Preacher: Sterling Stiff
It seems appropriate that in this last week of the Stewardship Drive, we hear of treasury and giving in the gospel of Mark: the story of those giving large sums to the treasury and then a poor widow giving nothing short of pennies. Jesus tells his disciples, “This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
As I prepared for this sermon it had me thinking a lot about why one gives? Everyone has the ability to give and choose what they give, but the question I have, “What is it that one gets back from giving?”
Let me share a little bit of my background and my story of giving and how I have come to receive so much back. I grew up a “cradle Episcopalian,” which to me means I grew up in a household in which Episcopalian was practiced. Growing up in Texas I was baptized in an Episcopal church, I attended Episcopal churches my whole youth, went to Episcopal schools, served as an acolyte until I left for college. My wife Ellena and I were married in an Episcopal church. My parents and sister ensured that I grew up with a strong Christian background and faith and to my good luck it happened to be an all-Episcopalian experience, from high church experience of incense and chanting to the wonderful intellectual stimulation and community that we have all benefited from here at Epiphany.
Now back then I was not aware of how much my parents and sister were giving of their time, talent, and treasure. My Dad was a lay reader, on the Alter Guild, a Lay Eucharistic Visitor, and served on the board of the church. My mom was in the choir and my sister—my cohort in the pews—was always involved in church trips and youth activities. This all seemed normal to me as a youngster and even as an adult. Why did they do all this? To ensure their children were brought up as good Christians? Because they enjoyed the community and involvement? For tradition? Or just a basic desire for unity?
I think we can all ask ourselves why we attend church and specifically why we attend Epiphany. Whether you are a newcomer, whether you have been attending for the past several years or have been attending your entire life here in the community, you should ask yourself: “Why do you choose to attend Epiphany?”
All of us are participating in something special and we are all giving in some way, but also need to ask yourselves: “What are we getting back? “
I can tell you not only why I chose Epiphany but also why I choose to give and the amazing power and examples of getting back. Several years ago, Ellena and I were searching for an Episcopal church at which to become members. For many years we had been wanting to start a family and decided that we needed to surround ourselves with other families to whom we could relate in the context of strong Christian faith and church community. Our search took us to several churches over the course of several months. But when we walked into Epiphany, we were warmly greeted by the smiling ushers. We related to the overall service and cadence of the traditions of the Book of Common Prayer. We appreciated the moving and thought-provoking sermon. And we enjoyed warm welcomes from Doyt, Kate, and many parishioners. We were hooked and immediately started volunteering to get involved and engaged with the Epiphany community. Over the past 3+ years, we have attended minyans, donated in the Thanksgiving Drive, attended Parkshore as Eucharistic Visitors, volunteered as ushers, and spent time outside of church with other parishioners. We both joined small groups and an Epiphany +TABLE dinner group. Last year I signed up to support the Stewardship Committee, which led to me now being a co-chair with Brad Neary who has provided much guidance and support.
Now I thought, if I can get involved in similar ways to what my parents did when I was growing up, maybe the Lord would show us the way and direct us to answers and next steps in our lives. For those that know Ellena and me, the last few years have been wildly challenging and wildly rewarding. Early on we went to Doyt and Kate to share our goal and aspirations for starting a family and wanting to be a part of something special at Epiphany. Along the way we struggled with personal losses, and Doyt, Kate, and others surrounded us with love, compassion, and support during this time. The prayers and support were flowing in. Speaking of family, my hope was that my Dad would be here today to witness me giving back in the way he taught me, but recently he was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer. The one person who helped raise me to be who I am today now needs support in this most difficult time. We have an amazing prayer system here and a beautiful prayer was written and shared with my father, which helped give him the strength to battle the cancer. Let me tell you that our prayers were answered. Last week my dad informed me the treatments had removed the cancerous tumor, and he is on the road to full recovery.
To share even more good news, just over a month ago we welcomed our son Matias into the world. His name means “gift of God,” and we are so blessed to have him grow up at Epiphany and also be a cradle Episcopalian. The support from church—the meals, the cards, and interest—have been amazing. I never could have imagined how much support and love the church would provide to my family.
What we get back from Epiphany is so nourishing, but none of these experiences would have happened without participation and a strong Christian foundation. Those take work, involvement, and community. Every business, foundation, or even sports teams have a mission. Every business strives to provide an exceptional product. Every foundation strives to provide a service that gives back to the community. And every sports team sets out to compete and provide an entertaining game. Each take work and resources, people and funding. Our church is no different. If we did not attend services and get involved, we would not be around others that share our common interests and not have thoughtful discussions. Friendships would not be built, and the opportunities to volunteer would not be as prevalent. Giving to the church provides a sense of unity, sense of peace, sense of acceptance, and comfort with Christ and community. All of this allows us to grow and give to others who can share and benefit in their own ways. I thank Epiphany, the staff, my relationships with parishioners, and I thank all of you for allowing me to speak to you today.
I now close by asking you to think about what you can give and how it will nourish you. And I also ask you to participate with not only your time, but during this stewardship season, I ask specifically that all of you pledge to the Annual Campaign. We are striving for 100 percent participation, which means that we want everyone to pledge something. As a reminder to those that have not pledged yet, next week is our INGATHERING service when we will present our pledges at the altar. You can also easily pledge online.
As we heard in the Gospel passage, it’s not about how much you give but that you give what you can. Please choose to give, and you also will be nourished by the wonderful spirit and community of Epiphany.