Sermon delivered October 19, 2008.
A woman who was shopping took a break for some coffee and cookies. She sat in the one unoccupied chair across from a man reading a newspaper. She sipped her coffee and reached for a cookie only to see the man across from her also taking a cookie. She glared at him; he just smiled at her, and she resumed her reading. Moments later she reached for another cookie, just as the man also took one. Now feeling quite angry, she stared at the one remaining cookie-whereupon the man reached over, broke the cookie in half and offered her a piece. She grabbed it and stuffed it into her mouth, as the man smiled at her again, rose and left. The woman was really steaming as she angrily opened her purse, her coffee break now ruined, and put her magazine away. Then she looked down and saw her bag of cookies, still full. All along she'd unknowingly been helping herself to the cookies belonging to the gracious man whose table she'd shared.
Ask yourself a question, who am I more like in this story, the woman or the man? Am I happy to share of my possessions, even if I have not been asked? Or am I stingy and easily irritated when I'm asked to give or someone takes from what I perceive to be mine? We should ask ourselves, do we relate to the Church like the man or the woman? The woman thinks the cookies belong to her. In actuality they belong to the man. As I mentioned last week, if we have an ownership mentality towards our possessions, then we might get a little upset when someone asks us for them or takes them from us. However, if we have a stewardship mentality, we will see our possessions as gifts to be shared with others through the Church.
The brief gospel passage from this past Tuesday, of the 4th Week of Luke 8:1-3 gives us insight into this dynamic. "1Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, 2and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities-Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, 3and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance." The 'He' referred to is Jesus Christ and we all know that His main activity on earth was preaching the Good News, teaching the commandments of God, and healing people of their physical and spiritual illnesses. On several occasions Jesus even raises the dead like in today's gospel passage (3rd Sun. Luke 7:11-16). We see here that the 'twelve' apostles, the closest and original disciples of Jesus are with Him as well as the three women who had been healed by Jesus. The passage concludes by saying these fifteen people and many others provided for Him from their substance. In other words, they supported Christ. That's an interesting statement because we often think that Jesus does not need any help because He is God.
Now, you have heard me say before that the Church, the ekklesia — those called by God to be His people, the Church, is the Body of Christ. This is not my own idea but the plain statement of the Apostle Paul (1 Cor.12:27). After Jesus' live-giving Death, Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, He sends the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost. For what purpose? So that the Apostles and all the people of God may continue the ministry of Christ as His living Body on earth. The Book of Acts recounts this early history of the Church where Peter and Paul and the other Apostles are preaching, teaching, healing and even raising people from the dead. In today's epistle reading, the 18th Sunday 1Cor.9:6-11, St. Paul is addressing the Church in Corinth and exhorting them to give to assist the poor and needy Christians in Jerusalem. He uses the example of the Church in Macedonia to inspire the Corinthians to give generously and cheerfully. So, one can see that the early Church was continuing to provide for Christ, in His Body-the Church, from their own substance.
Ask yourself another question, am I providing for Christ, in His Body-the Church from my own substance? Am I sowing the seeds of God's Word bountifully or sparingly? Am I giving cheerfully or am I giving reluctantly and grudgingly? Do I see my time, talents and treasures as cookies on a table, set out for anyone to share in and partake of? If so, God will "provide us with every blessing in abundance" (1Co.9:8). He will "multiply our seed for sowing and increase the harvest of our righteousness" (v.10). "We will be enriched in every way because of our great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God" (v.11). In other words, we will be thankful for the opportunity to give. In addition, those people who were able to benefit from the preaching, teaching, healing, missionary and benevolent ministry of the Church, will also be thankful to God for being helped.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.