Posted at 12:22 PM in Diocese of Wyoming, Episcopal Church, From the Rector, Jackson, WY, Meditation, Religion, Sermons, St. John's Episcopal Church, Theological e-piphanies | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tags: Authenticity, Christian Discipleship, Fellowship, Mark 9:38-50, Perseverance, Ronald D. Pogue, Salt
Now as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you-so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. - 2 Corinthians 8:7
As it was a challenge to the original recipients, this exhortation of St. Paul remains a challenge to the Church in any age, including St. John’s today. We are invited to excel in generosity toward God! What is the standard to guide us in such an undertaking? The Episcopal Church teaches that the tithe (ten percent of our income) is the minimum biblical standard for Christian giving. Minimum? The average financial pledge for Episcopalians is about 4% and for members of St. John’s it's about 2.5%. We're being encouraged to step up toward the tithe. And yet, our Church’s teaching suggests that that is only “the minimum.” How much more will be enough?
The reason our Church's teaching is stated this way is that the New Testament standard for giving is one hundred percent. Do you remember the occasion when Jesus pointed out the poor widow who put two small coins in the offering box at the Jerusalem temple? It was an object lesson for his disci-ples. He wanted them to notice that the more prosperous people contributed the mandated minimum portion of their wealth as an offering to God and the poor widow contributed everything she had. “Truly I tell you,” said Jesus, “this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:3-4).
On another occasion, some people asked Jesus whether it was lawful for the faithful to pay taxes to Caesar. He responded, “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor's.” He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's” (Luke 20:24-25). The image and title of the Emperor was stamped on the coin of his realm. Jesus' subtle point was that the image and title of God is stamped on the human being, which is the most valuable asset of God's realm.
It is our purpose and our privilege to offer ourselves to God. Jesus showed us how to do that on the cross. The result of that ultimate offering was resurrection. Our offering is made complete and our lives made victorious when joined with his offering. “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
In the insignia of St. John’s, the Red Cross of St. George on the white field is a reminder of the English origins of The Episcopal Church. From the thirteenth century until the nineteenth century, the flag of England was a red cross on a white field symbolizing the patron saint of England, St. George. Most of what we know about St. George is legend. We usually associate him with the Crusades or dragon slaying. However, reliable sources suggest that George was a martyr who suffered under the persecution of the emperor Diocletian in the fourth century.
Martyrdom has always been considered the supreme witness for one's faith. Even more importantly, that red cross is a reminder of victory through sacrifice - the sacrifice of Christ and his martyr, George. When Christian art began to depict the Risen Christ holding a triumphal cross-shaped staff with a banner attached to it, the banner was most frequently white, symbolizing purity, with a red cross on it, symbolizing the victory of the risen Christ over death.
Although Christians still die for their faith in many places, you and I will probably never be required to face physical death for our faith. Nevertheless, we are called to offer our lives completely in Christ's service. St. Paul's invitation to Roman Christians is as significant to us as it was to the those to whom it was addressed during a time of persecution two thousand years ago:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).
So, then, how are we to understand the tithe in relation to the radical expectation that we are supposed to give everything to God? Here's a way to look at it. The tithe is the portion we give specifically to God as a tangible sign of our acknowledgement that everything we have – possessions, time, lives, relationships, labors, influence – whether saved, spent, or given away is a sacred trust from God. Giving sacrificially to God is a spiritual discipline, like the disciplines of worship, prayer, sacraments, study, and good works. We give God a portion of what we have that is large enough to be considered sacrificial so that we notice when it is gone. That should make us mindful of what we do with everything else that remains.
Gay and I practice tithing as a spiritual discipline in this way. Years ago, when we struggled with the decision about how much to give to God, we realized that if we tithed and could not live on the remaining 90%, we were living beyond our means. So we made the necessary adjustments to our life-style and discovered that we still have more than enough. In fact, we are still able to save for a comfortable retirement and to support other worthy causes. It is only one way to keep tabs on our spiritual life and values, but a very important one. It helps us see how abundantly God blesses us so that we can bless others.
When you see that red cross, remember the ultimate sacrifice and victory of Christ, St. George, and all the Christian martyrs. Be mindful of the living sacrifice you are called to make and the victorious life you are called to live. Consider how your bold decision to give to God will gladden your heart and make you a more generous saint in God’s household. Envision how together with your fellow saints you can ensure that St. John’s is a beacon of generosity.
“You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11-12).
I’ll see you in Church!
Posted at 07:18 AM in Diocese of Wyoming, Episcopal Church, From the Rector, Jackson, WY, Meditation, Religion, Sermons, St. John's Episcopal Church, Stewardship, Theological e-piphanies | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tags: 2 Corinthians 8:7, 2 Corinthians 9:11-12, Cross of St. George, Generosity, Romans 6:4, Ronald D. Pogue, sacrificial giving, St. George, Stewardship, Tithe
From the melting snow and ice on our peaks, to the lakes that lie in their shadows, to the streams flowing through the valley, to the rain that has been falling this week, Jackson Hole is blessed with an abundance of water. The Thanksgiving Over the Water in our Baptismal liturgy beautifully sums up the ways in which the faithful have recognized expressions of the inexhaustible grace of the Creator in the outward sign of water:
We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.
We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, pp 306-307)
Those of us who reside in places where there is plenty of water often take it for granted. Sometimes, we even find it to be an inconvenience. However, when we experience a drought, it is an entirely different matter. A drought is a temporary experience. Eventually the rains and snows come again and we return to our kind of “normal.” For people who live in arid regions of the world, "normal" is a perennial shortage of water. Water is seldom taken for granted and is regarded as a blessing from above. The land of the Bible is such a place. Perhaps that is why the Bible so often uses water as a metaphor of God's bountiful providence and blessing.
One very interesting example is found in Psalm 65:9.
You visit the earth and water it abundantly;
you make it very plenteous;
the river of God is full of water.
In English, we have many words for flowing water - river, stream, brook, creek. In Hebrew, there are also several words. The Hebrew word for river is: nahar. Nahar refers to a body of constantly flowing water, few of which are found in the Middle East. Even in drought, when water levels may become a trickle, a river never ceases to flow. But the word translated "river" in Psalm 65:9 is not nahar, but peleg, which means a stream, channel, or rivulet. A peleg is the kind of stream that doesn't get mapped because it is not always there; it's seasonal. In the Holy Land, a river - nahar - is something large, permanent, and usually far away. A peleg is local and nearby. A peleg means sudden life in the midst of drought.
Peleg is what God is - local, present, in our midst, not somewhere else to which we must go, but right here in our desert, in our present need. God is new life, rushing into our dry brittle need. And God is full. “The river of God is full of water.” God is not seasonal. Unlike all the other streams that flow, then stop, and everything becomes dry again, God's stream is always full of water. Our world and our lives may be seasonal but God is eternal, reliable, and always full.
I know that it is sometimes very difficult for those who are in the midst of a “dry spell” to feel the abundant waters of God. We may be a dry, cracked creek bed, thirsty and waiting. But God is a river that is always full of water. We may be struggling to make ends meet, but we know there is abundance. Life takes on new meaning when we can face each day with a theology of abundance, eyes wide open to see God's hand a work in the world around us.
Psalm 65 proclaims to us that God is always full, regardless of our feelings, regardless of our season. God is abundant. God has everything that we need and more. It is God's desire to pour out life in abundance. God sent Jesus to be the living embodiment of that abundant life.
When Jesus met the woman at the well, he said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:13, 14). Jesus used the temporal, tangible sign of water from a well as an instrument to lift the woman's vision to perceive the gift of eternal life that satisfies far more than physical thirst.
These bodies of water in our valley and the Baptismal Font, which we see coming and going from worship, provide us with the sign of God as a living stream, full, bringing life in the midst of a desert. And, through the stewardship of lives that are washed, refreshed, and buoyed up by God's abundant blessings, this is what we are to be, bringing blessing and life to those around us.
I’ll see you in Church,
Posted at 07:31 AM in Book of Common Prayer, Diocese of Wyoming, Episcopal Church, From the Rector, Jackson, WY, Meditation, Religion, Sermons, St. John's Episcopal Church, Theological e-piphanies | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tags: abundance, baptism, blessing, Book of Common Prayer, Psalm 65, Ronald D Pogue, Streams of living water, water
I didn’t grow up around cottonwood trees. My only experience of them until recently has been when I’ve traveled to other places, such as Wyoming.
In June, while sitting on the back porch in Rafter J, I was astounded by the number of cottonwood seeds in the air. I don't believe anyone could have described it to me, any more than I can find words to describe it here. You just had to have been there.
As I watched in wonder, I realized that all the seeds that were attached to the trees just a few minutes before, have begun taking to the air. All seedpods, the warmth of the sun, the wind, and the rising of the sap, are instruments the Creator has provided for the continuation of this species of tree. I know it's about the same for other trees, but observing the cottonwood seeds in their provided me with an epiphany on that June day.
The seeds of trees speak of abundance in nature. Trees produce far more seeds than are needed to ensure the continuation of the species. Probably only one in several million seeds finds the soil, light, water, and other conditions to germinate and become a mature, seed producing tree. That's the way it is with the natural world. The Creator has provided more than enough!
The psalmist celebrated God's providence in these words, which many people learned to use as a prayer before meals, “The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature” (Psalm 145:16, 17).
A couple of years ago, I visited Ft. Wayne, Indiana and the burial site of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. The inscription on his headstone reads, “He lived for others.” This humble nurseryman went around sowing seeds, planting nurseries and orchards, and preaching. He sowed a lot of seed in his lifetime. His life had meaning and hope because he relied on the principle that “Anybody can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed.” He had a theology of abundance. He also understood that stewardship is not primarily about keeping and saving, but about investing and multiplying.
Our Christian teaching tells us that God created an amazing universe that is chock full of everything a creature could ever need. Then, God created the human being and gave the human being something that has been given to no other creature, the vocation of stewardship. Loosely translated, God said, “Welcome to my world! Everything you'll ever need is here. It will sustain your life and give you joy. I've created you with godlike qualities so that you can be partners with me in the ongoing process of creation. Now use your special gifts and your unique place as my personal representatives to care for it, manage it, and be sure that nobody is ever deprived of the life-giving abundance of my creation.”
One of my favorite movies of all time is “Oh God.” In one of the final scenes, God, who is carica-tured by George Burns, and Jerry, the assistant supermarket manager to whom God is revealed, played by John Denver, are discussing the success of their mission in the world. Nobody seemed to listen to the message God told Jerry to deliver. Jerry thinks they failed. “We blew it,” he says. But God doesn’t see it that way. “Oh, I don’t think so,” God says. “You never know; a seed here, a seed there, something will catch hold and grow.”
In the Parable of the Sower (Mt. 13:1-9), Jesus likens this botanical process of a seed that is taking root, growing, and maturing, to the Kingdom of God. The principle involved is that our job is to sow the seeds. God’s job is to cause them to grow.
I thought about this principle and those cottonwood seeds last week when I read an article about a man named Joe Tolin who lives in Beaumont, Texas. Joe had a cheek swab when he enrolled in a donor program known as Be The Match. Just a few weeks later, he received word that he was a perfect match for a little girl dying from leukemia in Utah. Joe is one of eleven million people on that registry and the only perfect match to save this little girl’s life. The bone marrow transplant accomplished its purpose and the little girl, Cami Carver, is cancer free and enjoying life.
Joe, whose gift provided a one-in-eleven-million chance of saving a life, told reporters, “Even an average Joe can make a difference or save a life.” And so can the gift we offer make a difference or transform a life. Even a little bit of faith or a little bit of generosity can transform the world.
In a meeting I attended with Rob Radtke, President of Episcopal Relief and Development, he told about a program in which a farmer borrows a bag of seeds, plants them, and returns two bags of seed after the harvest. Obviously, the crop produces so many more seeds that the farmer is able to pay 100% interest and still have more than enough for food and market. Only God can figure out the equation!
Equipped with an abundance of seeds, human intelligence and ingenuity, a theology of abundance, and the vocation to be stewards of everything God has provided, just imagine what God can accomplish through us!
Where is the abundance in your life? Where are the seeds God wants to place in your hands so you can steward them to fruition? Do you have a fear of scarcity that needs to be healed so your eyes can be opened to see how generously God has provided?
“God, who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10).
A seed here, a seed there, something will catch hold and grow!
I’ll see you in Church!
Posted at 07:53 AM in Diocese of Wyoming, Episcopal Church, From the Rector, Jackson, WY, Meditation, Religion, Sermons, St. John's Episcopal Church, Stewardship, Theological e-piphanies, Transition Ministry | Permalink | Comments (2)
Tags: 2 Cor. 9:10, Abundance, Be The Match, Bounty, Cami Carver, Cottonwood, Episcopal Relief and Development, Ft. Wayne, George Burns, Indiana, Joe Tolin, John Chapman, John Denver, Johnny Appleseed, Leukemia, Mt. 13:1-9, O God, Providence, Psalm 145:16-17, Rob Radke, Ronald D. Pogue, Scarcity, Seeds, Trees
Today, while I was out on my walk, I met a neighbor on the path. He said, "I like your cap. Is it a Scottish cap?"
"Oh, like St. John's?" he replied.
"Yep, just like St. John's," I said.
Then he told me, "I'm involved in the Jackson Cupboard."
"Thank you for that!" I said.
"No, thank you." he insisted. "If it weren't for St. John's, there wouldn't be any Jackson Cupboard."
St. John's means so much to this community and I'm proud to be the Interim Rector. And it's one more reason I am Unapologetically Episcopalian.
Labor Day, observed on the first Monday in September, celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers. We pause to remember and give thanks for those whose labor contributes to the quality of our common life. So many of the products we enjoy in this country are presented to us in final form in markets, stores, and showrooms that it is easy to take granted those who produced them. It is also easy to forget how our own work impacts the lives of others. Our Book of Common Prayer provides us with fitting words of gratitude and intercession to God on this day:
Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When I think of an image of work “for the common good,” I think of bees. While hiking this summer on the Game Creek Trail south of Jackson, I noticed dozens of bees at work among wild roses. Every one of them was buzzing about doing its part on behalf of the hive.
Throughout history, bees have served as a reminder to humans of how important it is for humans to work for the common good. Bees are helpful not only to their own kind, they are helpful to humans and other creatures that depend upon food that requires pollination. For example, did you know that one in every three bites you eat and 70% of America's food sources are pollinated by bees? That is one reason organizations and governments are concerned about and seeking solutions to the worldwide decline in the bee population. The bee and the beehive have often been used in Christian art and architecture as metaphors for the Church and its members.
St. John Chrysostom wrote: “The bee is more honored than other animals, not because it labors, but because it labors for others” (12th Homily). The honey produced by the bee is agreeable to the palate and symbolic of spiritual sweetness and religious eloquence. For this reason, the beehive is emblematic of St. Ambrose and of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, two Doctors whom the Church calls mellifluus and mellificuus, that is, with an eloquence as suave and sweet as honey.
Honeybee Democracy is a book written by Thomas D. Seeley, a professor of biology at Cornell University. He has devoted his career to the study of these amazing creatures and the way they work together for the common good. In the prologue, the author writes, “The story of how honeybees make a democratic decision based on a face-to-face, consensus-seeking assembly is certainly important to behavioral biologists interested in how social animals make group decisions.”
The more we contemplate the energetic work, cooperative nature, and fruitfulness of bees, the better we understand why others have seen in them an example of how Christians might work, pray, and give in unity. We can follow the example of the bees!
There is a place for healthy competition in the secular environments where so many people work. There is even a place for a little friendly competition within Christian communities. In attempting to inspire the Corinthian Christians to greater generosity, St. Paul introduces a little competition when he tells them how generous the poor Macedonians when they insisted on sending aid to the Church in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:1-7).
Perhaps we are doing the same thing when we compare the giving patterns of this congregation with the giving patterns of the wider Church and other congregations nearby. It doesn't take a mathematician to recognize in these comparisons that there is room for improvement and lots of it.
But the key to a more generous spirit, I think, is not to be found in comparing ourselves with others or competing with them. God is not calling us to be some other church. Nor is God calling us to aspire to the average contribution level of Episcopalians across the country. (I would be a poor priest indeed if all I did was try to inspire the people of this parish to be average!) The key is to hear the call of God to each of us to be the generous creatures we were designed to be and to all of us to work together more energetically so that we can share God's bounty with others. When we do that, people are uplifted, transformed, and healed, and God is glorified.
St. Paul went on to tell the Corinthians, “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor. 9:11, 12).
Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, is our greatest example of generosity. St. Paul referred to him as God's “indescribable gift.” Jesus’ method was to form a community and teach them by word and example. You and I are the descendants of that first community and now the message of Jesus and its meaning for our world today is entrusted to us.
Where are the places in the life of St. John’s in which you can work more energetically, pray more fervently, and give more generously for the spread of the God's reign on earth? Please pray about that.
I’ll see you in Church!
Tags: 2 Cor. 8:1-7, 2 Cor. 9:11-12, bees, common good, competition, cooperation, generosity, hive, labor day, Ronald D. Pogue, St. Ambrose, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. John Chrysostom, St. Paul, work