Stewardship Meditation #28

The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

During church services on Sunday mornings in the month of October, we have had meditations offered by members of our parish community on the four cornerstones:  Worship, Seek, Serve, and Give.  This morning, John David Rainey offered this meditation on Give.

By John David Rainey

Christopher called me a few weeks ago and told me about the four cornerstones, and his intention of having members of the congregation speak about each of them, and he wanted me to speak about the Giving cornerstone.  My first reaction was, “Man, I drew the short straw here.”  And when he asked me if I would speak about giving, he didn’t stop talking for about 5 minutes, seemingly as to not provide an opening for me to say, “no.”

Giving is a very personal, and sometimes emotional topic.  I don’t need to stand up here and tell you about the importance of giving.  We all get that.  Where the topic becomes a little more uncomfortable though, is when we discuss “how much.”  The very nature of giving is characterized by generosity, selflessness, and is done without concern for what we get in return.   When someone suggest that I should give more, it’s as if they’re suggesting that I am not generous or selfless enough…and that’s where it becomes personal.  We all have this remarkable ability to justify our giving, particularly to the church, as the fair or right amount based on how much money we make, or how much time we have devoted to service, or even how much we have given to other charities.  Among those justifications, we rarely consider what we get in return.  That’s ironic to me because in every other aspect of life, when we spend money, that is precisely what we think about:  what we get in return.  To be clear, we don’t give because we expect something in return.  When we give to the church, we are not writing a check and walking away.  It’s also an investment.  As with any investment, we think about what we get in return.  So that’s what I want to focus on today:  what we get in return.

First, I think it’s important to clarify who the “we” is in that statement.  It’s not just you or your family.  “We” has a much broader application.  When my wife and I discuss giving, she reminds me of a particular woman that attended our church back in Houston, Texas.  Our church there was not unlike this one.  It was a traditional church with a fairly affluent congregation.  This woman sat at the end of our same pew every Sunday.  She was a black woman, in what was an almost entirely white congregation.  She was also homeless.  And she arrived every Sunday – sometimes late, but always in time for the sermon – in a tattered dress, with her tattered Bible, and she would pull along a suitcase, which I guess probably contained everything she owned.  But instead of seeking money from someone on a street corner, she was seeking something much more…in church.  I can’t help but think how she must have felt all those years as the offering plate was passed her way.  We may not all have the same means, but we ALL have the same needs.  So when we give, I think it’s important to give for those who cannot.

So what is it that “we get in return?”  I’d ask you to think about that for a second.  I suspect that this morning we would get as many different answers to that question as there are people in this congregation.  For me, I think it’s many things.  But I know this:  one of the things we get in return is a foundation, a foundation for how we live our lives.  In this day and age when it is so easy to compartmentalize church and religion from other aspects of our lives, the church provides a foundation that carries over into our everyday lives.  It helps to shape our children, it helps us deal with personal loss, with addiction and divorce, and it helps us to mend broken relationships.  It is our foundation.

Christopher has been sending out his daily stewardship meditation emails, and this week the topic has been giving – and I’ve paid particular attention this week so as not to contradict anything that he has said.  There are two things he said this week that resonated with me, and made me reflect on an experience I had earlier this year.   Earlier this week he said that, “In His kingdom, we don’t give with money, we give with our hearts.”  The second one was a passage from the Bible.  It’s something Jesus said that was also made well known in Leo Tolstoy’s short story, The Shoemaker:  “In as much as you have done it to the least of these my brothers, you have also done it to me.”

Earlier this year, I was flying back from San Antonio.  I was sitting in first class, and after I boarded there were seven or eight people in military fatigues with duffle bags that boarded.  San Antonio has a military base.  Many of you have probably experienced something similar.  You know that usually when you see this, those soldiers are either going home, or they are going off to serve their country.  In this circumstance, it was easy to see from their long faces, and the trepidation in their eyes, that they weren’t going home.  Across the aisle from me sat an 11-year- old boy.  I watched him watch each of these soldiers as they walked down the aisle.  I could tell that he recognized what was going on and was wrestling with the gravity of what they were about to do.  After everyone had boarded, he got up from his seat – in a way not to draw attention to himself, and no one said anything to him – and he walked to the back of the plane.  He went up to each of those soldiers individually and asked them if they would like his seat in first class.  They each politely declined, and the boy returned to his seat. I could tell that he had tears in his eyes.  He quickly sat down and looked out the window so that no one would be able to see his tears.  That didn’t matter, because everyone else that witnessed his actions also had tears in their eyes; I did, the other passengers, even the flight attendant.

I was proud that the actions of this 11-year-old boy made everyone else around him have a better appreciation for the significance of what those soldiers were doing.  I was even prouder, though, because that 11-year-old boy was my son.  You don’t get that from watching TV or going to the donut store on Sunday mornings.  You get that here…at Christ Church.  In the words of the hymn we sang this morning:  How Firm a Foundation.

I’d ask you to consider two things when you think about what you give this year.  First, think about digging a little deeper, and giving for those who cannot.  And second, think about what it is that you get in return.

Thank you.

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Stewardship Meditation #27

The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

Tomorrow is Cornerstone Sunday: the day we ask the faithful at Christ Church to make a pledge to the work of the Kingdom that is ongoing in our parish.

I’m aware that some of you hear the word “money” when I say, “pledge.”  I get that.  Frankly, the larger church has earned that by its behavior.

Let me be clear about what I hope for on Cornerstone Sunday.  I want, and Christ Church needs, your pledge.  We need your pledge to invest in our community, in what we are doing, in what we hope will happen.  The pledge I am speaking of here has nothing to do with money.

‘For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.’  I’m not asking for your money.  I’m asking for something more.  I’m asking you to ‘treasure’ your life, our life, at Christ Church.  I’m asking you to consider how important it is that our parish continue to offer you the chance to deepen your life in God.  I want, because God wants, your heart, your presence, and the offering of yourself, whatever that may be.  I want you to be connected to Jesus by your participation in Christ Church.  I want you to feel better when you have offered yourself at Christ Church than you would if you had just skipped that step.

People contribute to things they think are making a difference for the Kingdom, for the world.  People contribute to things they think are on the ‘right track.’   As our history points out, we have, as a community, been swayed at various times to make decisive decisions for the Kingdom.  I admire that.

Now is such a time.

What do you want to become in God?  How can I, and the others who make up our church community, help?  What do we need to do?  What do you need to do?

As my friend Jim Nutter pointed out, my start at seminary, when he and Bishop Lee first met me, was inauspicious in the extreme.  About the only thing I did right was this:  I showed up and I was all in.  The rest I figured out along the way.  Of course, I’m still figuring.  Just like you are.

We need you at Christ Church.  We need you to help us discover the Kingdom in our midst.  We need you to help us worship, seek, serve, and give.  We need you to participate in our life so that we have your offering to add to ours.  We need every resource we can gather.  This is hard work.  With your offering and God’s presence, grace upon grace, we will succeed.

Questions for the day:

What if God turned the tables and said that He didn’t want, wouldn’t accept, your offering?  What would that be like for you?
When you lie awake at night, do you feel as though you have given your ‘best’ to God?

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Stewardship Meditation #26

The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

All giving starts with God and flows through us from the Kingdom into the world and back to the Kingdom.  This giving of God to us and back is all part of the Divine Mystery in us, working for our benefit while we offer ourselves to each other.

I realize when folks are cooking chili at home for A Just Harvest Community Kitchen or practicing the handbells or placing cookies on trays for a funeral reception that it doesn’t feel mysterious or mystical.  The development of habits, practices, and customs rarely feels mystical during each repetition.  There are mountaintop experiences for sure, but the majority of our time spent giving ourselves to any endeavor, even giving ourselves to God, feels pretty ordinary.  Like what’s the big deal?

Jesus made clear that He had no place to lay his head during his public ministry.  As far as we know, he didn’t cook for himself during that period, either.  But somebody did.  Somebody was busy during the day with the repetitive work of preparing a simple meal from the harvest of the land.  And Jesus ate it, just as we do.  He had to.  He was human.  He got hungry three times a day like everyone else does.

If you knew you were preparing a meal that Jesus would eat, would the giving of yourself to make that meal feel different?

Jesus also made clear that most of the time we don’t even know whom we are serving.  ‘When?  When did we do these things for you, personally, Lord?’ we ask.  ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to Me.’  Each act of giving we perform, whatever shape it takes, is an offering to God, done for God and to God.

Kind of raises the stakes, doesn’t it?

God doesn’t do things this way to pressure us.  Daily life is not fundamentally a performance review.  Each day is an opportunity.  A new one.  Because every day is new.  We can start our lives, or our days, over at any point.  That’s fine with God.

The reason that God operates this way is so that we will have the chance for communion every day.  Communion with God.  It’s ‘not for nothing’ that our communion service on Sundays is a simple meal of bread and wine, transformed by grace to be the body and blood of Jesus.  That’s the business God is in:  to take ordinary things, ordinary acts, ordinary people and transform them by grace into the creatures He intended.

Everything we do in an ordinary day offers us the chance of communion with God.  Now that raises the stakes.

Questions for the day:

If I believed I was doing everything for God each day, would I do anything differently?  What would I add or subtract from my day to experience this?

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Stewardship Meditation #25

 The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

We have had a remarkable twenty-four hours at Christ Church.

Yesterday, we honored the dedicated volunteers who chair the various departments of Rummage.  We had a simple, delicious meal in the rectory and thanked them for their leadership and their countless hours of service to an enterprise which touches so many on multiple levels. It would be a long and passionate discussion if we tried to discover which group of people benefits the most from the work of Rummage.

Our Stewardship Dinner on Tuesday night was a wonderful event for parish.  Thoughtful and thorough preparations, seamlessly executed by a team of people led with grace by Sarah McCool; lively conversation; especially fine music performed by Andy Gullahorn, a songwriter of remarkable insight and Christian wisdom; and a keynote address by Jim Nutter, an old friend and experienced priest and Christian, which was at once tender, direct, and humorous.

People received a copy of Bob Bradner’s second piece of work on the history of Christ Church, handsomely laid out by Molly Ethridge.  This volume focuses on the buildings at 470 Maple Street and is a companion to his earlier book on the history of the Church on the Hill.  Bob has done us the kindness of chronicling life here from our earliest days to the present; his singular devotion to telling our story is a significant gift to us and to those who have worked so hard to bring us to this day.

Then there was Noah.  Noah Hillerbrand leaves for the Diocese of Renk in the Republic of South Sudan tomorrow.  We have encouraged him with help of all kinds, spiritual and material, as he answers the call he heard from God to go and live with Bishop Joseph Garang Atem for a time, serving the people in that community.  In an unscripted moment at the end of our dinner, Noah’s presence reminded us of what we have been focusing on during this season leading up to Cornerstone Sunday this week: Use what you got.  Be all in.  Use the Cornerstones to receive the peace of God.  Lean on each other.  Say ‘yes’ to God.

What struck me about Noah standing before us Tuesday night was that it was his turn.  He is not the reminder that we are stewards of the mystery inside us; he was a reminder.  The room was full of living reminders, full of people allowing the Spirit of God to lead them into a deeper fellowship with God and other people.  Bob’s latest history volume reminds us that we have done that for each other for many decades, to encourage, to build up a community of people trying to follow Jesus.  The fruits of that Spirit were evident.

Questions for the day:

Who are the ‘living reminders’ of God in your life?  What do they do to help you experience God in your life?

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Stewardship Meditation #24

The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

This meditation on giving, God giving to us and one man giving himself to coach six-year-old baseball players, is written by Boty McDonald, a close friend and fellow follower of Jesus. This was a letter to the parents of the children he coached.  Boty is a prosecuting attorney in Mississippi and works part-time with his brother Bryan moving Episcopal priests to Winnetka in Penske trucks.

  • A Letter by Boty McDonald

    I moved to New York in August of 1987 to attend Albany law school.  By mid-September, the local weather reports began ‘Fall Foliage’ updates. Hmm. “What in the world?”  I tried not to show my ignorance — already, I worked daily at smoothing over my southern accent — so, I didn’t ask any questions. I came to learn that the foliage worked its way down from Maine, in chronological order, sorta. And ‘peak foliage’ was the climax, apparently a big deal. Wasn’t it just leaves dying?…

    I indulged, with a smile, all the weeks of foliage talk. My wife and I would come home and muse about how folks seemed to get so wrapped up in it.  From all the chatter we learned that peak time in the area was always Columbus Day weekend.  We decided to drive around ‘a look’, like Mississippi rednecks.  So, on a crisp and glorious sun-splashed Sunday morning, we got in the car. Cranked up. Headed out to see what this foliage-fuss was all about.

    We were 10 miles into Vermont.  Mountains ahead.  We turned a corner to get the full view.
    Oh…my…God. I don’t mean the “OMG” that has now become an emoticon.  Nope.
    I mean ‘God’ as in ‘Lord.’  As in the ‘God’ I worship.  I have chill bumps now writing about it.  It is one of the moments in my life, along with the moment of birth of each of my children, when I saw God, saw creation, was in the presence of my Lord. Amazing. I have tears.

    Today is beautiful, another day the Lord has made. It cast me back to that October day in 1987 when I looked at God’s handiwork, at the Kingdom, here on earth. In front of me.

    This season with your boys, with you, has been glorious. Glorious.  Yes, it had its share of ups and downs, frustrations: “What?” and “Can I?” and “No!” and all kinds of emotional gnats and nags.  Your boys are such a source of light and love.  They gave me tremendous joy this fall season. I cannot count, cannot explain.

    As I looked in their eyes last night after our last game, one of the boys said to me “Did we win?” Well, “Oh…my…God.”  Yep.   Different form, same Kingdom.  Right in front of me.

    Hug those boys today. Don’t explain when they ask.

    Boty

  • What I love about this letter is that it illustrates giving on so many levels:  Boty gave his time; the boys gave themselves to the experience; God gave them all the chance to have this experience together; and Boty gave the parents this letter.  None of those things ‘had’ to happen.  It was all a gift.  It was also an ‘everyday’ occurrence.   Our life with God happens that way each day.  It is all a gift, and it happens in the midst of what we consider ‘ordinary.’

    Questions for the day:

    What are the Oh…my…God moments in your life?  How do you show gratitude for them?

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    Stewardship Meditation #23

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    When we mention giving in church, we usually relegate that to something that inevitably ends with talk about time, talent, and treasure.  All we possess in this life falls into one of those categories.  Fair enough.  There is also this: whom do you consider deeply, wildly, and gleefully generous who also describes their giving based on the truth of those three categories?  I thought so.

    We can do better.

    If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.  I’ve seen that saying in physical therapy facilities and locker rooms.   I’ve heard people repeat it coming out of motivational talks or sales gatherings or twelve step meetings or sessions with a therapist.  I’ve even repeated it to myself when I think about ‘going the extra mile.’  I think of that phrase differently now.  I think of it applying to God when God decided to come into the world in the flesh, in the person of Jesus.  In Jesus, God did something new.

    God knew what to expect, how people would behave when blessed with exodus or faced with exile.  God knew how people would react to wise men and crones, to miracles and misery.  He watched the dull expressions of half interest in His people when the prophets, major and minor, convicted them repeatedly of their obvious sins and spoke with passion about the need to just stop it all.  To turn back.  To, as the Southern folk signs say, ‘Get right with God.’  After watching for all those years, God did something different:  ignoring the humiliation of it all, God came Himself.

    It was an odd arrival.  His own prophet, Isaiah, said about His appearing that, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”  The authors of God Calling point out that for those who refused to see Him, there was nothing He could do.  For those who looked for Him and found Him, there was nothing more to be desired.  What separates these two groups?  The nature of our giving.

    Jesus was a ‘man of suffering, acquainted with infirmity.’  This came about as He gave Himself away.  God’s love for the world results in giving us Jesus.  Jesus’ love for people results in His emptying Himself:  before, during, and after the Cross.  To see that love, to experience that grace, to be swept up in that forever truth, our giving must begin to match His.  It is by that imitation that we are able to begin to walk by faith, not by sight.  When our giving looks more like His, we graduate from church categories of giving and replace them with visions of the Kingdom.

    Questions for the day:

    What does it mean for me to give myself to God completely?  Who is the person who comes to mind when I think of giving away self to God?  How do they do it?

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    Stewardship Meditation #22

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    Worship more than you don’t.
    Seek a deeper understanding of your faith.
    Serve others in Christ’s Name.
    Give as generously as God gives to you.

    What inspires me about these Cornerstones is that they form the basis of any sustainable Life in God. They are not prescriptive; they do not contain steps which a person must follow.  Each Cornerstone respects our God-given freedom such that anybody who exercises any one of them is governed only by his or her own creativity.  They are like the items in the periodic table:  they are the basic elements of a Life in Christ.

    This week we focus on the fourth and final Cornerstone which involves giving in the same manner that God gives to us.

    I suspect I know what some folks at Christ Church are thinking at this point.  “Christopher maintains that Stewardship is about our whole life.  Has everything he has written prior to this week been a prelude to the customary hard-sell about giving more money to the church?”

    I sincerely hope not.  For many reasons.  Among them is that God will not settle only for our money any more than anyone you love would settle for that.  Any relationship based primarily on the exchange of money is a transaction.  Our life with God is a relationship.  Transactions have their place, just not in a place of primacy with God.

    The Cornerstones are a tool to help us build our relationship with God.  If I want to become a person who has a deep, abiding, living connection with God, then I must mirror the characteristics of the One who, “So loved the world that He gave…”

    Loving and giving are inseparable; loving and money are easily separable.  That God gives as a result of loving is as natural as breathing in and out.  It is impossible to have one without the other and still have life.  The nature of true giving is that we take the focus off ourselves in that act and focus on the needs of someone else.  Just like God.

    I want to be a part of a community of Jesus’ followers that is ‘all in’, that communicates by its generous giving the nature of the God in whose name they come.

    In the Kingdom, giving is measured with your heart, not your wallet.  That is true in any intimate relationship.  Money is concerned with logistics.  Loving and giving generously are concerned with imitating Jesus.  Loving and giving generously are the acts that give life meaning.  No one says in his last moments that he should have spent more.  I do not want to spend those last moments wishing I had expended more.

    Questions for the day:  

    How have I experienced the generosity of God?  How have I communicated that generosity to others?

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    Stewardship Meditation #21

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us. We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    During church services on Sunday mornings in the month of October, we will have meditations offered by members of our parish community on the four cornerstones: Worship, Seek, Serve, and Give.  This morning, Kevin Walsh and his sons offered this meditation on Serve.

  • By The Walsh Family

    Good morning, I am Tanner Walsh and my dad, brothers and I would like to share our experience with A Just Harvest in Rogers Park.  A Just Harvest is the largest and only self-standing community soup kitchen in the Chicago metro area.  365 days a year, they serve dinner to anyone in need, many are families and seniors, people confronted with choosing between paying their rent and putting food on the table or paying for medication and getting enough to eat.  In 2012, the kitchen served 54,000 meals and the ongoing generosity of Christ Church plays an essential role.  Twice a month, on the second Tuesday & the fourth Saturday, we are responsible for providing all the food — 5 trays of spaghetti or chili, salad, 150 pieces of fruit, and 6 gallons of milk.  We deliver the food and serve to approximately 150 people at a time.  My mom Tika, has been one of the coordinators for 10 years, and over the course of these 10 years, we have come to love serving at A Just Harvest.

    So how do we serve others in Christ’s name?  And how does Christ Church help us do that?
    Christ Church provides awareness of this ministry and structures the participation.  It is easy to participate at any level or frequency — you can cook, buy food, and /or serve.  Once you are at the kitchen, everyone is put to work, serving guests, cleaning tables or putting one piece of fruit on a plate.  Everything you do there is helpful and contributes to the cause.  Christ Church also provides the expectation.  Serve is one of our cornerstones and we are committed to serve others in Christ’s name.  To steal from one of Christopher’s stewardship meditations, “We’re not here serving today because we’re do-gooders; we’re here today because this is what Christians do.”  Finally, Christ Church provides the inspiration.  We are surrounded by thoughtful people who care for and who set a high standard for translating concern for others into action.  One of the things that has consistently inspired Tika is to see so many members of Christ Church want to help others.  Inspiration also comes from the gratitude in the faces of the guests.  For me, my faith has deepened and my eyes and heart have been opened wider by my experience at A Just Harvest.  A vivid memory is of a little boy eating with his mother.  He had a tuft of brown hair and big brown eyes.  He reminded me of one of my sons.  It’s hard not to continue with this ministry when this is the face of need.

  • Visit to the Local Mission page of our website to learn more about opportunities to serve at A Just Harvest.

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    Stewardship Meditation #20

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    When I was in seminary, a group of us went with regularity to a feeding ministry downtown in Milwaukee.  It was in the basement of an Episcopal church and fed over one hundred people, six days a week.  I remember enjoying that work a great deal for many reasons, not the least of which was that when I couldn’t read one more book or write one more paper, I could always hand a meal to someone who was hungry.  It was tangible and offered an immediate and direct opportunity for service.  I felt that a good portion of my preparation was not as concrete — reading books about ministry was different than actually doing it.

    Three things about that experience have stuck with me.  The first is simple: someone else had made the effort to set up that ministry.  The organizers made it very easy for a person to simply show up and be useful.  I always appreciated that.  The second was what the director used to say every day we gathered just before we prayed and served food.  He’d look at us and say, rather sternly, “We’re not here serving today because we’re do-gooders; we’re here today because this is what Christians do.”  He was right, of course, and that statement is one I think of often as I try to live out the promises of my Baptism.

    The third thing I remember is that I thought more highly of that type of service than my other seminary preparation.  I didn’t love to study at that stage of my life.  I was not far enough along yet to realize that preparing to serve is serving.  I was in my twenties and wanted to get out and quickly find work worth doing — and then get on with it.  I had not yet begun to understand the value of pace and patience, of thorough consideration of what I was about to do and why.  I had Urgency for the sake of Gospel down cold; I couldn’t see that urgency without planning often leads to a disappointing outcome.

    I also missed something much more fundamental.  Performing acts of service to God and my neighbor is not something I do strictly on my own.  When Jesus tells us the Kingdom is within us, part of what he means is that as His baptized followers, God is performing the work of the Kingdom through us.  The work belongs to God, not us.  We are the instruments of God’s work.

    Because God works through us, there is a peace that comes from knowing that we are not doing things for God, we are doing them with God.

    Questions for the day:

    How do I let God lead me?  How do I make room to listen for God’s direction?

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    Stewardship Meditation #19

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    My older son, Nick, wears a uniform.  He is a Lieutenant Junior Grade and a graduate of the Coast Guard Academy.   He has been stationed in Kodiak, Alaska for the last eighteen months.  He serves on a 278 foot cutter, whose mission is search and rescue and law enforcement.  He looks the part: a four-year football player, he is tall and muscular with a square jaw.  He is clear about his mission as an officer and an American.  When I called to console him on the death of a fellow officer last fall off the coast of California during a failed drug interdiction, his response was simply, “Comes with the job.”

    My younger son, Martin, also wears a uniform.  A senior Marketing major at Ole Miss, his dream is to be a rock star.  His uniform is purchased from the Goodwill.  He has tattoos.  He is an artist.  I once said to a friend that he looks like he is two bad decisions away from being homeless. My friend reminded me that we are all two bad decisions away from being homeless.  His musical genre is Alternative Music. When he was in high school, I mentioned to him that it wouldn’t kill him to wash his hair.  He said that Kurt Cobain never washed his.  “Kurt Cobain is dead!” I said.  “Yea, but dirty hair didn’t kill him.”

    Nick’s service is more conventional: in return for an engineering degree and a steady paycheck, he has agreed to give five years of his life in service to our country.  Martin…well, he apparently got the same message but applies it differently.

    The summer after Martin graduated high school, he was dating a young woman already in college.  One night, while they were out, she had too much to drink, so much so that she couldn’t drive, but thought she could.  Martin insisted on driving her home.  She spent the rest of the night with her mother in the hospital suffering the effects of alcohol poisoning.  Martin found this out when her mother called the next morning and spoke to him for forty-five minutes.  She had called to thank him for saving her life.  Martin reported this and concluded by saying, “That’s what friends do for each other.”

    Martin would be horrified if he knew I was writing this.  He knows (and I know) that he is not, fundamentally, a hero.  That night, though, he was a servant.  Service takes on many different appearances.   Service to God and each other can be public, private, or even anonymous.  It is often messy.  It calls to us at the oddest times.  True service, whatever its form, reminds us of the One who came to serve and not to be served.

    Questions of the day:

    How willing am I to serve when asked?  Whom do I serve?

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    Stewardship Meditation #18

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    “It is so hard to believe because it is so hard to obey.”
    – Søren Kierkegaard –

    If, in our very best moments, we believe that there is even a trace of the Divine inside us, why do we run so resolutely from that truth we feel, that truth we know?  What, on earth, are we afraid of?

    Perhaps the church has contributed to this fear.  Perhaps the vision of obedience to the Divine Will we have constructed inside the church looks so boring, so focused on not making a mistake, so concentrated on keeping rules we think God wants kept, that we have soured the taste for God in ourselves and those around us.  Perhaps we have imperceptibly substituted, fear by reasonable fear, our idea of God for the Real Thing.  The antidote to this kind of thinking is not simply boldness.  Even despots can be bold.  The antidote is service; service to God in whose service is perfect freedom.

    We all long for freedom.  Not freedom to; freedom to do whatever strikes us as enjoyable at the moment is just slavery to ourselves.  We long for freedom from; from guilt, from anger, from self doubt, from every kind of insecurity, from the lies we tell ourselves.  We long for that freedom and often find ourselves humming a variation of that old Mickey Gilley song, “Looking for freedom in all the wrong places.”

    It is by giving ourselves back to God in the same Spirit that God has given to us that we discover freedom.  When we discover that our connection to other people is what allows us to be connected to ourselves, then we start to become free. It is when we give our fears to God and our hearts to each other that we begin to see God more clearly, when we start to live in grace, when we begin to see that obedience is hard, but it’s opposite is harder.

    When Jesus tells us to lose our lives in order to gain them, our natural response is to draw back.  It feels reckless.  Irresponsible.  Lacking prudence, wisdom.  We draw back, though, not because we think He is wrong, but because we know He is right.

    We were made for service to God and each other.  True, independence can be a blessing from God in its many forms.   You and I, however, were never made to be so independent that we become independent from God and each other.  Service takes many forms.  Maybe we need to reframe some of what we are doing in terms of service.  Maybe we need to add something to our daily fare.  That is a conversation for you and God and God’s Church.  What is certain is this: to obey God is to serve God…and to serve God is to be free.

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    Stewardship Meditation #17

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    My premise for these meditations is simple: that God is inside all of us and we have to decide what to do about that.  God gives us gifts; we have choices.  The basic elements of a faithful response include our choice to worship, seek, serve, and give: the four cornerstones.  We get to decide how and when and if we will do any or all of those. Whatever our response, there is no punishment.  There are only consequences.

    Since God is everywhere, as close as our next breath, all of life can be instructive as we approach the kingdom.  Any part of our life can be used by God for purposes beyond what we can see at the moment.  What we bring to a situation, whether sacred or secular, can become the raw material used by God later in our lives.

    Between college and seminary, I worked for a small company in western North Dakota that manufactured truck equipment.  I got the job through a close friend whose relative owned the business.  This was a fledgling enterprise in newly discovered oil country.  All the guys I worked with had come off the farm to work for someone who wasn’t family.  They could all fix or make anything.  I was an English major; about the only thing I could make at that point was bail.  For a misdemeanor.

    I eventually learned to paint trucks.  That took awhile, though.  Before that, I had only the willingness to work hard and do whatever would keep me employed and the doors of the business open.  Those were the very things that landed me on a very hot summer day inside a large dumpster with a wire brush preparing the metal for welding repairs.  As I got out, the owner called me over.  He said, “I was the low bid to maintain the city’s dumpsters because we’re a new business and frankly, any business at all will help keep me in business.  My welders wouldn’t do that part of the job but the job couldn’t be done without it.  I’ll make sure you learn a different skill here soon.  Thanks.”

    I did learn another skill.  More valuable was that I learned how to serve by serving.  All the cornerstones are that way.  We learn their importance–and how to do them–by doing them.  With God’s invisible and perpetual help.

    Questions of the day:

    How can what I am doing today be used by God?  How can it be used in the future by God?

     

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    Stewardship Meditation #16

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others.

    These are the familiar words of Jesus as he is teaching near the end of the Gospel of Matthew.  We may have read them as part of our devotions or listened to them in Sunday School or heard them recited from time to time in church.

    What does Jesus mean when he says this?

    Jesus is making clear a part of the message he has come to deliver.  We are to become instruments in this world of the divine will, of grace, of all that is good and true and honorable and holy.  We are to serve our Master, just as he says and does only what he hears his Master telling him to say and do.

    In a royal realm, what matters most is to serve the will of the sovereign.  The presumption is that the sovereign, either queen or king, is to be obeyed because a person in that position knows best.  There are obvious problems when using that analogy strictly in an earthly sense, but Jesus wants us thinking about bringing the life where eternal principles reign into the temporal one where they are harder to find.  When the disciples ask Jesus how to pray he instructs them to say, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”  Jesus is letting us know, directly, that God’s will shall be followed wherever it is permitted to reign.  It may not always be followed in this life, but there is a place and a time where it shall be followed by all who are present with God.  Our job is to try to increase the frequency here.

    At the heart of God is a will to serve.  That shows up first inside the Trinity as each member of the Trinity serves the other.  In Creation, that will to serve shows up in the form of the Spirit and the Son on behalf of the Father.  The purpose of their presence is to help us become the kind of people who wish to exercise the divine will and in so doing, become ourselves, our true selves, the people that God has intended us to be all along.

    We cannot become ourselves without God’s help.  We cannot become more like God unless we imitate God.  God serves us; it follows that when Jesus teaches us about serving each other, he is instructing us that we are actually doing it to and for God.

    The next opportunity for service might be easier for us to undertake if we think we are doing it to God, disguised as our neighbor.

    Questions of the day:  

    How willing am I to volunteer myself to God’s service, as I understand it?  What effect does it have on me to say “yes” to this invitation?  What is the effect when I say “no?”

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    Stewardship Meditation #15

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    In this week’s meditations leading up to Cornerstone Sunday on October 27th, we focus on the third Cornerstone, “Serve others in Christ’s Name.”

    “Because I am baptized.”

    Have you ever answered a question that way?  Any question?

    I’m not sure I have.  I sometimes explain I am doing something for various reasons relating to my faith, but I can’t say that I’ve ever answered a question with as direct a reply as the quote above.  I’m not sure why I haven’t.

    I was baptized because my parents wanted me to be in close contact with God.  Once I could really answer for myself, I was confirmed because I wanted the same thing.  I never thought of baptism as being a particularly radical act–I was, after all, about four months old when it happened to me.  Over the years, I have thought a good deal more about what took place at that moment.

    Being initiated by baptism into Christ, into the Christ-life, is at its root a mystery.  I cannot adequately explain it to you in this forum, or any other, frankly.  That doesn’t leave me completely off the hook, though.  I can’t explain why my two football teams lost in two different cities on two different days this weekend with no time left, either.  Or why I love my family the way I do.  Or why an orange sunset makes me wish I could paint or why certain movie scenes make me cry projectile tears (even in front of other guys).  The most important things in life cannot be taught…and they cannot fully be explained.  They can only be experienced.

    In my baptism was a beginning and an end. It was the beginning of my discovery of who God is and how Jesus shows us that in human form.  It was an end in that I can go no higher in this or any other life than to be grafted into the Being who has no beginning or end.

    The stunning part of all of this is not what my parents did or what I have discovered about the meaning of baptism along the way; the truly stunning aspect of baptism is that I have been mystically joined to a Living God whose nature it is to serve us.

    That just doesn’t make any sense.  God’s being is higher than human being.  How can God want to serve beings lower than Himself?  What does God get out of that arrangement?

    Communion is what God gets out of it. Being at one with us.  No matter what we do.  Or say.  Or don’t do or don’t say.

    Why do I try to serve others?  Because I am baptized.

    Questions of the day:

    Do I believe that God wants to serve me? If I can’t really believe that, what would God look like if I did believe that?

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    Stewardship Meditation #14

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us. We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    During church services on Sunday mornings in the month of October, we will have meditations offered by members of our parish community on the four cornerstones: Worship, Seek, Serve, and Give. This morning, Shay Craig offered this meditation on Seek.

  • By Shay Craig

    A young man decided to get to know his grandfather, a Rabbi, better.  His grandfather loved camping so they went out into the wilderness together.  They hiked, made a fire, cooked dinner, and finally went to bed after talking all night.  In the middle of the night, the Rabbi wakes the grandson and says, “Look up and tell me what you see.”  The grandson looks up and says, “I see light that has travelled millions of light years to reach us.” The Rabbi says, “No.”  The man tries again, “I see the beautiful panoply of color and darkness.”  The Rabbi sighs. “No.”  The man tries one more time. “I see evidence of the presence of God. Is that what you see?”  The Rabbi says, “No. I see that someone has stolen our tent.”

    I love that joke because it reminds us that there are always many ways to look at things.  We can see them scientifically or historically.  We can see things through a literary or economic lens.  Or we can look for the way things point to the hand of God. We can see or we can SEEK.

    As part of my job at Garret Seminary, I am an event planner.   We organized a big conference earlier this month called Navigating the Affordable Health Care Act. It was aimed at people in ministry and healthcare and it offered tools for understanding the new legislation. It was the biggest conference I have ever hosted. We were in five locations with webcasts and satellite sites and panel Q&A’s.

    It was a huge, gigantic flop. Every logistical detail failed.  Completely.

    Then last weekend, I went down to see my daughter Emma at college.  When we were in the car together, I poured out this whole story to her. She waited and then, in the way that only children raised in the Christ Church Choir can do, she began to sing. She sang, “Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God….”

    Her singing reminded me that I can measure the success of that experience with a financial yardstick, an attendance yardstick, a stress yardstick.  By all those measures, this conference was a gigantic failure.

    Or…I can look for the presence of God. I can SEEK God in that experience.

    The people who came to the conference told us afterward that the most valuable thing for them was meeting one another.  In spite of it all, I could feel the Kingdom being built.

    God is present in every second of our lives.  If we do not see God, perhaps it is because we are looking.  In order to be aware of God’s work, we must do more than SEE, we must SEEK.

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    Stewardship Meditation #13

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    I have spent the past week with other clergy who are some of the best at what they do in the Episcopal Church.  This is a conference where the participants were chosen by their peers to help each other develop leadership skills.  My colleagues came from all over the country.  The offerings these clergy made to us, as a group, were astounding.  I came away feeling as though the Episcopal Church is far better off than the press or local media portray.  And, I recognized, as individuals we often feel inadequate.

    I heard, during the week, of creativity, boldness, and suffering for the sake of the gospel. Many of the offerings made me teary-eyed. Rarely have I heard, inside or outside the church, this kind of devotion.  I was humbled.  Much of the astounding work which we know is taking place is happening behind the scenes.  As always.  Kingdom work is often invisible to the world.

    When we seek the Lord, when we seek a deeper understanding of our faith, we begin a journey which will end someplace which we can’t see from here.  The categories change.  The goals change.  The people whom we seek and with whom we resonate change.  There are surprises.  Even more, from time to time, we are stunned. From time to time, we are even shocked.  We cannot believe that the force behind our thoughts or our intuition is God.  We question ourselves.

    Maybe our lack of certainty is precisely where we are supposed to be.  Maybe we are supposed to pay attention to our feelings and fleeting thoughts more than we imagined.  Maybe God works sideways, or in the margins, or in our peripheral vision more than we imagined.  Maybe our mistake is thinking that God is facing us head on, like a matador, while we are forgetting that the matador is busy duping us into believing that something awaits us on the other side of the cloth when nothing actually does.

    I, like you, often feel inadequate to the task before me.  When I feel that way, I pray.  I pray for strength and clarity.  I pray for the Divine Presence.  I pray that I will perform in a way that honors God.  I pray for help. When I do, this is the voice I hear:

    “The goal in seeking Me is not simply to find Me. It is to ask for My help as you look for Me.”

    Questions of the day:   

    When I feel inadequate, do I ask God to help me?  How do I let my desire to perform for God interfere with my Life in God?

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    Stewardship Meditation #12

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

    I don’t track the genesis of urban myths.  I do know that as a concept they didn’t start in late 20th century America.  Sayings, like the one above, have been around as long as there have been people in the world.

    As well-known as this saying is, it does not show up anywhere in the Bible.  On the contrary, Scripture does indicate, in many instances, that Godliness is much more important than cleanliness, modern advertising (think the Swiffer) notwithstanding.

    “Revenge is mine, says the Lord.”  This is another example of a phrase that is so common that we assume it is a quote from somewhere in Scripture.

    It isn’t.

    If you look up the many instances where the idea of revenge is utilized by God as punishment for bad earthly behavior, the frequency is stunningly sparse.  There are enough individual statements in the Bible so that any person can prove almost anything.  The idea, though, that God is looking to “smite” evildoers after the Flood story is hard to support from the record.

    Revenge as smiting our opponents is an idea that belongs to this world, not the next.  It is not a kingdom concept.  In John 18:36, Jesus says that if his kingdom were of this world, his servants would fight. They don’t, while he is being arrested, and the implication is that these earthly principles are not the paramount principles for his followers to espouse.

    Seeking the Lord, seeking a deeper understanding of our faith, is centered on re-understanding what we currently know  and replacing what we know in terms of Kingdom ideas, Kingdom principles.

    Here is one expression of what I mean.  My father and I have had much to work through in our relationship.  In the last few years, we have done just that.  We are in the best place we have ever been.  When I was younger, I was very clear about all the ways that he had underperformed as my dad.  In my worst moments, I laid in bed at night and took solace in the idea that God would have his revenge on my mistreatment.  And God did.

    How? He gave me children of my own.

    It’s as if God was saying, If you want revenge, here’s what I have in mind: you get to perform the same task as your father.  Let’s investigate your thirst for revenge once you have taken on the same task your father did.  

    Once I better understood God’s idea of revenge, I began to understand why mercy is such a prominent theme of Scripture.

    Questions of the day: 

    When have I received mercy and experienced it as coming from God?  Where have I refused to exercise mercy?

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    Stewardship Meditation #11

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    My hope when you read these meditations is that you will be inspired to think of Stewardship differently.  I want you to think of the topic holistically, comprehensively. I want you to think of this word more broadly than a tired church word designed to have you give more of your money to the parish.  I want you to ponder these thoughts so that you can feel―and be―closer to God.

    When I am honest, there is another reason I am writing these things to you daily.  I want you to know me better.  I want to fulfill my role as a teacher in the faith.  I also want you to know that I am just as focused on my own learning.  I am just like you:  I yearn for meaning and connection and rich conversation and peace and joy.  I have to work at it just as hard as you do.  And, like you, I am just a beginner.  Much of the time, I cringe at the thought of something I have said or done in the past.  Could that have really been me saying that? Doing that?

    I am equally stunned by the small victories of my life: when I have gotten it right, when I have been truly helpful, when I have felt (and others have felt) that I have been a vessel of the holiness of God.  When I have been at my best and said or done the truth as I have understood it.  When I have been simultaneously honest and respectful.

    I know that in my struggle to work these things out―how I can feel such a failure at one moment and then know success so soon after―I am just like most of you.

    Often, I simply want to seek God more deeply, more purely.  I want to desire to be with God beyond anything I have known to date.  When I read the words of a twenty-two year old poet expressing the same desire, I remember that desiring to be with God is to already be closer than I can imagine.

    Extinguish my eyes, I’ll go on seeing you.
    Seal my ears, I’ll go on hearing you.
    And without feet I can make my way to you,
    without a mouth I can swear your name.

    Break off my arms, I’ll take hold of you
    With my heart as with a hand.
    Stop my heart, my brain will start to beat.
    And if you consume my brain with fire,
    I’ll feel you burn in every drop of my blood.

    –Maria Rilke

    Questions of the day:

    Do I tell God, as I pray, what I truly want?  What makes me embarrassed or afraid to do that?

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    Stewardship Meditation #10

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us. We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.  Luke 15:20b

    Do you ever imagine God doing this for you?  This is the middle part of the story of the Prodigal Son. It is the story of a loving father waiting for his son to return to the blessings of home which the father has prepared for a lifetime.  The father is patient: he knows that he cannot teach the son these lessons; like all of the most important things in life, they can only be learned.  The remarkable part of the story is the father patiently waiting on the porch night after night, hoping against hope that the son will remember these blessings before he destroys himself.

    We know the story.  The son asks for things that he has no right to ask: an inheritance that is not due him until the father dies.  The son has not said it directly, but the implication is that he wishes the father were dead so that he could inherit his portion of what the father has earned during his life of hard labor.  The son feels entitled.  We know that the son’s request is ridiculous, rude, and disrespectful in the extreme. The only thing more ridiculous than the son’s request is how the father responds.

    I know what my response would be to my sons asking for their share of their inheritance before I was dead.  My response wouldn’t be acceptable in church circles.  I would be hurt and disappointed beyond what I can communicate.  Likely, I would react instead of responding.

    But this is a story, a story of a father’s abiding love for both of his children.  It is about responding, not reacting. It is the story of a father who keeps the biggest possible picture in mind.  It is a story of God’s love for us, a story that communicates how ridiculous and irresponsible that love is.  It is a story that communicates God’s love for us ahead of our worthiness.  It is a story about God seeking us before we seek God.

    I wake up most every day ready to embrace the day the Lord has made.  And at the same time, I have trouble some days believing that God could love me this much.  I get scared.  I get full of myself.  I’m sure I have to prove something important to somebody.  I forget.

    What I need to remember on those days is that God is waiting on the porch to embrace me, to kiss me, and to tell me that my coming back to Him is all He ever really desired in the first place.

    Questions for the day:

    What will have to happen for me to feel that God loves me this much? What do I need to stop doing in order to experience that love?

    Read more Daily Stewardship Meditations.

    Stewardship Meditation #9

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    One might infer, from the title above, that the most important part of our life with God is our choosing Him; that it is all a matter of us getting our heads on right and pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and being sensible about things; that all of it, in the end, is up to us.  God does His part and makes an offering to us and we, independent of anything or anyone, make our choice.  The rest, so says this line of thought, is eternity — either smelling brimstone or incense.

    That kind of thinking is tempting.  And it is wrong.

    We often say to ourselves or to someone near that God is unfair.  When we say that, we mean it in a way that disparages God.  We usually say that when we think God does not understand the earthly implications of failing to intervene in a situation.  God is unfair, though, long before there are moments when we want Him to perform acts according to what we think best.

    God chooses us first, before we have even noticed. Our choice follows God’s.   What is fundamentally unfair is that when we seek a deeper understanding of our faith, it is God who is making that possible.  It is the Spirit of God which creates that desire in the first place.  God so loved the world that he gave….  It is God’s nature to give us the desire to search for Him and it is God who sees to it that we finally discover the Divine Presence at all.  What is unfair about God is that God alone knows every recess of our souls and doesn’t flinch.  God weights the balance in our favor from the start by loving us first, by seeking us out, by making it possible to find Him wherever we are in life.  Whatever supposed unfairness is attributed to God on the terrible consequences scale must be balanced by the fact that God has initiated a relationship with us in the first place.  And God alone knows exactly who it is He is doing this for: very fallible people who are at their best in relatively short spurts.

    I cannot explain the reason for terrible events striking some while others seem to prosper.  No one can adequately do that.  Equally, I cannot explain why God would remain faithful to us when there is so much evidence that we are not worthy of that kind of devotion.  The Unfairness of God has determined that if there is even a breath left in us, there is hope that we will respond to His overtures and reach back toward the hand that is already reaching toward ours.

    Questions for the day:

    When I seek God’s help and presence, do I ask God for help to do that?  How will a deeper understanding of my faith help me love God?

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    Stewardship Meditation #8

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    The Four Cornerstones:

    [list type=”bullet1″]

    • Worship more than you don’t.
    • Seek a deeper understanding of your faith.
    • Serve others in Christ’s name.
    • Give as generously as God gives to you.

    [/list]

    In the four weeks leading up to Cornerstone Sunday, we are focusing on each of the four cornerstones.  This week, we focus on Seek.

    When God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah, this is what he says through him:  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (29:13)

    Often, we assume that seeking God means taking a class or reading a book.  I don’t think that’s exactly what God had in mind when he spoke to Jeremiah.  Books as we understand them hadn’t been invented yet and online courses had not quite become the rage.  The idea that a person would start looking for God meant more that she would start where she is, that she would become open to the fact that God is present and can be found here, wherever here is.  In our conversations.  In our families.  In the workplace.  In school.  At the supermarket, the bowling alley, the dry cleaners, a ball game, and at a museum.  Wherever we are, valley or mountaintop, God is already there.  The rub, as Jeremiah says, is that we have to really want to find God.  With everything we have.  There is no other way.  We have to be ‘all in’ because God is that way with us.  We cannot appreciate God with any kind of fullness if we are unwilling to grasp this.

    We often feel as though God has abandoned us when things start to go awry:  when we’re sick, or dying, or depressed, or lonely, or feeling unloved or unlovable.  We wonder where God is.  What I know from experience as a Christian is that when I am feeling far away from God, it is usually because I don’t like the way God is present.  I want Resurrection Jesus more than I want Good Friday Jesus.  I want God to be strong, to repair, fix, and heal what is broken in my situation.  Sometimes, God doesn’t do that.  God isn’t always big on answers.  But God is very big on people.  And sometimes, God is as vulnerable and weak as God was in Jesus so many different times.

    I want and need a God who is able, of course.  God is.  I am also growing to accept that some days the most we can know of God on this side of Resurrection often has to do with failing, with dying, with being mortal and limited, just as Jesus was.  I am growing to accept that if I seek God with all my heart, God will be present, wherever here is.  And for now, that will get me through to what God has next in mind.

    Questions for the day:

    When was the last time you felt the presence of God in your life?  Whom did you tell about it?

    Read more Daily Stewardship Meditations.

    Stewardship Meditation #7

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    During church services on Sunday mornings in the month of October, we will have meditations offered by members of our parish community on the four cornerstones:  Worship, Seek, Serve, and Give.  This morning, Youth Minister Leah Romanelli offered this meditation on Worship.

  • By Leah Romanelli, Youth Minister

    So I have two stories to share.  When I was in college, I had a mentor named Timothy.  Timothy is the reason I pursued ministry as a career.  He is also an extremely gifted musician — he won a full ride to Julliard, although he chose, in the end, to go to Grinnell.  One evening, we had a meeting in the chapel on campus, and when I entered the sanctuary, Timothy was playing at the grand piano by the altar, much like here.  Several minutes passed before he finished and I asked, “So were you practicing for something?”  No.  “Composing?”  No.  Timothy likes to be mysterious.  “Praying?  Thinking?  De-stressing?”  No.  No.  No.  I got clever.  “So what were you playing?”  Nothing.  I never got an answer out of Timothy and this conversation bugged me for months.  But thinking back on it, and knowing Timothy better all these years later, I know what he was doing: Worshiping.  He was sitting in the presence of God.

    So what I want to say today about worship and how Christ church helps us do it, is this: Worship is more than 60-90 minutes on Sunday.  Worship is a way of living our lives.  Worship is acknowledging and sitting with God in the moment.  Like Timothy.

    I was an English major, so I’ll phrase it another way (and yes, I know I’m breaking some grammatical rules to make a point): worship is a noun (We attend worship) and an action verb (We worship God).  But I would like to propose that it is also a state-of-being verb, a verb that describes our existence.

    Because in the end, all places and all moments are holy.  We just tend to brush through them.  One of my favorite poets, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, says it this way:  “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”

    Christ Church helps us remember to untie our laces.

    Taking it a little further, if I’ve met you, I’ve probably talked your ear off about my rescue dog.  I decided this was a good illustration for our St. Francis pet-blessing Sunday.  My dog’s name is Karou and she is the sweetest little dog in the world.  When I first got her back in January, though, she was in a constant state of worry and fear.  She didn’t trust anyone, she didn’t know how to make friends with people or animals.  Then we started our lessons.  And I learned a few things.  For instance: did you know that it takes often more than a solid year of imprinting with your dog before it responds to your voice not because of what it will get from you, but because it loves you?  I’ve had Karou for about nine months, and I will say that as she has learned my voice and come to trust me, she has become more confidant, more trusting, more social, adventurous, energetic, goofy…more herself.  Do you see where I’m going with this?  There are worse things than being compared to a dog.

    The church is where we learn to hear God’s voice and to respond not because of what we’ll get out of it, but because we love our Creator. The church is where God and this faith family bring out the best in ourselves.  That is an act of worship.

    Going back to my first illustration, the church is to us what the piano is to Timothy: a focusing tool, an instrument of worship, the action verb.

    We say we celebrate the Eucharist for a reason.  Every Sunday is a celebration day where we’re refocused on God, we’re with our faith family, we’re learning to respond to God’s voice, and in the end, we’re ready to go back into the world and recognize the holiness of our ordinary, daily lives.

    Visit our Staff page to learn more about Leah Romanelli.

  • Read more Daily Stewardship Meditations here.

    Stewardship Meditation #6

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.
    – Mark Twain –

    I love this quote for many reasons.  Chief among them is that while I believe it is true, one does not have to agree with it for it still to be true.

    In other words, it is not necessary for anyone to struggle with figuring out why we are here.  Some people do…and some don’t.  A person can exist on a biological level and live moment to moment gathering enough resources to breathe in and out for his or her allotted time and survive quite nicely.  Even, in an earthly sense, flourish.  No Force will intervene to say that this cannot be done, that this is WRONG.

    The reason Christians reflect on this question, try to struggle with what this might mean, is that we do not survive on bread alone.  We are not focused solely on what takes place in this life.  We do not believe that current circumstances are all there is.  As followers of Jesus, our lives are not entirely our own.  We belong to God.  When Paul thinks about all this, he writes things like, Whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord’s possession.  We were bought with a price.

    God has a claim on us.  As our Creator, God is the source of our being.  As our Sustainer, God makes possible every moment we exist.  As the One who made an offering of his life in Jesus, He has redeemed our life so that death no longer holds the same power over us it once did.  God waits patiently to discover what we will do with all this.

    Occasionally, I think on these things and feel guilty.  You mean, Christopher, that after all God has done, after all you’ve been given, this is the best you can do, the best you can offer?  That line of thinking only lasts a brief time for me when it comes.  I’ve learned that the voice which whispers this to me does not come from God.  The antidote to that thinking, to the ‘down’ feeling I get when I  think that way, is to think of God’s perspective on the Twain quote.

    God’s perspective is this:  I made you for Myself.  So that you could be a part of all this wonder.  So that we could share all that is good and beautiful and holy and true.  It’s mine…and yours, together.  And all that there is right now is not all that there is.  Be at peace.  The day you find out why is the day you realize that we are partners forever.

    Questions for the day:

    Who I have told this week about all that God is doing in my life?  Who do I want to tell?

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    Stewardship Meditation #5

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    This morning, I’m thinking of Rummage and Christ Church.

    Frankly, it’s hard not to.  We had a remarkable experience yesterday: near perfect weather, roughly four hundred different volunteers throughout the year to make this possible, countless ‘customers’ looking for our gently recycled goods, and unfailing good cheer and welcome at every turn.  We grossed over $307,000, which, after expenses, will be thoughtfully returned to people in the greater Chicago area who have asked for our help.  That is a record amount of money for us to raise for outreach.  Our donors, volunteers, community helpers, and the people buying our goods are to be congratulated.

    In addition to the gratitude I feel for such a successful and monumental effort, I also feel humbled. I think of the chain of people over time who have kept this effort viable and alive.   I think this morning of the humble beginnings of this effort eighty-nine years ago.  I think of the physics of beginnings and middles and ends, of all that takes place at each stage, of all the effort that goes into appreciating what is required of each season in our lives and of an effort such as this.  Mostly, I think of something that has rung true for me: that everything in life has a gestation period, a period of time that is necessary for blossom to become flower.  I want to share with you a beautiful poem which captures this sentiment, a poem which communicates as only poems and poets can.

    It is a poem about love, but not just romantic love.  Love is much bigger than just the first stage we call romance.  Love, whether the love of God for us or our love for God and each other, requires maturing.  It requires the experience of living, and all that living entails, to bear the fruit worthy of such a deep, unpredictable, harrowing, and lasting enterprise.  Love is universal, but for us it must also be intensely local.  It must be more than an idea.  It must be made real in our world, in our flesh.  It must be incarnated, as it was in Jesus, Our Lord.  This poem does that.  The poem is like love:  it is local, universal, simple and complex, and reminds us that love is present even in the simple act of buying and consuming a peach.  It speaks of those blessed moments when we know the joy of joys.

    FROM BLOSSOMS

    From blossoms comes
    this brown paper bag of peaches
    we bought from the boy
    at the bend in the road where we turned toward signs painted Peaches.

    From laden boughs, from hands,
    from sweet fellowship in the bins,
    comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
    peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
    comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

    O, to take what we love inside,
    to carry within us an orchard, to eat
    not only the skin, but the shade,
    not only the sugar, but the days, to hold the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into the round jubilance of peach.

    There are days we live
    as if death were nowhere
    in the background; from joy
    to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
    from blossom to blossom to
    impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

    – Li-Young Lee

    Questions for the day:

    What am I doing while waiting for blossoms to become fruit?  How do I express my love for God, for myself, and for others?

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    Stewardship Meditation #4

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    My favorite work of fiction is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.  A number of you have heard me explain in some detail why the book moves me so much.  One of the things that Owen says during the course of his development is, “FAITH TAKES PRACTICE.”   (His character speaks in all capital letters.)

    It’s a simple idea: that faith is more than a warm feeling, more than a sense of well-being when things are running smoothly; that faith takes effort, takes work and concentration and attention.  Often, our faith must be exercised in the face of very difficult and painful circumstances.  Yet, when deepening our faith is put in terms of practice, we know we are hearing the truth about it.  We may resist this truth, or deny it, or speak with frustration that it should somehow be different or easier.  We know better, though.  Faith, along with anything else worthwhile, takes practice.

    Our own Biblical story, starting with Creation itself, is filled with struggle and the fact that faith takes practice.  When Abraham and Sarah are promised a land and descendants, they have to practice patience and courage and faith and the giving and receiving of forgiveness before they experience the realization of those promises.  The struggles of Jacob are highlighted in the Genesis story.  His new name, Israel, born of wrestling with God, means, loosely, The One Who Contends With God. While he connives and manipulates early in his life to get what he believes he deserves, he must practice faith much of his adult life to receive a blessing he doesn’t deserve.  He is forced to practice that patient faith when events reel out of his control.

    We are all practicing something, everyday.  And, as our coaches in life have told us, the way we practice is the way we play.  What we practice and how we practice makes a difference to us and to those who cross our paths.

    We are all practicing something, everyday.  That is the nature of life.  There is no escaping that.   The nature of the Kingdom of God is that we are free to choose what we practice and that we, like the Biblical characters who practiced their faith, can count on better results than we deserve.

    Questions for the day:

    If you are content with the results you are getting, what are you doing to achieve them?  If you are not content, what do you need to do more of?  Less of?

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    Stewardship Meditation #3

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    Years ago while living in Vermont, I had just taken over the diocesan bike trip, similar to the trip I continue to offer each summer.  I was new to cycling, and the adults who joined us had been regulars for years.  One man — a crusty, learned, high school history teacher — had a saying that he delivered at the bottom of every mountain climb.  “Smoke ’em if you got ’em,” he would say, wryly.

    It refers, of course, to what an officer would say to troops before they went into battle in WWII: smoke your cigarettes now while you have the chance.  Considering the context in which he was using it, I always found the irony of that statement worth at a smile.

    If you can forget for a moment the literal meaning of that phrase, it makes a good stewardship statement:  Use What Ya Got.  Now.

    That’s a simple, folksy way to think of the entire idea of Stewardship:  Use What Ya Got. Now.  The Mystery of God dwells within each of us.  It is God’s gift to everyone, as much a part of us as our arms and legs.  God has given us the freedom to use that gift as we choose.  Choose wisely, and choose now.

    Most folks who go to church with any regularity hear statements like the one above and decide that faithful stewardship means we should use our gifts to serve on a parish committee or do something important inside the building.  That is certainly one good use.   Faithful stewardship can also look very different than that.

    I’m thinking now of a man who was almost exclusively a Christmas and Easter attender.  I’ll call him George (not his real name).  Many Sundays, George would be at work downtown in Chicago by 7am.  One of his friends told me of a meeting they had scheduled for that time.  His friend had gotten to the office early and had seen George pull up and park.  He watched as George went into the doughnut shop, bought a dozen doughnuts, and then handed them out to people living on the street.  Carefully folding up the box, he placed it in the trash can.  He walked up to his meeting and never mentioned a word.  The practiced way he performed the operation convinced his friend that it was not the first time this had taken place.

    Faithful Stewardship, and Worship, come in as many forms as there are ideas.  So does holiness.

    Questions for the day

    What, in God’s Name, am I doing with ‘what I got’?  How do I pay attention to the presence of God in me?

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    Stewardship Meditation #2

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    I want to do work worth doing with my friends.

    That’s the closest thing I have to a philosophy of life.  It’s taken me most of my time on the planet to figure that out, to condense it into just one short sentence.  So there it is:  work worth doing, with my friends.  To do this, I need two basic ingredients:  important, valuable work…and friends.  Church, worshiping God in church, has given me both of those things.  I knew (was it the Spirit or intuition or a combination?) that I would find lasting, important work in and through my presence in church.  I knew when I arrived there would be others who were looking to do the same thing.

    I sensed that I could find both of those things the first time I entered an Episcopal church after my baptism.  I was baptized down the road at Holy Comforter in Kenilworth, Illinois when I was an infant.  My next experience of the Episcopal Church was eleven years later after my dad’s fifth inter-company transfer.  After my first Episcopal liturgy on a Sunday morning, I knew I was home.  I couldn’t articulate why or what it all might mean.  I just knew that what was happening at the altar was real and that it involved me.  I knew I needed to be there.  Frequently.

    Let me be clear, though.  I’m not talking about becoming a priest.  That came a bit later.  I’m talking about the process of being in church, of consciously allowing the connection between the Divine Mystery and my own life to grow.  I believed that by being present, I would be led to work worth doing and that I would not have to do it alone.  I sensed that the Spirit of that Mystery, working through others and directly in me, would lead me someplace better than I could figure out on my own.  I sensed a partnership with God, a partnership initiated by God and given to me, like my earthly life and every succeeding breath has been given to me.  I just needed to be present, awake, and ready to follow.

    I’ve learned a lot since then.  I’ve learned that worship doesn’t start or end on Sundays.  I’ve learned that God’s voice and grace can come through many different means, inside and outside of church.  Most importantly, I’ve learned that the best place to learn about work worth doing and having friends to do it with is in a place where people are already trying to do the same thing.

    Questions for the day

    Do I prepare myself each time I worship to be led by God?  What am I doing to feed and encourage my partnership with God?

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    Stewardship Meditation #1

    The Divine Mystery exists in each of us.  We are Stewards of that Mystery.

    When the word “Stewardship” is mentioned around churches this time of year, people often cringe.

    It’s a fancy term for ‘money grab’.  It’s boring.  Do we have to do this?

    I understand.  Most of us have had at least fleeting thoughts like that this time of year.  The truth is, of course, that the topic of Stewardship is about so much more than money.  It’s about how we open ourselves to the Divine Mystery existing in each of us.

    Over the next four weeks, I will be writing a daily meditation about stewardship.  My intent is simple:  I want us to re-imagine what we think of when we hear that word.   I want that word to fit seamlessly into the rest of our lives.  I want the term to be helpful.  I want us to re-imagine not only what Stewardship means, but what our Life in God means.  And how much more it can mean.

    So: the first thing.  Stewardship simply means manager.  The simple, and profound, idea is that the Divine Mystery of God is inside each of us.  We get to choose what we will do about that.  God’s immeasurable love for us is such that God gives us the freedom to decide what we will do with this gift we call life.  God hints, calls, screams through the prophets, whispers in the silence, rises in Jesus, forgives those who hurt Him, and walks alongside us at every moment.  The one thing God does not do is compel us.  We are free.

    Stewardship is about money, and it is about everything else.  Everything.  Stewardship is about the action we take and the thoughts we think when we say, “I believe in One God….”

    On the day we meet face to face, I doubt God will ask us, “What kind of steward were you?”  I’m not sure God speaks that way.  I am sure that God will want to know how we have shared with others what God has shared with us; how we have used it to spread the Kingdom;  how we have responded to each other, especially those who have hurt us or who we see as different from ourselves.

    I’m also certain of this:  we treat others, friends, enemies, and everyone in between, in the same manner we believe we have been treated by God.  If we see ourselves as blessed beyond measure, we extend that to those who cross our paths.  If we have had a different experience, our actions reflect that, too.

    I know what it’s like to feel loved by God, to feel blessed.  I also know what it’s like to feel far away from God, disconnected, alone.  So do you.

    Our life at Christ Church, and these meditations, are offered to you as an aid as you work out your Life in God.  In the weeks leading up to our Stewardship Dinner and Cornerstone Sunday, I will focus on how the Four Cornerstones — Worship, Seek, Serve, and Give, can serve as a foundation for you to deepen your relationship with God and the people in your life.  I will focus on re-imagining the word Stewardship and how that work can help each of us re-imagine the presence of the Divine Mystery at our core.

      Questions for the day 

    When I feel blessed by God, how do I express that? How do I act when I feel separated from God?

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