In 1994, Wes Harper, the retired Senior Warden of St Peter’s in Cheshire, was not entirely sure that he liked the new rector. Steve was from Rhode Island, not Connecticut. Steve didn’t wear a suit to the church office, played soccer and not golf, and he wanted to support the soup kitchen in New Haven. Then Wes fell ill, and Steve started bringing communion to Wes and his wife Jane. As Wes grew stronger, Jane brought him back to church services. As the Alzheimer’s progressed, the Harpers were always in the front row. By that time, Wes decided he liked this renegade rector. Each week, Steve spoke the offertory sentence, Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; bring offerings and come into his courts. Wes would respond in his beautiful baritone, as only a retired senior warden could: Dig deep. Steve brought him communion in his pew until he died.
It has often struck me that Wes would be a fine illustration for faithful stewardship. The things that separate us are far less important than the things that bring us together. Our many affiliations are important, and not nearly as important as our being drawn together as the Body of Christ.
In a highly charged political and religious context, Jesus tells his followers that taxes are a reality in life as part of the Empire. At the same time, moral authority belongs to God alone. Because we live within a political reality, we can recognize that we have responsibilities without endorsing in some fundamental way the secular authority. Because we are people following Jesus, we recognize that we look to God for moral and ethical guidance as we live in a non-religious political system.
The currency which belongs to the Emperor has the image of the human authority on it. The tax makes real what the currency signifies: it is a rendering to the glory of the Empire.
The currency which belongs to God has the image of the Divine on it. If all the world belongs to God, as Psalm 24 reminds us, then whatever we “have” is on loan from God. In a Christian theological context, a financial pledge is not membership dues and is not an endorsement of leadership. The pledge is a thank offering to God, from whom all good things come.
As we give from our resources to both the secular empire and the Kingdom of God, we give for different reasons and in two entirely different currencies.
Are we willing to dig deep?
When we dig deep, as Wes Harper advocated, we reach down into our souls and remember the many ways in which the Almighty has blessed us. We dig deep into our memories and our thankfulness. We recall moments of genesis, of healing, and of resurrection. Most of us have experienced significant loss over the last seven months of Coronatide: lost connections, lost work, lost travel, lost security. We have not lost God. And God has not lost us. At St Stephen’s, we continue to gather in person (in a limited way), and in virtual time. We continue to receive the sacraments, we continue to pray and to rejoice in Christ. We continue to study Holy Scripture, to read books together, to serve the Harrisburg community in a manner of love and service. We continue to educated children in St Stephen’s School. We continue to fill the little food pantry and offer supplemental nourishment to the homeless community in the city. We have even added some new members, who enrich us with their prayer and their desire to serve God through this place.
Each time I join in Morning Prayer, I can see your faces in my memory. I long for the time when we can gather again. This has been a long and unsettling diaspora. And at the same time, I am certain that together, we have so many reasons to give thanks for this place and the way St Stephen’s brings us into deeper relationship with God through Christ.
Ascribe to our Lord the honor due his Name. Bring offerings and come into his courts.