The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church
Indian Rocks Beach, FL
Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
Parable of the Unjust Judge, Pieter de Grebber, 1628
Preserve the works of your mercy,
That your Church throughout the world
May persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your name.
Every year we send a delegation to the Diocesan Convention. Yesterday, our delegation returned from the 45th convention of the Diocese of Southwest Florida in Punta Gorda. The climate was good. We returned to see old friends. We made new ones. I encourage everyone to consider the opportunity to join us in the future, whether you are on the delegation or not. It’s open to all.
Every year we come together to confess the name of Jesus and this year we confessed that Christ is the sure foundation of the Church. We talked about it. We prayed about it. We even sung about it. This year we were honored to have the Presiding Bishop give a talk about the importance of Church unity throughout the world. There is just one problem. How do we achieve unity when there is diversity? If Christ is the sure foundation of the Church we find there are too many walls and halls, doors and windows in which to distance ourselves in the house of God. We don’t like what one of our siblings are saying or doing, We do not agree with them. We go to another room and shut the door. We tune them out, thinking the problem will go away. Christ may be the sure foundation of the Church, but when the rain and the floods come, ‘boy oh boy’ does the roof leak!
Every year at convention there always seems to be a hot topic. This year was no different. As the resolutions are brought forward, one stood out. It related to our giving. Specifically, how much should we give to General Convention to support the wider Episcopal Church in this nation and abroad? Should it be the biblical 10% so that we can reduce the typical, and majority-voted upon average of 17%? Interestingly enough, this was the same subject that came up in our clergy retreat three weeks ago when we talked about apportionment to the Diocese. Specifically, why should we be required to give 10% on operating and capital income when there are no requirements made on our parishioners to give to the local parish in the same amount? Interestingly enough, this was the same subject that came up in our last Vestry meeting when we talked about stewardship. Specifically, how much should we ask our parishioners to give towards tithe and offering? Should it be the biblical 10% so that we can actually carry out our mission more effectively or do we continue the route of not asking for anything and receive the voluntary, average of 3%? Interestingly enough, this was an issue that was raised two weeks ago about our Food Pantry and to whom we should give food. Specifically, why should we give to people who travel 30 miles away when there are several food pantries in between? Shouldn’t they be more dependent on their local sources? Interestingly enough, this is the usual time of the year all Churches begin to talk about tithing and offering financially to the Operating budget for the leaders to look ahead and form budgets. Do we give above and beyond to a worldwide Church, to places we’ve never heard of, for things like mosquito nets and bags of rice; or do we keep those monies here in Southwest Florida where there is greater need? Do we give voluntarily or abide by a required apportionment? Do we give local or abroad? How do we come to find unity in the midst of diverse opinions when it comes to giving? It seems complicated doesn’t it? There are more questions than there are answers. It all comes down to one thing…a steadfast faith.
The answer is, it is never about reaching the destination but rather about the journey…together. Our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dabney Smith, a dear friend of mine, laid out his vision for the Diocese in his address at this very same convention. He envisioned we would begin 5 new churches. We would raise up 5 new postulants seeking holy orders who are in their twenties. “Five is a good number,” he said. “I am the fifth bishop of this diocese. But I am not as concerned about the number five and achieving these goals as much as I’m concerned about if we never try to reach them.” In the last seven years I’ve watched him present his vision with a steadfast faith. It has taken him this time to compose a new staff that is superior. It has taken him this time to relocate the main office back to our beloved Dayspring at Ellenton, the core center of our spirituality. It has taken him this time to clean house and build a new one. He has built it on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord. Yet the talk remains, how much should we give?
The good news is that the diocese seems to be healthy; healthier than most. We, the Diocese of SWFL, give about a half a million dollars to the national Episcopal Church we refer to as TEC every year, as they have asked that amount. We, Calvary Episcopal Church, give about thirty thousand dollars to the Diocese of SWFL every year, as they have required that apportionment. We, parishioners, give over three hundred thousand dollars to Calvary Episcopal every year, as they, or “we”, I should say, are grateful for whatever is received. We, the poor and the hungry in places like IRB, Largo, Seminole, Kenneth City, Belleair, Belleair Bluffs, Clearwater, even Tampa, give their time to drive to our Pantry to receive food; grateful for whatever is given. We see evidence of a steadfast faith in all accounts and we can see that within this diverse range of interest and opinion, there is unity. We also see that there is much perseverance required. Much patience is needed. We find there really is no us and them. There is only “us.” There are only those who can give and there are only those who can receive. “Preserve the works of your mercy” These words from our collect are found here. Love comes out of an abundance of mercy. Our Savior taught us that. He taught us that in the parable heard in this morning’s Gospel. He didn’t focus as much on the details such as percentages, that which is apportioned, tithed or offered. He always focused on relationships. Interesting relationships; those typically of opposites.
In the Gospel there is a judge. Not any judge but a judge who didn’t fear God or man. Sure of himself, he was. Day after day he took his case load and his belief system was about a system of justice. Notice the word “system.” Systems rarely ever form a dependency on faith. This judge was efficient and expedient and championed the law. Yet here was this widow; this poor and lowly widow. Maybe she came from afar or maybe she had no one to advocate on her behalf like one of those attorneys who say they are “For the people.” The judge, by law, couldn’t turn her away, but she was so persistent, showing up in his court every day. Finally, he did something he never said he would do. She caught him in a moment of weakness and he caved. He gave in and gave her the justice she had asked. Now we can see here a steadfast faith on her part, and this is what Jesus says is needed in the world.
When the Son of man returns, what will he find? Will he find people praying? Will he find people giving out of the abundance of their hearts? There will always be those in need. Just like today, those needs are greater and greater. Our personal bank accounts are stretched thin. Our investments are not as robust. Our credit cards may be maxed out. But we must always find ways to give. If the Church confesses the name of Jesus in her mission; If Christ is the sure foundation; We must give. Give our time. Give our talent. Give our treasure. This is a foreshadowing of our talks about stewardship. Our asking and receiving relates to that judge and that widow; It relates to a national church and her dioceses. It relates to a diocese and her parishes. It relates to you and me. It relates to the widows, the poor and the needy, who show up on our steps every day. Stewardship is about love and it needs to be persistent. Go forth and confess the name of Jesus Christ as Lord. Give him your life. Give him all of it so that His works of mercy prevail in this world. Pray that you will exercise patience, but most of all pray to have a steadfast faith.
 Collect Proper 24
 Luke 18:1-8