Giving as a Sign of Hope
By The Reverend Kenneth H. Brannon, Vice Rector
Jesus answered them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Messiah!' and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs. Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the and will come."
This passage may seem like a strange way to begin an article about the annual giving campaign. Usually, there is an emphasis on the positive... the good... the way we want things to be. Often, the message at stewardship time is, "We are blessed with so much bounty, we can't help but be grateful!" This may be true, but there is another way to look at giving: it's a sign of hope in the goodness of God when the world around us seems so bleak.
In this passage from Matthew, Jesus is preparing his disciples for tough times. It's apocalyptic in nature: a dramatic articulation of "the end." When studying apocalyptic literature, it's helpful to remember that the trials and tribulations are always contextual; they connect with something that is actually happening in the community. Rather than looking at apocalyptic literature as predictive, it's better to look at it as descriptive: a dramatic account of an ending that is already underway, and hope for a new beginning that is close at hand.
I have several family members and friends who are convinced that we are in the "end times," and that everything that is happening now-the pandemic, the turmoil in Afghanistan, the escalating cultural wars, the natural disasters-all of it is a sign that the world is ending and Jesus is coming again.
I agree with them, but not as they expect:
- We are experiencing an end of sorts, but so has every generation before us. Lesser forms must die before greater forms can rise;
- We are being tested, but not to see who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Difficult times burn away the chaff in all of us so that what is precious endures;
- Jesus is coming again, not with flowing hair as he surfs in on the clouds, but in communities that are more generous... more just... more aligned with the teaching of their Master.
Yes, things are coming to an end, even as new things are being born, In times like these, Jesus encourages us to endure, for the glory of God is being revealed in the testimony of our lives and the faithfulness of our community. Thank you for investing in what will endure.
The Rev. Kenneth H. Brannon