Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 Psalm 1 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 Matthew 22:34-46
Awaken us, O God, to the wonder of your gracious generosity
And give us a sense of the honor of serving in your name.
Every day when I read the Oakland Press, I encounter stories about a person who has committed a crime. The report often includes the decisions that the local prosecutor needs to make regarding the charges against the perpetrator in order for justice to be served. Other times there’s an article about a judge who is trying to determine the sentence that would bring justice for a particular offense. There are even times when the person on trial is convinced that they were justified in the actions that brought about their arrest.
Our scripture selections today had a lot to say about God’s desire for justice.
The way the Book of Leviticus described the concept of justice,
was by making lists of You shall and you shall nots.
You shall: be holy, do justice, and love your neighbor as yourself.
You shall not: render an unjust judgment, discriminate against the poor, or accept the opinion of someone simply because
they’re rich or in a position of power.
You shall not slander, profit by the blood of your neighbor,
take vengeance, or bear a grudge.
In other words: Love God and your neighbor.
Psalm 1 expressed a simpler description of justice.
Delight in God’s law.
Don’t be wicked.
In other words: Love God and your neighbor.
Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians gave some specific examples of how he and his fellow early Christians attempted to have their lives demonstrate God’s Justice.
They courageously declared the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. They weren’t deceitful, and didn’t have impure motives or use trickery in order to gain favor with people.
They didn’t employ words of flattery or other pretexts for greed.
They didn’t expect praise from other people, but rather, they sought to please God.
Instead of making demands, they gently, tenderly and truly, cared for people.
The result was that they endeared themselves to the people
to whom they were ministering; and found that they in turn,
cherished their relationship with the Philippians and Thessalonians as well.
In other words: (and I’ll say it again) They loved God and their neighbor.
In our selection from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus shared his summary
of all of the law and words of the prophets;
“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
It’s safe to say that in every sermon we hear every Sunday here at St. Patrick’s , our preachers share with us their faithful interpretations of how our lives can become active examples of
how to demonstrate those two great sacred instructions:
Love God. Love each other.
We’re currently in the midst of this year’s stewardship season.
In past years, we at St. Patrick’s have focused on gratitude, faith filled generosity,
and shining our light by using our spiritual gifts,
as ways to discern how we show our love for God and for our neighbors.
This year’s stewardship campaign is entitled Rooted in Abundance.
Because God has blessed us so abundantly,
we share our gifts lovingly with each other and in the community.
Today, based on that theme that weaves through our Bible readings today,
l’d like to apply our understanding of God’s desire for justice,
as a means for thinking about stewardship.
A steward is a person who’s responsible for the care of something or of people.
As Christians, we believe that we’ve been formed in God’s image
and that we’ve been given the responsibility to rule over,
(and thus, care for,) all of God’s creation.
That makes us stewards of the earth and all who live in it.
When we do that, in whatever way we can, we are seeking God’s justice.
Edward was young boy who was puzzled about how he could seek justice. He began by wondering with how he could love God.
So, he went to his pastor and asked, “How can I love God when I’ve never seen him?
I think I understand how to love my mother and father, my brother and little sister, and even the people in our neighborhood. But I don’t know how I’m supposed to love God.”
Pastor Sims said to the boy, “Start with a stone. Try to love a stone. Let the stone’s simplicity and permanence teach you.”
Edward nodded, although he wasn’t quite sure if he could love a stone.
The pastor continued, “When you can love a simple stone, try to love a flower. See if you can let the flower’s beauty come into your heart. You don’t have to pluck it, possess it, or destroy it. Just love it — and maybe show your care for it, by watering it.
Learn something from the flower without putting it in a vase.”
Next, he suggested that the boy’s pet dog be the next object of his love. “Learn from the joy your little dog gives you.”
Edward was beginning to understand.
“Then,” Pastor Sims said, “try to love the sky and the mountains.
Let the beauty of creation speak to your heart and let its beauty come into you.”
Finally, “try to love another person. Be faithful and generous.
Sacrifice for them. After you’ve loved a stone, a flower, your little dog, the mountains, the sky, and a friend, you’ll understand how to love God.”
At stewardship time we, too, ponder how we can express our love for God by making wise use of all that God has given us.
We’ve been given a certain amount of time on this earth.
So, we consider how much time we will give to our families, our church, and our work.We also need time for accomplishing personal chores or for striving to reach individual goals.
God has also given us talents and gifts.
So, we reflect on how and where we can put those talents to good use or how we can hone those skills.
And then there are the financial resources that we’ve been given.
Money that we’ve earned by hard work,
funds that we’ve scrimped and saved to accumulate.
Some of it we’ve designated by wills or trusts to loved ones.
Some we use for our own food, clothing, shelter, and transportation as well as travel and entertainment.
Some we donate to medical research, social service organizations, food pantries and other charitable endeavors.
And of course, since I’m speaking from the pulpit,
what we give to the church comes to mind as well.
By now, we may have received a letter from our vestry
which included a pledge card that we’re being asked to return to St. Patrick’s by Sunday, November 19th.
The pledge envelopes are never opened.
What each of us writes on our card, will be known only to ourselves and to God.
As Episcopalians, we love to express our faith by outward and physical signs of inward and spiritual grace.
And so, on November 19th, our pledge envelopes will be placed on the altar and blessed that the fruit of those pledges, our contributions to St. Patrick’s, will express our love for God and support our efforts toward ushering in God’s Kingdom of justice, mercy and love in this world.
Let us pray.
Creator God, we have been blessed so abundantly
by you with the gifts of life, wisdom, talents and treasure.
So, we remember your amazing grace with thanksgiving
and we respond with generosity.
May our efforts honor the work you have given us to do,
here in this church, in our homes and in the community,
and be rooted in joy, expressed in healing love, and blessed by you.
The New Interpreters Study Bible, NRSV with Apocrypha, Abington Press, Nashville, 2003
Connections, June 2023, MediaWorks, Londonderry, N.H.
Eucharistic Prayer D, The Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church, Church Publishing Incorporated, New York
What the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self by Richard Rohr, Crossroads Books, 2019