Is Our Giving Worthy of Our Calling?

Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost / Thirteenth Sunday of Luke, November 26, 2017
Ephesians 4:1-7; Luke 18:18-27
Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

“I, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.”

St. Paul, who is writing here to the Ephesians and has been imprisoned because of his dedication to Christ Jesus, tells them, “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” When I read that this week, I was really disturbed by it. Why? Because I realized very quickly that I am not actually walking worthy of the calling.

We should ask first here what he means by “the calling.” What does it mean to be called? It is probably easy to answer that question for me. I am a clergyman, and even the word clergy or cleric come from a word that means called. So you can say that I have a “calling.” But he’s not talking here to what we think of as clergy. He’s talking to all the Ephesian Christians, and by extension, to all Christians—and that means all of us here, too.

We were called by Jesus Christ. He called us. He chose us. Through many and various means, He got us here, worshiping Him today in this holy temple. We were called. We heard His voice, and we came.

And what were we called to? Paul explains: “There is one Body, and one Spirit, even as you were called in the one hope of your calling: one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, and through all, and in you all.”

So this is what our calling is: It is the “one hope,” which is expressed by our one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism. And he goes on to explain that each of us is given “grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”

So let’s stop there. What does it mean that we’re given this grace? And what does it mean that it is “according to the measure of the gift of Christ”? In one sense, it means that we’re all given different gifts—each of us and all of us have the one calling, but it is expressed differently in each person. He says later in the chapter what some of those expressions look like—apostles, evangelists, teachers, pastors, etc. (4:11).

But that’s not all that this is about. Remember that he began by telling us to “walk worthy” of our calling. And he also here mentions that the grace given is “according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”

So how are we to walk? We are to walk in a way that is appropriate to our calling, which is given in the hope of the very gift of Christ. And what is the gift of Christ? It is that the Son of God became man like us, that He lived and died like us, that He rose again as we will, and that we can be saved, can become like Him, if we are joined to Him. So walking worthy of our calling means living in a way that is appropriate to receiving the gift of becoming like God, through participation in Christ.

So when I think about whether I am really living in a way appropriate to that gift, I have to conclude that I am not. I am living unworthy of my calling.

And I think that if you were to examine your own lives, you would find the same thing to be true of yourselves, as well. As you look at each area of your life, is the way you’re living it really worthy of the calling, the calling to be like Christ, the calling given in the hope of becoming like Jesus Christ? Is what you’re doing day to day actually worthy of the gift of the God of all things becoming man, suffering and dying, and then rising from the dead?

Probably not. Definitely not true for me.

So I want to talk today about one way in which we collectively are living that is unworthy of our calling. And I will warn you that this may be a bit uncomfortable. But I also know that, unless we become uncomfortable with what we’re doing, we won’t change it. And we have to change it.

The one way that I want to discuss today is the way that is mentioned in today’s Gospel. It is the story of the man who came to Jesus asking how he can inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to follow the commandments. He says he’s done all that. Jesus then says that he lacks just one thing, one thing needed to walk worthy of the calling of Christ. He says that this man has to sell everything he has, give the proceeds to the poor, and then come and follow Him. But the man can’t do it. He’s very rich. So he walks away sad. And Jesus then utters those famous words about a camel going through the eye of a needle being easier than rich men entering God’s kingdom.

So the area of our collective unworthiness I want to mention today is in our giving of money. And I’m not singling anyone out here—I don’t do that. If anything, I will single myself out. I do not give money to God’s Church and to the poor like I could. Not just like I should, but like I could. Because I can. And yet I don’t.

Now, there are a few of us—and I know who some of you are—who really cannot give more than you currently do. This is the cross that you currently bear. You live very much on the edge, financially speaking. I get that. I have been there. So it may well be that you are already walking in a manner worthy of your calling, when it comes to money. So as you listen to the rest of this sermon, think of some other way in which your walk could be more worthy of that calling.

But for those who are not living on the financial edge, this is for you. And that means it’s for me, too. I am preaching the sermon that I need to hear.

In the Old Testament, God commanded the people to tithe. A tithe is 10% of your income. I will not give a full overview of tithing in the Old Testament—you are welcome to look that up yourself—and if you look that up, you will find that there were two annual tithes and one tithe given every three years (Num. 18:21-26, Deut. 12:17, Deut. 14:22-27, Deut. 14:28-29). Altogether, that means about 23% of what the people of Israel had was given to the service of the Lord. And God so much expected these tithes that He actually said the Israelites were robbing Him if they refused to bring in the tithe (Mal. 3:8-9), and He cursed them for it.

In the New Testament, we don’t see tithing explicitly and directly commanded. What we do see is Jesus commending the Pharisees for their tithing but then condemning them for tithing without caring about mercy, justice, love and humility (Luke 10:42, 18:9-14). We also see how the community in Jerusalem that the Apostles oversaw actually gave 100% of their possessions (Acts 2:44, 4:32).

And then after the New Testament period, when the Church Fathers speak of tithing, they actually call it the inferior way of giving to the Lord. St. Irenaeus points out, for instance, that a Christian should not give just a tithe but rather all their possessions for the Lord’s purposes, because Christians are not bound by the Jewish Law but rather live in freedom. He says we should joyfully imitate the widow from Luke 21 who cast everything she had into the Lord’s treasury (21:1-4) (Against All Heresies, XVIII.2).

And we can find similar expressions in other Church Fathers, who say that because we are part of the superior covenant, we now give in a way superior to the Old Covenant. How could we think that the New Covenant means we do less than in the Old?

The point I am making here is that not that 10%, 23%, 100% or some other percentage is utterly required of us by God in order for us to be saved. You can be saved without ever giving a single dime to the Church. Salvation is not for sale and never has been. It is a free gift. It does not have a price tag. Even if we gave 100% of everything we had for God’s purposes, it would not be enough to buy salvation. It’s not for sale.

But our question today is: Are we walking worthy of our calling? And if we’re not walking worthy of that calling, are we really opening ourselves up to the grace of God that saves us? Am I willing to risk closing off the doors of grace in any area of my life?

Imagine with me for a moment what it might look like if we all gave that 10%, that tithe. Yes, some of us cannot—and God bless you! May He help you. But most of us could. And most of us—let’s be honest!—are not. Most of us are not. But what if most of us did?

The median household income in the Lehigh Valley is a bit over $60,000 per year. We have a bit over 100 families in our parish. If we gave that 10%, the resources that St. Paul’s would have to do God’s work—not to line anyone’s pockets, but to do God’s work—would be over $600,000 per year. If we gave even 5%, we would have over $300,000 per year.

If you listened to our treasurer’s reports from our annual meeting last week, you know that we’re not giving 10% or even 5%. Based on that median for our region, what we’re seeing is that collectively, we’re giving less than 2%. And yet how much do we spend each year on entertainment? How much do we spend on things we consume and then forget? How much do we simply waste?

For some of us, the answers to those questions are honorable and good. But for many of us—including me—the answers are not what they could be.

So I challenge you to walk worthy of the calling, of the one hope that we all share equally together to participate in Jesus Christ and to become more like Him. He gave it all. He gave it all. He gave not just possessions, but His very life. He gave not just His life but His very Godhead, His very divine existence, emptying Himself to take on our flesh and our mortality. He gave it all.

If He gave it all, then we can give something more than we are. There are so many kinds of ministry that this parish could be doing if we would even give 5%. And it’s hard for me even to imagine how we would be participating in God’s mission with 10%.

But while we think about the mission to which we are contributing when we tithe, we should think even more of what Paul, our holy patron, is challenging us with: Walk worthy.

No one is going to call you on the phone or come to your house and make you feel guilty for not tithing if you are able to tithe. No one is going to be singled out. But if you do happen to feel a bit guilty, if you can imagine yourself living in a way that is at least more worthy of your calling, then won’t you respond?

Won’t you listen to what God is saying to you? You don’t have to believe me because I say so. Search the Scripture and the Fathers for yourself. See what it means to walk worthy of the calling. See what it means. Ask yourself if you are really walking worthy of the calling.

And then when you honestly conclude—just as I have—that you’re not walking worthy of that calling, decide that you will begin at least a little to walk in a way that is worthier. And then see what God will do not only in your life for you but in the lives around you through you.

To Jesus Christ, Who gives us the call and Who Himself gave everything, be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.