The theme of our stewardship education emphasis at Calvary this fall is “First Fruits.” The concept of first fruits in the Judeo-Christian tradition has its roots in practices that existed long before references appeared in the Hebrew Scriptures. The faithful were expected to bring the first tenth (tithe) of their harvest to the temple and offer it to God. “Put the first of the fruit which you harvest into a basket, and set the basket down before the Lord your God, and rejoice in all the good which the Lord has given to you” (Deuteronomy 26:1-15).
Then, as now, people raised questions about what was to be included in this first fruits offering. For example, today it is not uncommon to hear someone ask, “Is the tithe to be calculated before or after taxes?” The Temple authorities were not hesitant about providing specific answers to questions like that. For example, agricultural product from non-Jews were not to be included in their offering. It had to be from their own crops; not from fund-raising! And, the portion of the crop at the corners of the fields and whatever was dropped in the fields was not to be included in the first fruits offering; that was charity for the poor and foreigners passing through. So, this offering did not satisfy the requirements of charity and hospitality.
In the Christian Testament, St. Paul uses this harvest language to describe the Risen Christ. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (I Cor. 15:20-23).
St. Paul also draws upon the first fruits principle when writing about the salvation of the Gentiles, “If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy” (Romans 11:16). Jesus Christ, according to Paul’s gospel, is God’s own first fruits offering on behalf of humanity and creation itself. The original first fruits were the first, the best, the ripest, and the most valuable of the fruits of the earth. For Christians, Christ is the first to rise from death. As the first fruits sanctified the rest of the harvest, represented the whole, permitted and ensured the harvest, so Christ arose from the earth to new life and sanctified this new life for his followers. Our lives in Christ are the rest of the harvest. Jesus Christ, the first fruits, has sanctified us and the life we share with him.
So, what does this have to do with us and our self-examination as we consider our vocation as faithful stewards of God’s bounty? The principle of first fruits is at the I heart of how we think and act as followers of Christ. When we learn to put Christ first and to offer the first of everything we have to him, that offering spills over into the rest of our lives.
Our Church teaches that the tithe (10%) is the minimum biblical standard for Christian stewardship. Far be it from me to object to the canons of the Church! However, my reading of the Bible, especially the New Testament, tells me that the minimum standard is 100%. The tithe, the first tenth offered to God for God’s purposes, represents a spiritual discipline that sanctifies everything else in our lives. It helps us make conscious and faithful decisions about what we do with the remaining 90%. Whatever we have - 100% - whether spent, saved, or given away, is a sacred trust from God. The first fruits, the tithe, forms our perspective in ways that help us remember that everything belongs to God and we have the privilege of being stewards of it. That is a vocation given to no other creature. It is what makes us truly human and is a necessary aspect of civility. We are called to be the givers.
This week, as I have been reflecting upon this theme, I came across the words of a very wise person, Ohiyesa, (Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman) a Wahpeton Santee Sioux. He said, “It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome. Its appeal is to the material part, and if allowed its way, it will in time disturb one's spiritual balance. Therefore, children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving.” He also said, “As a child I understood how to give; I have forgotten this grace since I became civilized.”
When we look at civilization as we know it today, we’d have to agree with Ohiyesa that many have forgotten how to give. That is a fundamental reason for war, economic woes, crime, violence, the breakdown of families and communities, and a host of other ills that plague us. We, as a civilization, have not done a very good job of teaching our children and one another the necessary discipline of generosity. Like Ohiyesa, many of us have forgotten.
Christians still have an opportunity to change that. And, in order to do so, we must encourage one another in ways that will result in the change, starting with the first fruits. If we will remind one another of this ancient principle and teach it to our children, God will use us to transform the world in ways we cannot begin to imagine. If you are concerned that the remaining 90% won’t be enough, I invite you to remember these words of encouragement from St. Paul, “God will make you rich enough so that you can always be generous” (2 Corinthians 9:11).
Let’s give it a try!
Tags: Civility, Civilization, Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, Faithful Stewards, First Fruits, generosity, Giving, I Corinthians 15:20-23, II Corinthians 9:11, Offering, Ohiyesa, Romans 11:16, Ronald D. Pogue, Stewardship, Tithe, Wahpeton Santee Sioux
I have accepted a call to become Interim Rector of Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Gay and I will be moving there during the week of October 15 and our first experiences of worship with the parish will be during the weekend of October 20 and 21. Take a look at the video to get an idea of Christ Church Cranbrook.
The opening for intentional interim ministry at Christ Church Cranbrook follows the departure of The Reverend Canon Gary Hall, who has been called to be Dean of the Washington National Cathedral. Gary has had a wonderful ministry at Christ Church Cranbrook and we uphold him and Kathy in our prayers as they begin a new adventure at the “flagship” Cathedral of the Episcopal Church. Here is an article Gary recently wrote for the Washington Post.
As you can see from the website and video, Christ Church Cranbrook is a vibrant parish with a rich liturgical and musical life, a heart for outreach in the region, and a strong Christian formation ministry for all ages. Located in the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, it is the largest Episcopal Church in the state. Bishop Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr. and Canon Lisa Gray have been very helpful to the vestry and to us in the process leading to this new interim relationship.
The vestry estimates that it will take approximately one year to call a new Rector. During this time of transition, Gay and I are confident we will come to love the people there as we have those in Texas, Kansas, and Kentucky. For us, meeting new people, exploring new territories, and experiencing new cultural distinctions is a fringe benefit of intentional interim ministry.
Calvary Church in Ashland, Kentucky has called a wonderful new Rector, The Reverend Antoinette “TJ” Azar. She will arrive in Ashland to begin her ministry with them in early November. I am quite proud of the devoted work of the nominating committee and vestry in calling her as the new leader of this parish. I predict that their ministry together in Ashland and the surrounding region will be fruitful in many ways - new ways, powerful ways, transforming ways! We are very grateful for our time at Calvary and for the new friends we have found there.
Prior to our time in Ashland, our experience with The Church of the Good Shepherd was filled with good things and good people. We are also grateful for the opportunity to work with Bishop Stacy Sauls and Bishop Chilton Knudsen, Dr. Kay Collier-McLaughlin, diocesan staff, clergy, and people of the Diocese of Lexington. What a wonderful two years this has been here in the Bluegrass and Eastern Kentucky.
During our time at Christ Church Cranbrook, we will be living in the rectory. Our new mailing address will be 415 Church Road, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan 48304-3401. Our mobile numbers, social media, and email addressses will not change.
We ask that you keep us in your prayers as we prepare for this move. And keep an eye on e-piphanies.com, my facebook page, and Gay’s facebook page for regular reports on our life in Michigan.
Posted at 01:45 PM in Ashland, Bloomfield Hills, MI, Calvary Church, Christ Church Cranbrook, Church of the Good Shepherd, Detroit MI, Episcopal Church, From the Rector, Galveston, Lexington, Meditation, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: Antoinette "TJ" Azar, Bloomfield Hills, Calvary Church Ashland, Chilton Knudsen, Christ Church Cranbrook, Diocese of Lexington, Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Gary Hall, Good Shepherd Church Lexington, Lisa Gray, Ronald D. Pogue, Stacy Sauls, Wendell N. Gibbs
Gay and I have come to another time of transition in our journey. Calvary Episcopal Church in Ashland, Kentucky has called a new rector. The time has come for us to leave Calvary and move to another place of ministry. Those who have known me for a while can appreciate the irony in this.
I was trained in a communion where clergy traditionally "itinerate," then became a priest in the Episcopal Church where the norm is for clergy to be "settled." In the one, clergy are appointed for one year at a time and expect to move on short notice. In the other, clergy are called to a place of ministry and tend to expect to remain settled there for years. It is ironic that I am now engaged in an itinerant ministry in a Church of settled clergy. My job is to move from place to place on a somewhat frequent basis, helping congregations manage transitions between settled rectors.
These times are bittersweet. We share our lives with people for a short while, and then we go. I won't say we go "our separate ways." For to say that would be to ascribe to our individual journies more significance than to The Journey on which we travel together in the Communion of Saints. We form relationships and it is not normal for those relationships to be discarded just because our corporate life takes us to another geographical location. There are boundaries that must be set in place when clergy leave a place. But those boundaries do not mean we do not care nor that we cannot remain in touch with those whom we have grown to love as we have shared in Christ's mission.
My priestly duties come to a conclusion in this community and soon will begin anew in another community. The new rector will be leaving her priestly duties in one community and begin them anew in this one.
In truth, these experiences are not unique to interim ministry; they just happen more frequently for us. When this time comes, I always think of something that I learned early in my vocational life as I was preparing to be licensed to preach. During the course of study, I had to answer a series of questions for each unit. In one unit, the question was, "In what way was John the Baptist the precursor to Jesus Christ?" I didn't even know what a "precursor" was! A visit to the dictionary told me that a precursor is "a person or thing that comes before another of the same kind; a forerunner." The role of John the Baptist was to go before Jesus to prepare the way for him and his ministry, which was very different from that of John.
The heart of my answer to the question then and now is found In the third chapter of John (Jn. 3:22-30), when John's disciples come to him with concern about Jesus, who now appeared to be in competition with John. John's response to them was, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30).
This is not exactly "Lame Duck Theology." There is still transition work to be done. It is healthy ministry. The time comes when one moves on and another arrives to lead God's people into a new era of mission and ministry. What John did for Jesus, we do for those who come after us. Each builds upon whatever has gone before. Each steps into a future where we must have confidence that God will meet us there to lead, guide, and direct.
It is time for me to become less important at Calvary and for the new rector, The Reverend Antoinette "TJ" Azar to become more important. I am quite proud of the devoted work of the nominating committee and vestry in calling her as the new leader of this parish. I predict that their ministry together will be fruitful in many ways - new ways, powerful ways, transforming ways!
In a few days, it will be time for me to announce where I am going next. In that community, a priest is saying farewell to people he has loved and cared for. In this community, a priest is on the way to a community that is opening its arms to welcome her. It's the way things work in this Church - and most churches for that matter - and in transitional ministry. God be with all of us in this and every transition so that our work will be done to God's glory and not our own. For it is God who is constant in this ever-changing ministry.
There is no limit to what we might accomplish if it is always God who gets the credit!
Tags: Antoinette TJ Azar, Calvary, decrease, glory, increase, John 3:22-30, move on, new ministry, Ronald D. Pogue, Transition
Beside the front door of our home, Gay and I have a plaque that reads, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.” Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung had these words inscribed above the entrance to his home and the quote is often attributed to him. Actually, Jung found it in the Latin writings of Desiderius Erasmus, a sixteenth century Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian.
A visit this week to the Chapel of the Holy Cross in the mesas of Sedona, Arizona, brought this truth to mind. Here amidst the vast, harsh, beautiful red rocks is a testimony to the omnipresence of God. Somone said, "Here is this towering cross out here in the middle of nowhere." Actually, everywhere is somewhere because of the presence of God, the Creator and Sovereign of the Cosmos.
The highest form of communion with God is to live our lives in such a way as to sense God’s presence with us in each moment, each breath, each blink of the eye, each heartbeat, and in each encounter with another human being, created in the image of God.
Psalm 139:1-17 expresses this conviction so beautifully. I particularly like Bernadette Farrell’s setting, as sung by the Choir of Wells Cathedral. I share this with you, along with a prayer that it will draw you increasingly into encounters of the divine kind as you continue your journey today.
Posted at 07:49 AM in Book of Common Prayer, Calvary Church, Episcopal Church, From the Rector, Meditation, Music, Religion, Sermons, Theological e-piphanies | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: Arizona, Bernadette Farrell, Carl Jung, Chapel of the Holy Cross, Divine Presence, Erasmus, O God You Search Me and You Know Me, Omnipresence, Psalm 139, Ronald D. Pogue, Sedona
Prejudice: You can't live with it and you can't live without it. That is to say, it's in our DNA. Everybody is infected with prejudice, to one degree or another. The prejudice I'm talking about is what the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines this way:
a (1) : preconceived judgment or opinion (2) : an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge
b : an instance of such judgment or opinion
c : an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics
Spiritual discernment is a process of reaching a decision based on divine guidance. The prejudice that lives within us clouds our ability to see the person, situation, or object of our discernment with clarity before we ever approach the throne of grace.
I was thinking about this recently when my wife and I were in an aircraft that was making the final descent before landing at an airport. The clouds were thick and there was some turbulence. Looking out the window, I could not see the sky above or the earth below. What lay ahead was not clear. It was literally "clouded" from view. And, if I couldn't see where I was going when I looked out my window, I was pretty sure the pilot couldn't see where he was going when he looked out his window either! Why was I not scared stiff? Because I was assured that the aircraft had an electronic guidance system and, as long as it was functioning properly, it would guide us safely through the clouds to our destination.
Perhaps this is a pretty simplistic attempt to describe the effects of prejudice and the power of divine guidance in our lives. But if the divine guidance system is not engaged to help us move through the clouds of prejudice, our decisions can not only be wrong, they can result in a crash!
When Solomon dedicated the Temple, God gave him a vision of a place that would come to be known as "A House of Prayer for All People" - not just a place for God's special people, but a place for ALL people. That must have been a big surprise and a radical concept to God's special people at the time. In Solomon's dedicatory prayer, he says, "Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays towards this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling-place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built" (I Kings 8:41-43).
When God sent Samuel to Jesse's house near Bethlehem to anoint the one who would be the new king over God's people, David was the last one of Jesse's sons Samuel would have chosen. The other sons looked to him like really good choices. But God said, "the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (I Samuel 16:7b). Samuel had to have divine help to move through the clouds of the prejudice that prevented him from seeing God's choice.
Despite Jesus' numerous attempts to get the point across, Peter still thought the gospel was not intended for Gentiles. Then, one day, he had this dream about Cornelius and his family. The experience that followed the dream made it possible for Peter to understand the universality of Jesus' redemptive work. He blurted out, "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:34)
Jesus was God Incarnate! Yet even Jesus had to face the prejudicial aspect of his humanity. When a Syrophoenecian woman approached him with the request that he cast a demon out of her daughter, his answer was harsh and laden with prejudice: "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs" (Mark 7:27). But the conversation continued, as the woman responded, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs." Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter" (Mark 7:28-29). This is the origin of the words of the Prayer of Humble Access, which we often pray, "We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou are the same Lord whose property is to always have mercy" (Book of Common Prayer, page 337). I believe that the woman's response to Jesus caused him to realize that he'd expressed the prejudicial aspect of his humanity and he allowed divinity to sweep the cloud away and treat the woman and her daughter with compassion. Had he not been able to deal with this pervasive human trait, the Incarnation would not have been complete.
Maybe you are prejudiced toward people of a different race or ethnicity. Possibly you don't like people who aren't as smart as you think you are. Could your discernment be clouded by your bias about gender, sexual orientation, handicaps, regional differences, wardrobe, socio-economic status, or even tattoos? Whatever prejudice is clouding your spiritual discernment today, I pray that you will stop and face it so that God can help guide you through to the right decision. At the end of the day, in your discernment, have you fulfilled your Baptismal promise to "respect the dignity of every human being?"
Joni Mitchell's 1969 hit song, Both Sides Now, has always seemed to me to a very spiritual ballad about the impact of clouds upon one person's journey. I confess that I am prejudiced toward Judy Collins' rendition.
Bows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way
But now it's just another show
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away
I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all
Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way
Oh but now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost but something's gained
In living every day
I've looked at life from both sides now
From WIN and LOSE and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all
I've looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all
Posted at 12:19 PM in Ashland, Book of Common Prayer, Calvary Church, Episcopal Church, From the Rector, Meditation, Music, Religion, Sermons, Theological e-piphanies | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: both sides now, clouds, divine guidance, jesus and the syrophoenician woman, joni mitchell, judy collins, peter's dream about cornelius, prejudice, ronald d. pogue, solomon's dedication of the temple, spiritual discernment
Tags: Control, David and Bathsheba, Destructive Behavior, Discernment, John 15:16, Moses striking the rock, pharisees and scribes, resurrection, Ronald D. Pogue, Uriah the Hittite
Unlike our Creator, human beings are finite creatures, bound by time and space. It seems that we have either too little time or too much time. We arrive early or late, but seldom exactly on time. Time is a facet of human life and we will always have to contend with it, even if we are blessed with a smartphone. Because of that fact of life, time is one of the enemies of spiritual discernment.
We had a very nice chain of department stores in Texas called Joske’s. Once, when Gay and I were visiting San Antonio, I had failed to pack any underwear in my suitcase. Not a problem! There was a Joske’s store near the Alamo where I could buy what I needed.
But when we came to the display where the men’s underwear should have been, they had nothing remotely near my size. I asked the sales clerk to check the inventory. She said, “It’s no use. Everything we have is on the shelf. It’s been this way since we started using the ‘just in time’ approach to our inventory.”
As far as I was concerned, it was “time” and the system wasn’t working for me. We went to J.C. Penney and found what I needed.
When things don't happen on our schedule, or we find ourselves feeling that the time's not right, or we have too little time for discernment before a decision must be made, or we feel that discernment is taking too long, what’s new? Time is a factor of human life and there is no escaping it.
Here’s the good news; God knows how much time we have because, after all, God created us. So, when we are dealing with God, besides chronos, the time we count with clocks and calendars, we are also granted kairos, the kind of time God seems to like best – the “right amount” of time.
The biblical number forty is often used to signify a kairos experience. The Great Flood lasted forty days and forty nights. God’s Hebrew children wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights and stayed with the apostles forty days and forty nights after the Resurrection. In every case, the biblical account seems to say that these incidences took exactly the right amount of time. And God never shows up late!
When we set out to spend time in spiritual discernment, we have a natural impulse to take hold of the problem of time by the wrong end. We think of time spent in discernment as our time with God. I invite you to consider that time spent in discernment is God’s time with us. With all God has to do throughout the cosmos, God makes kairos for us when we are facing a decision that requires spiritual discernment. If somebody shows up late for such an appointment, it’s not going to be God.
After complaining about how little time God gives us, the Psalmist prays, “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart” (Psalm 90:12). In other words, since this is the way things operate in God’s administrative policy, we need to be careful to put whatever chronological time we have at the service of the God of kairos, who has a way of making just the right amount of time to accomplish the divine purpose in our lives. For, as the Psalmist points out, “a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4). God's time is not measured by our standards! We spend time. God makes time. It's an important distinction and those who are wise recognize that distinction when engaging in spiritual discernment.
God has made time today for you to spend in discernment. How will you spend that time? My prayer for you today is that you will devote whatever time you have, whether it seems too little or too much, to spiritual discernment with the One who has the power to make it just exactly the right amount that is required.
The English hymn writer, Isaac Watts, paraphrased Psalm 90 in his great hymn, O God, Our Help in Ages Past.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.
A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the op’ning day.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.