SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV’D ALLAN B. WARREN III AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT,
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2011, THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

The Stewardship Campaign here at the Church of the Advent begins today, and so this is the Sunday when I am directed by the Stewardship Committee to talk about money.  As you know well, I always do as I am told; the topic of this sermon, then, will be money.

I want to approach it under three headings: 1) our financial procedures at the Advent, 2) the Advent’s budget and expenses, 3) the spiritual implications of money.

I am very proud to be able to use two words to describe the financial procedures in the Parish, and they are these: open and transparent.  The budget, the receipts and the expenses of the Advent are published every year in the report made at the Annual Meeting.  They are there for every member of the Parish to inspect and consider.  Moreover, anyone who attends this church may ask questions.  Our Treasurer, Thatcher Gearhart; our Assistant Treasurer, Adam Rutledge; Jason Grant and the members of the Stewardship Committee will be happy to answer your questions about finances, and if they don’t know the answer they will find it for you.  We try our best to be completely open and transparent about money – money received and money spent.

I emphasize this, because it was not always the case.  There was a time when financial matters at the Advent were a secret known only to a few.  Even the assisting clergy were prevented from knowing all the details of receipts and expenditures.  In my estimation, that was an horrific and unhealthy situation.  A Church’s affairs should never be secret.  That parishioners should pledge and give and then not be told how their funds are spent is, again, horrific and unhealthy, and I am very happy to say that this arrangement has been over for a long time.  We endeavor now to be as open and transparent as we can be about our finances, and I think we do a pretty good job at it.

With that goal in mind, let me point out, as I have many times in the past, how our expenses are divided up.  It is very important that parishioners who pledge or are contemplating making a pledge understand this.

As all of you know, we are very fortunate to have a substantial endowment at the Advent.  Parishioners, for whom this Parish was an important, even life-saving, spiritual home during their lives have, over the years, remembered the Advent in their wills, and we, the living, benefit from and should be thankful for the generosity of the dead and should be thankful for this as well.  We should be thankful, because, in fact, the endowment allows us to be here.  Income from the endowment covers those expenses over which we have absolutely no control.  Repair, maintenance, heat, light, office expenses, diocesan obligations, accounting and bookkeeping – those things necessary for a church simply to exist are paid for by the income from the endowment.  Everything else depends upon what the active members of the Parish pledge and give. Everything else: our programs, our ministry, what we do here – clergy, music, worship, education, outreach and mission – all these things depend upon what parishioners pledge and give.

In one sense, we rely on our endowment, because it enables us to keep the doors open and the lights on.  In another sense, we do not rely on our endowment, because what happens inside when the doors are open and the lights are on depends upon the active giving and pledging of those who worship here.  To be a church and to do those things which God calls His church to do, we rely on ourselves.  That is to say, we, who are embers of the Advent, rely on one another to support our common life. 

So.  Here we are.  Two down.  One to go: the spiritual implications of money.  And the words I would use in this regard are “danger,” “dangerous.”  Money is very, very dangerous.  To have too little of it is dangerous.  That’s no surprise.  To have too much of it is dangerous as well, and, strangely enough, to have just enough of it is not without its perils.

Money is dangerous.  I doubt that I have to argue this point too strongly, for the evidence is all around us.  The fear and the obsession of the whole world for the past few years have made it pretty clear that when money and financial affairs get confused and awry and out of control – motivated mainly by self-interest and greed – the result is nothing but pain and destruction for individuals and whole communities. 

Money is dangerous.  It can be addictive.  J. P. Morgan, who had quite a lot, declared – famously – that you never ever have enough.  It can make people lose their minds, and – worse than that – it can make people lose their souls.  It can destroy families. It can wreck relationships.  It can set people and nations at odds with one another, sometimes violently at odds with one another. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Money is capable of making possible great, great good.  Money powerful and that is why it is capable of great good, but that is also why it is dangerous.  Money is powerful, and that is why when it is not handled correctly and honestly it is capable of great, great evil. 

A priest I worked with some years ago used to tell me that when he had preached on money in the past there were occasional objections.  People told him they wanted to hear something spiritual.  “Well,” he said, “what I told them was this: ‘the most spiritual thing you do is what you do with your money.’”  The most spiritual thing you do is what you do with your money.  He was absolutely right.  Money cannot be apart from your spiritual discipline.  It must indeed be a part, an essential part of your spiritual discipline.  The life of the spirit is concerned with all of human life.  Every aspect of your life and every aspect of mine.  Money is a very important part of our lives.  In fact, it touches almost every aspect of our lives, and it must be a part of our spiritual lives as well. 

And that is why I ask members of the Parish to make a pledge.  Not simply because we need to know how much to expect in a given year and to plan accordingly, though that is quite important for the well-being of a parish.  But more important is this: a pledge is a commitment.  A pledge is a commitment, and commitment is the one thing upon which the whole of the spiritual life depends.  Let me say that again.  Commitment is the one thing upon which the whole of the spiritual life depends.  Without commitment there is no Christian spiritual life. 

That’s how the spiritual life of a Christian begins, isn’t it?  Baptism.  A person commits himself/herself to Christ as their Savior and to the pattern of the Christian life as the path their lives will follow.  Parents and godparents commit themselves to see to it a child is brought up to know Christ and the life which is formed by his love.  The spiritual life begins with commitment, and it grows day by day and year by year with renewed commitment.  To make a pledge is to commit yourself to a discipline of giving as a part of your spiritual life.  It is to acknowledge in fact and by action that all comes from God, and it is to take upon yourself a discipline, a regular commitment to return to God a part of what God has given to you. 

I know that when I say what I am about to say, the Stewardship Committee, the Officers, and the Vestry will cringe and think unkind thoughts, but I’m going to say it anyway.  I could qualify it, but why be wishy-washy?  And here it is.  If at the end of the 2012 Campaign, the amount of money pledged decreased from that of last year, but the number of pledges – particularly new pledges – increased, then I would consider it a very successful campaign.  Very successful, because it would mean that more people were taking commitment seriously, and that more people were making giving and returning to God a disciplined part of their spiritual lives.

That’s enough from me.  Let’s end by listening to Jesus.  This is from St Luke’s Gospel and it is a promise from the Lord which fulfills itself in many ways:

Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.  (Luke 6:38)