What is Your Why?
By Bryant T. Morgan
Good morning. I am here this morning as a member of the Stewardship Committee to respond to the
question, “What is your Why?” That is, why do I contribute to the parish? As I contemplated that
question, three reasons came to mind.
The first reason is to reciprocate the kindnesses that have been extended to me by others during
periods of humble circumstances. I, like many, have endured experiences in life that I would not wish to
repeat, but for which I am grateful because of the perspectives those provided me.
I remember, for example, during a time of destitution, walking into a grocery store wondering how to
maximize the purchasing power of my few dollars. At the entrance to the store, I encountered a
creatively stacked display of canned vegetables. I was startled by a thought that emerged, that was
foreign to me, but indicative of my circumstances, of how easy it would be to gather and walk away with
an armful of those cans without anyone noticing.
While thoughts such as those linger with me, those memories are overshadowed by recollections of acts
of kindness on my behalf by others. Those actions not only assisted me materially, but buoyed my
spirits, and allowed me to feel that I was valued and not alone in the world.
My life has improved since that time. A second reason that I give is as a measure of thanks for the
blessings of God that I enjoy and that surround us all. Those feelings are well summarized in a poem
that is touching to me written by Grace Noll Crowell.
Because I have been given much,
I too must give;
Because of thy great bounty Lord,
Each day I live;
I shall divide my gifts from thee
With every person that I see
Who has the need of help from me.
Because I have been sheltered, fed
By thy good care;
I cannot see another’s lack and I not share;
My glowing fire, my loaf of bread,
My roof's safe shelter overhead
That they too may be comforted.
Because I have been blessed by
thy great love dear Lord;
I’ll share thy love again
According to thy word;
I shall give love to those in need,
I’ll show that love by word and deed;
Thus shall my thanks be thanks in deed.
The third reason that I give, is because that is the appeal of Savior to us. The last recorded instruction of
Jesus to his disciples following his resurrections was, “Feed my sheep.” Although that instruction was
directed at Peter, I believe it applies to all of us. Caring for others seemed to be of such importance that
Jesus repeated the instruction three times. The scriptures tell us that Peter grieved at the repetition. I
grieve sometimes, too, when I realize that love for others and personal initiative on their behalf do not
come naturally to me. I am grateful for the weekly reminder in our services here that redirect my
thoughts in that orientation, and for this season of thanks and of giving that is upon us.
By Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
This morning’s gospel lesson from Matthew records one of Jesus’ many encounters with the religious leaders who worried about Jesus growing popularity and authority. In it, they ask Jesus a question that Matthew says was “to test him”.
I’m wary, as I have remarked before, about Matthew’s pretty consistent attempt to discredit the Jewish religious authorities; I’d like to think that perhaps the Pharisee’s question to Jesus about which commandment was the greatest may have been offered sincerely.
Certainly, those great life questions – “How shall I live my life?” and “How do I choose what is right?” are questions we all should wrestle with.
We’re now in a time of year we call Stewardship Season. In it, our tradition invites us to reflect on our blessings and asks us to consider the ways we choose to make use of the gifts God has given us.
So, think with me about this…..
That concept of Stewardship reminds us that we are stewards of our lives - we could also say “caretakers”, or “trustees” – they all mean the same thing
We don’t choose to be born,
We don’t choose, AND we don’t earn
These are gifts provided – not always easy gifts, but gifts given into our keeping by God – AND THEY ARE ALL IMPERMANENT.
All of the benefits we “possess”, all of the things that make life comfortable and convenient, all of the pleasures that make our lives meaningful, can disappear in a flash. We’ve seen it, this year in particular, that illness and accident strike, and natural disasters and human evil change the course of lives overnight.
We are stewards, caretakers, trustees of our lives and the blessings that fill them
To use an image from Brother Curtis Almquist of SJE, in a sermon I heard years ago, but which has remained with me since that time:
If we truly believe and understand that what we have is gift, something we hold in our safekeeping, how can we do other than live generously, in thanks?
I read an article recently in which the author distinguishes two kinds of economies – transaction economy, and gift economy.
In a transaction economy everything has a price, and we pay for what we need.
Most of our lives are lived in a transaction economy.
In a gift economy, on the other hand, what is given is given without expectation of anything in return. Healthy families and friendships are examples of gift economies, in which people extend themselves for others on the basis of love, without expectation of return or reward.
God’s gifts to us of life and freedom are gift economy. As is God’s gift to us of God’s own self, in the life of Jesus, showing us what it means to hold the gift of life in open hands and share it without expectation of repayment.
In a gift economy, we know that we are loved; we care and are cared for, we give and receive, living a cycle of kindness and generosity in which we deepen our relationships and understand the meaning in our lives.
Our challenge and our possibility as Christians, as “members of the Jesus Movement”, is to live in the reality of the transaction economy of the world WHILE ALSO striving to live with open hands and generosity, offering and sharing, in acknowledgement and gratitude.
So, practically speaking, how do we approach this?
And in particular, how do we figure out how to respond to the request we have all recently received, to make a pledge of support to this parish in the year ahead?
Each of us needs to figure this out, in prayerful conversation with God - what we can share and with whom.
The biblical standard is to tithe – to give 10% of what comes in to us back out to others. In “Bible Study for Nerds” this week, in fact, we read the passage in which this idea originates – Jacob’s prayerful declaration of gratitude to God after his dream at Bethel of the stairway open to heaven. He declares that Surely God is in this place and I, I did not know it!
Jacob then goes to pledge that “of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.”
Tithing is affirmed by Episcopal Church as an appropriate proportion of our income to share with others.
Not everyone feels able to reach this standard, and given existing financial circumstances for so many in these days of pandemic and uncertainty, many of us feel less confident about the future that we would otherwise. Let me suggest a few principles to think about in considering how and what we each might share with others:
Living generously is one of the ways we can “love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind… and love our neighbor as ourself.’
Living generously frees us from being hostage to our possessions. Living generously reminds us whose we are, and helps us to trust the one who gives us life, who surrounds us with a world of beauty and opportunity, who preserves and sustains us all of the days of our lives. Living generously is the way to freedom, and to peace.
In the name of God. Amen
I was in college when I first started visiting former St. Andrew's with my now husband Jason and the folks that I was not related to, quickly became friends. When our children were young, we started to attend former St. James so they could attend Sunday school and before long these folks became our friends too. When the two parishes merged, it was like a great big family reunion for us and it has been so great having everyone under one roof for a multitude of reasons. We are stronger together and can spread our mission further to the people that need it. I love that folks here are exceedingly generous with their offerings of time, energy and money and without these things, our mission couldn't happen.
Our family here at Saints James & Andrew has a big heart, supporting our neighbors and community in all that we do here. Being part of this wonderful family and being able to be part of the gifts we can offer is key to what inspires my family to be generous in our giving of time, energy and money. This year we’ve all had to adapt- probably to more things we can count on our hands, and for the most part without complaint.
Life is hard right now, there is nothing easy about 2020 and those that were hit hard before, have been hit harder. Our mission teams have responded and adapted what we offer to the wider community, with take out meals every Sunday and Monday. Many of the folks that receive these meals also pick up needed items at Whitney’s Pantry, and I can’t imagine how these folks would make it through without these offerings. It stinks that our community has a need for them, but I am glad we have energy and love to offer it to folks.
The sheer amount of love for our community and neighbors that Saints James and Andrew has is awe inspiring, and I hope that all that we offer will inspire you to offer your time, energy and money too. If it’s not about love, it’s not about Jesus. Amen
By Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy
Today, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is tested again, and Jesus, like a good rabbi, answers the test question with another question, and then he often tells a parable to shine a light on God’s truth. It’s as if he’s saying, “this is how the kingdom of God on earth should be”.
These last few Sunday gospels have been dramatic… the story a couple of weeks ago of a King who gives a wedding banquet, where guests behave badly and the King banishes a poor fellow for wearing the wrong outfit. Jesus explains the difference between a dress code and radical, welcoming hospitality. Two sons, one who says yes to his father’s request for work and then skips out, the other says no, but turns round right and gets to work, Jesus says the sorriest among you who say yes to God will be the first in heaven; (actions speak louder than words), and builders who don’t recognize the strongest sturdiest cornerstone, which just might be Jesus himself?
My imagination seems to be blossoming during this pandemic. Spending everyday with a 3 year old who has the best ever make-believe ideas has been helpful. We had a great “phone” conversation the other day with two bananas! Also contributing is my addiction to Netfliz crime dramas (I like the ones set in Norway or Finland: they are cold and dark and there is a brooding, lead character who says little but speaks wisely.
These gospels, and the parables that Jesus tells, are tales that are meant to confound, confuse and ultimately amaze us. If you read them over a few times, it’s easy to imagine yourself in the action; you could be a main character or an onlooker in the crowd.
Try putting yourself in different roles. The more you read it, the more the drama builds.
I imagine I’m an onlooker; (I’d like to be more comfortable with conflict, I’m working on it!) I imagine I’m off to the side of the crowd, taking it all in, sitting in a market stall, weaving purple cloth.
And so the play begins today in the Temple. Two groups have gathered, Pharisees (pius Jews, very concerned with obedience to Jewish law), and Herodians, (likely followers of Herod, Jews also, but more interested in the governments’ finances). They intend to confront and confound Jesus with a question that puts him between a rock and a hard place. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” they ask. One answer breaks Jewish law, the other angers the government. (Jesus and his band of scruffy followers do not have a penny (or rather a denarius) in their pockets.)
The Pharisees and Herodians flatter Jesus, telling him that he is sincere and a good teacher. I love that Jesus doesn’t let them get away with this; he calls them out…hypocrites, he says, flattery from one side, trickery from the other. They bully him: “You’re so smart, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
Jesus does not allow himself to be tricked, and his answer is short and amazing. He says “Yes, the emperor’s head and title are on the coin, it is his. Give him his due, and also, give to God what is God’s.
We know we must “pay the tax’ also. We need roads and good schools and we must contribute to the cost of managing and preserving this wonderful world, but what would it be like if we remembered that all of it belongs to God, that all these worldly things are God’s, not Caesars, and not ours. What if we chose God’s way of love, liberation and justice as we support our institutions, our government and our personal lives? //
After all, we believe that everything we have is only on loan to us from God. We believe that at God’s command all things came to be, from the primal elements God brought all things forth. As we sing in the Venite: “the sea is his for he made it, and his hand has molded the dry land. We are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. //
The kingdom of God on earth is Gods. Everything. Every soul, every flower, and every dollar.
What would it be like if we applied the principals of God’s kingdom (not Caesars) to every decision we made. We have been given reason and choice. Could we align our choices and decisions with the description of God’s “kingdom on earth” that Jesus teaches us in these parables? Does that decision, that vote or that dollar spent, honor God as the Mother and Father of everyone and everything, and does it lead us further into a world of love, liberation and justice?
It’s amazing to think it could be so! Amen
Meet our Preachers
Coffee with Clergy
Do you want to get together to talk about your spiritual life or learn more about our community? Contact us and we will find time to get together.