Tuesday, October 31, 2017
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.
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
Sunday, October 1, 2017
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.