We're asking people to return their commitments at any time, either by mail (with the commitment card sent out last week) or online. As many shocks as we've all endured this year, it may feel like a difficult time to be asking for annual pledges. But whatever the circumstance, it's always a good time to ask how our household decisions and commitments reflect our faith and our priorities. One thing Kerry made clear to me when we were first married is that we would give what felt to me like a fairly aggressive percentage of our income to church. I'll admit I was a little shocked at first, being a good Lutheran who did not want to justify himself by works of the Law, and who also wanted to spend more of our household budget. But she was absolutely right, and it's a practice that has shaped my faith ever since. Giving regularly, as a share of household income, is itself an act of discipleship that builds up our faith.
At the same time, however, the church has to be mindful that everyone's circumstances are different and there is no single standard for generosity. We can only give from what we have to give. But even the tiniest offering, made in faith and as a commitment to the work of the church, has the power to grow. That's why it's also important to remember what we, together, can do with the gifts God entrusts to us.
And throughout a difficult year, Christ Lutheran Church has continued to be generous with our partners and ministries. We've supported backpack drives and campus ministry, missionary work and sister churches nearby who have struggled during the downturn. We've brought on a new Youth and Family minister and avoided laying off anyone from the church or preschool staff, even as facilities and programs around us shed workers or closed their doors. This was all enabled by your continuing generosity. I thank God for that.
Now as we crest our anniversary year, we have both the responsibility and the opportunity to look ahead. As we strengthen old partnerships and build new ones, we'll be finding new ways to connect with our community beyond financial generosity. We have the awesome privilege of asking ourselves what this church can and should be for our neighborhood, our city, and the world. How can the Gospel be preached and celebrated for those who need to hear it? How can we put our skills, knowledge, and dedication to work in collaborative efforts to heal the fissures and wounds both within us and around us? How can we contribute to the vocal, visible presence of the Body of Christ in the world?
I don't have the answers to those questions. And even if I did, it wouldn't matter. Because they have to be our answers, just like the stewardship of this congregation has to be our gifts.
This week we hear a great and terrible story from Jesus, about prominent guests spurning an invitation from the King and the great unwashed masses being called in their place. Like every parable, it asks us to imagine our place in the story. Are we the King's servants? The heedless guests? The unexpected substitute guests? The person who neglects to put on a wedding garment?
It's a story about bad manners and violence that, when I hear it today, makes me think mostly about missed opportunities. About how many times I (and probably plenty of you) say "no" out of fear or distraction or boredom or simply by default. How many invitations go unreturned. How many possibilities never get explored. Underneath the severity of the threat in the story is, I think, a kernel of hope: this day, this moment, this year really matters. The choices we make in response to God's generosity, and God's calling on our lives, will matter forever. One of the psalms tells us "if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." That's maybe the most important piece of advice for us to remember each day. We talk at this time of year about giving and financial support. But stewardship goes far beyond that, into how we commit our time, how we live and act together, and how we turn ourselves toward God's future here and now.