Sermon for Proper 18, Year A, September 10, 2017

Ezekiel 33:7-11                   Psalm 119:33-40                                Romans 13:8-14                Matthew 18:15-20

A couple of weeks ago I was looking for something in the office and found a box of the St. Paul’s Pewter Christmas Tree Ornaments.  On the back of the package is printed information about the church.  It notes that the church was formed in 1886 and that the present church, built of Batesville Granite, was dedicated September 17, 1917.

Seeing that it was dedicated 100 years ago in just two weeks alarmed me.  That’s a big deal!  It’s reason to have a celebration.   Then I learned that St. Paul’s celebrated the 100-year anniversary of being in this building last year.  And, I saw the cornerstone of the church which dates its construction to 1916 – so I assumed there was a misprint on the card.  Still, I was curious able when the building was dedicated, so I opened a copy of Worthy of Much Praise.  I found that yes, it was indeed a misprint – but it was not the year that was wrong.

This church building was dedicated on September 9, 1917 – not September 17th.  So, 100 years ago this weekend, Bishop Winchester and Suffragan Bishop Saphore´ lead Sunday’s service and dedicated this church.  I was confused by this until I read further, the author quotes the minutes of a vestry meeting which reported: “After proceeding to the altar, accompanied by the choir and visiting clergy, the celebrants were met by members of the vestry who presented the Instrument of Donation.  This document stating that the church was free from lien or encumbrance.”   That is when I remembered hearing once that in the past, a church was not dedicated until it was paid off.

The members of St. Paul’s borrowed money to build this wonderful space and paid off what they had borrowed one year later.  Both events are cause to celebrate, the completion of a new church building and freeing the church of debt!  So, take time this morning to look around and consider what a wonderful gift we have been given by the members of St. Paul’s who came before us.  We benefit from the sacrifices they made in support of this church.  Clearly, they wanted it be here long past their lives.  They built it for their children and their children’s children.

When I was first approached about being considered as your next rector, I was told this is a church that will be always be here, it has deep roots in this community and families that support it.  All this is true.  Since coming here, however, I have learned that we are still being supported by past members.  St. Paul’s has a couple of endowments and some investments and a portion of the dividends and interest are used to support our annual budget.  We are indeed blessed by the gifts of those who have gone before us.

Still, blessings can also be a church’s downfall.  Giving in churches with endowments tend to be less than churches that depend solely on its current members for support.  Churches that use their endowments for specific purposes have the best of both worlds.  Giving is healthy and they are better equipped to respond to the needs of the parish and community.

One of my prayers for St. Paul’s is that in the future we will again be able to use the interest from our endowment to ensure that this building is cared for so that 100 years from now it is still standing and debt free.  This a well constructed building, but a 100-year-old building requires a great deal of maintenance.  The cost of replacing the faded glass that protects our stained-glass windows is greater than the price paid to construct and furnish the building in 1916.

Our epistle reading today begins, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”  Debt repayment is a big part of most of our lives today.  Our society promotes this, there are stores that offer you a discount on your day’s purchase if you apply for a store credit card.  Debt is common among churches and capital fund drives are being held to pay off debt rather than finance new construction or repairs.  “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” Those who paid to build this church did so because it was their church home and because they wanted this church to be here for future generations – for us.

Paul goes on to talk about the commandments and to note that the commandments can be summed up as, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law,” he writes. Giving to the church is and should be an expression of love.  This is our church home and it is indeed worthy of much praise.  St. Paul’s has a history of giving to our community and its very building is a gift to this community and future generations.

When Cathy and I first came to Batesville to meet with the search committee and then later the vestry, it was the love we experienced from St. Paul’s members that removed any doubt we had about coming here.  The people we met reflected the faithfulness Paul writes about in his letter to the Romans.

“Love is the fulfilling of the commandments,” he writes and love is expressed here at St. Paul’s in how members respond to members, in how we support the Back-Pack Program, and in how we offer a weekly Community Meal.  Stewardship is an expression of love and is about so much more than giving money.  Stewardship is about of our time, and our talents.  It is about being present – and yes about paying our bills.

You will be receiving a letter in the mail this week from the stewardship committee.  We are not asking for pledges – not yet anyway, we are asking for your help in visioning our future together.  We will have a series of cottage dinners beginning in October and we need your help.  These dinners will help Cathy and I get to know you better and hear what you want to see happen here at St. Paul’s.

The new year has begun with the start of school and each new year offers new possibilities.  I am excited about the future of St. Paul’s and getting to know each of you better.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, you love all you have created and call us to share your love with one another.  We give you thanks today for all those who committed themselves to building a church for the future, this church, that we might have a place to gather for worship and fellowship.  Help us, we pray, to continue in their example by caring for and supporting St. Paul’s that we might be a witness to your love in this community.  All this we ask in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.