A Reset to Factory Settings

A few weeks ago, I referred to the Amazon production of Rings of Power – a contemporary interpretation drawing from Tolkien’s unpublished manuscripts which his son Christopher later published after his father’s death in Unfinished Tales. Rings of Power is beautifully filmed – full of dramatic special effects that depict both elysian and hellish depictions of fictional reality.

I was and continue to be struck by these words of Elrond, one of the High Elves, quoting a memory of his father.

The way of the faithful is committing to pay the price event if the cost cannot be known – trusting that in the end it will be worth it. Though the cost is dear, we have little choice but to keep serving.

Two weeks ago, I used these words in the context of my second sermon in this year’s annual renewal campaign Time, Talent and not just Treasure.

If we really take the implications of these words to heart, the prospects for Christian service in the world are truly awstriking.

Elrond’s remembrance of his father’s wisdom triggered another cinematic memory – this time from the delightful movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in which the hapless hotel manager Sonny Kapoor, played by the very talented British Indian actor Dev Patel exclaims:

Everything will be alright in the end... if it's not alright then it's not yet the end.

These quotations are watchwords for our current deeply troubled times.

Watchwords are spiritual reference points that act like points on the dial of a compass. Paying close attention to our spiritual watchwords shows us the way forward when the familiar signposts of stability and continuity on which we once relied are no longer visible or even more alarmingly, remain visible but now misdirect through disinformation to point us in opposite directions from the ones we need to be setting out on.

Misdirectional signposts lead us into the dark places of the past rather than forward into the promise of the future.

Back to the future is another example of a watchword phrase, but this time one we should be wary of. Back to the future is really a statement about the prospect of our future being a repetition of the worst in our past. It’s another way of saying that society seems incapable of learning from past collective experience. Part of the explanation for this is that we have become a society characterized by amnesia. Our memory span is so short we’ve forgotten the most important lessons not only from our distant but more worryingly, even from our recent past. I’ve quoted Freud’s comment many times the gist of which is what we cannot remember we are destined to repeat.

One of the sad lessons from our collective past resurfaces in the way autocratic and anti-democratic tendencies – always latent in our collective unconscious – return to the surface. We see this so clearly when we survey the international scene whether it be Putin’s Russia, Xi Jing Ping’s China, Iran’s Ayatollahs; the infantile omnipotence of autocrats dictating the course of nations through a steady ahistorical diatribe of perceived grievances. We in America know first-hand the autocratic and antidemocratic impulses resurfacing from our own history.  

As we approach the midterms an article in the Atlantic Daily summed our situation up in a short article titled More than the Price of Gas in which Tom Nichols a staff editor noted how our voting dictated by hot button single issues of the moment not only corrodes our democracy but in the long run lead to nowhere new. He wrote:

Voters concerned about democracy should remind their fellow citizens that a GOP majority will not fix the economy or face down the Russians. Instead, state-level Republicans will issue partisan challenges to our constitutional process while cowardly national Republicans nod their approval. By 2025, Republicans at the state and national level might be able to simply ignore any election result they happen not to like.

In the First Reading on Pentecost 21 we hear the words of the minor prophet Habakkuk writing during a period of national emergency either at the time or shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587. It’s helpful to situate the office of prophet as the antidote in Ancient Israel to the authoritarian centralizing of power in the King. Israel had a constitution called the Covenant, and it was the prophet’s role to remind those in power of its constraints on autocracy. Br. Garret Galvin O.F.M writing about this reading notes that:

Part of a prophet’s job was to reflect on the world as it is rather than predicting the future, as is so often misattributed to prophets. Verse 1:4 demonstrates Habakkuk facing up to the challenges of his time. The one who lives by faith must encounter many others who choose to live by a different standard. The necessity of living by faith does not always produce a comfortable life. 

Habakkuk understood that the cure for the deep-seated corruption of power required a dramatic restoration of Covenant values. What worried him was he also understood that any restoration must first be preceded by collapse. Using the analogy from computers and smart devices Habakkuk understood Judah’s need for a reset to factory settings. Yet, he laments the cure being worse that the disease.

How long shall I cry for help, you will not listen? Or cry to you, ‘Violence’, and you will not save?

In the following verse he chronicles his nation’s woes in a voice that sounds to us remarkably contemporaneous:

Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.

In response he simply commits himself to take a principled stand – not running away or shirking his responsibilities.

I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart.

God finally answers Habakkuk by reminding him:

For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end and does not lie. If it seems to tarry wait for it; it will surely come [when] the righteous live by their faith.

Taking up our responsibilities we must stand on the metaphorical ramparts of democracy reminded that the way of the faithful is through service no matter the cost because we can do none other. Yet, there is a cost. Br Garret Galvin O.F.M reminds us that the one who lives by faith – confronting those who choose to live by a different standard – will not always produce a comfortable life. 

I believe that the troubles of our present time are signs of a divine reset – reboot to return us to our original factory settings as creatures made in the image of an all-loving creator. Our having failed to live by faith in the goodness of God in creation, is the cause of all our current challenges:

  • pandemic,
  • the collapse of economic globalism with all the knock-on consequences of breakdowns in the supply-chains feeding our rampant consumerism,
  • spiraling prices and inflation,
  • the resurfacing of old grievances leading societies back into the cul-de-sacs of history from which no meaningful solutions emerged last time we found ourselves here.

Finally, God is saying to us enough is enough!  Failure of systemic reform is now inevitably leading us towards the uncomfortable experience of a massive world-wide recalibration. As Habakkuk recognized in catastrophe – what I’m preferring to call recalibration is the necessary precondition for reset.

If we find the cost of paying the price in the defense of democracy’s freedoms – simply consider the alternative – of folding in the face of tyranny’s insatiable violence – whether facing down a Putin, or a Trump, and their legions of orcs.

Together we must stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people who are forging a new future for themselves as they bear the brunt of the antidemocratic onslaught of Putin’s tyranny. Americans’ must raise our heads to look beyond the immediate grimness of gas prices at the pump, the effects of inflation on the supermarket shelves. Europeans’ must raise their heads to look beyond the grimness of this winter’s massive energy crisis. We in the West – by which I mean the global network of free democracies with the rule of law as the basis for governance must not let the immediate discomforts of the present time misdirect us from the longer-term direction of travel. We must keep faith that

Everything will be alright in the end… if it’s not alright [at the moment] then it’s not yet the end.

Sonny Kapoor

We hold fast – the cost may be high – the reset has begun – but it will be worth it in the end!

Need for God?

Image: James Tissot, The Pharisee and the Publican

Storytelling is a fine art. I remember back some years ago now, attending a BBC live studio interview with John Berendt about his then recently published novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I remember him commenting on how in the South people embroider their stories with anecdotal asides.

He gave an illustration suggesting that an English writer might tell us simply:

Mrs. Green, while walking down the high street in her fine fur coat, suddenly caught a glimpse of herself in the store window. “How fine this coat looks” – she mused.

He contrasted this with voice of a Southern narrator:

Mrs Green, while walking down main street in her fine fur coat – you know the coat her husband bought her after he made all that money from the shady real estate deal, you know the one he made with that big Yankee corporation buying up the whole town. Catching a glimpse of herself in the store window and remembering her husband’s last year’s birthday present of the face lift - “How mighty fine this coat looks” – she mused smugly to herself.

I wish I had Jesus’ knack for storytelling. His stories confront his listeners with something profound and potentially life changing. But have you noticed how simply most of Jesus’ stories begin? There was this woman or this man.We want to know which woman, what man? So, he then tells us a little more – Oh yes, this woman who was coming to draw water. Or this man who’s name was Zacchaeus – the one who had climbed up a tree.

And so, Jesus begins Two men went up to the temple to pray. Which two men? One a Pharisee the other a tax collector. Immediately, his 1st-century audience would begin to draw conclusions from the stark contrast between these two men – one a righteous practitioner of the law, a faithful Jew – and the other a collaborator with the hated Roman occupation. We, that is his 21st-century audience also immediately draw conclusions – although the opposite ones from his original hearers because we are primed to think bad thoughts when we hear that one of the men was a Pharisee. Of course, for us its different because we have heard the story many times – at least once every three years – and we know the ending. But are we any wiser as to the deeper significance of this story?

The question we might ask at this point is which of the two men do we identify with? While you’re thinking about this let me remind you, we’re hearing this story within the context of the annual renewal campaign commonly known as stewardship.

We tend to think of stewardship as an activity for this time of year and unfortunately, not as a whole year-round activity – a year-round exercise of the three T’s – time, talent, and treasure as the practice of gentle competence in the service of all things.

There is a natural tendency to overvalue the treasure component of the three T’s. In Small Hearts enlarged by Gratitude (Oct 8th) I spoke about how treasure is really a symbol for the way we express gratitude through living generously. In Time, Talent, and not just Treasure  (Oct 16) I fleshed-out time and talent as symbols of both our desire to serve and also our realization that as disciples we have little choice but to keep serving – for a disciple who does not serve is an oxymoron – a linking of two incongruous images in one idea.

Given that Christian community is the historic template for a serving community, I think that if asked to pause and reflect more deeply – the thing many of us would say is that we miss the satisfaction of service inspired by gratitude. Gratitude produces and stimulates generosity – and generosity like living water – flows through service – irrigating a parched world. Remember that money is like water – it only does any good if it keeps flowing. Dam it up and stagnation ensues.

Back to the question: which of the two men do we identify with? It would be interesting to call for a show of hands. But I suspect that most of us would identify with the tax collector because in the story we are prejudiced towards the pharisee from the outset and distanced from the socio-political contradiction of a tax collector praying in the temple. Conditioned by 2000 years of Christian teaching on the virtue of humility we see in the tax collector’s prayer a level of humility and self-abasement we wish we could emulate. Few of us -publicly at least – would want to identify with the haughty self-righteousness of the religious Pharisee.

This is a story that presents us with two images of the human response to God. Most of us intuit that we should identify with the tax collector, and yet we design our lives to model that of the pharisee – and feel pretty good about doing so. He’s not only confident in his own salvation, but loudly proclaims his self-confidence before the Lord of heaven and earth. In other words, this is a man who by following the rules takes control of his own salvation – look God – see how well I’m doing!

The tax collector on the other hand, makes no claim of being in control of his life let harbor any expectation of salvation. He lives a morally dubious and compromised life.  He may be deeply sorry about his collaboration with the Roman administration, but the sorry fact is what else can he do.  Like many he is caught in the traps that life sets.  He needs the work; he needs to do what he needs to do to get by – and so he is caught.

Jesus makes clear that for God it’s not what the tax collector does – it’s not his occupation that matters. It’s not even a matter of his being among the religiously impure – those on the outside of Jewish religious life. What matters is his response – his humble recognition that he has no claim on God’s mercy. He offers no excuses – he offers no defense. The very nature of his inability to do much about his situation is what brings him to his knees, beating his breast in acknowledgement that he stands before the Lord of heaven and earth as one in need of God’s mercy.

Like the pharisee we expend a lot of energy ensuring that we will not find ourselves in a position of needing anything from anyone – so self-assured are we of our ability to make our own way in life we easily confuse our success for something of our own making; that the good things in life are ours to enjoy and not share. The pharisee – that part of us that sneakily believes we have no need of God – is very much alive and kicking in all of us.

Yet, the unpalatable truth in the face of our assertions of self-sufficiency is that the source of all our loves in life flow to us from God’s love for us. Whether we want to admit it or not – we are in fact dependent beneficiaries of divine generosity. Only when we acknowledge our dependence can we come to know our need of God. Thus to acknowledge our need of God is an uncomfortable experience for us.

We are surrounded by good people – who do what good people do – but who seem to have no need for God. We know many who once sat alongside us in this church but do so no longer. Maybe they are no longer here because they were never here for anything other than fitting God into their own priorities. Maybe they came because it was part of a well-rounded education for their kids. Or being seen at St Martin’s was good for business networking. Whatever the reason they were never here as an acknowledgment that they needed anything from God. After their priorities were met, they ceased to come.

The conventional wisdom goes that if God exists at all then of course he will be accepting of those who after all – are good people. However, that is not the conclusion we can legitimately draw from this story. For only one man goes home justified.

To understand the way Jesus uses the term justified we need to think about what happens in a court of law. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant is in control of the verdict of the court. It’s only the judge who can acquit or condemn. So it is with being justified. The Pharisee’s religious virtues in no way justify him in God’s eyes, neither does the tax collector’s sinfulness condemn him. Justification turns on a single question. Which one knows his need of God? Jesus tells us this is the only consideration for God. Being justified or not is a divine verdict not anything we can earn as if by right or lose because of compromised circumstances in life.

I’m not sure we can rid ourselves of conflating stewardship with the autumn renewal campaign. But it’s a worthy ambition to cultivate. Therefore, I am encouraging us to use this season of the Annual Renewal Campaign, as an invitation to take spiritual inventory in which we review:

  • What and where are our priorities and how are these shaped by our faith and our experience of Christian community? What is our attitude to our finances and possession? Are these simply the fruit of the sweat of our own cleaver brow or can we find in them a freedom from self-congratulation that comes with gratitude expressed through generosity?
  • Spiritual inventory as an opportunity to reexamine our attitude towards the call of discipleship. With whom do we really align – the pharisee or the tax collector?
  • Spiritual inventory as a rediscovery of the single thing that ultimately matters – namely our coming to know again the depth of our need for God.

Two weeks ago, in Small Hearts enlarged by Gratitude I shared from my personal experience of gratitude. Mine is a story of the way connection with gratitude wanes in the face of the illusion of my self-sufficiency. This period of spiritual inventory is an opportunity for me to be reminded of the course of my life journey and to stand with the tax collector – openly acknowledging that there is nothing about me that is deserving of God’s love – and to remember with gratitude expressed in generous living that all the good things of my life come to me as an expression of divine gift.

Time and Talent and not just Treasure

I’ve been watching Rings of Power – the prequel drama that draws on a compilation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s unpublished materials set thousands of years before the events of the Lord of the Rings. After his father’s death Christopher Tolkien published these in The Unfinished Tales. The action takes place on Middle Earth during its Second Age – laying out the timeline of events that burst forth in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

There’s a curious national stereotyping in this Amazon Prime presentation. The Harfoot – ancient forebears of the Hobbits have rural Irish accents as befitting the acorns and wheat sheaves in their hair. Contrastingly, the Dwarfs in the Mountain speak with the broad burr of the lowland Scots – somehow betokening their stolid dour industriousness. Of course, the druidic mystical imagery associated with the HIgh Elves requires the lilting cadences of the Welsh. The humans of Middle Earth have accents that range from Standard Received English for the seemingly higher born descending into the broad regional accents of the West Country for the peasant types. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from this but it’s interesting to note how accents denote cultural associations for us.

In a recent scene the Elf, Elrond speaking with Galadriel recalls his father’s words:

The way of the faithful is committing to pay the price even if the cost cannot be known – trusting that in the end it will be worth it. Though the cost is dear, we have little choice but to keep serving.

Last week I launched the Annual Renewal Campaign for 2022-23. I likened the campaign process to that of a spiritual inventory – inviting us to consider with reawakened eyes the quality and nature of our gratitude for the fruits of God’s generosity in our lives. It’s even more imperative in chaotic and fearful times that by strengthening our connection to a deep and abiding sense of gratitude for all we enjoy as gift from a God whose nature is pure generosity – generosity becomes like living water flowing through us to irrigate a barren and thirsty world.

It’s tempting for all of us to think – well now the rector has done his annual pep talk about money we need say no more about stewardship. But this would be to mistake stewardship only for treasure i.e., for money. Instead, I offer a good working definition of stewardship inspired by St Benedict’s invitation to his monks to exercise a tender competence in the service of all things.

A good working definition of stewardship inspired by St Benedict’s invitation to his monks to exercise a tender competence in the service of all things.

Inspired by St Benedict

Service is the expression of the faithful trusting that even though we may not see the result or be able to anticipate the cost – the end will be worth it because though the cost is dear our nature as Christian disciples is to keep serving.

Christian stewardship involves the practices of the three Ts’ – time, talent, and treasure. If we confine stewardship to writing checks – although I’m aware that most of us no longer write many checks as a form of payment – we are falling short of the dream that God has for us as agents in the divine work of renewing the creation. We are also shortchanging our deepest desires for ourselves, for those we love, and for our concern for change in the world because as the divine nature cannot stop loving, so we have little choice but to keep serving.

Our community is dependent for the quality of its common life on our willingness to share our time and talent as much as our treasure. In an increasingly frenetic world where we struggle with impossibly overscheduled lives, time is increasingly in short supply.  Pressure on our time from competing priorities renders us reluctant to share our gifts, abilities, and passions with one another.

In a world where we’ve come to dread overcommitment – where is the Christian notion of service as something that may well cost more than we imagine we have to spend?

I recently had lunch with Rabbi Sarah from Temple-Beth-El. As we were commiserating with each other over the burdens of faith community leadership in the current context I quipped that we have fewer and fewer people willing to step forward for the traditional ministry roles. In response, the staff is having to do more and more and then the parishioners complain about this. She replied – same with us!

So, here’s the rub. It’s wonderful to be financially generous, but money alone is no substitute for our engagement in service.

A memory from my first months at St Martin’s resurfaced the other day. I remembered feeling astonished at the human richness and potential of the congregation. I marveled at the levels of skill, sophistication of vision, and curiosity about ideas. While I knew that returning the parish to a more secure financial basis would be challenging, I was deeply encouraged and sustained by the quality of the people I was called to work among. I still am.

Seven-years on we’ve returned to as secure a financial base as the volatility of a changing world allows, yet we’ve continued to watch a steady erosion of our traditional culture of service.

A good example here is – you’ve heard me say before that we are an every-member-community, by which I mean that we cannot afford to carry passengers who make no contribution to building up our common life and work. When you think about something that you would like to see happen, remember that if you are not going to make it happen, then there is no one else available to do so.

Given the world we must contend with – the regrettable fact is that church as the focus for the spiritual journey made in the company of others within a network of social relationships is no longer a central foundation stone in modern lives. In the modern world we are continually scratching the itch we don’t recognize we have. Christian faith communities are the original template of serving communities. In the words of the great reformer and wartime Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple:

The church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.

I think that if asked to pause and reflect more deeply – the thing many of us would say is that we miss the satisfaction of service inspired by gratitude. Gratitude causes generosity – like living waters – to flow through us in service of a parched world.

In a world of conspiracy theories and a constant barrage of contradictory social and political messaging the only safe option for many today is to hide – ignore what’s going on – keep our heads down and get on with our lives as best we can.

The Pauline author of Second Timothy could well have been writing to us in our day and age when he predicted:

The time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away into myths. 

That time seems to have already well and truly arrived. What’s to be done?

After diagnosing the malady, the writer of Second Timothy gives us the solution:

As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

Or in Elrond’s father’s words: The way of the faithful is committing to pay the price even if the cost cannot be known – trusting that in the end all will be worth it. Though the cost is dear, we have little choice but to keep serving.

Stewardship has three T’s – time, talent, and treasure. Last week I spoke about treasure as the expression of our gratitude to God for the good things we have been given to enjoy – so that like our creator we may also live lives in which generosity is like living water flowing through us to irrigate a barren and thirsty world.

Today, I’m reminding us that through the other two T’s, time, and talent – we find our gratitude expressed in service. At the ordination of a deacon – a word which means servant – we pray:

To let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things that had grown old are being made new.

Collect of the ordination of a deacon, Book of Common Prayer.

Stewardship, tender competence in the service of the world requires us to take to heart the words in second Timothy – to carry out our ministry to the faithfully so that the whole world will see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things that had grown old are being made new.

Ours is to carry out our ministry to the fullest extent possible through lives of faithful committed service – trusting that in the end it will be worth it because though the cost at times may be more than we thought we were signing on for, we have little choice but to keep serving.

Small Hearts enlarged by Gratitude

The featured image above shows AA Milne’s Pooh Bear with his friend Piglet sitting side by side on a log. Piglet is gazing up at Pooh as he observes that he’s noticed that even though he has a very small heart – it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.

I struggle with gratitude – it’s a difficult word. I hate being reminded that I should be more grateful. The moment I hear the word grateful old memories arise of parental figures wagging their fingers at me – telling me I should be more grateful.

What is gratitude? Well, it’s an impulse – a response to the experience of generosity. But generosity is also a difficult word. How many times is our seeming ingratitude a response to another tagging conditions onto their generosity. See all the things I’ve done for you – you should be more grateful. Conditional generosity is no generosity at all.

The story of the cleansing of the 10 lepers in Luke 17 offers a window on gratitude. Like all Jesus stories its more complex than it at first appears. This is a story about gratitude, but with a subtext. As usual with Jesus it’s the subtext that carries the punch. At this juncture I will simply say that gratitude touches the most unexpected of people.

Jesus feigns surprise that gratitude should touch the most unexpected of people. He asks:

Were not 10 made clean? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner. 

Remember only the despised Samaritan leper returns to give praise to God. The symbolism of this would not be lost on Jesus’ xenophobic audience. Gratitude affects the most unexpected of people.

It’s a well observed phenomenon that when we have little else in life, in a world of scarcity, generosity and gratitude become tools for survival. Genuine scarcity compels people to rely on one another.  That reliance takes the form of gratitude and generosity. We find an echo of this in the final collect for Compline or night prayer where we pray:

that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil.

Insecurity deepens our encounter with gratitude. I remember having this experience after arriving in this country. Married for many years to an American, I nevertheless arrived at a time when same gender marriage afforded me no immigration rights.  I entered the US in 2008 on an 18-month professional development visa – wondering how Al’s and my dream of being a meaningful part of our 3-year-old granddaughter’s life would be realized. Looking back, I’m astonished by the audacity of my trust in the generosity of God during this period of my life.

I’m now a citizen with a purposeful and comfortable life having realized not only the dream of being part of our granddaughter’s life – but so much more than – at the time of arrival – I was even capable of imagining. It’s odd to me now looking back how deeply I trusted God’s generosity with an intensity of gratitude that – now I am comfortable and secure – I struggle to reconnect with.

Now the temptation for me is to fall into the illusion that the building of a new life of security and success has been all my own doing. This illusion of self-sufficiency everyday threatens to insulate me from my encounter with gratitude. I mention this only because I know the temptation of viewing all the goodness in my life as only the fruits of my own skill and labor and not God’s freely given gift.

In contrast to communities of scarcity, in communities of abundance – self-sufficiency – the illusion of autonomous independence – is the curse of the comfortable. For those of us who fall into this category the question we might ask is do we feel grateful to God for all that we have been given to enjoy in life – or does our comfortableness make us more anxious about holding onto what we have as if all we enjoy is ours by right and not gift?

I believe this question lies at the heart of our Christian responsibility to live lives of good stewardship – the exercise of tender competence in service to the world.

I’m brought up short by the line in today’s epistle from Second Timothy.  Without getting into the controversy over whether this letter was penned by Paul or not – the Pauline author builds a rhetorical crescendo with:

if we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will deny us 

if we are faithless ....  

We might reasonably expect the next words to be:

he will be faithless. 

We get the reciprocal picture. But then we read: But no! We are stunned to read:

for if we are faithless, he will be faithful

breaking the rhetorical pattern.

It seems God cannot deny God’s own nature – which is fundamentally to be loving, faithful, and generous.

We in the parish’s leadership are beginning the budget the planning cycle for next year. There are stages that will mark this process over the next three months. Today, I’m launching the annual renewal process and in two weeks or so you will receive the wardens’ annual stewardship letter along with the estimate of giving card (EGC)- unfortunately known as the pledge card. At this stage we will ask you to complete and return your EGC’s at the latest by November 13th which appropriately is two Sundays before Thanksgiving.

With the EGC we are not asking you to pledge -as in- sign in blood on the dotted line. We are seeking from you information about your anticipated level of financial support for St Martin’s in a coming year in order for us to complete the 2023 budget process. We all know that this next year is going to test our courage, faith, and resolve to the maximum. In the mailing you will also receive additional information designed to inform and help you assess the appropriate level of your financial support.

The financial backbone of our community has been our older pledging generation who are now passing on to greater glory. Theirs has been a generation who experienced the local church as one of the foundation stones of community life. We who come after them have different expectations for organized church life and among our younger generations there will be many who may well view church as an institution, with a more skeptical eye. Because of this generational shift our pledging numbers are falling. The immediate challenge is not simply to raise the dollar amount of pledges but to increase the overall size of the pledging base.

As your rector my primary message is not to up our giving, although I do hope many of us in a position to – will do so – as we face into the winds of what by all accounts will be a more difficult year in every sense. We are fortunate to welcome new members into the community – some of whom may not yet have become pledging members. As a response to this year’s renewal campaign, I do hope you will consider becoming one.

No, my primary message is to ask us to take an honest look at the role of gratitude in our lives; to conduct a spiritual inventory – as a response to the generosity of God. My message is to remind us to review the good things we value and enjoy in life and celebrate them not as a sign of personal success – something that’s ours alone – but as the fruits of God’s generosity and faithfulness – gifts entrusted to us to enjoy through the responsibility to likewise – live generously.

I am inviting all of us to consider once again the quality and nature of our gratitude in considering the fruits of God’s generosity in our lives with reawakened eyes – reconnecting or strengthening our connection with a deep and abiding sense of gratitude – recognizing the signs of God’s generosity – like living water flowing through us – irrigating a barren and thirsty world .

If we are faithless God will be faithful. Among the 10 only one of them gave praise to God – and this man – a foreigner, a despised stranger. God’s nature is to be generous, and the divine generosity invites our response to – in turn – live lives marked by generous impulse – so like Piglet we can say:  although our heart maybe small it holds a rather large amount of gratitude.

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