The Feast of Dedication – October 5, 2014
I Kings 8:22, 27-30; Psalm 84:1-6; I Peter 2:1-5, 9; Matthew 21:12-16
The Feast of Dedication provides us with the opportunity to give thanks to God for our parish church. We give thanks for those who built and beautified St Thomas's, for those who have endowed it with treasures of liturgical art and financial resources. We give thanks for those who have established our unique liturgical traditions and pattern of musical excellence. We have inherited a great deal from our spiritual forebears in this house of worship, which continues to inspire us today.
Our festival today is linked to the dedication of the first Temple in Jerusalem, and our Old Testament lesson is a portion of King Solomon's prayer of dedication. It is a beautiful prayer, carefully constructed poetically and theologically. In it Solomon articulates the tension between the reality that God is in heaven and cannot be constrained within an earthly dwelling, and the truth that there was in that particular building set aside for the worship of God something unique that made the Temple an avenue for encountering God in a special way. God is at home there, although His home is not there.
Will God indeed dwell on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee, much less this house that I have built! Yet attend to the prayer ... of thy servant, O Lord my God ... that thine eyes may ever be upon this house night and day, this place of which thou didst say, "My Name shall be there." (I Kings 8: 27-29)
Within this tension we find the breadth of purpose behind the building of the Temple. It has been built by and for the Israelites; for those living within the Covenant who desire to live righteously before God and who desire to worship God in Spirit and truth. And it has been built also for those living outside the Covenant; for those who are separated from the community of God's people, whether by sin, illness, ignorance, distance, race, or time.
Solomon's prayer is that the Temple will be for all these people outside the community a sign of God's loving purpose, and means of turning people's hearts and minds Godward.
So, importantly, even as Solomon dedicates the Temple and the people who built the Temple rejoice together in their creation, yet the King reminds them that the Temple's purpose is always directed beyond the immediate congregation. It is a building laden with potential.
And so it was with the people who built St Thomas's. They built and adorned this parish church so they themselves could worship God; so they could grow in the knowledge and love of God, and His Son, Jesus Christ. And they built this place also for others, for people they did not know, so that St Thomas's could be a vehicle for turning people toward God.
It was King Solomon's father, David, you will recall, who had first wanted to build the Temple. David was ashamed to be living in a grand palace while the Ark of the Covenant, the Ark of God's Presence, was housed in a temporary structure.
But God denied David permission to build it. Too much blood had been spilt at his hands, and in particular the blood of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, whom David effectively had killed. Yet, even though David was prevented from building the Temple, he nonetheless made provision for its construction. He put aside gold, silver, and bronze in anticipation of the day when construction would commence. All these riches were on hand when Solomon called the people of his day to contribute to the work of the Temple.
So, too, have we in this place a solid foundation upon which to add our own offering to God's work in the world. The contribution we make to St Thomas's today continues what our benefactors began. And just as the people of Israel built the Temple, and the founders of this parish built this Church, for others as much as for themselves, so too our offerings to St Thomas's are not made exclusively for our own spiritual welfare.
It is God's work we are about. So when we make our financial contribution to God's house we do not only, or chiefly, calculate how much St Thomas's is worth to us; we think about what will enable our beloved parish to carry out Christ's mission in the world. What will enable us to minister to the people who gather here today, and to minister to those who are not among us – either because they feel themselves separated from Christ or because they do not know Him? What will enable this place to be a sign to the world of God's loving presence and open the possibility for people we do not know to be drawn into a lively relationship with Him?
We begin today an annual stewardship campaign in which we are asked to think and pray about what God is calling each of us to do to build upon the strong foundation we have inherited. Our resources in talent and dollars have been so abundant over the years that we have perhaps tended to take them a bit for granted. We have been able to rely on the generosity of others to meet the parish's needs. And perhaps that is the reason we have fallen into the trap of thinking about our parish budget in terms of meeting our most pressing needs, rather than as the means to carry out God's mission in this place.
One of the great things to have happened at St Thomas's over the past year has been the number of opportunities created for people to think about the parish in a concerted way. The parish survey met with an extraordinary response, and people gave fresh thought to the parish's mission. There is a remarkable consensus about what our priorities are and should be. This thinking continued through parish consultations and meetings, and is ongoing in the work of several task groups. It has been a very productive and exciting year. The stewardship campaign we begin today is a direct response to this parish-wide work.
It is in this context that you are invited and encouraged to think about, and pray so as to hear, what God wants each of us to do for His work in and through St Thomas's. Stewardship of the resources that God has entrusted to us is, after all, chiefly a matter of discipleship.
There are a couple of things we need to reflect upon as we consider what God wants each of us to do financially to further Christ's mission in this place, things that pertain to us as Anglicans and as members of this parish.
First, we need to wrestle with the fact that Anglicans tend to direct relatively little of their charitable givings to their parish church. Of the top mainline Protestant churches in North America, Canadian Anglicans rank 18th out of 19 in their financial support for their parish.¹ That is not to say we aren't generous elsewhere. Perhaps we are. Certainly the people of this parish are engaged in an extraordinary number of other interesting artistic organizations and important social agencies requiring financial support. But it is worth recognizing that historically, as Anglicans, our parishes tend to be low down on our list of financial priorities.
Second, and even more surprisingly, the average level of giving to this parish is about 80% of the average level of giving to other Anglican parishes in the Diocese of Toronto.² On average, St Thomas's receives $80 for every $100 received by other Anglican parishes in this diocese. We are an active congregation in downtown Toronto, with diverse ministries, and an excellent and ambitious music programme. That we are able to do all that we do is an indication of the extent to which we have relied on our inheritance.
The biblical pattern of giving to God's work is the offering of a tithe of 10% of income. That is the first-fruit of our labours. It is a pattern that many denominations adhere to, but one that Anglicans have not adopted very widely.
Recognizing the many calls for assistance from other agencies, social and artistic, some parishes have promoted what is called "the Anglican tithe," encouraging parishioners to give 5% of income to the parish, and 5% to other agencies.³
In the years that I have successfully managed to tithe 10% of my income to the Church it has been possible because I have assiduously taken my pledge out of my account every month. When I fail to do that and try to catch up at the end of the year, I rarely do better than an "Anglican tithe."
One reason we have not tended to emphasize the tithe as the standard by which to determine the level of our financial support to the Church is the very correct understanding that the Gospel of Christ has liberated us from such rules. What matters is not meeting a set standard, but developing a generous and responsive heart.
We think immediately of Jesus' praise of the poor widow whose donation of a mite to the Temple treasury is counted of greater value than the larger sums given by others. We just have to be careful that we don't consider ourselves a poor widow too quickly.
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One of the striking things about this beautiful parish church is that it is all made of the same red brick. On the outside it looks like many other structures in the neighbourhood, so much so that it is easy for people to walk by without noticing it. The inside has the same red brick as the exterior, but somehow it is entirely transformed. It takes people's breath away when they step inside for the first time.
That same inner transformation of externals is the work that takes place in this parish church. The Bread and Wine of the Altar is transformed by God's grace into the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation. We are not outwardly transformed by our participation in the Eucharist, but we are, bit by bit, transformed inwardly and spiritually, beautified and adorned by Christ's presence in us.
So, too, our alms are transformed by God, as we offer our earthly riches for the work of the Church. The money belonging to the Bank of Canada becomes the currency of God's kingdom when we employ it for God's glory. It is not easy to get the balance right, so let's take the opportunity our stewardship campaign provides to think about the financial resources God has entrusted to us, so that we use them well.
Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven ... for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:20)
1 “Denomination Giving Statistics, Yearbook of Canadian & American Churches,” in Ben Harder, The Seven Myths of Church Fundraising (Winnipeg: Art Book Bindery, 2003), 36.
2 Statistics shared by Bishop Poole.
3 Harder, The Seven Myths of Church Fundraising.