|My unreasonably large Christmas tree: a strategy of hope.|
O Lord, arise, help us; and deliver us for thy name’s sake.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I see many familiar faces here, and I think most of you know me, but for those who don’t, my name is Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, and I serve on Bishop Jennifer’s staff as Canon to the Ordinary for Administration and Evangelism. It’s my privilege to be with you again for your Consecration Weekend celebration this Consecration Sunday eve. Thank you to the whole Consecration Sunday team, and especially Kelly Nickson, for the invitation, and for your leadership.
Earlier this year, early enough that it was in the “before time,” I was flipping through the Book of Common Prayer, as one does sometimes, and came across a devotion I had never seen before.
It’s called “The Supplication,” and it’s tacked onto the end of the Great Litany, on page 154, if you have a prayer book at hand.
The instructions at the beginning of the service describe it as especially appropriate for "times of war, or national anxiety, or of disaster."
I began incorporating it in my personal prayer life as a way of praying for the country, for an end to its toxic politics that have divided and continue to divide our nation, our communities, even sometimes our families.
It wasn’t long before the prayer became a lot more relevant than I could ever have imagined.
O Lord, arise, HELP US; and deliver us for thy name’s sake.
Here we are in Advent, this quiet season of expectation. Now you all know Episcopalians sometimes get funny about Advent. We'll say it’s about contemplation, or preparation, or waiting, or that it’s a bit penitential – sort of a Lent Jr., the time of year John the Baptist calls people a brood of vipers and says other impolite things that make us uncomfortable.
But whatever Advent is, it is definitely NOT CHRISTMAS.
I’m going to tell you a secret, though. This year, the weekend before Thanksgiving, we bought the biggest Christmas tree we could fit in our house. It’s 9 feet tall and we’ve had to put rocks in the tree stand to keep it from falling over. My husband strung it with 1,400 lights.
In her magnificent book, Advent: the Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, Fleming Rutledge writes about how Christians need to have “strategies of hope” to proclaim Christ in a suffering world.
Having an unreasonably large Christmas tree is one of my strategies for not allowing my faith in the power and promise of Jesus Christ to arise, to help us, to be overcome by the gloom and grief of this fearful winter.
Surely you have your own strategies of hope – I hope you do. Feel free to share them with one another in the chat.
This gathering, this Consecration Sunday-eve Saturday Night Live, is another strategy of hope.
Literally no one knows how to do a pledge campaign during a pandemic, and this year a lot of churches just aren’t putting that much energy into it. But you, St. Timothy’s, have determined that neither pandemic nor recession will deter you from this essential task of discipleship: of growing in generosity as you grow in your faith.
I call this an essential task not just because of the need to pay salaries and the Zoom subscription and maintain the building you will one day return to, though these are indeed good things. No, this annual ritual of communally renewing your financial commitment to the work God is doing among the people of St. Timothy’s is an opportunity to examine your lives and your hearts and put some things right.
You see, one of the reasons people get squirrely about money is that it is one objective way of measuring the choices we have before us and the choices we have made. Money influences the home you live in and the car you drive.
Look at your financial life and you’ll probably see some things you’re proud of and grateful for: the way you care for your children or an elderly family member, your education, the mortgage that allows you to be in a home you love, giving to a cause you care passionately for.
But you might also find things you’re less proud of, a trail of transactions linked to some vice or addiction, the burden of debt from a past emergency, or frivolous purchases you now regret.
Your finances aren’t the story of your life, but they’re a story of your life. What story do they tell about your faith? Where does God rank when you look at your bank statement?
The biblical standard for giving is 10% of your income. That’s simultaneously kind of a lot but also kind of not. Certainly it’s big enough, though, that if you’re tithing, you’ll notice. And there’s a reason for that.
Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, your money leads your heart, not the other way around. Giving is a strategy of hope.
"A voice cries out: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'"
Generous giving is a way to pave that highway, by giving away some of our choices, and handing them over to God. Giving is an invitation to God to smooth out the rough places in your heart and your life.
Tomorrow you will make your commitments together, even if distantly. Some of you will come to the drive-in pilgrimage. Some of you will receive visitors. And some of you will use mail or email to make your commitment.
I invite you to pray about what commitment you will make tonight. Generosity is rarely a cause for regret. Even if you’re not ready to give 10% today, think about what percentage of your income you’re giving today, and consider whether you can grow a step in gratitude, faith, and hope.
And hope indeed is coming. 2020 will end in a few weeks. This pandemic will one day end, even though we don’t know the day.
Consider too, that the first babies conceived in lockdown are now being born. New life amid the devastation of this year.
And soon we will celebrate the birth of another baby, the one who has saved us and is saving us still, and who we believe will come again. We do not know when that day will come either, but it will come.
Christ will arise. Christ will help us. Christ will deliver us safely home.
Sermon preached at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, Indianapolis (via Zoom) - December 5, 2020.
Readings: Is. 40:1-11; Ps. 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Pet. 3:8-15a; Mk. 1:1-8