Take your pencil and circle these words: inheritance, all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you.
Thanks to Alan and Anne Compaan for offering us a glimpse into their journey. What a gift they are to our congregation as a bridge between past and future! They are helping lead the way in our financial stewardship emphasis, One Step Up, which we will celebrate on Sunday, November 17th.
You just heard these words from Ephesians: In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance…You were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people.
An inheritance is something we receive from another. It is not something we have earned; it is a gift from one generation to another. The writer of Ephesians received a spiritual inheritance of God’s love and Christ’s power through the Holy Spirit. He is ready to joyfully give that inheritance to still others when he says: I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
We tend to think of an inheritance as money or property. And certainly, the land and buildings this congregation has is inherited from those who have gone before us. But what if in the blink of an eye all our money and property disappeared. What would be left? Hopefully we would find what our second reading describes: an inheritance of hospitality, generosity and gratitude. These are marks of the Holy Spirit. These are an inheritance that do not depend on the stuff that we have.
When the writer of Ephesians speaks of love for “All the Saints” it’s a sign of Christ-like hospitality. The word “all” for Christians begins with those who are baptized but, following the example of Jesus, expands beyond “our group.” God’s love is for all people. Last evening a number of us were at the Open Door Ministries auction. It was the largest such fundraiser in the organization’s thirteen-year history. 230 people attended! Open Door reminds us that God’s love is not limited to a particular gender identity or sexual orientation. God’s welcome is for all people.
On this “All Saints Sunday” we remember that God’s love is not for our group only. It is for those who have gone before, whose generosity makes possible the space and the opportunities to serve that come with this space. Rather than clinging to this space, we respond with generosity. As those before us provided for all of us, so also out of generosity and in a spirit of gratitude we provide gracious space and a spiritual foundation for those who come after us. As we received an inheritance, so also we gladly provide an inheritance for generations to come by welcoming and empowering and affirming new voices. “All Saints Sunday” is not just about the past. Not just about the present. All Saints includes those who are young, and even those who are yet to be born.
And yes, Christian generosity, our spirit of gratitude includes our pocketbooks. Since the time we were married nearly 24 years ago my wife and I have chosen to set aside 10% of our income to give away. When we were first married our income was $800/month. But 10% was where we started. Not every year has been the same. Sometimes 10% means 10% of gross income, sometimes it’s meant net income. Sometimes it’s meant 10% to the church, and additional giving to other organizations. Sometimes it’s meant the church and all our other giving totals 10%.
We give in the belief that everything we have is not an entitlement but an inheritance. Everything we have is a gift. We the living are the bridge between past and future. Alan and Anne Compaan embody what it means to be a bridge between past and future.
It occurs to me that this day marks a time change (“fall back”), and on this day we also remember that we live in changing times. So this is our common Christian vocation—all of us are called to be bridges between past and future. We care as much about the future as about the past and the present. In a spirit of generosity and gratitude, Christians strive not to hoard for ourselves but to give our lives away in the present time for the sake of the world and new generations.
When Christians give to the church it is not with the intention of getting something in return. That would be an investment, not an offering! Most of all, we give because this is what we were created for. Christians give, not to meet the needs of a budget but because we need to give. Let me say that again. Christian offerings are given not to meet the needs of a budget. Christian offerings are given because of the need of the giver to give.
By practicing financial generosity we find that we are better equipped to respond with generosity in other areas of life, especially in the most difficult times. How else could we possibly respond as Jesus commands in our gospel reading for today. Love your enemies? Do good to those who hate you? Bless those who curse you? Pray for those who abuse you? Give to everyone who begs from you? Do to others as you’d have them do to you? How do we love like that t-shirt on your bulletin cover prescribes? This is difficult for anyone in the best of circumstances! But it is possible when we spend the days of our lives practicing a spirit of generosity, including and maybe especially financial generosity.
People of God, we have received from the Holy Spirit a priceless inheritance. Let us respond in a spirit of hospitality, generosity and gratitude! AMEN