Recently, the American actor James Garner passed away. He was known for several roles but one of my favorites was in the 1969 comedy “Support Your Local Sheriff.” In this movie Garner plays a character that becomes sheriff in an old West town just for the money, and, well, comedy ensues.
The truth is there is real spiritual benefit in understanding why we must support our parish communities, including our clergy. It isn’t just some “job creating” justification for clergy wanting “the easy life.” There is actually spiritual growth and spiritual freedom to be won from the discipline of valuing ministry and service in our communities, and if we miss these valuable lessons, we will diminish the strength of our faith!
In both our Gospel Lesson and our Epistle Lesson these truths and insights are revealed. Take a moment and read Luke 8:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 9:2-12. In the Gospel Lesson we read about the disciples following the Lord as He went through the towns around them teaching a preaching. But we also learn that there were others traveling with them that “provided for them out of their means.” Luke 8:3.
In the Epistle Lesson St. Paul asks the Corinthian Church some pointed questions about the service of the Apostles: “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law say the same? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits?” 1 Corinthians 9:6-11
St. Paul reveals spiritual insights in these questions that actually help each of us strengthen our faith, support the perpetual growth of our faith, and free us from some dangerous spiritual illnesses all at the same time.
First, he insists the spiritual and material are NOT separate realities! There is such wisdom in this. Our whole Orthodox faith is about destroying the false dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical. This is clearly seen in the central truth of our faith in the Incarnation. God becomes flesh for our sake and “marries” the spiritual and the physical together so that we, too can become united to Him. So, St. Paul ties these realities together in sharing with the Corinthian church that their physical support of Paul and Barnabas in their priestly ministry teaches this valuable lesson and reinforces this valuable truth in the lives of the believers. Miss this lesson and you miss a valuable insight into your own faith.
Next, he exposes the power of honor and truly valuing service. How much is someone worth to you and your family who dedicates his life to helping you and your family know eternal beauty? What loss to you if there was no one who gave themselves to this work? When we devalue the faith, the worship of the Church, the liturgy, we ultimately communicate to our children these activities aren’t really important. What effect do you think that kind of de-valuing has on their faith, on their willingness to preserve the Faith for their children? The notion that we shouldn’t value with our material support the ministry of the Church is at the heart of a weakened and marginalized faith in the lives of our children!
Finally, the lesson of marrying the spiritual work of the minister to the physical support of the faithful destroys the temptation to “go it alone” or reduce the faith to mere “personal belief.” The community creating value of people banding together in cooperation, communion, and common vision and purpose creates such a powerful effect in each soul so joined as to be worth it’s weight in gold! Our modern world is such an isolated and lonely place, and the remedy for this isolation is learning the lessons of practical bonding together for a common purpose. With this golden opportunity for spiritual and physical support in stewardship, volunteering, learning, and cooperation in our parishes all over the world, we have laid in our laps the means for our own spiritual renewal and maturity! What a powerful lesson!
Today, do you value the ministry of those who have dedicated their lives to service in the Church? Or are you bitter and angry about having to “Support Your Local” priest? Please know your inward attitude about this subject reveals a spiritual condition that, if acknowledged, can lead you to the spiritual freedom of maturity and love. But only if you abandon the fruitless notion of selfishness and move toward the reality that supporting the mission of the Church with your physical resources is as much a spiritual benefit to you and your family as your mortgage, your light bill, your groceries, actually more so! These ministries are feeding your soul, so how much is that worth to you?
Perhaps it’s time to see the spiritual benefits and lessons of stewardship and abandon the dead end, and ultimately deadly, blindness of devaluing the ministry of the parish. So, today, “Support Your Local” parish!