Stewardship Meditation #8

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

The Four Cornerstones:

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  • 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.


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 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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