Old Testament: Joel (2:23-32)
O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame. Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.
The Response: Psalm 65
1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion; *
to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.
2 To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come, *
because of their transgressions.
3 Our sins are stronger than we are, *
but you will blot them out.
4 Happy are they whom you choose
and draw to your courts to dwell there! *
they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,
by the holiness of your temple.
5 Awesome things will you show us
in your righteousness,
O God of our salvation, *
O Hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the seas that are far away.
6 You make fast the mountains by your power; *
they are girded about with might.
7 You still the roaring of the seas, *
the roaring of their waves,
and the clamor of the peoples.
8 Those who dwell at the ends of the earth
will tremble at your marvelous signs; *
you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy.
9 You visit the earth and water it abundantly;
you make it very plenteous; *
the river of God is full of water.
10 You prepare the grain, *
for so you provide for the earth.
11 You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; *
with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.
12 You crown the year with your goodness, *
and your paths overflow with plenty.
13 May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, *
and the hills be clothed with joy.
14 May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,
and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; *
let them shout for joy and sing.
The Epistle: II Timothy (4:6-8, 16-18)
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The Gospel: Luke (18:9-14)
Jesus told his parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Just a few days ago, the sun was shining, and the temperature reached the low eighties. We had the doors and windows propped open in the Community Building so that we could take advantage of the cooling breezes. And when I went to the VA Medical Center to visit one of our parishioners, it was so warm that I had the air conditioner cranked up in my car.
Now suddenly, it’s autumn. There’s a definite chill in the morning air. The leaves are changing color. And in fields and orchards, the harvest has begun.
Autumn is a season of fullness: a time to marvel at the abundance that God provides for all of us. As we prayed just a few minutes ago in our psalm (65:12):
You crown the year with your goodness,
And your paths overflow with plenty.
This is a psalm for autumn.
But God’s plenty, God’s fullness, is not limited just to a single season. It blesses us and those around us every day. The question for us is not whether or not we are blessed, but only what we are going to do with the many blessings that we have received and continue to receive.
The parable told in today’s gospel presents us with two characters, or maybe two caricatures: a Pharisee and a tax collector. As those who participated in today’s Adult Forum session know, if we dig behind Luke’s attempt to interpret and to steer the parable into a lesson about humility, we find that the Pharisee – other than his comment about the tax collector – is not such a negative figure. He stands before God and spells out how he has responded to God’s many gifts. It’s not just bragging. What he is doing is exactly what the book of Deuteronomy (26:12-14) instructs people to do: “12When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce…, giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, 13then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments… I have obeyed the Lord my God, doing just as you commanded me.”
This passage is part of an ancient liturgy, an act of worship, in which every member of the people of God is called upon to offer thanks to God for God’s many blessings and then to give away the first of everything that he or she has in order to care for those in need. Taken together, these interrelated acts of thanksgiving and giving are what we refer to as stewardship.
Stewardship begins in autumn, if not in this particular season of the year, at least in our interior autumn, in our mental and spiritual autumn: in those times in which we recognize and acknowledge God’s many blessings to us, and in which we recognize and acknowledge our responsibility to provide the first of those gifts to do the work of God and to care for those who are not as materially blessed as we are.
In a quotation that I have used before, Dietrich Bonhoeffer admonished his congregation: “Let none say, ‘God has blessed us with money and possessions,’ and then live as if they and their God were alone in the world. Possessions are not God’s blessing and goodness, but the opportunities for service which God entrusts to us.”
The generous giving back to God of all that we have is both an opportunity and a responsibility. As that passage from Deuteronomy affirmed, it is only when we have given first and generously to do God’s work and to care for those in need that we can stand before God and say honestly: “I have obeyed the Lord my God, doing just as you commanded me.”
That sense, that awareness of our many blessings and of our responsibility to give liberally of those blessings, is essential throughout the year and throughout our lives. But that consistency is hard to maintain. During the upcoming, so-called “holiday season,” that time from Thanksgiving through Christmas, charitable giving increases greatly. It seems that everybody has food and clothing drives to help the needy. Church-goers tend to make extra offerings to their worshipping communities. And people in general are more likely to contribute to charitable causes, making sure, of course, that there checks arrive before year-end.
But churches have electric bills and gas bills and water bills and salaries and maintenance needs the rest of the year, as well as in December. The people in our community who are hungry during December and January, and who benefit from holiday food drives, are hungry again when February and March roll around. And those organizations that serve the homeless and the abused and the desperately poor struggle to meet those needs every season of the year.
That is why making a decision and a promise to exercise our ongoing stewardship, such as our pledge to St. Mark’s, is so important. It commits us to making our gratitude for God’s countless blessings more than just a matter of words and more than just something that we do to make ourselves feel good for a few weeks out of the year.
To return to the image of this current time of year, it makes autumn not just a season but a way of life. As the English priest and poet, John Donne, asserted (“Occasional Mercies”), “In Heaven it is always autumn, His mercies are ever in their maturity.” And here on earth, where God and we are together building God’s kingdom, it must also always be autumn. For we are abundantly blessed every day and in every season; and it is in every season that God calls us to give thanks by sharing generously of those blessings to do God’s work in the world and to serve those in need. And it is only when we do so that we are truly giving thanks to the Lord our God.