I think there’s a reason that church stewardship campaigns generally begin in October. It’s because our lectionary readings this time of year are so amenable to talking about money.
That’s particularly true for the gospel lesson appointed for the 21stSunday after Pentecost in Year B – which is the lesson we would have heard this past Sunday had we not been celebrating 1968 Throwback Sunday. The gospel lesson we heard on Sunday (Matthew 22:1-xx) wasn’t at all about money, it was about an underdressed wedding guest and the terrible fate that befell him. And troubling as that particular lesson is to nearly everyone, I don’t think it bothers us nearly as much as the lesson we didn’t hear, Mark 10: 17-31.
It’s sometimes called the story of the rich, young ruler, and it’s found in all three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. That’s the one where the man comes running up to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. He has, he says, kept all the commandments since his youth. Jesus says he just needs to do one more thing: “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The man went away grieving, because he had many possessions, and it’s clear he didn’t much want to part with them.
All of which leads Jesus to conclude, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” and he enigmatically compares it to a camel passing through the eye of a needle.
I confess, it didn’t break my heart not to be asked to preach on this particular passage. I don’t enjoy this story any more than anyone else does. I don’t like being reminded of how far I fall short of the gospel mandate, and how much I have in common with the rich, young ruler, even if I’m not rich, or young, or ruler of anything.
Still, it’s good for us, as individuals and as a community, to be reminded of this from time to time, particularly as we are asked to take stock of our own needs and resources, and what our obligation is to the church, to our community, and to the world.
Here at St. James, we aren’t actually starting our annual stewardship campaign until the last Sunday of October. Sadly, we won’t be having a visitation from John Travolta again this year (though you can watch that memorable performance from last year here). But we will be distributing stewardship campaign materials, and challenging each of you to step up and give from the first fruits of your labor, not merely sharing from what’s left after other bills are paid.
Had we not had Throwback Sunday last week, and discussed the importance of appropriate attire for the wedding, the sermon would have been a precursor to this. It would be a way of softening you up to be receptive to this, to start letting you marinate in stewardship-friendly scripture. As it is, we’ll just have to start that marinating process this way, in Gleanings.
One way or the other, it’s all about getting ready for the banquet.