October 9th 2011 -- 17th Sunday after Pentecost -- Anne-Marie Jeffery

posted Oct 9, 2011, 6:05 PM by ajeffery@stmargaretsdc.org   [ updated Oct 9, 2011, 6:05 PM by Terry Brady ]

The Ordering of our Loves                                                                   Anne-Marie Jeffery

Exodus 32:1-14                                                                                               October 9, 2011

When I was 12, I remember a time when I had a crush on someone and would spend a lot of time day dreaming about going off into the sunset with that person.  There was just one problem … well but there were many problems including that the person had no idea about how I felt, and that I was 12. However, the problem that I just couldn’t get over was that my father was travelling and had promised he would bring me roller skates. I couldn’t go anywhere until he came back with them.  Clearly the love of my life had some serious competition.

The ordering of the loves is something we work on most of our lives. It is a challenging task as we juggle work, family, friends, money and our desire for material things. As Christians, we include God in that order and the question we ask is how we put love of God first in our lives?  It is a difficult question answering this “how” and our answers are as individual as we are. For me, loving God means being in relationship with God and working to keep that relationship first in my life.   

In our Old Testament Lesson, the Israelites are working on their relationship with God. They have had to put great trust in God.  After all, it is God who has called them out of Egypt to wander in the desert to go to the Promised Land.  Thankfully they have had Moses as a leader who has helped them with their relationship with God, who has brought messages from God and who has intervened on their behalf, but now he has gone – disappeared up the mountain.  They are having a hard time trusting in the presence and   love of God.   Where is this God anyway?   They need something tangible and they pressure Aaron to give them something to hold on to. He asks for their jewelry and makes them a golden calf to worship.   

These days our need for something tangible is different and yet very much the same.   I don’t think you would be at all impressed if I asked you to bring your gold to church and made a golden calf for you.   That wouldn’t do it for us, but we find those tangible things of the world to turn to when it seems God is too far away, too mysterious or unavailable to depend on.   

One of the things many of us turn to is money. I know I start to feel more secure when my saving account grows. The truth is that most of us are dependent on money.  Money keeps a roof over our heads and food on the table and that is important. The trouble happens when money becomes our be all and end all and we forget where our true strength and security is. We forget that the things of this world will pass away.   Our bodies change and the strength we had at 18 is no longer there.  The business suit we loved so much gets small or a little out of style and we bring it to the rummage sale.  As Sam Lloyd, the former dean of the National Cathedral said in a workshop, when we die, we have to give it all away.   We can’t take our money with us.   

Part of our work as Christians is to learn to give our money away and to hold that need for material things more loosely so that nothing gets in the way of our relationship with God.   This means that as a church community along with teaching about prayer, study, participating in worship and the sacraments, and standing up for justice and respecting the other, we teach about giving away our money.   Jesus spent a lot of time talking about money. Giving away our money is a spiritual practice because how we take care of our money affects our relationship with God. Giving our money away helps us to learn to trust in God, to trust in something beyond ourselves.   

In the church, we teach that a tithe – 10% of our income – is the traditional Christian response to giving.  The tithe is too little for some, and too much for others.  Like other spiritual disciplines, getting to a tithe takes time. You wouldn’t expect to have the deepest, most mature prayer life right away. You would expect to develop it over time – learning about the different types of prayer, observing the practices of others and being discovering the prayer practice that brings you closer to God. In the same way, our giving develops over time and happens with practice. Our call is to practice and give something - whether it is 1%, 5%, or 10%.

How much we give is a discussion we have with God and notice I’m not saying to give only to the church. We are called to give away some of our financial resources and that can be to the church or elsewhere.  However, the former dean also said, “Our best dollars go to urgent mission. The church is a good place to give your money and that to give to the church is to give twice. Church not only does mission, but teaches people to be grateful and generous.” Giving is part of our spiritual life together. I’m surprised it doesn’t say something about it in our baptismal vows.  Perhaps it is included in that first promise which mentions continuing in the apostles’ teaching.  As the community of St. Margaret’s we mention giving in our mission statement in the last sentence - We give thanks for God's many blessings and pledge to share our gifts.   Giving of our money is part of growing our relationship with God and our life together as a community of faith. 

This morning, Jacob Lewis, brother of Vivian, officially joins our community of St. Margaret’s and the Body of Christ today in his baptism – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace that has already begun.  He will be marked as Christ own forever. We will teach him how to pray, how to worship, how to study, how to turn to God again and again, how to respect and fight for his fellow human beings and we will also teach him how to give because all of these things are part of the Christian life and part of how we are in relationship with God.  

As we approach Consecration Sunday, where you will decide what you will give next year to the work of this community, pray.  Just as you may ask God to help you have stronger faith, ask God to be with you in your decision to give so that your giving is a response to God’s love and your love for God.    Pray that we all order our loves so that our relationship with God  is first in our lives that we may truly be God’s people who help to bring God’s generosity into this world.