The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King by The Rev. Martin Elfert

 

Nov. 24, 2019

Lessons:

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

It is the end of the church year and, as is always the case, we bring these liturgical 365 days to a close with the Feast of Christ the King. Now, what is unusual about this particular Feast Day, about this particular “always,” is that in this case “always” doesn’t actually mean that all that long. Christ the King is a Feast that was created by Pope Pius XI in 1925. Originally the Pope had Roman Catholics celebrating Christ the King on the final Sunday in October and then, in 1969 or 1970, depending on which part of the internet you ask, the Feast got moved to the last day of the church year.

It is not clear when the Episcopal Church started keeping the Feast of Christ the King. Indeed, if Scott Gunn, the editor of Forward Day by Day and one of the creators of Lenten Madness is to believed, the answer to that question is “never.” Gunn says that the Episcopal Church has never officially adopted this Feast at all and, therefore, what all real Episcopalians know is that what we are actually celebrating today is the Last Day of the Season of Pentecost.

Now maybe that is a lot of insider baseball. But I am bringing it up because I want to suggest the history of this Feast and the intention behind it may have some things to teach us.

Cast your mind back to 1925. Most of us here this morning had not yet finished college by then. But see if you can remember what was happening in the world at that time and, in particular, what was happening in and around Rome where the Vatican is located.

1925 was the year that Benito Mussolini came to power, that he became Prime Minister of Italy. So it was a time of rising nationalism and, still more specifically, of rising fascism. And one of the things that fascism looked and maybe still looks like is a leader, a human being, having this God-like status. Mussolini was someone who bordered on all-powerful, all-knowing. Whose will it was wrong to question, whose will it was maybe even impious to question. To question or to challenge Mussolini was very nearly to question or to challenge God.

Mussolini was Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

And it is in response to this understanding of the world, to this theocracy, to the model in which the leader overlaps with God, that Pope Pius says No. There is one King, there is one Lord, and he ain’t somebody goose stepping around Italy in brown pants.

This Feast, in other words, is explicitly political in nature. It declares that our faith as a Christians, as followers of Jesus, places profound demands on how we engage with the world of politics.

And if we want, we can regard Pius’ decision cynically. We can conclude that Pope Pius was lamenting the erosion of power by the Vatican and by the Pope in particular, that he was longing for centuries gone by in which the Pope was something pretty close to a monarch or a god himself.

And maybe that cynicism would be fair. But here is one of the things that I trust about God: God can and does take things human actions that maybe did not have the best motivations and find a way of making them holy. And no matter how pure or impure the intention behind this Feast may be, it has something important to say.

I think I have told you before about my late friend, Barbara. Barbara was well into her nineties by the time that I met her. She was full of years and full of wisdom. And Barbara said something to me that I think about often. She said:

We need to be careful about what we worship.

Because we will worship something.

To put Barbara’s thought another way, notwithstanding the hand-wringing that sometimes goes on in churches about a perceived decline in religious participation, in fact there has been no decline in religiosity whatsoever. To this day, 100% of human beings are religious, 100% of us our giving our lives, our attention, our hearts to something that is irrational or, if you prefer, transrational.

Virtually all of us, for instance – including virtually all of us here in church this morning – are worshipping early and often in the religion called consumerism. Consumerism is the promise that we will find healing, belonging, and meaning in stuff, that we will find transformation, in the accumulation of stuff. This is a religion that we keep on worshipping in even though it lets us down every single time. As Jeanne shared with us a couple of weeks ago, no matter how many shoes you accumulate, you will not satisfy your deep longings.

Some of us worship in the religion that is booze. It is our own Gary Tuck who pointed out to me that many bars feature row upon row of beautifully arranged and beautifully lit hard liquor, a setup that Gary calls An altar to alcohol. Some of us worship in the religion that is called work, boasting to our friends about how many hours we work and how little sleep we get, answering the question How are you? with the words I’m so busy. And some of us, as in the days of Mussolini, worship a public figure, a celebrity or a politician.

There are way, way more examples that we could find. And so our question is not, Am I religious? but rather it is something more like:

Have I chosen my religion critically and wisely and lovingly? and

Does my religion give life to me, life to my neighbour, life to God’s creation?

Maybe we could use the language of the Bible here and phrase those questions a different way:

Am I worshipping that which is joyous and true? Or am I worshipping a false idol?

Now, I want to stop here and emphasise that when I speak of idolatry, when I speak of bad religion, I am not speaking of other expressions of what we typically call faith. I am not the least bit troubled that someone is a Hindu or a Muslim or Buddhist or whatever. To the contrary, I am glad that those folks have a practice that invites them into conversation with the divine, I trust that, at some level beyond human understanding, those folks and you and I are talking about the same ultimate reality, about the same God.

No. When I speak of idolatry or bad religion, I am talking about that stuff that promises to fill the God-shaped hole that all of us have in our hearts and that fails spectacularly over and over again.

It is in response to this bad religion that comes the Feast of Christ the King. In response to the promises of Mussolini and his contemporary descendants, in response to the promise that you will find your salvation in iPhones and shoes, in response to the promise that you will find freedom in booze, in response to all of these idols, Christ the King says no. Here are religions that invite us into selfishness and apathy and maybe even self-destruction and hatred, and here is title of King, a title that belongs to the patriarchy and to the world of power and violence.

Here is given to a peasant who is murdered for telling too many people that all they really need to do is love God and to love neighbour.

Crown him with many crowns goes the old hymn. And this is the mystery of this Feast day, this is the mystery of our faith. That when all of the false idols gather together, when the bad religion that is empire takes Jesus, takes God, and nails him to a tree, there God reveals the futility and brokenness of empire’s violence once and for all. In God’s suffering on the cross, which God does in solidarity with every human being who suffers and with the suffering of the earth, we discover the staggering truth that Jesus Christ is King.

Last Sunday after Pentecost Christ the King by The Rev. Martin Elfert

November 25, 2018

Lessons:

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

We are in the bustle and the heat that is Jerusalem, the most distant and forgotten corner of the Roman Empire. Inside the headquarters of the occupying forces, Pontius Pilate sits at his desk. Pilate is thirty-five years old. He is a mid-level government bureaucrat here in the Middle East on a resume building exercise. He is a busy man and, when he gets back to Rome, he hopes to be an important one. In the meantime, Pilate wants things and people to proceed in a orderly and sensible manner. He doesn’t want to have to do paperwork. He doesn’t want to have to work overtime. And he wants the headache that has been building all day to stop.

On this day, Pilate has been struggling to concentrate on his work. It’s not just the headache – he has those all the time. Something else is nagging at him: an old memory. His mind is pulled back in time, skipping like a stone across the waters of his recollection, to the days of his childhood – to a time when he lived in a world of wonder and of imagination. Pilate keeps pushing the memory down, trying to bury it under the dust that coats everything. He just about succeeds.

Pilate is ready to go home. He is ready for a drink. It has been a full day of administration: of seeing prisoners, of determining who will be flogged, who will be released, who will be crucified. But there is one more interview. It’s with a carpenter and a disturber of the peace. The note on his desk says: The King of the Jews.

Pilate stands up and starts walking towards the interview that will haunt him for the rest of his life. An interview in which his atrophied imagination will entirely fail him.

And then he is in the cell with the prisoner. Pilate experiences a dim awareness, a tug, like something moving in the corner of his eye. An awareness that the man who stands before him is extraordinary. There is a gravity pulling Pilate towards this man. Pilate has the sense that, even though he holds all the power in this relationship, including the power to pronounce death, that this man, this calloused and dirty carpenter, somehow, holds all the authority. That it is as though this man were interviewing him. Pilate fights this awareness off.

A moment of heavy silence passes between them. They are alone. And Pilate can say or ask anything that he wants. He begins:

So. You’re the King of the Jews.

This is when most prisoners start to weep, or to rage, or to beg for their lives. But not this one. The serenity in his eyes is his terrifying. This man does something that no prisoner ever does. He looks right at Pilate. And he asks him a question:

Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?

Is that what it was like?

It is hard not to speculate about this scene, about one of be the most iconic exchanges in all of scripture. Pilate gets the rarest of things in all four of the Gospels: the opportunity to secure a private interview with Jesus – to secure the opportunity to talk, by himself, with God. In just about every other conversation that the Gospels record with Jesus (save, perhaps, for Nicodemus and for the woman at the well in the fourth chapter of), there is someone else hanging around – the disciples, the crowd, the tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees, the centurions. Pilate, by contrast, holds Jesus alone for as long as he wants.

How tantalising is this? For the Christian, the idea of being alone with Jesus is awesome. Consider what you might ask – what you might say – you would be limited only by your imagination. What would you say to Jesus?

Now, hold those words in your mind – all the possibilities of what you might ask or what you might tell Jesus. And then consider what Pilate asks about. He asks about personal power: So, you’re a King. You have a place on the top of a hierarchy. You have money, you have property, you can tell people what to do, you determine who will serve and who will eat, you can control people’s lives.

Jesus responds to Pilate’s question the way that he often responds to questions. He poses a question of his own. John 18:34: Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me? The folks who translated the New International Version of the Bible give us a lively alternative: Is that your own idea?

Through this question, Jesus is pushing Pilate to resuscitate his almost deceased imagination, to call it forth like Lazarus from the tomb. This invitation to imagine – to say “what if?” or “I wonder?” – is one that he has extended throughout his earthly ministry. He has extended this invitation by telling awesome and playful and paradoxical stories, by asking provocative and even intemperate questions such as this one, by taking actions which tossed expectations on their side, like a ship in a storm. Do you ask this on your own? Is that your own idea? This is the question on which the whole interview hinges. And Pilate refuses to answer it. He is irritated that Jesus even poses it.

I suspect this is because Pilate is a man who has been taught to hold his imagination at bay, to fend off the very thought that the world could be any different than it is, that he could be any different that he is. He has been taught to retreat into a sad world of permanence, a world predicated on power, a world in which the Roman Empire will last forever, a world in which it is impossible to imagine anyone being motivated by anything other than fear and selfishness.

This is a picture of a world in which faith is obscured, in which it is been hidden by certainty. And Jesus challenges this certainty because he knows that faith is predicated on the imagination. Faith is all about possibility; it is about the wonder of change; about the dance of beauty; about encountering something new; about trust in possibility; about reversal; about the first being last; about meeting God in the persons of the least of these, our siblings; about experiencing the Kingdom of God not as something that happens after we die but is something that, with God’s help, we can build right now.

Those times when the Kingdom has cracked through our permanence and changed this world were made possible by the imagination – by acts of faith. By individuals saying, You know, we actually could do this. This is possible! We are few years past the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, a structure that mere days before it fell, we expected to stand for generations; that we expected to stand forever. I remember seeing the images of the wall falling and saying: That’s impossible.

Before the wall, there was a time when the end of slavery was impossible, when women getting the vote was impossible, when the end of apartheid was impossible, when the remarriage of divorced people was impossible, when broader marriage equality was impossible, when contraception was impossible, when the ordination of women was impossible, when we all knew that this county would never have an African American president.

Each act of imagination falls like a snowflake onto the roof of a prison. By itself, it looks like nothing. But, as it joined by another drifting piece of imagination and then by another, the snow of possibility builds up, higher and higher. And then, in what seems like an instant, the weight is too much. And the roof is down and the prisoners climb up and out into freedom.

When you talk to someone who has lived through such a moment – especially those who were in the prison when the moment came – they will often express a thought which is equal parts gratitude and disbelief: we never thought we would live to see this moment come.

So. What is impossible today? What is unimaginable? What have you been told is never going to change? Do you think this on your own or did someone else tell you? Is it impossible that hunger will ever end, that unemployment will ever end, that there will ever be a real place of dignity for the poor in our wider society or in the church, that economic vigour could mean anything other than frantic environmental degradation, that we might understand health care as a human right, that this country might have a healthy and sensible relationship with guns, that there might be a rule of life beyond selfishness and fear?

I’m glad that folks go to football games and hold up signs proclaiming John 3:16. It’s a beautiful passage. But the passage that I want someone to hold up at the next Seahawks game is this one: John 18:34. Is this your own idea? Did you think of this on your own or did someone else tell you? Is Jesus really that small? Is the kingdom really that distant? Can we really imagine nothing else? Is this how we thought the world was going to be when were were children? Are we so busy looking for Jesus sitting on a throne and holding a scepter that we don’t notice when he stands before us as a prisoner?

Let’s imagine for a second what Pilate cannot: that the impossible has happened – that the carpenter who stood before Pilate on that day was God. That God lived with us. And, now let us imagine something even more impossible: That, after Pilate sent that carpenter to be legally executed by a perverse justice system that he was resurrected. What if that were true? What else would be possible?

And now, let’s do something that Jesus did a lot of. Let’s tell a story about reversal in which we imagine that this peasant carpenter whose life was predicated on living with, and healing, and telling stories to the most suspicious of sort people is the king. Not Pilate’s kind of king, but another kind – one who believes that, in the greatest of kingdoms, the role of the king is to serve.

And, now, imagine that this king stands with you, close enough to touch. You are alone, he looks you in the eye. And he smiles.

Just imagine.

 

Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King by The Rev. Martin Elfert

November 26, 2017 image

Lessons:

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

We have just heard what Paul Nuechterlein calls “The smallest huge translation mistake in the Bible.” In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the one that we read together on Sundays, we hear:

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another.

Nuechterlein – and I’m going to be drawing heavily on his research and on his arguments this morning – makes the case that “people” is a poor translation of the original text. The word in Matthew’s Greek is autous. It is the pronoun “them.” Thus, the King James Version – which often gets heat from scholars for not being as up to date or as carefully researched or translated as the NRSV – gets things right when it renders this passage:

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another.

“People” vs. “Them.” The separation is not between people but between nations. That one word changes what Jesus wants to tell us in a big way.

Living in America in 2017, we understand so many things through the lens of the individual. One of the defining stories in our country, one of our deep stories goes something like this: “You can do anything that you put your mind to” or, maybe, “If you work hard you will succeed.” We all have bootstraps, we all can pull ourselves up by them – or not. And we will all be rewarded or punished for our hard work or for its absence by – what? – by life, by the school of hard knocks, by the quasi-God that we call The Market.

You can tell that this is one of our defining stories because we become pretty seriously defensive when someone calls it into question. I’ve been at a dinner party or two at which I said to someone, “I don’t think you can do anything that you put your mind to.” And I got a reaction as though I had kicked a kitten.

One of the reasons that, as a country, we have so much trouble talking about race and racism is that to do so is to call into question the story that you can do anything that you put your mind to. I don’t like the idea that my skin colour has a bunch to do with the neighbourhood in which I am able to live, the number of zeroes in my bank account, the jobs that I can or cannot hold, the nature of my interactions with the police.

My life is something that I did. I am self-made, I am made in my own image.

Right?

Our self or me-oriented lens extends to our understanding of faith. For a great many of our fellow Christians, the vital moment of discipleship comes when an individual makes a profession of faith, when that person declares:

I accept Jesus Christ as my personal saviour.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Announcing that Jesus is your personal saviour is a good and important thing to do. Jesus Christ is my personal saviour. When we are baptised, we stand at the front of the church with our sponsors while the rest of the church sits and we answer a series of personal questions:

Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Saviour?

I do.

Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?

I do.

Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
I do.

So absolutely, here is that personal “yes,” here is the singular, here is “you” and here is “I.” That personal commitment, that choice, that individual “yes” matters. But then, as the rite continues, we transition from individual to community. We all stand for the Baptismal Covenant, for the holy promises that we make together. I’ll share the final two:

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?

What’s the answer?

I will, with God’s help.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

This is the moment in the rite when, having said, “I accept Jesus Christ as my personal saviour” we add the word “and.” We transition from individual to community, from “me” to “we.”

We move from personal salvation to collective salvation.

I saw John Strege after the 8am service. And John, who has served as a musician for years at the Jewish Temple downtown, said to me that this is the very core of Jewish theology, that we are saved together.

I want us to notice this collective, this shared salvation. I want to pay attention to it as we watch Jesus separate the sheep and the goats. Because of the individualistic lens that we tend to bring to life – and aided and abetted by the smallest huge translation mistake in the Bible – it is really easy to imagine Jesus, the King, in this scene of judgment, separating people one from the other. And furthermore, it is really easy to imagine him separating them based on personal belief.

Let’s think of any number of cartoons. There is an escalator leading to a cloud. And there a holy receptionist awaits:

Welcome to the afterlife. Did you accept Jesus as your personal saviour? Yes? Okay, you’re in. You’re a sheep. Head for heaven. What about you? Did you accept Jesus as your personal saviour? No? Okay, you’re out, you’re a goat. Malcolm Young will now serenade you as you step onto the highway to hell.

(That’s an AC/DC reference, by the way, a shout out to the band’s rhythm guitarist who died earlier this week.)

But that isn’t the story that Jesus tells. He does not separate sheep from goats based upon belief. He is silent on the subject of belief, on the question of whether or not you went to church, on the question of whether or not you believed the creeds. We are judged not based on what we believed but on what we did. And nor are we judged as individuals. Jesus is talking about autous, about them. “Them” being the nations.

In other words – and again, this is hard when we are so accustomed to talking about “me” rather than “we” – Jesus is not talking about individual action, about individual charity, about whether or not you or I made a donation to a not-for-profit or were kind to a person on the street or volunteered at a soup kitchen, although those actions are all good and important.

Jesus says we will be judged based on what we did together.

A year or so ago, the Pope published a document in which he spoke of our shared responsibility to care for the earth. And a prominent American politician was not so much as offended as confused by the Popes words; he said something like:

I don’t understand why the Pope is talking about this. I thought that religion was all about being a good person.

I think that he was sincere in asking this question. I suspect that our confusion, our tension around collective salvation is at least as old as our country. This is from Forward Through the Years from 1936:

Some people fret and complain that the Christian pulpit intrudes itself into the social order and speaks evil against national leaders. But remember how Jesus followed the prophets in their eager concern for the disposed. It is futile to inculcate in the minds of our young people the ideals of Jesus and then send them into a world uncongenial to these ideals. Critics call upon the church to let business alone. But business and industry and politics do not let the people of God alone. Can the church stand by and see people cheated of the abundant life, pushed under the level of subsistence, in squalor, ill health, and occupational diseases? If it were a question of economics, the church might well leave the matter alone. But moral questions are involved. It will be a sorry day for the church when she ceases to be involved in human welfare.

The Son of Man gathers the nations, gathering autous, gathering “them” on his right and his left. And he will asks:

As a nation:

Did you feed the hungry?

Did you give drink to the thirsty?

Did you welcome the stranger?

Did you clothe the naked?

Did you care for the sick?

Did you visit the prisoner?

As a nation, how are we doing?

This realisation of our shared salvation, of our shared responsibility is hard news and good news. It is hard news because it means that salvation isn’t something that I can do on my own. And it’s good news because it means salvation is something that, together, we can choose and shape.

We will be judged. Together. So together, let’s get to work.

Consecration Sunday + Last Sunday after Pentecost + Christ the King by Suzy Jeffreys

Lessons:

2 Samuel 23:1-7

Psalm 132:1-19

Revelation 1:4b-8

John 18:33-37

 

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.

Amen.