Today, I would like to come down from on high and walk and talk among you. For the people who come to the early service this is common. All of the 9:00 am sermons are delivered at floor level - right in front of the communion table. But, for those who worship mostly at 11:00 am, this is different. Bear with me for this day . . .
Have you ever heard of the story of the baptism of the Gauls? Dr. Mark Allan Powell tells this story in his book, Giving to God. The Gauls were a warlike people who inhabited what is now France and Belgium. They spoke Celtic and were Druidic by religion. By the time the Christian era arrived they had been conquered by the Roman Empire - although they continued to rebel and rise up against the Romans.
As Christian missionaries ventured into Gallic territory, many of the Gauls converted to Christianity. As the story goes, when a converted warrior was baptized in a river or stream, he would hold one arm high as the missionary dunked him under the water. This seemed a peculiar custom and eventually the missionaries learned the reason for it. When the next battle or skirmish broke out the warriors would proclaim, "this arm is not baptized," as he would pick up his weapon and head into battle to destroy his enemies in a most un-Christ-like manner.
Although we are not absolutely sure of the origin of this story - perhaps an "urban legend" of an earlier era - this is a compelling image. Imagine the picture of someone trying to keep one part of his body free from the influence of baptism in order to keep doing something running contrary to their Christian faith.
Today, we celebrate our stewardship. As Dr. Powell writes, "Stewardship is about getting completely wet. It is about looking at ourselves, discovering what we would like to keep dry and then immersing whatever that is in the waters of Holy Baptism" (Mark Allan Powell, Giving to God, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 2006, pp xi-xii).
Stewardship is about giving to God. It about turning our lives over to the care of God. Stewardship is how we give generously of our money. It also about how we give generously of our time and our talents. But stewardship so much more. It is about taking of the earth which God gave to our care. It is about taking care of our ourselves, our families; our marriages, and partnerships, our children and aging parents. It about taking care of the Gospel and living in faithful covenant with God and one another. Stewardship is about being totally immersed in the love and grace of God.
Essentially, stewardship is about the eighth day of creation. And today, this where stewardship comes home for us. And where God calls us to "pay forward" and "invest in the future of First Church."
Allow me to explain. The other day at the concert, I was looking up at the eighth day of creation window (also called "the Fall"). It was given in loving memory of Arthur and Manda Kemery by their daughter Hilda and her children, William Heer and Barbara Heer Reed. On the eighth day of creation Adam and Even ate from the Tree of Life and God drove them out of the Garden of Eden. Called "the Fall" or "original sin," this became the moment when human beings were set apart from God to make it on their own.
In recent years, Roman Catholic Theologian Matthew Fox has reframed this moment by calling this God's "original blessing." Fox says that on the eighth day, human beings learned to express their free will, to express the blessing of identity apart from God. By working the earth, Adam and Eve became the first stewards of God's creation. They gave back to God the first fruits of their labor.
As I thought about our magnificent sanctuary, it is filled with magnificent testimonies to "eighth day" stewardship. Through the years, individuals and families (like the Heers and others named in these dedications) have shown their love of God and this congregation through magnificent gifts of stewardship. The stained-glass windows, the amazing chancel cross created by William Thompson, the banner holder designed by Albert Paley, an internationally known metal sculptor and the Franz Guebels' 1575 Brussels tapestries, (not to mention our two amazing organs) were all given through gifts, investments, and people's stewardship in the ministry and mission of this church. In fact, if you look around, the only original blessings to this space are the windows at the north, the south, the east and the west ends of our sanctuary. The rest are eighth day blessings and gifts.
But there's more . . . a few years ago in a new member's class, one of you said that when she first started coming to First Church, her eyes and spirit were lifted heavenward for the first few weeks. She was astounded by the beauty she saw around her. But, then, her eyes came back to the horizon. She saw you, the people of First Church, and she was equally overwhelmed by the beauty she saw. You are beautiful. Each of you is a pearl. Each of you is a precious gift from God to this community of faith.
In a few short weeks, I will celebrate the seventh anniversary of my call to be your pastor. After seven years, I count my blessings to serve among so many of God's pearls in such a magnificent place as this. Today, you are being asked to pay forward - actually to leap forward in your giving. The time has come for you to be an eighth day blessing for First Church as you leap forward in your giving. Now is the time to leap forward in your giving! Amen.
Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church