11/24/2019: So Glad I Have an Ox

11/24/2019: So Glad I Have an Ox

Deuteronomy 26: 1-11;
John 6: 25-35
A Sermon by Reverend Gretchen Jones Switzer

When I first learned that Thanksgiving Sunday here at Federated is also Stewardship Sunday, I’ll be honest, I was puzzled. I am used to doing one thing on Thanksgiving Sunday – giving thanks to God for what we have, both materially and spiritually, singing traditional Thanksgiving hymns, saying Thanksgiving prayers.

Typically, I think of Stewardship Sunday as a day of giving, not receiving, of responding to what God has given us by being generous ourselves. I think of Stewardship Sunday as the morning when one or more of us gets up here and tells you why we need you to give to the church. We tell you why the church needs your financial support and then we close our eyes and hope there will be enough to help finance the next 12 months of ministry here in the Federated Church.

What is missing in this understanding of Thanksgiving and Stewardship, however, is the very core value of both. God. Both celebrating God’s gifts and sharing God’s gifts honor. One Thanksgiving season a family was seated around their table, looking at the annual holiday bird. from the oldest to the youngest, they were to express their praise. When they came to the 5-year-old in the family, he began by looking at the turkey and expressing his thanks to the turkey, saying although he had not tasted it, he knew it would be good. after that rather novel expression of thanksgiving, he began with a more predictable line of credits, thanking his mother for cooking the turkey and his father for buying the turkey. But then he went beyond that, he joined together a whole hidden multitude of benefactors, linking them with cause and effect.

He said, “I thank the checker at the grocery store who checked out the turkey, I thank the grocery store people who put it on the shelf, I thank the farmer who made it fat, and I thank the man who made the feed. I thank those who brought the turkey to the store.” Using his Columbo-like little mind, he traced the turkey all the way from its origin to his plate. and then at the end he solemnly said “did I leave anybody out?” 
His 2-year-older brother, embarrassed by all those proceedings, said, “God.” Solemnly and without being flustered at all, the 5-year-old said, “I was about to get to him.”

Well, isn’t that the question about which we ought to think? At Thanksgiving time? At stewardship time? What about God?

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus declares himself, “the bread of life.” Manna came from heaven to feed the hungry ancestors. You see, God provides for you and me whether we believe it or not and whether we deserve it or not; and whether we appreciate it or not! Which brings us back to Thanksgiving! We celebrate Thanksgiving for all God has made of us and all Christ has done for us, and how grateful we are for all of it…every bit, big or small! 

But stewardship is equally profound. If stewardship is seen as simply an exercise in giving enough money to support the church, then it is only about keeping the lights burning and the heat on, having bulletins on Sunday morning and paying Catherine and Jeanne, Andrew and me. If we think stewardship as “funding” the church, then we have entirely missed the point. yes, funding the church is imperative. yes, paying for staff and resources and heat and Sunday school curriculum is essential. However, that cannot be the only reason you and I give money to the church.

The deeper reason, that we don’t discuss very much, is that giving to the work of God through the church is an act of faith. It changes our perspective and helps us realize that being willing to give up, give away some of what we have, doesn’t just change the church, it changes us!!! When I make a conscious decision to have fewer resources for my own use, when I release a plan or a dream of my own in order to support god’s work, it changes me. Being generous makes me better and kinder and even more grateful. In turn, those things bring me more at peace, I am more filled with faith, more emotionally and spiritually invested in the life of the world and the Church.

Devoting something that is ours, to God, changes our hearts, gives us a sense purpose, makes us look at what we do have with a whole new sense of gratitude. So, in a sense, having Stewardship Sunday on Thanksgiving Sunday, is a pretty cool idea. We offer our gratitude to God and practice generosity all at once.
Let me end with this story I discovered this week: A rich business man and a prominent attorney were traveling around the world. They saw many impressive sights, but agreed that something they saw in Korea was most impressive of all.

“One morning as they walked along a country road in Korea, they saw a boy pulling a plow which was steered by an old man. It amused the attorney so much that he insisted on taking a picture of the scene with his little pocket camera. Later he showed the picture to a missionary in the next village, remarking about the peculiar spectacle.

“Yes,” said the missionary, “it seems a very strange way to plow a field, but I happen to know the boy and old man well. They are very poor. however, when the little church was built here in the village, they wanted to contribute something. they had no money. They had no grain to spare and winter was coming on, so they sold their ox and gave the money to the church building fund, and now, minus the valuable animal, they have to pull the plow

The men looked at each other for a moment, then the attorney said, “but what a stupendous sacrifice! why did you allow it?”

“They did not feel that way about it. They regarded it as a great joy that they had an ox to give.”— (the Sunday school friend). Amen.