For many years Naomi and I spent two or three weeks on Beaver Island every summer. We haven’t gone back for a couple of years, but the memories are fond. Beaver Island is the largest of a chain of islands known as the Beaver Archipelago. It’s also the largest island in Lake Michigan, roughly 13 miles long and six miles wide; 35 miles North of the most northern tip of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. The 31-mile ferry ride from Charlevoix, Michigan to the island takes about 2 and a half hours. I was the Episcopal priest on the island during the stay, and the rectory is a donated waterfront cottage on Lake Michigan overlooking a beautiful beach below the house. St. James is a mission church of the Diocese of Western Michigan.
Not many people know or care about Beaver Island, stuck as it is out in the middle of nowhere. But, to those who know it and love it, it’s an island with a fascinating and colorful history. In the 1800’s there was actually a king that reigned on the island. The only place since the United States became a nation that ever had a king. He was, by the way, a Mormon who was shot on Main Street in the city of St. James, by a disgruntled church member. It may be an island of little significance now, but it’s rich history along with its natural history, elevate the importance of this lowly island to those who know and care about it.
One of the things we love to do on the island is to walk on the beaches. This rock comes from one of those walks on the beaches of Beaver Island. Actually, I have a whole cigar box full of them. One of things I notice as I handle this rock; it’s as smooth as a baby’s skin. Time has polished all the rough edges away. This rock has no economic value. It’s not a precious stone in that sense. It’s just a lowly rock, and they are scattered everywhere on the stretch of beach where I found this one.
This small rock is not the rock it used to be. If it could speak, it would tell us a history lesson that would be fascinating…where it’s come from…what this rock has seen. At one time it was part of a huge rock and now it is small. If I left this rock by the lakeshore, and to the forces of nature, in the distant future it would continue to get smaller, returning to its beginnings as sand and dust, and then formed again. This is known as the rock cycle.
When I handle and rub my fingers over the smoothness of this rock, it comforts me. The fact that it is smooth helps me to calm down when I rub my fingers across it. Maybe that’s why they are referred to as comfort stones, or what I call ‘worry rocks”. People actually sell polished rocks on the internet as comfort stones. You rub your worries away, and it is a comfort to you.
On the bottom of this rock is a small hole and crack, and it reminds me that just as this rock goes through changes, in our lives we are still in the process of becoming. We are not finished yet. We are in the process of becoming. God is not finished with us yet. We are being changed, and the rough edges removed. I’m not nearly as perfectly rounded yet, like this rock. I can tell you, my wife can tell you, and she has told me just recently, that I have some rough edges. But, we are being transformed on this journey to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city whose architect and maker is God. As we are created to live for eternity, we are unique. And, someday, the uniqueness will be absorbed into the completeness of eternity. But, I believe we will still have our identity.
This rock has an identity. I could skip this rock. It’s actually somewhat flat on one side. I could make it flutter. I love to skip rocks. I could skip rocks for hours. My Uncle Jimmy Tetley taught me how to skip rocks when I was a kid. He also taught me how to pitch baseball curves, sinkers, sliders, knuckleballs and different kinds of fastballs. He was a great baseball player, and in my opinion, the all-time best rock skipper. I think there is an art to skipping rocks. It’s not a matter of how many times the rock skips on the water. It’s a matter of how it starts and how it finishes. The finish is good if the rock flutters and then slowly takes a bow, and sinks. Only to make its way back to a new location in time. The rock like us, is also on a journey through time.
It’s a common rock, and maybe no one else recognizes its value, but I could make this rock do a spectacular thing in the water. It would be a great ending of my time with the rock, and a new beginning for it in a different part of the big lake. It reminds me of the coming changes in church liturgical seasons, the change from Common time to the season of Advent. In the liturgical calendar we are drawing near to the end, and in the end the new church year starts at the end of November. And, in the closing there’s a new beginning.
Every year at this time our Stewardship Committee and Vestry gathers in pledges for finances, pledges for giving of time and gifts to the church. I guess we could call this our stewardship campaign. I’m not sure that all of you know this, but our stewardship committee meets all year long, and our goal as a vestry is to promote stewardship throughout the year. Our goal is to do what Jesus asks us to do in the Gospel of Luke, “to carry purses that will never wear out”.
Are we willing to “count the cost” and follow Jesus? That’s what the gospel lesson from last week was about. Jesus questions “If someone is going to build a tower, he must figure out what resources, labor and other needs there are in order to complete the task”. If not, you may build the foundation, but if there are not enough resources to complete the project, the commitment is in vain. In the same way Jesus says: “Count the cost”. Are you willing to give up everything you possess to follow Jesus? Are you willing to recognize that when we are called to follow Jesus on this journey forward, that this commitment is not an offering, but an “all in” sacrifice? It’s an acknowledgment that we cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve God and money. The one will be subservient to the other. That’s just the way it is. It reminds me of the conversation of the pig and the chicken about giving something towards the farmer’s breakfast. The chicken says to the pig: “Isn’t it wonderful that we can give something for the master’s breakfast”? The pig replies: “Easy for you to say. For you it’s an offering, but for me it’s a sacrifice”.
In 1 Timothy we read: ‘There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
“For we brought nothing into this world, so that we can take nothing out of it”. At most comital services, especially for Episcopalians, the comital phrase is: “We commit this body to the ground; “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. In the parable about the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man became entangled with his own senseless and harmful desires that plunged him into ruin and destruction. This person that used the poor man Lazarus for his own gain, and had no respect for the poor man that ate the crumbs, just like a dog, from the rich man’s table. Jesus says that you cannot love two masters. You will love the one and espies the other. It’s just the way it is. It’s impossible to serve them both. The one needs to become a servant to the other. Jesus also said that “you cannot be my disciples if you love all your possessions more than you love me”.
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
The true riches that we need to carry in our purse that will never wear out include the riches in good works, generous deeds to and for others, a readiness to share to those in need, plus storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future. Out of that purse that we carry collectively as a congregation and the purse that you carry as an individual we are called to be stewards. We are called to be accountable for the use of our time, gifts and our resources. Yes, we are collectively called as a church, but each of us are also called individually to be accountable for the riches we put into our purse and the riches we share from that purse that will never wear out.
On our pledge forms this year you will notice that we did make room for monetary pledges, but we also mad room for a commitment to serve the church with a tithe of our time, a pledge to serve with a pledge of hours to commit to the work of the church, or shall we say to liturgy. The word liturgy means “the work of the people”. It is true that we are dependent on the people of this congregation to support the financial needs of the church. For some of you that will be substantial, and to others it will not be so much.
I am reminded of the poor lady that came into the sanctuary, and while Jesus stood watching she put some money into the offering bin. She could have said, yes I know everyone should give, but I am a poor person, so therefor I am exempt. Jesus told his disciple’s: “Look at that woman. She just gave all she had to live on. Her gift will be honored and esteemed above the gifts of those who give more, but they give to be seen and appreciated rather than as a good steward of God.
This is Stewardship Sunday, but stewardship demands are not what stewardship is about. We give because the love of God has given so much to us, and we desire to give back in the form of cash, other resources, time, labor and talent. On this spiritual journey toward the New Jerusalem whose architect and builder is God, we are told to carry purses that will never wear out.
Just as this stone is just one stone among many others from a beach on Beaver island, so you my dear brother and sister are a lively stone being transformed daily as you journey individually yet collectively to that city, the City of God. Amen
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen