Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Proper 25A

Sometimes I think humanity has the shortest short term memory ever.

Case and point:
God is constantly turning over the way of the world:
raising up leaders from messed-up sinners
setting people free from different kinds of evil
working miracles of love even through the stoniest hearted people who start welcoming former enemies into their lives...

And every time it happens
by it.

we are surprised by something that happens over and over and over again...
So often God's something new...
is actually really really old.

This is part of the reason we share the stories of the Bible over and over and over again.
Even the boring bits.

The passage from Deuteronomy today shares the story of the transition from Moses as leader of the Israelites to Joshua, son of Nun. On the surface, it is not that interesting... kind of boring, maybe a little sad.

God shows Moses the whole Promised Land, but God tells him he has to die first.
So Moses chooses his successor and then dies.
The Israelites mourn for Moses.
And then Joshua leads them into the Promised Land.

Yet, while that summary tells you what happens, it leaves out all the good stuff that the author made sure to write into the story.

First, Moses goes up on top of a mountain.
Which, in the Bible, means something significant is going to happen.
Anyone remember Mount Sinai? The Ten Commandments?
Yea, that took place on top of a mountain.
And remember, Moses is close to 120 years old...
Its a miracle he made it to the top of the mountain.

Then, God shows Moses all of the Promised Land.
Which, is impossible from the top of that mountain.
They say that on a clear day, one can see as far as Jerusalem from the top of Mount Nebo, however, one cannot see the Mediterranean, which is the Western Sea.
God showed him things he wouldn't have normally been able to see.

After seeing way more than can humanly be seen, Moses comes back down the mountain.
Seriously, I have never met a 120 year old with this much vigor.
Moses then dies and is buried in the valley.
The author specifically wants us to know that Moses dies with his sight unimpaired and his vigor unabated.
So it would seem.
Though that is not exactly what the author writes in the Hebrew.
What the author is trying to tell us is that Moses was supposedly still sexually active leading up to his death.

Why does the author want us to know this?

Because the Israelites were doing something totally new. They were starting a whole new nation. Not based on lineage or wealth, but based on the promise of God in relationship with them.
God had just set them free in one of the first successful slave revolts in known history.
Compared to the other gods known at the time, this new God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was setting people free instead of enslaving people.
Which is what the other gods did.
God was doing
Something new.

And here they are again. On the cusp of something new, about to enter the Promised Land.

The Israelites had spent so much time in Egypt asking the age old question
we continue to ask over and over and over again
Are our lives set in stone and unable to change or can we be set free from whatever it is that enslaves us?
Have you ever asked yourself that question?
Is my life stuck the way it is or can it change?
I have asked myself that question.
This is why we tell this story over and over and over again.
Because it answers the question with a huge, resounding, God-shaking-the-earth
We can be free.
This story is just one example, from five thousand years ago.
your life can change.
Their lives changed.
They were stuck in bondage. They were trapped by the malice of others.
They were stuck in a routine which ground them into the earth.
And God changed their lives.

So, they have started something new with God. And they get really excited about it. They want to share it.
That's what you do with Good News, you share it.
And they needed someone to share it with.
So they decide to teach it to their children.

Now you remember what the Egyptians had done to the Israelites when they were in Egypt land, right?
They killed their babies... 
so that there were not many children. 

That's why Moses went down the Nile river in a basket when he was a baby
to be found by the Pharaoh's daughter.

So now the Israelites had good news they wanted to share with their children and they didn't have that many children, so they had to create more.

And how do you create a lot of children?
Have sex.

The author is telling us that Moses was still participating in all the new stuff God was doing, even at 120 years old.
You are never too old or too young to be working with God.
God is always doing something new.

Then we come to the Gospel passage from Matthew.
God is doing something new here too.
Through Jesus.
The Pharisees come to Jesus with a question to test him.
Debate was the public forum of expressing opinions and teaching and sharing news
This kind of thing happened all the time.

The Pharisees ask Jesus a fairly tough question:
"which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

Remember, not only are there the Ten Commandments, there are 613 commandments written out in the book of Leviticus.
So choosing which is the greatest would take some serious study and skill.

But Jesus has done his homework and he gives the answer, 
the full summary of the law some call it.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

In debate, once you have been asked a question and answered it, 
now it is your turn to ask a question.
Jesus does not disappoint.
He asks, "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?"

Jesus wants to know what the Pharisees think of what God is doing through sending a Savior to his people. 
Because God was doing something new with the Messiah.
For so many years, the people of Israel had thought that the Messiah was going to be saving them from the political forces of the world.
Which is part of the reason the Pharisee's answer is "The son of David." 
In order to undo the political injustices done to Israel throughout the years, the Messiah had to be a son of the most famous and God-chosen king, King David. 

Yet, Jesus was not there to save the people from the political forces of the world.
Jesus was there to save the people from something much much bigger.
God was doing something new.

God is always doing something new in our lives.
Unfortunately we are not always able to see it.
We get caught up in distractions and our own expectations and we miss what God is doing.

What is God doing in your life?
Is it something new?

Of course, it may be that God isn't doing something new,
God is doing something very very old
perhaps we are seeing it new

God is always at work in the world 
and at work in our lives.
Your life is Not set in stone. 
You are Not stuck in whatever is holding you hostage.
You are Not stuck enslaved to the institution, addiction, or emotional drama which is tiring you out.
Our God is a God who sets people free.
Who makes promises to us and is faithful to us
even when we are not faithful to God.
Put your faith in God and look for God at work.
God is doing something new today.

Proper 24A

All things are God's. 
We like to think of certain things as OURS.
We are wrong.
Each week we stand together and say the words of the Nicene Creed. In the Creed we speak about a very specific type of God. We affirm our faith in a God who created all things and for whom all things were made. 
The whole of creation.
All the things.
Including, but not limited to:
This church, the Tiffany Windows, the organ, these vestments, the Parish Hall, the tables, the chairs, the clothing we are wearing, our cars, our houses, our books, our food, our plants, our newspapers, our knickknacks, our computers, our phones, our televisions, our comfy Lazy Boy chairs, our toilet paper, our money, our emotions, our dreams, our goals, our souls, our bodies.
All things are God's. 
All things are God's. (Have them repeat it.)

The Gospel story this morning from Matthew is kind of a joke. 
Did you listen to it?

The Pharisees have decided to entrap Jesus with what he is saying. 
So they send their lackeys to pester him until he says something they can frame him with.
The lackeys do their best, insulting Jesus with the first words out of their mouths.
"Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality." 
Which sounds nice and all, however, whoever said this was not being sincere at all. Not one bit.
Which is why Jesus calls him out on his lie when he replies. 
The culture at the time was very much one of debate and discussion. Asking other people's opinions, verbal wordplay, and answering questions with questions were all accepted and expected parts of social discourse and relationship. So when the lackey suggests that Jesus doesn't need anyone else's opinion, he is trying to insult him. 
Jesus calls him out on his lie when he responds, calling him a hypocrite. He knows the lackey doesn't believe that Jesus is sincere or that he teaches with truth.  
And then he asks the question about taxes. 
"Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?"
In the first century, paying taxes to the Emperor for the Jewish people was giving into the oppression of the Roman Empire's rule. The Jewish people did not believe that they should be paying taxes to the Romans, and they certainly didn't want to be doing so. If Jesus had said that they didn't need to be paying taxes to the Emperor, he would have made the crowd very happy, however, he would have been in some immediate hot water with the Roman government. If Jesus had said directly that they should pay taxes to the Roman government, he would have been going against the Jewish idea that the Romans were oppressors and not lawful rulers. 
Instead, Jesus is witty and brilliant.
He asks to see the coin with which one pays taxes. The Roman denarius had the emblem of the Roman ruler on it, which pretty much always included the head of the Emperor. The Roman Emperor's had the grand delusion that everything they conquered belonged to them. 
So when Jesus says, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." Jesus is being a bit facetious. 
All things are God's.
Even the denarius and the Emperor and the emperor's military and emperor's government. 
All things are God's.
That is Jesus' point.
They were all too busy asking the wrong question.
The real question is: If all things are God's, then how does God want us to use everything?
There is a huge difference between how we want to use everything and how we would use things if we were listening to how God wants us to use things.
In the world, one of the most prevalent themes is "the more you have, the better you are." 
Which is what spurs on the keeping up with the Joneses mentality. 
And pretty much every marketing strategy or ploy ever.  
We think, in order to show our importance and identity, we need more stuff. We need better stuff.
Essentially, we tend to think like hoarders.
More stuff will bring me more stability and acceptability and influence and safety. I need more stuff.
It is mine and I can use it however I want.
All things are God's. 
So the question for us today is how does God want us to use God's stuff?
I have realized in thinking about this passage that we cannot ask the question, "How does God want us to use the stuff God has given to us?" There is a subtle difference between the wording which makes a huge difference. Once we think of something as having been given to us, we think of it as now ours. When we think of God giving to us, we naturally fall into thinking we are now owners. 
However, All things are God's. 
We also tend to think that whenever we acquire new things, we deserve them. In fact, most of us like to think we deserve much better than we have. Certainly, the Roman Emperor during Jesus' time thought he deserved the taxes and religious devotion which the people under his rule gave him. 
(head shake)
All things are God's.

How does God want us to use God's stuff?
It is only through faithful discernment and relationship with God do we find out how God wants us to use the things around us.
We build the relationship with God through prayer and listening, through reading and discussing the scriptures, through being a part of God's community. 
God is constantly sharing with us how we are to use creation. Over and over again throughout the scriptures, we are given signs and clues and suggestions. 
Feed the hungry.
Clothe the poor.
Care for the sick.
Love your neighbor.

Jesus' witticism about giving the emperor what is the emperor's and God what is God's is really a call to remembrance the place of God in our lives. 
It ends up being a mind opening shift in our world view, because we have forgotten that what we have doesn't belong to us. Jesus points out to all those who were listening to him that day that they had forgotten the truth of the matter about the world around them. 
What Jesus says to the lackeys of the Pharisees is even more subversive then they had even imagined. They had expected him to undermine the Emperor, they hadn't expected him to undermine them as well. 
Even we who are God's people need to remember,
All things are God's. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Stewardship Questions and Answers, Part 5

Where does the money from our "seasonal outreach" envelopes go?
The money from our “Seasonal Outreach” envelopes goes to support the outreach missions of the Church during that time period of the year. During the Christmas season, the money goes to support our Christmas outreach projects, Adopt A Family and the Thanks-Giving Tree. At other times of the year, the money supports the Shepherd’s Green Community Food Pantry and the Joyful Noise Offering.

If we don't give enough to cover our budget, what will we cut?
We hope that we do not have to cut anything from our budget. Unfortunately in the event of major income issues, certain aspects of our life together do not get the support they deserve. The Finance Ministry makes such discernment carefully and prayerfully in order to continue the core mission of the Church.

What if we don't agree with the church on some issues?
You are more than welcome to disagree with the church on some issues. Hopefully, this does not stop you from giving back to God out of gratitude for the many and various ways God has provided for you.

Is it okay to designate where one's gifts go?
Usually we ask for people to give undesignated donations to the church. In special circumstances, the church offers a specific fund or project which needs designated fund to support it, such as a capital campaign or a fundraiser. Otherwise, we ask that you put your trust in the leadership of the church in the use of funds to support the ongoing mission of the Church.

Who decides how our money is spent?
Ultimately the decision of how we spend our money is left with the Vestry and the Priest. At St. John’s, the Finance Ministry starts the budgeting process and takes a look at all the large ticket items that might be purchased in the future. The Finance Ministry makes recommendations to the Vestry and the Priest, who then make decisions based in the best interests of the Church.

What is the church’s vision?

St. John’s vision is to be an open and engaging congregation where the needs of people are met, spiritually, physically, and socially. St. John’s vision is to send out its members into the world to proclaim the good news of Jesus and to support people along their spiritual journeys. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Reformation - Episcopal Impact

"Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen."
- Martin Luther, The 95 Theses

So Martin Luther opened his 95 Theses which he sent to members of the church hierarchy in order to start some conversation about issues he saw in the theological and ecclesiastical workings of his day. The Reformation, born 500 years ago, was born in the search for truth.

It was that thirst for truth which inspired the early English Reformers. While much of the English Reformation was more political than strictly religious in nature, there were those who had been reading and following along with the reformation ideas and events happening elsewhere and took the opportunity before them to make some changes in the English church when it split from Rome.

This coming Sunday, at 7:00 pm at First United Methodist Church here in Franklin, the community of Franklin is going to be gathering together to commemorate the search for truth which led to the Reformation. The service will include readings, music, and sermons which honor and commemorate the different ways we seek truth and love God, and the myriad of ways we do so as part of the unity of Christ's body. I hope you will join us for this service. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Stewardship Questions and Answers, Part 4

What can we give to the church in addition to money?
The church is always in need of volunteers throughout the year. Giving of your time and talent are welcome additions to gifts of money. Talking to the priest is one way to find a suitable way your time and talents can gifts to St. John’s.

Does tithing include giving to all charities, or only to the church?
Traditionally, a tithe is specifically money given to the church. Giving to other charities is commendable and important; however it does not count as part of a tithe.

Does it count toward our giving if we give to non-church groups (secular or religious)?
Giving to other organizations counts as giving back to the community and to God. However, it does not count as giving to the church. It is a distinction made for financial reasons only.

What is storehouse tithing?
Storehouse tithing is a reference to the Old Testament idea of bringing the first ten percent of your crop to the storehouse (the temple/priest). (Malachi 3: 9-10) Storehouse tithing means that even if you are giving to other organizations, ten percent (a tithe) goes to the church.

Where does the money go? What is our money used for?
The money donated to St. John’s is used to run the facilities, pay the staff, put on the events and programs, give back to the community, share with the Diocesan community, and invest in our future.

Why do we need to send so much money to the Diocese?

The Diocesan Assessment enables us to participate equally in the life and mission of the Diocese, and supports the work of the Bishop and diocesan staff. The Assessment also helps to support other churches in the diocese and the diocesan outreach. The Assessment is based on a percentage of our total budgeted income for the year. Each church is assigned a certain percentage bracket based on our financial means and sustainability.

Friday, October 20, 2017


 "If what's loosed on earth will be loosed on high/it's a hell of a heaven we must go to when we die."
- Josh Ritter, Thin Blue Flame

In Rachel Held Evans' book, Searching for Sunday, which is being read in Adult Formation, there is a chapter entitled "What We Have Done" which is written as a litany. In the first half of the litany, she goes through terrible things done by the church over thousands of years of history, followed by the response, "Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy." In the second half of the litany, she gives thanks for men and women throughout the thousands of years of Christianity who stood up to violence and injustice in the name of Christ, who were pioneers for the Gospel, with the response, "We give thanks."

We probably have all heard the proverb, "Confession is good for the soul." Confession is also good for the community and the Church. At St. John's we practice open confession on a daily basis through our services of Morning Prayer and Eucharist. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that confession of sins was part of John the Baptist's ministry at the Jordan River. Those coming to be baptized confessed their sins before they were baptized. Confession allows us to be open with our mistakes and recognize our own imperfections. Once we confess, we are able to seek forgiveness, which is a good practice for everyone, including community groups. We have more power than we think we do in affecting the lives of those around us.

For all the hurts done by St. John's,
Lord, have mercy.
For all the hearts broken by the community,
Lord, have mercy.

For all those who have been open about their sins and have sought forgiveness,
We give thanks.
For those who stand up to violence and injustice in our community,

We give thanks.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Funeral Sermon - B. Kim Murray

I first met Robin Murray in April of last year. I was here for my interview visit and she and I and Kaycee and Kathy Rogers went to breakfast at Amazing Foods together. I remember that breakfast fondly for many reasons, pretty much all of which had to do with the company I found myself in and the conversation we had (and of course, partially because of the delicious food). What Robin told me that day was that she was a golf widow, which was also my first experience with that term. Kim, Bear to his friends, was seriously fond of golf. From what I have heard, he golfed three days a week, eleven months of the year. I have also heard that he only talked about two subjects, golf and Robin, for he had found himself a wonderful wife and friend in Robin.

Kim was also a member here at St. John's and a participant in our weekly Wednesday night bible study group, a missionary representative on our Honduras mission trip and loved delivering Christmas presents with the Daughters of the King to Sugar Valley Lodge. He had a hearty laugh and he was a straight shooter, you always knew where you stood with him. He had good relationships with many in our community and I know that there are many here today who will miss him.

Thankfully, Kim had a relationship with God and he knew the Christian promise and hope. He knew that he had been baptized and marked as Christ's own forever. As Jesus says in the gospel passage today, the only requirement for eternal life is belief. While belief is not always easy to maintain all the time, we can be comforted by the promise Jesus gives us. Anyone who hears what Jesus says and believes in him will have eternal life. 

Even better, Jesus promises that the kingdom of God is already at work. The hour is coming and is now here, says Jesus, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God - Kim is listening directly to Jesus now. Death does not have the last word when one believes in Jesus Christ. 

Perhaps you doubt Jesus. Perhaps you doubt that any of us will have eternal life. Perhaps you doubt that Jesus has conquered death. The reading from Lamentations which we heard earlier speaks to the steadfastness of God.  The Bible shows over and over again how steadfast God is in keeping his promises. Over and over again, humanity makes mistakes and messes up, yet God is always there and always keeping the promises. God's love for us never ends.One of the many names for God used throughout the Bible is Comforter. Not the big fluffy kind which we all put on our beds in the middle of winter, but the kind who is present every time you need him. God is the Comforter who is present in the midst of grief and trouble. Every time something bad happens, God is right there with us, working in ways we cannot see. Holding us with great love. 

In the midst of the sorrow of losing a wonderful man, faithful husband, and marvelous photographer and golfer, God is present with us, keeping his promise. All who believe in him will have eternal life. God is faithful, even in the midst of death. Jesus walked through death and death could not conquer. So, while we know death separates us in this world, death does not have the last say.

As always, Robin, rely on God. But also rely on the community of faithful believers gathered about you this day. It is through each other that God works, through conversation, connection, and community. God will be with you, as well as the members of St. John's, to help you in the midst of your grief. Trust in God's promises and be comforted. As it says in the Pascha Nostrum, the Christ our Passover, that great Easter chorus, "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia!" Amen.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Proper 22A - The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Martin Luther once said that sometimes you have to squeeze a biblical passage until it leaks the gospel. Sometimes it is simply harder to find the good news than other times. Some passages practically preach themselves and its almost an effort to find something to say without simply repeating the passage, while on the other hand, some passages need squeezing to figure out.

In order to work through the gospel passage from Matthew today, I am going to look at each of the characters of the parable Jesus tells the crowds, including the chief priests and Pharisees.  We are going to start by looking at the tenants, then the servants, then the son, and lastly the landowner.

The tenants.  In thinking about the tenants, I can understand how they probably had a connection to the land and the work of tending the crops and watching them grow. Working with the land brings a connection which still many farmers and gardeners know very well. Watching plants grow and become something useful and beautiful is a wonderful business. Unfortunately, the tenants also got a little greedy and covetous. They wanted what wasn't theirs for their own. They were in the business of stewardship, yet they wanted to own. They were renters, yet they wanted to be owners. They wanted to keep everything for themselves. And in a way, since they collaborated together, they were conspirators, working collectively against the landowner. They were obviously determined people. They went out of their way to do something different to each of the servants sent to them. I imagine they were normally pretty good people, and certainly didn't think of themselves as bad people. Perhaps they had felt threatened by the servants who came to collect and acted out of fear, worried they would have nothing left to live on after the owner had taken all the harvest. They were thinking about themselves first.

The servants of the landowner. They went out as sheep into the midst of wolves... especially the second group of servants. They would have known what had happened to the first bunch. Which probably would have made them question why they were going and if they should have taken some personal protection with them. Who knows, maybe they did. Yet, they followed their master's instructions and went to do as the master asked them. We don't know what they would have felt, though I imagine some trepidation on their part, not knowing what would happen. They were obedient to the landowner.

The son of the landowner. I feel bad for the son in a way and also not totally bad for the son. He didn't have too much choice in the matter, his father sent him to look after the family landownings and to take care of the family business. He did have some choice, so he could have said no. He must have realized that the situation wasn't good. If the landowner trusted his son to go do his business, then he would have already known that the two groups of servants hadn't made it back alive. He probably guessed that his future was very uncertain with the tenants. Yet, he still obeyed his father's wishes and went.

The landowner.  I must admit, the landowner amazes me. He must have been a very generous and gracious man! I mean, after the tenants had killed the first bunch of servants, I would not probably have given them a second chance. I probably would have gone in there with some highly skilled security professionals to take care of business. Yet, he gives them multiple chances to do what they are supposed to do. He keeps forgiving them and showing them grace and mercy. He gives them three chances! At least, that we know about.

When Jesus asks the chief priests and Pharisees, the crowd in the Temple where he is teaching, what will happen after the son is killed, they answer by saying, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Yet, what Jesus says to them next, tells them that that is not what the landowner would do. The landowner had more than enough reason to kick the tenants out before the son was killed, yet he did not do so.

Matthew tells us at the end of this passage that the chief priests and Pharisees do realize that Jesus was talking about them. They were being greedy and covetous like the tenants of what is God's. Of course, we all would like to think of ourselves in the place of the landowner or the son or the servants... gracious and generous, obedient and servant-like. Unfortunately, the real question is... how often are we like the tenants? Holding back from God, wanting what is not ours, not listening to God's messengers, or even his Son? The easy analogy is God being the landowner, Jesus being the Son, the prophets of Israel being the slaves, and sadly, the rest of humanity being the tenants.

The former Noble Prize winner in Literature, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, wrote, "The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart." Especially in our current society, where everyone wants to blame someone else, another state, another socio-economic group, or the other political party, we have to admit we are more like those tenants than we would ever want to admit. We have choices to make, and sometimes we make them out of fear or greed, like the tenants in the story. We want to think of ourselves as good people, but sometimes evil gets the best of us.

Thankfully, like the landowner in the parable, God is full of mercy and grace and forgiveness. God gives us new chances everyday. New chances to choose the good, to choose to follow the call, to be good stewards of all the abundant gifts God has given us. Like that landowner, God will continue sending us messengers after messengers after messengers, letting us know he cares, waiting for the fruits of the Kingdom. God forgives every time we make a mistake, and helps us get back up and moving forward again. May we all use our new chances this week to choose God's kingdom. Amen.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Stewardship Questions and Answers, Part 3

What happens if I pledge and cannot keep my pledge?
We realize due to circumstances outside of anyone’s control, people are not always able to keep their pledge. We ask that if you find yourself in such a situation that you tell the priest so that we know for budgeting purposes.

How many people do pledge to our church?
The last pledge campaign at St. John’s was in 2014. We had 32 participants in the pledge in 2014. We are hoping that our participation rate will exceed that of 2014 this year!

What is the tithe?
The tithe is a scripturally based understanding of giving back to God through the church. Tithing is the practice of giving the first 10% of all your income to the church.

Who decides how much we should give?
You do! We ask that you take some time to pray and look at your own budget to discern how much you can give to the church.

How can we support our church without money?
There are many ways you can support the church without giving money. Other ways are leading a fundraiser, volunteering for a ministry, volunteering during clean up days, inviting people to visit and join our church, and praying for our church.

Can I pledge something besides money?
While we need monetary funds for many things in the church, we are also in need of support in many other ways. Time and talents, and other gifts, can be pledged by speaking with the priest. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Working in the fields of the Kingdom

Will you go and work in the fields of the Kingdom?

My parents have had this scene happen to them many times. I remember such instances with my brothers... they would ask one to make dinner and he would immediately say, No! Of course, after a couple of minutes he would realize that if he didn't make dinner, we weren't going to be eating dinner and he would get up and make dinner. While on the other hand, my youngest brother used to say yes to pretty much anything you asked him. Whether or not he was actually do what he agreed to do was very much up in the air. (He has gotten better about this... sometimes now he actually says no. He used to play the game where he would say yes and then procrastinate as long as he could to see if someone else would do it for him.) Naturally when Jesus asks the chief priests and elder who is doing the will of the father, they have to answer honestly and say the first son, because he actually did what the father asked. He said no at first, but he still did what was asked of him. While the second son doesn't actually do anything. 

For better or for worse, God created humanity with the gift of free will. We are able to make choices for ourselves, to say yes or to say no. We are able to choose to do what others ask us to do or we can say no. Usually with other people I caution saying yes or no to everything, the best way forward is typically discernment about what they asking you to do and whether or not you can do it. Interestingly, we have the same ability when it comes to God. If God asks us to do something, we have the ability to make a choice. Jesus always allowed the people around him to make that choice. From the beginning to the end of his ministry, Jesus allowed people the choice as to whether to follow him or not. As an old priest I once knew said, "Judas was free to betray him, Peter to deny him, and the disciples to desert him—and they did. And so the question lands in our own laps again. Will we GO and work in Jesus' field of souls as free citizens of his Kingdom that begins in its planting and its watering here on earth?" (H. King Oemig) 

Will you go and work in the fields of the Kingdom?

The first son in the gospel passage answered the question with a resound, "I will not." Yet, at some point, he experiences a change of heart. He changes his mind about doing what his father had asked him to do. We don't know why, we don't know how it happened, yet we know it did. He goes out to the fields and works. Jesus almost makes it sound like it is so easy to choose to do God's will, though we know it is not always that easy. Kingdom work, working in God's fields, the way God wants us to do so, is not the easiest thing to do in the world. In fact, it would be much easier to say yes... and then not do it. Which is in fact the route the chief priests and the elders seem to have taken.

Sadly, the chief priests and elders were too concerned with their own authority and power, as evidenced by their question to Jesus at the beginning of the passage, than to go work in God's fields. "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Voltaire suggests that we should judge people based more on their questions than their answers. Whoever asked this question gave their own concerns away. They were having personal authority issues. The chief priests and elders said that they belonged to God and walked in his ways, and yet they were not willing to do what God through Jesus was suggesting they do. At the end of the passage they have to acknowledge that their behavior betrays them. Whereas, the tax collectors and prostitutes... who certainly didn't start out following God, end up being the ones who do God's will, because they were the ones repenting, being baptized by John, changing their hearts and starting to live new lives, following God through Jesus. The tax collectors and prostitutes were going into the Kingdom of God already. 

Will you go and work in the fields of the Kingdom?

Luckily for us, this is a question we get to answer over and over again. We are always being given opportunities to go work in the fields of the Kingdom of God, and every time we are given the opportunity, we have the free will to say yes or no. 

[Today, we will baptize Deacon, at 4 months old, into the family of God. But this doesn't mean he doesn't have this choice ahead of him. He does. He has his entire life as a family member to make the journey, to learn and grow and build and make mistakes and carry on.  To decide for himself, as all of us do, whether he will go and work in the fields of the Kingdom of God.]

All of us have this option, and even better, it doesn't matter when on the road we start saying yes and going. 

You've heard the expression, better late than never? God seems to have an interesting sense of timing and late doesn't seem to be in God's vocabulary. Every moment, any moment, is the right moment to start following Jesus. To experience a change of heart and mind and go out to do the work God has given us to do. Even those chief priests and elders... they still had time, time to have a change of heart. 

God gives us grace. Makes allowances for changing our minds, we are able and allowed to do so. God gives us grace when we decide we don't want to follow his way, and when we experience that change of heart that takes us back to following his path, God welcomes us back with open loving arms. God cuts us some slack. We should probably do that for ourselves and others as well. 

So when you are going... when you are wandering around this big wide world... when you are living your daily routine in Franklin and the surrounding area, listen to what God is calling you to do. Listen for the question, Will you go and work in the fields of the Kingdom? Don't worry about it if you make mistakes along the way, if you say yes or no, if you go or not go at first. It is never too late to begin to follow Jesus.  


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Stewardship Questions and Answers, Part 2

 How much should we give?
There is not a magic number for how much anyone should give. Traditionally, the tithe is set at 10% of total income. However, any amount which stretches you to know that you are giving without sending you into (more) debt is acceptable.

How can we help our church have more money?
Naturally, giving to the church is one way people can help the church have more money. Other ways include doing fundraisers for the church, inviting people to visit and join the church, finding grants and scholarships for different ministries of the church, and praying for the financial stability of the church.

How can children tithe?
It is a great idea to involve your children in giving back to the church! Children can tithe or give back in many ways alongside adults. If they have an allowance, they can save 10% of their allowance to give back to God. If they don’t, they participate in volunteering to work fundraisers, volunteering for appropriate service projects, and giving clothes or toys as donations when the church does drives.

How long could we sustain our church with only investment income?
Less than 3 and a half years. Partially because some of our investments have restrictions on them determining for what they can be used. Our music, choir, and altar flower ministries would all far outlast the building, the staff, and any programs we would be able to fund on investment income.

Am I the only one who doesn't tithe?
NO! People give at lots of different percentages of their total income. While we do not know how many people at St. John’s do tithe, because we don’t know people’s salaries, we do know not everyone can afford to tithe, as much as they might wish to.

Would it help if I were only able to give $5 more each week?

YES! Every little bit helps. An increase of $5 every week ends up being a $260 dollar increase over the course of a year. $260 would completely fund some of our Bible study and formation groups, or even allow us to start a new one.