"Service and Generosity Around the Table"
By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
The Day of Pentecost (B)
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-- in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
`In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' "
Pentecost is a day when God gives the Church the greatest gift of all: the Holy Spirit.
Gift-giving is an aspect of God’s very character. It’s what God does on Pentecost. It’s what Jesus did on Good Friday. It’s what we are called to do today. Gift-giving (generosity) is an important fruit of the Spirit (Gal 6). It is a proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a community of believers.
God gives us us the Spirit. God renews us with this gift and we are also renewed by our fellowship with one another. In our apostolate, our ministry to other people, we practice giving gifts to each other in the church and to others who aren’t members of the parish.
Remember St. Paul’s famous words in Ephesians 5:1-2: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (RSV).
St. Matthew’s has done a good job of imitating God in generosity. Over the last year we have developed a mission theme that describes the work and charisms we have and helps us to define and shape our future ministry. Life Around the Table: Worship, Fellowship, and Service. Again this both both gets at some of the key things that make us St. Matthew’s and help us discern more clearly the Holy Spirit’s call in our common life.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been preparing for a parish community meeting that we’ll hold after the 10:00 service today. It’s a time I want to set aside at least 1-2 times per year for community reflection. Our focus today will be looking at the past year and how we have lived into this new mission theme. So I’ve been doing some brainstorming and cataloging (by myself and with others) of what we do in the parish.
It’s hard to put a firm number on these kinds of things, but I counted over a dozen different events and/or ministries that St. Matthew’s does that relate directly to Service. Most of them intersect with Worship and Fellowship, which is intentional. But let’s just name a few and thank God for the generosity of this community in our ability to serve each other and our neighbors.
Our meals after Sunday worship provide regular opportunities for fellowship and growth of friendships in the parish. Our after-worship meals are a distinctive characteristic of St. Matthew’s. Whenever I meet with a visitor to the church and ask them what they think of St. Matthew’s they mention the food. We cannot overlook the hard work of service performed by all four women’s guilds in the parish who make this possible.
Episcopal Church Women support the weekly fellowship by purchasing paper goods, disposable plates and utensils, coffee, table cloths, and all the other things that the rest of us don’t have to think about.
Trunk or Treat is an opportunity to be out in public in our neighborhood. Meet children and families from Frazier Homes, Greenbriar, and more.
Vacation Bible School also allows us to get to know the neighborhood better. It’s obviously a ministry for children, but it has a profound effect on parents and families as well. We provide supervised, safe child care and a home cooked meal in the middle of summer. And that’s doesn’t even take into account the hard work our teachers do to provide a solid Christian curriculum every year.
We raised funds for Food for the Poor, Episcopal Relief & Development, and Emmaus House. At different times of the year the parish has taken voluntary special offerings to support charities that do work beyond our four walls. I say voluntary because we are not required to give to anybody besides the Diocese of Georgia. Everyone else we support is because the people of this parish or the Vestry decide it is important and worth making a sacrifice. These organizations impact the world in different ways and at different levels. Emmaus House provides consistent relief to the homeless and poor right here in downtown Savannah. ERD worked hard to bring emergency disaster relief after Hurricane Harvey in the Gulf of Mexico. Food for the Poor supports relief and development efforts throughout Latin America in places that face generational poverty. Even when it didn’t make the strictest financial sense, our parish was willing to do what we knew was right and give to help others, even before helping ourselves.
Then there are the countless ways that this community lives generously without any formal organization or ministry. Whenever someone dies, our members rally around the bereaved family with cards, gifts, and food. Our ECW or guilds often prepare the repast. When my grandfather passed away in December, Kelly and I got dozens of cards and enough monetary gifts to pay for our plane tickets to and from the funeral in New York. I personally can’t thank you enough!
This community knows how to love through practical, self-sacrificial giving. We know how to serve. We know how to love. In this way we know how to be imitators of God who walk in love the way Christ loved us. We are imitators of a God who gave us the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts and make us into the Body of Christ on earth.
All of this is true, but it’s important to remember that we haven’t arrived. We still have areas for growth and improvement. We don’t necessarily need to do more, but we always need to ask God to send the Holy Spirit into every aspect of our lives. Where are our blind spots? What can we do to make St. Matthew’s a place of greater spiritual rest and renewal? What are things we can do to more faithfully serve each other and our neighbors?
That can happen for the whole church community or in our individual and family lives. We’re called to be Christians all the time, after all. I recently heard a preacher say that he was out to lunch with his family on a Sunday after church and was chatting with his server. She said that among all the waiters she knows, Sundays are the days they dread working the most. “Why?” he asked. “Because Sundays are really busy with Christians coming to our restaurant after church, so we work really hard, but most of these customers leave lousy tips. We work extra hard and get paid the least. It’s no fun!” (paraphrase).
What if Christians weren’t known for being stingy and stuck-up, but for being generous? What if servers looked forward to working Sundays because they knew the after-church crowd was going to tip 50% or 100%? That’s just an example, but what if our love shined through every area of our lives so that Christians would be known for doing more than talking about doing? We are working on being doers of the word and not just hearers (James 1:22-25), but it’s always important to come back to how and why.
God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have everything we need to be generous givers to each other and to the neighbors around us. We’re doing great in a lot of areas. But God’s dreams are always bigger than ours. God’s love is always stronger than our human efforts. And God will do more than we can ask or imagine this Pentecost and beyond. Amen.