Today’s psalm says:
God is our refuge and our strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea
Though its waters rage and foam,
and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.
Woo! Thank you, Jesus. And then our Epistle comes along with
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father ….skip, skip skip…God was pleased to reconcile himself to all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
I’ll take it, sounds good, yes Lord! And then we round the corner into today’s gospel where all that strength and all that glorious power and all that patience come to a screeching halt.
Golgatha. The Skull. Jesus’s death. Is this really where we are going on Consecration Sunday? The most central moment to the Christian faith, besides the resurrection? Yes? Okay.
Jesus’s death. How does this terrible moment in time make us feel? Angry, depressed, sad, anxious, fearful, confused, and sometimes even numb. But, it happened such a long time ago, right? It’s not a new thing, right? Sometimes I even feel stupid for all the emotions I have about Jesus’s death, because I think I should be able to handle it. But you know, sometimes, we just can’t.
Because it’s real.
And things happen in the world that just bring up that moment so often that we have a phrase about how we experience it in modern times – a heavy cross to bear. Definition: an unpleasant or painful situation, truth, or person that you have to accept or deal with, although you find it difficult. How do you pick up that cross? How do I?
How does anyone? We are the body of Christ, right?
Many if not most of us in this room can think of an unpleasant or painful situation, truth, or person that you have to accept or deal with, although you find it difficult.
There are people we know who are all are collectively carrying a heavier burden than we can understand and we know that this is true from the conversation in our country right now that people who live in poverty, women, people of color, LGBTQ persons, people with disabilities, to name a few – they are finding times to be difficult.
The feelings about Jesus’s death – pain, anger, sadness, fear are emotions very accessible to us in this moment.
There has to be a lot of pain if someone says to you “we’re going to build a wall, and we want you on the other side of it.” Stuff like that makes me cry – I don’t know if it does that to you.
We are the body of Christ.
Women, myself included, who have been powerless as a man has done or said things about us or to us, feel very shaken on a deep level when the national conversation shifts to casually talking about objectifying, abusing or violating women like we aren’t even in the room.
We are the body of Christ.
We are the body of Christ.
We are the body of Christ.
People have been saying that they feel like somebody died. Well this Sunday’s gospel has something to say about who suffered and died. So my answer for how we, the body of Christ, pick up that cross is – we pick it up together.
And some people are better able to carry that cross than others, right? Some of us are not that vulnerable. We have education, we have connections, we have financial means, and we have power.
We need to talk and plan out how to use these super abilities to help others thrive.
You know you have some resources that our community needs, and that by sharing them, you will find that in the places where you are suffering, you will feel better.
As WH Auden writes, O look, look in the mirror, O look in your distress; Life remains a blessing Although you cannot bless. ‘O stand, stand at the window As the tears scald and start; You shall love your crooked neighbour With your crooked heart.’
What love are you holding back from your neighbors?
A few weeks ago Corbett Clark talked about how we just kind of end up somewhere in the world – it’s not because we’re more deserving, that’s just how we landed, and it’s not God’s will that we have super rich and crushingly poor people in the world.
If we are true disciples of Christ, we cannot sign up for a world where the privilege of some causes that pain of many. God wants us to take that privilege and spread it out – that’s the kingdom of God – thank you Corbett – that’s the body of Christ. But the body of Christ doesn’t mean all peace, love and harmony. Those of us who have power and connections need to really look at how we are acting with our neighbors.
How we are getting fed up with protestors, or how we are calling on angry or frightened people to calm down, or how we push for unity or respect or say “what’s wrong with you?” “I just can’t wait for things to get back to normal!” If we have nothing to fear right now, and we start to say “get over it” to other people, that means that we have stopped hearing the people among us who are carrying heavier crosses: those who are in pain, those who do not feel safe.
They don’t want to hear us say “don’t tell me about what it’s like to be black, or that how you can’t pay your bills on minimum wage; don’t tell me about what it’s like to be muslim, to be gay, disabled, transgendered, a woman.”
The list goes on and on of the people that we could hurt – that Jesus would not hurt.
Jesus never shouts at the outcasts, beggars, the prostitutes. That’s not who he shouts at.
I am not saying that as long as one person is trapped in fear, pain or anxiety – as long as one person is sitting up at Golgotha in agony we all need to be right up there, too.
I am saying don’t dismiss legitimate fear or anger if you are seeking the truth.
I had a really great priest named Marc when I was in law school who was there for me as I was having some kind of breakdown – because everyone has a breakdown in law school, it’s just like, part of the process. I was definitely crying as a told Marc that I didn’t think anything good or meaningful or worthwhile would ever come from me, given my life. I tried to explain that I felt like a nothing.
He immediately said, that’s absolutely not true – you are a wonderful person who is going to do great things. I completely see that in you and I will hold that space for you until you see it for yourself.
Have any of you ever heard that phrase before “I will hold that space?” In that space, that’s where the truth waits for us.
If we are going to experience the resurrection, we need to hold space for people who are hurting, afraid and angry to step into when they are ready.
I don’t think I ever stepped into that space when Marc was my priest. But I like to think I am stepping into it much more now.
That’s what we do here.
We say, how can I help you?
You are precious to me.
You are amazing to me.
You are loved.
I am listening, and I am holding a space for you.
If we are not lukewarm about this about our faith community, we need to acknowledge each other, right in the eyes, and tell each other that we are not going anywhere until we sort all this out.
Until we are reconciled to Christ and one another. Until we make this right.
We need to experience each other and make room for each other. Every day – especially when we are together – we need to acknowledge what it means to be the actual body of Christ.
We seek the truth, the unarmed truth.
Here’s some truth – Jesus died with his arms out – with his mother watching, while people made fun of him, and stole his clothes, while people had no clue what was really happening.
And there he said “Forgive them father, for they know not what they are doing.” And there he said to the thief, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
God says, listen to my son. The son says, I want to hear from you.
Why would Jesus want to hear what you have to say? Because we are the body of Christ – we Christians – our truth that we need to step into, the space that Christ is holding and guarding for us and waiting for us to claim as our own – our story, our narrative, what we have to say is love. What do we Christians say? Love. Let me hear it – What do Christians say? love. One more time, What do Christians say? Love.
This is holy work. I see the good in you. I see the best in you. Men you are beautiful. Women, you are powerful.
Where do we do this holy work? In our hearts, in our church community, with help of the holy spirit, with our time, with our talents and with our pocketbooks – everything that we can give – in this wonderful loop of love that God is building with us.
There is a space here at this church, here at this altar, here at this table, for you to step into where you will always be welcome.
This is your sanctuary.
This is a space where your leadership, your annual gift to this church, your creativity – will always be embraced and have deep value and meaning. We are all working together to remember the love that made us, and the love that is constantly re-creating us.
Bishop Gene Robinson, who was the first openly gay Bishop to be consecrated in the Episcopal church –
you may remember that people in that ceremony had to wear bullet proof vests, and that wonderful, loving man got hate mail and death threats every day for the years that he served as a leader in our church –
Bishop Robinson has this wonderful idea that when we start off as babies we aren’t fully created yet.
We are co-creators with God as our life unfolds.
What are you creating with God?
What are you creating with me, o body of Christ?
Where do we even begin?
Today we enter into prayer about giving money to our church.
We pray about the space where we ask God to meet us, because we trust God – that if we give our time and our money in this community we will show that we value this Church and the role that it plays in our lives.
Don’t concern yourself with doing enough – or not the right activity. We are called to be faithful. We are called to be vulnerable. We are called to love.
Show up. Put what you have on the table. Be fully present. It’s enough.
The year is 1985. I’m eight years old, my brother is six, and it’s Christmas morning. We live in a small village on the west coast of Borneo where my parents were missionaries for over a decade. It’s early in the morning. My dad is filming (probably the most definitively 80s thing about this scene is how large the shoulder-mounted video camera was.) He’s narrating the events transpiring before him, his voice is deep and groggy with sleep. My mom sits in her bathrobe over her nightgown in a chair off to the side, clutching a mug of coffee like it’s the most important thing she owns. Chris, my brother, and I are levitating with excitement. Behind us the fake Christmas tree (kudos to my parents for bringing that over with them) is lit up and gifts are scattered beneath it.
I have only fleeting memories of some of the gifts we received that or any Christmas in Indonesia – a book about flying for my brother, chapstick and gum in our stockings, astronaut Barbie for me (it was the 80s). But I have a lasting, vivid memory of one present. It was given to my brother and me together – not usually a welcome scenario, but in this case we didn’t care – and it was one of many of these gifts we received over the years for Christmas and birthdays. It was a gift “from the kitchen,” which meant it was a gift from our nanny/housekeeper Afa, an Indonesia woman who lived with and helped take care of us and the household. Though its contents varied, the “gift from the kitchen” was always an unwrapped box stuffed to the gills with an assortment of items – a bag of rice, a cluster of bananas or a durian, a string of date candies, a few of the plastic fold-up hangers that came with every box of Rinso laundry detergent, a made-up board game drawn on a piece of paper – and we adored it. We thought it was funny and we felt so loved by it. It was Afa in a gift, and it Afa’s love for us in a gift.
As I began thinking about what I would share this morning and about what we as a family would pledge to give to Grace this year, I reflected on the gifts I’ve received over my lifetime. There have been many, but the gift from the kitchen is especially etched into my memory, so I want to use it to talk about a couple of ways we are thinking about giving this year.
Afa’s gift from the kitchen was a reflection of what she had – the full bounty of the kitchen – and it was also a reflection of what she had to give. Day in and day out, she helped feed us, clothe us, keep us clean…she gave so much to our family. And what she gave in the gift represented that; it was, as Father Martin wrote in a letter I hope you all received and read a few weeks ago, a gift that was proportional to what she gave otherwise.
There was something revolutionary in that letter from Father Martin…the idea of giving proportional to spending. When you hear church and giving and money, what word comes to mind? Tithe? I suspect that would be at or near the top of the list if we polled everyone here. Tithing is a concept we are all familiar with, if also a bit anxious about. It speaks to the portion of our income we give, and it establishes a baseline of 10%. But how often do we look at the proportionality of our giving not from the perspective of what we have or what we earn, but from the perspective of what we spend? What we earn doesn’t necessarily say something about our values, but it’s impossible to deny that what we spend says everything about what we value.
We are tempted, cajoled every day, sometimes every hour, to spend our money in a particular way. On the internet, ads pop up that are directed right at me –Suzy Jeffreys, my particular interests. I get coupons in the mail to buy one get one free of something I don’t need one, let alone two, of. These requests are not all consumerist; this time of year nonprofit organizations doing good work in our community and the world make their case for year-end donations. And technological advances have made it so easy to separate us from our money. We sign up for free trials that turn into life-long subscriptions, we set up automatic renewals for services, I can’t think of the last time I had to have cash to buy something. The exchange – of money for a product or a service – is detached; swiping a card means we don’t feel the loss of resources….at least not right in that moment. It’s not realistic to expect that every time we buy something we would carefully consider how this particular purchase reflects our values or doesn’t. That’s why we create budgets, because they give us a framework that does reflect our values…and, ideally, we act within that framework. As we prepare our pledge cards a bit later in the service, I encourage all of us to think about how our pledge fits into how we spend our money in the world.
Second, as thrilled as we were to receive the gift from the kitchen, Afa’s happiness surpassed ours. She loved watching us pull items out and laugh at them. She’d watch expectantly, smile and scoop us up for a hug. The impact of giving on Afa was an increase of joy in her. That’s a pretty common experience of giving. The giver is happy because she is an intimate part of someone else’s experience of joy. Giving to the church should certainly bring us joy, but we should be actively pursuing the possibility that it will have a deeper, more complex impact as well.
A dear friend of mine teased out some of the potential complexity of giving several years ago when she was named the beneficiary of her mother’s retirement fund and came into a few thousand dollars when her mother died. She decided that every day for a month, she would give a $100 bill to an individual she came across in her daily life and that she would write about it. Why? Because, as she wrote, “More than usual, I’ve been thinking about money and the role it plays in my life. My mother lived with a deeply held conviction that life was defined by scarcity and want. She taught me to be frugal, and modest in my desires. I consider myself a generous person and make it a priority to give to causes I care about. Yet I worry one day that I am not giving enough away, and the next that I might not have enough for myself and my family. This project is about making a difference and about exploring my money and giving issues.” There were straightforward interactions between giver and recipient that were marked by gratitude and surprise, and there were complicated ones that stretched and challenged my friend’s thinking about generosity and deservedness. At the end of the month, she wrote, “I struggle with my own brokenness. Miserliness was etched into my DNA long before I had anything to say about it. It’s not a fatal mutation; I see that now. And it needn’t keep me from living a full and generous life, although that will always be hard work.”
There is no doubt this practice – and, though short-lived, it was a practice, something she did consistently every day – changed her, because she went into it seeking change. She actively plumbed the depths of her heart and mind looking for insight and ways to shift her thinking. She didn’t wait to see what would happen; she took the initiative to explore her fears and discomfort and to reflect on her growth.
There is another encouragement here for us as we consider our pledges to Grace. Rather than expect that giving will make us feel good and leave it at that, let’s stretch. Let’s identify ways that we hope our giving will change us, and then let’s pursue those actively. If you tend to focus on scarcity, that might mean giving a bit more each month as the year progresses and observing in yourself how it feels to give more than you thought you could. If you would like giving to become a regular habit, maybe that means breaking your pledge up into weekly amounts and bringing your gift physically to church each week to place in the offertory. Whatever it is, the idea is that giving can and should be active, not simply a passive depletion of our bank account and not even just an activity that makes us feel good, but an intentional choice to be changed.
Even as we work to make our giving to Grace proportionate to our other giving in the world, as we work to connect how we give to how we grow as individual Christians, we know that there is something deeper going on when we give to the church, something that separates it even from our other charitable giving. Our readings from the Word this morning point to this in speaking about the Kingdom of God. We heard Jesus say to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world.” In Psalm 132, the psalmist moves from describing both a physical resting place for the ark of the covenant and the throne upon which David and his descendants will sit to speaking of an eternal kingdom – a “resting place forever” for the Lord. Our gifts to Grace build the church physically, yes…they enable our clergy and staff, our Vestry, our congregants to minister in the world, near and far. But even more so our gifts to the church reflect the economy of the Kingdom of God, which is starkly different than the economy of the world.
Theologian William Cavanagh writes, “In a capitalist economy, the recipient is passive and the giver experiences giving as a removal of property. In the divine economy of gift, the giver is in the gift, goes with the gift.” This is never more clearly demonstrated than in the eternal giving of the Son and the Holy Spirit, what we will speak of in the creed in a few moments…when we say, of Jesus Christ, “eternally begotten of the Father” and, of the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father and Son.” Inherent in the triune God is the gift of being, and we mirror this gift in many ways, one of which is through our own giving of ourselves and our resources. In doing this we are, as we heard spoken in the reading from Revelation, “made to be a kingdom.”
A bit later during the service you will have an opportunity to pledge your gift to Grace for 2016. You should have received a pledge card from the ushers on the way in today; if you didn’t the ushers will have them during the offertory, so indicate at that time that you need one. If you consider yourself a member, regular attendee or friend of Grace, please take some time to consider your gift and fill out the card. Then, after the usher brings forward the offertory to the altar and returns to the back of the sanctuary, please walk forward when you’re ready and place your pledge card in the bowl at the altar. If you are visiting for the first, second or tenth time…if you are a visitor or guest today, welcome. We hope you’ll join us after the service for our Consecration Sunday lunch (more on that later) but we are not asking you to pledge or give to the parish.
Many years have passed since our last gift from the kitchen, almost 30 years actually. A month ago my brother Chris and his wife Lacy had their first baby. They live in Alabama now, and they got an email shortly after Leo was born saying that Afa had brought a gift for Chris to an American doctor in the village to send back to the States. I cannot tell you how much I’m hoping it’s a gift from the kitchen, a gift that will carry Afa with it across the ocean…as we will carry ourselves with our gifts this morning.
As a kid I was very interested in the concept of opposites, and now as a new mother I understand perhaps part of the reason why – children’s books are peppered with references to opposites. I suspect my fascination also had something to do with my desire – then and still – to categorize and organize things. As I grew up, I realized of course that not everything is that black and white; not everything has an opposite. Nevertheless, I do still find that when I need to consider a complex idea or concept, it sometimes helps to think about how it’s different than something I’m more familiar with. So that’s where I started in thinking about Consecration Sunday.
I work as the Director of a non-profit, where I’m responsible for, among other things, fundraising. I do a lot of thinking and reading about the best way to ask for money. While charitable giving shares some key things with giving to church – namely that the gift is motivated by something personal and that the gift is used in the service of a mission – there are some significant differences in how we give to Grace compared to how we give to a non-profit or cause.
Charitable giving to a cause or non-profit is part of the economy of the world. It’s motivated by altruism but it’s nevertheless part of how we spend our money in the world. I often write appeal letters that talk about what a donor’s gift can “buy.” I work in healthcare, so, for example, a $40 donation will buy a year’s worth of prescription medication for one of our patients. Or we talk about reaching a budgeted goal. I suspect anyone who regularly tunes their radio to OPB knows what I’m talking about – we have fifteen minutes to reach our goal of $5,000 this hour…and your donation will get you a tote bag or a pint glass or the newest season of Downton Abbey before anyone else. The language is about what the organization or its clients need.
When we give to Grace, we are participating in the economy of the Kingdom. How is that different? Well the question of whether and how much to give is not only a question you answer, but it’s a question about you, not about Grace. The question is: What is God calling you to give? And why is God calling you to give? How will your relationship with this community and with God grow and change as a result of your giving?
When I was in graduate school, we had a visiting professor, Jamie Smith, from Calvin College in Michigan. Dr. Smith was sharing with us about the challenge of parenting in our consumer-driven culture. Even if he had wanted to keep his kids from being subject to the consumerist world, which he didn’t, there was simply no way to do so. The messages of the market were ubiquitous, and this was pre-Facebook and pop-up ads. So he turned to the power of language. The example he shared with us was that while he would happily drive his kids to the mall when they asked, he asked in return that they refer to the mall as the “temple of stuff.” He wanted them to acknowledge that visiting the mall was, in a way, an act of worship in the economy of the world, an economy that was very different from the economy of the Kingdom. While I suspect this was lost on the kids, the message of it really stuck with me and reminded me of the importance of the language we use when we’re talking about something – money – that plays a role in both economies – the economy of the world and the economy of the Kingdom. So while we use some of the same language in talking about giving to Grace as we do in talking about our other types of giving – donation, pledge, gift – we also use some language that wouldn’t be familiar in the world economy, and I want to finish by talking about just a few of those words and phrases.
Consecration. Today is Consecration Sunday…it’s not our fall pledge drive. To consecrate is to take something ordinary and material and to make it sacred. We’ll have the opportunity today to physically enact the act of consecration by walking our estimate of giving cards up from where we’re sitting to the alter.
And then there’s the “t” word – tithe. When I started preparing for today I thought, “Whatever you say, don’t utter the word ‘tithe.’” But as I gave more thought to it I realized that tithe is absolutely the right word because it refers to the percentage of what we’ve been given that we feel called to give to Grace, to this community. Again, it’s not about the percentage of the budget that Grace needs to bring in from pledges. It’s about the percentage that each of us feels called to give.
Finally, we refer to giving as a spiritual discipline, not a recurring or monthly donation. The act of giving does something to our hearts on an individual basis yes, but as we all do it, it becomes a collective act. As we walk forward at the end of the service, look around – what you’ll see are individuals giving of themselves and in doing so forming the church, this community we love. As the letter to the Thessalonians we heard earlier says “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”