paying my car insurance, I was paying my health and dental costs out of pocket because I had one of those terrible health insurance policies, thank the Lord again my parents were paying for that, but had like a $5,000 deductible which I never reached, again thank goodness.
So when my rector asked me to meet with him, to talk about pledging I was mortified. So I met him and I found out I was going to be one of the anchors of the campaign – and the campaign was called “The Pony Express Commitment”. I actually looked it up in preparation for this sermon and saw that you can still purchase the materials online. Talk to me later if you are interested. It was this kitschy stewardship campaign that was based around the congregation being broken up into 10 groups. Each group had an anchor – the one to start the chain off. I was handed this cardboard thing that was meant to resemble a saddlebag of the old west. To be honest, the saddlebag looked like something that might have come from a “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” Extension Pack. I was then told that I would be the first pledger and then I would deliver the saddlebag to the next person on the list and then they would pledge and then they would hand it on to the next person, and on and on and on. So I was embarrassed – not so much because of the tacky saddlebag, but because, as I told my rector, I didn’t really have very much money. I am sure my face got really hot and red. Being raised in New England money was and remains a taboo subject. And he said, “well, then take money out of the plate when it comes around if you need it.” I’m still not sure if he meant it. But I decided, even though I was broke, I could probably spare $5 a week. Or at least I would see if I could. [I was curious how much that was in today’s money – it’s about $8.80 now.] So I wrote my check for $5.00 each week.
And so when I think of my pledging story, that’s the genesis of it. I still don’t like talking about money. My face may even be turning red right now. But what pledging did for me was this – you know when you are a teenager and you live at home and your parents say to you “you are treating this place like a hotel” – which doesn’t make much sense really if you think about the analogy because you are not even paying to stay there, but anyway, pledging helped turn my church from a hotel to a home. I turned from a visitor to a stake holder. I became one of the people who helped keep the lights on. It felt good – even grown-uppy. It made me an adult in the church. I know confirmation is meant to do that – but, personally, pledging really is what did it for me. It made me vested in the direction of the church, the maintenance, and the life.
The other added bonus was that I also did not have to make any choices on Sunday morning about how much I was going to put in the plate. It was decided.
This reading for this Sunday is a curious one. Jesus in the words of the King James Version of the bible says “Render therefore unto Caesar’s the things that are Caesar’s, and render therefore unto God the things that are God’s”. And it can give us a sense that the world – particularly money should play no part in our worshipping life. But the thing is that when Jesus said that he was talking to an oppressed people. People who really did not have any choice in the matter who really did need to pay taxes to the Roman Empire or pay a heavy price. And on top of that the authorities who were asking that question were primarily trying to trick Jesus and find ways to get Jesus in trouble.
But the message for us in this lesson is that we are God’s. We are God’s people, and all that we have and all that we are, and all that we love and cherish is part of one big abundant gift from God. And so when we pledge to the church, or make an estimate of our giving, or set aside money to support the work of the church, it is a way of giving back to God in gratitude for all we have.
I give to the church because I realized from that pivotal moment in my young adult life that that is what I was meant and needed to do. Now I give because I feel blessed that I am able to contribute to the life of work of this church. And just like St. James in Sandy, Utah, back in 1991 – when St James ceased to be my spiritual hotel and became my spiritual home, St. Michael’s is now my spiritual home and I am grateful to be able to contribute to all the wonderful things that it does on Sunday and on all the other days of the week.