A Stewardship Sermon

“The extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation,” Annie Dillard asserts. “After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances…with ever fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go!”

The extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. Historian Frederick Turner provides several potent examples.

“To those who followed Columbus and Cortez, the New World truly seemed incredible because of [its] natural endowments. The land often announced itself with a heavy scent miles out into the ocean.

“[For instance] Giovanni di Verrazano in 1524 smelled the cedars of the East Coast [300 miles] out.

“The men of Henry Hudson’s Half Moon were temporarily disarmed by the fragrance of the New Jersey shore, while ships running further up the coast occasionally ran through large beds of floating flowers. Wherever they came inland, they found a rich riot of color and sound, of game and luxuriant vegetation.”

The extravagant gesture of the created world. It was there waiting for us the first time we worshipped at The Cabin in 2017 after just having left St. Paul’s. We were gifted with a riparian paradise, an Eden all our own just on the other side of an expansive window.

The same is true here at the Ute. Who needs a fancy musical prelude to prepare us for worship when we have the San Juans gazing upon us as we pull into the parking lot?

Extravagant gestures greet us at every turn, especially in this part of the world. Even the humble Gambel oaks that grow between my house and my neighbor’s are a prayer, a psalm, a hymn of creation’s exuberance and generosity.

It wasn’t always this way, though. My previous neighbor had let the oaks fend for themselves—and they got by.

Then a new neighbor moved in, and she put down a drip irrigation line. Once those trees began receiving sufficient water, they took off. Now, when autumn’s acorns let loose, the ground beneath the oaks completely disappears.

Long before Jesus came with his promise of abundant life, the natural world was already announcing this reality. By promising us abundant life, Jesus was simply doing for us what my neighbor did for those Gambel oaks. With his words and ways, Jesus watered us, inviting us to grow more alive and generative.

Jesus said and showed that there is always more that God intends—not acorns, of course, but rather more in the way of healthy relationships, heartfelt responses to life’s challenges, and even within religion itself.

When you consider Jesus’ lived experience, his certitude around abundant life is paradoxical. Jesus grew up incredibly poor and remained so throughout his ministry. Additionally, his country was occupied by Rome, a heartless empire bent on extracting everything it could from the Jewish people, including their dignity.

In spite of this, Jesus had the spiritual clarity to insist that the life to which we are all called is shot through with abundance. Not as an accident, not as happenstance, but by divine design.

Jesus then and now invites us into this abundant life. You know this already, of course. You know this not because someone along the way told you but because, as a congregation, you choose again and again to enter into the promise of abundant life.

Let’s pause for a few moments to reflect on and share some of the ways our lives together reflect Jesus’ promise.

Take a moment to go inside. Where have you found abundance here at Community Spirit? I invite your brief words and phrases as a harvest of praise. (Pick up the oval basket and “collect” people’s contributions.)

Every church can be a place of abundance, an oasis of possibility in a hard-hit, hard-hearted world. And yet churches unable to see as Jesus did can easily view themselves as a desert where resources and possibilities are in short supply.

What we possess has little to do with our abundance. We all know rich people and rich churches who are sadly quite poor. Just as we know people and faith communities whose cups are filled to overflowing even when their budgets and memberships are modest.

Take our church, for example.

Community Spirit may not have a building, but that has not stopped us from finding ways to share abundantly with the community and world.

We may not have a choir, but that hasn’t prevented us from being that choir ourselves, using our voices to praise God together.

We may not yet have a storied tradition or laurels to rest upon, but we have no shortage of creativity, energy, and passion as we move toward the bright future God is holding out to us.

We also have an abundance of rich relationships beyond our church. For instance, when One Colorado needed a local host for a recent gathering, Heidi Hess was quick to put their Front Range organizer in touch with us. When Ricardo Perez looks for a church to get behind what the Hispanic Affairs Project is doing, he reaches out to us without hesitation. When our association and conference are short on capable leadership or creative ideas, they look to our congregation for resourcing.

Although we may lack some of the trappings of other churches, we truly lack for nothing. Jesus’ promise is more than alive among us here.

One Sunday last spring, as part of our “why work,” we challenged ourselves to name all the outward-facing actions and activities we have taken up since our founding in 2013. When we were done, we were speechless. There were, quite literally, more items on our list than people in our church.

With the same basket I just used to collect your examples of abundance, I want to invite you to give voice to just some of the ways we have shared our abundance with our community and world.

Take one or two pieces of paper. When everyone has theirs, we will enter into a litany celebrating the abundant life that God has given us to share. (Distribute slips of paper.)

A brief word of instruction before we begin.

Each slip has a bolded heading and then something written under that heading. When you hear me name your heading, raise your hand, and I will invite you to share your example.

Celebrating some of the beautiful ways Jesus’ promise of abundant life has come to life here, let us now join together in a prayerful litany of praise.

Gracious God, you have filled our hearts with a yearning and a capacity to collaborate. Receive our praise for the following rewarding partnerships: (four responses)

Generous God, you have inspired us to express our appreciation for those whose efforts are too often taken for granted or overlooked altogether. Receive our praise for giving us ways to thank our hard-working neighbors: (two responses)

Giving God, you have nurtured in us a desire to care for creation. Receive our praise for enabling us to engage in environmental stewardship: (three responses)

God of Great Goodwill, you have placed within us a heart for community. Receive our praise for helping us join you in fostering community goodwill in these ways: (four responses)

God of Abundant Compassion, you have helped us meet some of the needs of our siblings who are hungry or who lack housing. Receive our praise for providing us with the resources to respond in the following ways: (six responses)

God of Expansive Embrace, you have led us to come alongside those who may love and live differently than others. Receive now our praise for the many ways we have been allies and advocates for the LBGTQIA community, as well as for the ways these efforts have enabled us to learn and grow: (nine responses)

God of Our Hearts, your faithful presence in our lives has inspired us to support and nurture the spiritual awareness of others, especially those who no longer belong to a church or faith community. Receive our praise for enabling us to minister with creativity and care to those beyond these walls by: (six responses)

God of Justice and Love, many are places in this world in need of repair and revision. For inspiring us to step into the world with hope that it can change, we lift up the opportunities we have seized to bear witness to injustice and to call for action: (six responses)

Thank you, O God, for the abundant life you have made possible. We sing your praises for the abundance of opportunities you have provided, ones that enable us—with you—to change the world for good. Amen.

Like the view from The Cabin or our drive to the Ute, the extravagant gesture of creation is frequently obvious. But all too often, the abundant life God intends exists largely as a possibility, as with the Gambel oaks that needed more water in order to truly flourish.

This morning we have come with our promises of financial support of Community Spirit for the year ahead.

The pledges, these promises, are meant to do the same thing my neighbor’s irrigation system did—just in a different way. Our generous support of Community Spirit in the coming year can and will foster growth and vibrancy—not simply our own, but that of our neighbors and world as we seek to be of service.

As we come forward to place our promises in the basket, let us together trust that God can be relied upon to supply our needs—and abundantly—so that together we can change the world for good. (Folks come forward. After pledge cards have been collected, offer a prayer of gratitude.)