Preached at All Saints Anglican Church, King City, Sunday, 6 March. Readings for this Sunday: Dt 26:1-11, Ps 91:1-2,9-16; Rom 10:8b-13; Lk 4:1-13
“So now I bring the first fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” (Deut 26:10)
Amidst all the chilling images and videos we’ve seen from the Ukraine war this last week, we’ve also seen some that inspire us with scenes of courage and compassion. I’ve been given hope by the Romanians and Poles driving to their countries’ borders with supplies and rides for Ukrainians fleeing the fighting. Likewise in Germany people are showing up at train stations, greeting the shellshocked refugees and offering to put them up in their homes. It’s said that the sheer numbers of refugees will exceed the wave of Syrians who came to Europe in the last decade, so compassion and money will be in high demand for months to come.
Refuge and refugee seem like two poles of the modern human experience. Those living in security and safety can suddenly find uprooted strangers on their doorsteps. One of the tests of a society is how it deals with those in need. Are the refugees turned away, like the ships of Jews in the 1930s who were denied ports in North America and were sent home to the coming Holocaust, or are they welcomed, fed, and housed?
Refuge and refugee. Today’s first lesson from Deuteronomy speaks to a people who have found refuge and who remember their past as refugees. As is often the case with the Hebrew Scriptures, our biblical ancestors are reminded that they were once slaves in Egypt, that they were rescued by their faithful God, and given a land of their own. “So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me” (Deut 26.10). This is the “all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee” sentiment of the old Prayer Book. It is the same spirit that animates our stewardship and giving today. The theology is simple: as we are blessed, so may we be a blessing to others.
Refuge, and refugee. Today is the first Sunday of Lent, a season when we the church go back to basics. Lent calls us to return to those basic practices that mark us as disciples of Jesus. The liturgy of Ash Wednesday, which we prayed here, calls us “to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God” (BAS 282). These words identify “almsgiving” as a core Christian practice. The word “alms” is from an old English word that ultimately comes from the Greek word “Eleos” meaning “mercy”. To give alms is to show mercy, to give as an act of charity in its original meaning of love for others (Latin caritas). The call to show charity and to give alms is found all through the Old and New Testaments, perhaps most notably in Matthew 25:31-46.
Today, on this first Sunday of Lent, I am asking you to consider making almsgiving one of your spiritual disciplines. I realize I will only be your interim for a little longer, and could be considered a “lame duck”, so I may have depleted my stock of moral authority. However, I’ve challenged your hearts and wallets before and many of you have stepped up, so here’s one last challenge. If it is within your means, I’m asking you to figure out your daily income over the course of a month, and then try and set that much money aside over the course of this Lenten season. If that’s not within your means, then set your own goal. I’m calling this the Almsgiving Challenge.
Who will receive this money you set aside? That’s up to you. Part of the Almsgiving Challenge is for you to choose a charitable organization to receive the money you set aside during Lent. By charitable organization, I don’t mean All Saints. It’s true our parish is running a deficit, and that needs to be addressed by regular weekly and monthly giving and through our PAR program. Sustainable finances for our parish should be our baseline, not our stretch goal. This Challenge is about a donation outside our walls, in addition to what you normally give to All Saints.
You’re free to use the Almsgiving Challenge to benefit any agency or charity you wish. If you want to support the Red Cross appeal for Ukraine, or if you want to support Ukrainian refugees through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, or some other related cause, go for it. For our part, Joy and I are going to give a day’s income to support our Diocesan Faith Works 2022 program, which starts this week.
We’ve chosen FaithWorks because this is a terrible time to be poor, to be food insecure or marginally housed. Inflation is climbing, the cost of food and shelter and transport and energy are only going to increase. I’m acutely aware of how ridiculously privileged I am, and I don’t think my soul could find peace if I didn’t do something. This year Bishop Andrew has also allowed FaithWorks to raise funds for indigenous reconciliation, including a memorial garden in Toronto to help us remember the Residential School children. So we’re going to write a cheque to FaithWorks but as I said, you’re welcome to choose your own cause.
I don’t want to track donations, I’m going to leave this entirely to you as the Spirit moves you. In the spirit of the gospel reading for AshWednesday, this is private, between you and God. I pray that this practice of intentional almsgiving will empower us all through a sense that we are working with God to bring about God’s purposes in an increasingly grim world.
May God bless you this Lent, and may God bless your almsgiving and those who receive it.