Sunday, September 24, 2017

Stewardship Questions and Answers, Part 1

Stewardship is the keeping, tending, safeguarding, and giving back of the gifts which God has given to us.

Why give?
God created us to be givers. God created us with the ability to give gifts to other people and doing so brings us joy and gratitude.

Why should I pledge versus simply giving?

Pledging helps both the giver and the church. Pledging helps the giver be intentional about what they are giving and by giving the gift spiritual grounding. Pledging helps the church in the budgeting process and by having an estimate of how much the church can expect to receive during any given time period.

If we were all to tithe would it be enough? Does tithing keep the church "open"?
With an Average Sunday Attendance of 75, with a range of family incomes between $15,000 and $100,000 on a normal bell curve, we would far exceed our current budget requirements if everyone tithed. Yes, tithing does help to keep the church “open.” However, it is not the only way to keep the church open.

How much does our church need?
Our current budget is at approximately $232,000 a year.

How does tithing help our town/community?
St. John’s has extensively given back to the community of Franklin throughout it’s lifetime. We support different organizations throughout the area, we give through different outreach programs, and most of all, we feed the hungry every month.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Stewardship Sunday 2017

Today is Stewardship Sunday! Which means that it is the start of St. John's Stewardship Campaign! Yay! I know you are all absolutely thrilled! Lets talk about money! It has been a few years since St. John's had a stewardship campaign. The last few years, the financial focus has been on the lift project, hoping to install a lift in the Parish Hall to help people get from the top to the bottom floors and back up more easily. While we are still working on that project, and I hear good things about how it is progressing, this year we are going to have a Stewardship Campaign again. We are asking for pledges for next year, and this is an opportunity for all of us to think deeply about what we are giving back to God in our lives.

In Paul's letter to the Romans today, we hear him say that whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. We hear Paul say that we are accountable to God. In his letter, he was mostly addressing behavior, especially the behaviors which created factions in the early church. Today, we still need to hear his reminder that we are accountable to God for our actions and behaviors. What does it mean to be accountable in the church? Well, like anywhere else, when you say you are going to do something, you have to follow through on doing so. When we say we want to give back to God, we have to follow through on what that means. As part of that, we are accountable to God for what we do with the gifts which God has given to us, including our financial resources. God has given us so many gifts! God has given us life, faithful communities, supportive families, stable housing, healthy nourishing food, safe clean water, the ability to find fulfilling work, or at least work which allows us to pay the bills. God abundantly gives to us, even when we don't give back. God continues to give to us because God loves us. As St. Augustine said, "God loves each of us as if there was only one of us." God has been loving us since before Abraham left his father's house, and Moses led the Israelites to freedom, before Jesus came to save us, and Paul shared the good news with the Romans, God loves us and gives us abundant gifts.

All the way back from the time of Moses, people have been recognizing God's abundant gifts and giving back out of gratitude. Traditionally, this giving back looked like giving back a tenth of the harvests from the fields and vineyards and gardens. People brought their grain, olives, wine, and livestock to the temples and holy places to give them back to God in gratitude for what God had given them. Today, we don't tend to have extensive fields or vineyards or gardens, we earn our living, not from the ground, but by working for companies and businesses and our harvest is the money we earn. When we give back to God in the form of money or volunteer time, we continue this tradition of giving back to God.

Of course, there is another side of this idea. We also want to be good stewards of all the gifts God has given to us. If we are to be accountable to God, we have to use what we have with God in mind first. Stewardship is the idea of keeping, tending, safeguarding, and giving back of the gifts which God has given to us. When we are good stewards of what has been given to us, we take care of it and use it as it is intended to be used. Stewards on estates were tasked with the good management of the property so that it would make money for the estate. Stewards on airplanes are supposed to take care of and keep safe all those on the plane for the duration of the trip.

In the gospel passage today we hear of some people who have not been good stewards. They are in debt, greatly in debt. However, the one receives an abundant gift, the gift of mercy and grace, debt forgiveness. He does not have to pay back a huge debt that he owes. That is a wonderful gift! Yet, he is not a great steward of that gift. He gets forgiveness, and then turns around and refuses to share. Its doubly saddening that he refuses to share the gift of forgiveness given to him, because he got it for free and it would have cost him nothing to share.

However, God calls us to be good stewards of all the gifts given to us. Money, life, time, forgiveness, and love. God created us out of love and continues to give us abundant gifts. As God gives to us, God created us to be givers as well.  God created us with the ability to give gifts to other people, and, well, I don't know about you, but doing so brings me joy and gratitude. When we are able to give to other people or to groups, we are able to share the abundant gifts we have received. I think of the last few weeks and the abundant generosity we have seen here at St. John's in order to send supplies to the people of Houston who lives have been completely altered by the Hurricane Harvey. We had collected enough for two trucks!


When it comes to sharing and giving, we at St. John's have done marvelously. I have high hopes for our Stewardship Campaign because I know how much we have to give. God has given to us abundantly and now we have an opportunity to share. Amen.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Rally Day 2017

Rally Day 2017

Here at St. John's, the community has been through many new eras. It has seen new centuries. It has seen new technological advances. It has seen the changes in cultures throughout the years. Each time has been death and a rebirth, a new era created through belief in the vision and faith in the journey. With the changes going on in the world, St. John's is facing a new era.

I'll tell you what about this new era though, the destination hasn't changed. We are moving forward towards Jesus' second coming. We are moving forward towards the kingdom of heaven. We are moving forward towards the fulfillment of salvation for all people. The destination hasn't changed. We are still walking towards the vision of peace on earth through God's love.

The Israelites were starting a new era with the Passover as told in the passage today from Exodus. From that day forward, they were marked. They were going to be saved from the Egyptians by God. They were going on a journey which would last for years. They were starting something new.

Even Paul in his letter to the Romans seems to think that a new era was emerging. He says that it is now the time to wake from sleep. Now is the time to realize that night is over and day is beginning. It is a new era.

This new era isn't going to be like the last era though. Over and over again I've heard in churches, that if only we could get everyone back into church, the church would grow again and be perfect again... like it was in the golden age. Sadly, this kind of thinking relies on some very incorrect assumptions. The first is that there has ever been a golden age in the church. The church has gone through booms and busts throughout its life time. This church, St. John's... well... its had its fair share of booms and busts. It took thirty years for this church to get to having long term regular weekly worship services... there were years when nothing happened on our property except whatever the animals who lived in the first brick church did. There were of course times when the regular attendance was around 120 people every week and groups had regular attendance every week.  Perhaps those were the golden days.

The second incorrect assumption about this desire to return to the golden age of the church is that people left because of something outside of the church. It was the golden age! Of course, there wasn't anything happening in the church that would drive people away... unfortunately this is not always true. The number one reason people leave churches is because they have been hurt by the community. They have either experienced something painful because of another member of the church or because some hurt was done by the community as a whole. Of course, there are simply other reasons people don't come to church, death, moving, and working being the other big reasons.

We cannot change that our community has lost members due to death, moving, or people having to work on Sundays because of our current economy. What we can change is whether people leave our community or fail to return to our community because of the past hurts they have experienced.

When we talk about the hurts that people have experienced by churches or by church communities, I am talking about experiences of alienation, exclusion, broken confidentiality, prejudice... We hear about instances of churches hurting people in cases where churches don't allow LGBTQ members to participate or push them out entirely. We hear about instances of churches spreading rumors about sexual activities... and we think, phew! That doesn't happen at my church! Yet, people still get hurt by churches in ways such as when one person is kept from joining the Altar Guild because other members of the Guild don't think that person would fit the group, or when none of the children will talk to another child because he or she smells bad, or if someone else shares information about another to people they didn't want to know. 

We have to ask forgiveness for what we have done in the past. We can only walk forward together, and building a solid relationship together requires being practiced in the art of forgiveness. We have all been hurt by the church or someone else in the church at some point in our lives. As a community, who have we hurt? Who has been turned away by us? If you or anyone you know has ever been hurt by the church, by this church, I apologize. I am very sorry.

We are being called into a new era, something big and new is waiting for us in the future... the dawn is about to break... as Paul tells us in the passage from Romans. And as I said last week part of the process of changing and being reborn is seeking forgiveness. Jesus tells us how to seek forgiveness from each other in the passage this week. Not in a self righteous way... going to talk to someone doesn't mean hitting them over the head with feelings of pain. Perhaps they did not mean to cause hurt or their actions were not wrong.

"We sometimes invoke the words of Jesus based on the premise that we are always right and the other wrong. Real life is seldom that simple. The complications of someone’s motivations are complex and not always clear to us. The wisdom in Jesus’ advice is not for us to be condemning the offender unless they repent. The wisdom is to go and talk to the person who is our brother or sister and check things out. It may simply be a misunderstanding; or we ourselves may be in the wrong. This good news passage is all about clearing the air, not fumigating the enemy." (Preachingtip.com)

As Matthew promises us at the end of the gospel passage this morning, any gathering of two or three Christians, including those in which people are hurt, is one where Jesus is present. Which means that when we go to talk to someone with whom we have had issues, Jesus goes with us. When we meet up for lunch or dinner outside the church, Jesus goes with us. When we start a new ministry and only a couple of people show up, Jesus is with us.

Where we go with Jesus, we build together a better church. Better relationships between people means a stronger church. A church more likely to walk together into the unknown of the future together, in love, in grace, and with forgiveness.

The last thing about forgiveness is that we aren't just going to need it now... in making sure we can move forward and not having the past drag us down. The fact of the matter is that in our new era... in the grand future, we are going to need to know how to forgive, both ourselves and others. We are going to need to know how to talk to one another in order to repair relationships. Trying new things means making mistakes. Making mistakes means people can get hurt. People getting hurt means that forgiveness needs to be practiced. Having more people in a community means more forgiveness is required. Thankfully, Jesus is with us. Jesus is helping us forgive and move forward.


Amen.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Chapter 25 The Heavenly Banquet

After years of being a Christian and working with the food pantry, Sara Miles finally comes out to her mother about being a Christian. Her mother had been an atheist most of her life and stood against the destructive components of the Christian church. But Sara finally decided to share with her mother about what she loved about Christianity over lunch. "It wasn't official Eucharist. It was real communion, with all the incomplete, stupid, and aching parts still there. Made by human hands, out of meat and hope, incarnate: what the Russian mystics called "a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, where none are left behind."" (278)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Chapter 25 The Heavenly Feast

While others found the food pantry to be way too much because of all the crazy people and the noise and the abundance of food that was free, Sara Miles describes how this fact alone mimics the sacramental way of being. "I thought the sacraments were a sign of God's grace precisely because they were so over the top: so abundant, so beyond human calculation, spilling over the unprepared and pious alike, feeding the world wildly." (267)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Chapter 24 Sharing Jesus

After a couple of years of working for St. Gregory's food pantry, Sara Miles describes how her sense of mission changed. "My only sense of "mission" now was to show others that they, too, could feed and touch and heal and love, without fear. To catch them up in the desire to see more, taste more, without caring if they got a doctrine right or became a regular at my church. To get them walking, without the safety net of ritual correctness, along the path that Jesus blazed and to share the feast of their lives with others." (266)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Chapter 24 Containing God

"When it came right down to it, the God that I'd found was a God who lived on earth, who knew what it was like to walk around in a body, fight with religious authorities, hurt his mother's feelings. "We walk the road, Lord Jesus, that you trod," went one of my favorite hymns." (264)

"And rather than protecting me and sealing me off in a community of shared doctrine and rules, this truth thrust me into the wildness of faith. I didn't need a creed to artificially connect me with other believers: It was the ragged vastness of our different spiritual lives that pointed, for me, to a larger force. It made me even more of a believer to accept that none of us, fundamentalist or radical or orthodox, Muslim or Jew or Christian, could adequately sum God up." (264-5)