Practicing Our Piety The Sunday Sermon: 24th Sunday after Pentecost – October 30, 2016 Scripture:  Matthew 6:1-5, 16-18

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Stewardship Season: Weeks set aside every fall to celebrate what has been, take stock of what is, and vision what might be with a particular emphasis on the “tithe,” on our financial commitment, our monetary investment, in and for this particular church, Pewee Valley Presbyterian. From the more mundane electric bills and employee salaries, to the more romantic member involvement, fellowships and outreach ministries, your pledges of money and mine make the ministry of this congregation happen and allow the dreams to be realized.

Listen for the Word of God: Read Matthew 6:1-5, 16-18. The Word of the Lord. A Word to the pious wise …

We’re in the fourth of a six Sunday season. I always go back to years past in an attempt not to be too repetitive during these weeks. The subject is always the same, but hopefully the messages can vary. I noticed in looking back this past week that the fourth Sunday the past two years was our Dedication Sunday! This year that’s not for another two weeks, on November 13th! One of the reasons for that is the other celebrations, the other worship-hour rituals, we engage in in these months. This year, with the 150th Anniversary, we’ve had a lot more. The tree dedication was a few weeks ago, so stewardship took a side seat along that celebration. The first week of November, next week, is All Saints’ Sunday, so our stewardship focus will once again be shared and Dedication Sunday will be the week after.

All good stuff – celebrations, remembrances, anniversaries … The only possible problem is that our message of stewardship, the emphasis on our giving for the year ahead may get diffused and lose some urgency. As we begin this morning, or as we continue, and before I offer my sermon prayer, I want you to focus squarely in on your giving for next year: no pressure, no guilt, nothing shared out loud. Just you and your thoughts. You’re not “seen” or “heard” by anyone else, as our scripture instructs us. Close your eyes, fold your hands, consider this a prayer and I’ll close it with a few words …

  How much did you pledge last year? Are you able to pledge more this year? If you are able, are you willing? How much were you involved in the life and events of this congregation last year? Are you able to be more involved? Are you willing? How much? An, how much more? Pray with me …

I want us to consider our gifts of time to this church this morning. Next week and Dedication Sunday, we’ll talk about money again, but this morning … our time. We pledge our money to our operating budget every year, but we pledge our time to one another. Every week we all get the same amount of time. Unlike money, which may vary significantly from individual to individual, family to family based on too many things to list, at the end of the week, we are all equal in the amount of time we have been given: Specifically, one week. Seven days. 168 hours. 10,080 minutes. Consider for yourself what percentage of that time you give to your church? I’ll give you some touchstones:

One hour of worship is sixty minutes, or one half of one-percent of your weekly time.

One hour of Sunday school and one hour of worship is one hundred and twenty minutes, or one percent of your weekly time.

If you’re here a little early and stay for all that we do together on Sunday morning, you’re here about two and half hours, or about one and a half-percent of your week.

You get the idea. Throw in a ninety minute monthly meeting (divide that time by four, since it’s monthly and not weekly); twenty minutes on the phone twice a week with someone else here getting caught up on the prayers one or more of us need; forty minutes to drive here from home to say hello to Shelly or Marie or to drop off that bible (or whatever) you borrowed and return home; one minute a day in prayer for your Pastor (who can use all the prayer he can get); and five minutes for accidental thoughts about random people or property here, and you spend two hundred ninety-four and a half minutes here, or just under three percent of your week, with your church.

I know that’s not being fair to those who spend much more time through the week here, but it’s being very generous to many more who spend less! Anyway, those were just touchstones. Do the math yourself. How many minutes do you spend with this church every week. Now divide it by ten thousand and eighty. (And do that math later, or this time together won’t count!) After you’ve figured that out (later) take away the Sunday minutes and do the math again.

The point, of course, is we don’t give much time at all to the church, as much as a sacrifice we think it is. Now consider where you do give much of your time in the week: Sleep, work, school, errands, homework, band or sports practices, eating, television, exercising … what else? What percentage of your week do these things consume?

If you sleep seven hours a night, that’s two-thousand nine-hundred and forty minutes, or twenty-nine percent of your week.

A forty hour work week is two thousand four hundred minutes, or about twenty four percent of your week.

Do the math (later!) for school, errands, homework and the other stuff. Now ask yourself, “How much do I enjoy – or, what are my ‘favorable returns’ on the time I spend doing any of those other activities? Apart from sleep, the occasional practice, and your favorite television show, I bet you don’t get near as favorable a return on other stuff as you do with the time you spend with your church. I sure hope so, at least. The problem is, you’re so exhausted from spending so much time doing the things you don’t necessarily enjoy doing, that come Sunday morning, or Wednesday evening, or Thursday afternoon on the phone checking up on someone special, and you feel like you’re church is “Just so demanding! Geez, when will it let up?! That three percent of my time is the most demanding obligation I have to fulfill. How am I supposed to give any more?!” And yet …

And yet … I’ll bet if you’re honest with yourself, I’ll bet there’s something about this three percent of your time here, or in service to this place, that gives you more joy, more love, more … life, than most anything else. Or, at least, I believe it could. This time together in worship or study or prayer or fellowship or song, or even just “in thought,” could be the best part of your crazy 10,080 minute week. But it has to come off the top … this time. Not out of what’s left. That’s the catch. Otherwise it’s a sacrifice grudgingly given instead of joyfully offered.

Let me share with you a brief story, or better – a short illustration, that you’ve heard before because I’ve used this as sermon material before:

One day, an expert in time management was speaking to a group of students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget. As she stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers, she said: “Okay, time for a quiz,” and pulled out a one-gallon wide-mouth mason jar and set it on the table in front of her. Then she produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one by one, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, she asked ” Is this jar full?”

Everyone in the class said : ” Yes.”

Then she said, ” Really?” She reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then she dumped some gravel in and shook the jar, causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the space between the big rocks. Then she asked the group once more : ” Is this jar full?”

By this time the class was on to her. “Probably not,” one of them answered.

“Good!” she replied, and reaching under the table she brought out a bucket of sand. She started dumping the sand in the jar and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more she asked the question. ” Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted. Once again, she said : “Good!” Then she grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. She screwed the top on tight, held it aloft in front of the class, and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it.”

” No,” the speaker replied. “That is not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is this: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

What are the big rocks in your life? How do you order your lives and fill up you jar? Is this church a big rock for you? Or do you find it’s more like the sand that sort of slips between the more important stuff in your life? How do you use the minutes of your week in the service of your congregation? How much of your time?

If we can get our heads in sync with our hearts and understand why we come here, and serve here, and live here and love here, then the hours we spend with each other here are experienced as a gift – something we receive, not something we hand over; time we have been given, not time we have had taken away.

Now before you write me off as nice and quaint again let me remind you of something. I know better than many of you how simplistic this message may sound. As fate would have it, I happen to be married to a pastor’s wife. (It’s funny ow that worked out.) I assure you that all illusions about time spent in the church as “our own” have been, and are continually, addressed. Any hint at trying to understand this idea simply and naively and I am straightened out. But that’s just it. It’s not simple thinking. It’s profound, deep identity-shaping thinking. We’ve been coming to church for so long out of a deep-seated sense of obligation and guilt that any more time outside of Sunday morning (and even this time on Sunday morning) has come to be viewed as a real sacrifice for the church rather a call to the church.

Our scripture lesson this morning reminds us that we’re not supposed to be doing this – worship, Sunday school, choir, fellowship, study, “church” – for others, but for ourselves. To nourish our life with “God” and to produce growth within us for compassion to the world around us. From there, from here we ought to re-enter the world refreshed and renewed, not wearied and worn out.

How will we spend our 10,080 weekly minutes in year to come? How will we make the most of our time? How will you invest our time wisely, sharing who you are with who we are in the coming year. Let us practice our piety in service to love and to life, to provide for all who come here. Not because it’s something we do, but because it’s someone we are.


Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 30, 2016