Message: Our works do not save us. God does, by a relationship to him that we do express in deeds - returning the first fruits of time, talents and treasure.
For those who keep track (and I hope some of you do) last week I concluded a four-part series on How to Pray. We saw that prayer begins with gratitude, but requires persistent intercession to continue and that it ultimately leads to an emptying, an outpouring of self.
This Sunday I want address a practical part of that outpouring - namely, that we return first fruits to God. My brother has a cherry tree that he prunes each year. It's a joy to see the first ripe cherries. By rights those cherries, those first fruits, belong to God. The Bible says, "Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with grain, and your vats will overflow with wine." (Prov 3:9-10)
Giving back first fruits has different names: tithing, sacrificial giving and stewardship. I need you to invest your time, your abilities and your financial resources in St. Mary of the Valley.
I want to emphasize that this is not salvation by works. When we studied the Geography of Faith, we learned that in the desert God gave us a new religion: Not based on works, but on relationship with him. We can see that in today's Gospel. When God's appears to Moses in the burning bush, he says, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob."
God the Father is a person who saves us by a personal relationship with him in the person of Jesus by the power of a third person, the Holy Spirit. The relationship is personal - but not private. Rather, it incorporates us into a people. Heaven, as Jesus implies, is nothing more - and nothing less - that a relationship with God in the Communion of Saints.
What God wants is not your works. You and I can add nothing to him. What God wants is you and me. That why he sent his Son, Jesus - so we can enter a relationship with him.
That relationship, however, must express itself - by a giving of self. We have a remarkable example in today's first reading: the seven brothers who give their lives rather than submit to an evil king. Like them, our faith - our relationship with God - will ultimately require an outpouring of self. Those are the works that God wants, those that flow from the gift of self.
Today I ask you to take a step in giving yourself: your time, your abilities, your financial resources. I ask you to become a:
Planned, Priority, Percentage and Progressive - I have put the four "P's" in the bulletin. To help you we have cards you can fill out now or take home and return next Sunday.
I want you to know that I deeply appreciate your presence - that is a gift of time. And all those who small and great things for our parish - that is a gift of abilities or talent. And your financial giving - the gift of treasure. Every dollar given is a free gift and we strive to be good stewards of your stewardship.
Our works do not save us. God does, by a relationship to him that we do express in deeds - returning the first fruits of time, talents and treasure.
I would like to conclude with the words of the second reading: "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father...encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word." Amen.
Audio Version of this Homily
From Archives (32nd Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Evidence for God's Existence from Modern Physics (MP3 Audio File)
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Resources for Geography of Faith
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated November 2013)