September 27, 2020

Devotional: Presbyterians Sharing Sunday

          Within our denominational calendar this Sunday is known as Presbyterians Sharing Sunday. It is an opportunity for us to learn about Presbyterians Sharing, the national fund that supports the work of the denomination,  and to acknowledge that we are not alone. We are part of a body. We belong to this denomination of Presbyterians across the country that is connected by a common faith, governance, mission, history and shared ministry. Presbyterians Sharing is the fund in which much of that connection is made possible. In fact, I can say with certainty that I would not be here today had it not been for Presbyterians Sharing- for two reasons. One, this fund helped create and subsidize various youth programs that I was involved in. It is where I learned to develop and define my faith- without them I would not have heard a call to ministry. Also, this very congregation was funded by a campaign called “Live the Vision” which used funds collected through Presbyterians Sharing to start churches in the mid 1990s. This congregation would likely not exist without the support it received from Presbyterians Sharing. So, it is important to me that we take time to learn about this fund and how we can support it. This year the Moderator, The Rev. Amanda Currie, wrote a sermon for this particular Sunday in honour of Presbyterians Sharing and it is her sermon that is the foundation for my message this morning.

This morning Jesus continues to use the image of working in a vineyard to describe the Kingdom of God. I’m beginning to think that first century Palestine looked a lot like today’s Okanagan- vineyards everywhere! Clearly, Jesus’ original audience would have identified or at least understood that working in a vineyard is challenging work and requires a special touch. It takes special attention to know when the grapes are ready and when or how they should be harvested. In this particular parable a Father asks his first son to work in the vineyard and initially the son declines, perhaps because he had other things to do or perhaps because he didn’t feel he had the right knack for what it takes. Yet, this son changes his mind and goes and works in the vineyard. The Father asks his second son to work in the vineyard and this son initially says he will but then changes his mind and does not- perhaps because he got distracted or because he was simply paying lip service to his father.

After telling this story Jesus asks those who were listening, “Which of the two sons did what the father wanted?” Despite the fact that he changed his mind, clearly the first son did what the father had asked. How often have we looked at the work that needs to be done, in God’s vineyard, and decided that we really didn’t have what it takes? Then, praying about it or thinking about it a bit more, we decide that the task is not as great as initially thought- and with careful attention we see where God is asking us to harvest. How often have we said, sure I can do that, and then realized that the task was a bit more than we can handle? I have certainly been both the second and first sons in this story at one time or another.

The parable reminds us, however, that faith must be more than just words. The son who promises to work in the vineyard and then fails to do so is of no help to his father. In contrast, the one who hesitates to work, but then decides to take up the task, likely pleases his father with his unexpected generosity.  Amanda Currie writes, “I think about this Scripture today, as we reflect on the call to participate in our denomination’s shared ministry and mission. Through our gifts to Presbyterians Sharing, we participate in God’s mission. Together, we equip congregations, ministries, and presbyteries with skills and tools for evangelism, discipleship, stewardship and Christian Education. Together we create and support new faith communities and participate in national and international mission. We engage in healing and reconciliation and support Indigenous ministries. We prepare and support leaders and live out God’s call to justice. We empower, encourage, and support youth. And we do so much more to participate in God’s mission.

Did you know that the General Assembly has agreed to encourage congregations to give a tithe, that’s 10% of what we raise- to our common ministry, to Presbyterians Sharing. It’s basically our way of showing up to do some work in the vineyard. Showing up to work in the vineyard is not always easy, we discussed that last week. This year, 2020, has been a difficult year for all of us in some way or another. The COVID-19 pandemic swept through the world and through our communities- disrupting our plans, testing our capacity to adapt, and challenging us to be the church outside our buildings and without our usual gatherings for worship or fellowship. Thinking about how much things changed for us during this pandemic makes me realize we don’t know what was going on with the two sons in the parable.

When the second son said he would go to work in the vineyard, he might have had every intention of doing so. Maybe he became ill or injured or had to give priority to a more urgent task at that moment. And the other son who decided he could help…was that because he saw his brother was suddenly unavailable? Did he realize he had more time and energy than he expected? Or was it because he loved his Father and he suddenly saw how desperately his dad needed his help?

Although we don’t know why the second son didn’t show up, we do know that showing up is important, and we can imagine how delighted the father was when the first son was able to be there. But, while Jesus’ parable calls us to follow through on the promises and commitments we make, there is room for grace. We are called to give according to our ability, and while some congregations might not reach their goal, others are surprised when the generosity of their members allows them to surpass it.”

We as CVPC celebrated our 25th anniversary this past January, the session had decided to make stewardship part of that celebration- little did we know what was coming our way. But I think about how over 25 years ago- news went out across this country that a congregation was starting in a place most people had not heard of called the Comox Valley, and Presbyterians from PEI to BC helped fund this congregation for its first few years. This is why it is important for us to realize the impact that Presbyterians Sharing can have. There are a variety of ways that we are invited to share our gifts of money, time, and talents for the work of God’s reign on earth, and in difficult times we can pull together to support those who are struggling more. The important thing is that we all participate in the mission that God is calling us to do. Supporting Presbyterians Sharing is an important way for us, for all Presbyterians across Canada, to give of ourselves for the needs of others, to share together in making God’s presence seen and felt in the midst of difficult times, and to be faithful to God’s call to work in the vineyard for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom. Amen