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I’ve been watching Rings of Power – the prequel drama that draws on a compilation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s unpublished materials set thousands of years before the events of the Lord of the Rings.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.

Liturgy of The Word for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (July 12th, 2020)

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Order of Service for the Liturgy of the Word

The Liturgy of the Word begins on page 355 of the Book of Common Prayer or online Eucharist Rt II here.

Prelude: Prelude from Suite No. IV in E flat by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Consuelo Sherba, viola

Welcome: The Rev’d Mark Sutherland, Rector

Introit: “Lord of Life and King of Glory” by Michelangelo Grancini (1605-1669), St. Martin’s Chapel Consort with Steven Young, organ

The Greeting: Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and blessed be God’s Kingdom, now and for ever.

Hymn 512 “Come Gracious Spirit” (vv. 1, 4), St. Martin’s Chapel Consort with Steven Young, organ

1 Come, gracious Spirit, heavenly Dove,
with light and comfort from above;
be thou our guardian, thou our guide
o'er every thought and step preside.
 
4 Lead us to heaven, that we may share
fullness of joy for ever there;
lead us to God, our final rest,
to be with him forever blest.

Collect for Purity

The Gloria S 280, St. Martin’s Chapel Consort with Steven Young, organ.

The Collect of the Day

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-13 read by David Blake

Psalm 119:105-112, St. Martin’s Chapel Consort with Steven Young, organ

Refrain: Your word is a lantern to my feet, O Lord, and a light upon my path.
 
105 Your word is a lantern to my feet
and a light upon my path.
106 I have sworn and am determined
to keep your righteous judgments.
107 I am deeply troubled;
preserve my life, O LORD, according to your word.
108 Accept, O LORD, the willing tribute of my lips,
and teach me your judgments.
 
Your word is a lantern to my feet, O Lord, and a light upon my path.
 
109 My life is always in my hand,
yet I do not forget your law.
110 The wicked have set a trap for me,
but I have not strayed from your commandments.
111 Your decrees are my inheritance forever;
truly, they are the joy of my heart.
112 I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes
for ever and to the end.
 
Your word is a lantern to my feet, O Lord, and a light upon my path.

Second Reading: Romans 8:1-11, read by Pat Nolan

Gradual Hymn 48 “O day of radiant gladness” (v. 1), St. Martin’s Chapel Consort with Steven Young, organ

1 O day of radiant gladness, O day of joy and light,
O balm of care and sadness, most beautiful, most bright;
this day the high and lowly, through ages joined in tune,
sing "Holy, holy, holy" to the great God Triune.

The Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, proclaimed by Linda+

Gradual Hymn 48 “O day of radiant gladness” (v. 4)

4 That light our hope sustaining, we walk the pilgrim way,
at length our rest attaining, our endless Sabbath day.
We sing to thee our praises, O Father, Spirit, Son;
the Church her voice upraises to thee, blest Three in One.

The Sermon: Mark+  A stand-alone sermon recording and full text also appear below on this page.

The Nicene Creed: We recite together. Please note italicized inclusive language changes.

We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father.
    Through him all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation
        he came down from heaven:
    by the power of the Holy Spirit
        he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
        and was made human.
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
        he suffered death and was buried.
        On the third day he rose again
            in accordance with the Scriptures;
        he ascended into heaven
            and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
        and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, God, the giver of life,
    who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
    With the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified
        and has spoken through the Prophets.
    We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
    We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
    We look for the resurrection of the dead,
        and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Anthem: “Ave verum” by Edward Elgar (1857-1934), St. Martin’s Chapel Consort with Steven Young, organ

Ave, verum corpus
natum de Maria Virgine,
Vere passum immolatum
in Cruce pro homine,
Cujus latus perforatum
unda fluxit sanguine,
Esto nobis praegustatum
in mortis examine.

Hail, true body
born of the Virgin Mary,
Who truly suffered, sacrificed
on the Cross for man,
Whose pierced side overflowed
with water and blood,
Be for us a foretaste
In the test of death.

Prayers of the People: led by Mark+

The Lord’s Prayer

The General Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, 
we your unworthy servants 
give you humble thanks 
for all your goodness and loving-kindness 
to us and to all whom you have made. 
We bless you for our creation, preservation, 
and all the blessings of this life; 
but above all for your immeasurable 
love in the redemption of the world 
by our Lord Jesus Christ; 
for the means of grace, 
and for the hope of glory. 
And, we pray, give us such 
an awareness of your mercies, 
that with truly thankful hearts 
we may show forth your praise, 
not only with our lips, but in our lives, 
by giving up our selves to your service, 
and by walking before you in 
holiness and righteousness all our days; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, 
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

The Peace

Hymn 505 “O Spirit of Life” (vv. 1, 3, 4), St. Martin’s Chapel Consort with Steven Young, organ

1 O Spirit of life, O Spirit of God,
in ev'ry need thou bring us aid,
proceeding forth from heaven's throne,
from God, the Father and the Son;
O Spirit of life, O Spirit of God.
 
3 O Spirit of life, O Spirit of God,
make us to love your sacred word;
the holy flame of love impart,
that charity may warm each heart;
O Spirit of life, O Spirit of God.
 
4 O Spirit of life, O Spirit of God,
enlighten us by that same word;
teach us to know God's radiant love,
lead us to Christ who reigns above;
O Spirit of life, O Spirit of God.

Final Blessing

The Postlude:  Courante from Suite No. IV in E flat by J. S. Bach, Consuelo Sherba, viola

Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #M-400498. All rights reserved.


Mark’s+ stand alone sermon podcast and text

Seeds

Prior to modernity, most people lived in agricultural societies. Accordingly, the Bible abounds with spiritual metaphors from agrarian life – in particular the spiritual metaphors of planting and harvesting. In the readings for Pentecost 6 from Matthew 13 and Isaiah 55 it comes as small surprise that each employs the spiritual metaphors of planting and harvesting – or sowing and reaping.

I mentioned a couple of weeks back that the readings each Sunday provide a platform for God to invite us into conversation. In discerning the nature of this conversation, we look, in the first instance, for clues in the relationship between Gospel and O.T. readings. On Pentecost 6 it’s hard not to miss the connections that lead us to conclude that the conversation God invites to have concerns sustainability.

Isaiah pictures the fruitfulness of God’s word – the seed – that goes forth from God’s mouth to accomplish a tangible harvest of environmentally friendly fruitfulness: the rain and snow do not evaporate before watering the earth – bringing forth a wild and extravagant fruitfulness that gives both seed for sowing and bread for eating. From seed – to bread – to seed -for future bread – the virtuous cycle of fruitful environmental sustainability stares us in the face.

This Isaiah, for he is the third prophet by this name, draws upon a powerful relationship between ecology and spirituality when he proclaims: the very mountains and the hills shall burst into song and the trees of the field shall clap their hands. The word of God’s mouth returns to God through a full-throated affirmation of divine fruitfulness – the product of a profound harmony between divine and human endeavor, in sync with the natural world.

Whatever the harvest produced by modern humanity’s intensive industrial farming methods it is not a rich harvest as God anticipates. We plough the land with chemicals, planting to produce a harvest -the abundance of which needs to be measured against the cost of environmental desecration and ecological degradation. The trees of the Amazon rainforest can hardly be pictured as clapping their hands in the face of slash and burn practices that strip the land for planting – land that after its first harvest – lying nakedly exposed to the elements of nature that no longer water the earth bringing forth fruitfulness but erode the leach the soil which quickly loses it fertility without further chemically enhanced help.

The conversation with God that emerges from Isaiah 55, challenges our current agricultural practices of land management and factory farming – practices that destroy the harmony of the natural order through the forces unleashed by greed driven, human endeavor.

In Matthew 13 we find the image of the sower – a farmer or farm hand who squanders his precious seed -recklessly scattering – seemingly heedless to the fact that much of it will land among rocks and weeds – marginal land inhospitable for a rich harvest.  

Following on from Isaiah 55, Matthew 13 pictures the seed being scattered as a metaphor for God’s word that goes out from God’s mouth. It’s perplexing that God seems not to mind the inefficiency of seed wasted by being scattered among rocks and weeds. Yet, maybe in this perplexing disregard God’s rich purpose is still accomplished in ways beyond our limited imagining.

The focus on the seed of God’s word having been scattered far and wide – now shifts to the nature of the soil in which the seed takes root – a metaphor for people who with varying capacities for fruitfulness respond to God’s word in different ways.

Matthew’s parable of the sower directs us to a conversation with God about the fruitfulness of our own lives. Fruitful lives embody sustainability.  In nature sustainability means planting seed that bears a harvest abundant enough to ensure we have bread to eat- but just as importantly, seed for further sowing. From planting to harvest – seed to bread for today – to seed for tomorrow’s bread we see the clear outlines of what I am calling the virtuous cycle of fruitful environmental sustainability.

It’s not enough that we find our fruitfulness in self-contentment, self-fulfillment. Our fruitfulness must be directed towards agitating for a much wider systemic fruitfulness in the life of our society. This agitation for changes in the direction of a greater systemic fruitfulness benefiting the many and not just the few is now a matter of some urgency in these stressful days of society-wide challenge and opportunity.

To live fruitfully requires three things: the capacity to be receptive, the openness that comes with understanding, and quality of action. Receiving refers to a life-long attention to nourishing the rich soil of our life so that the seed sown in us sprouts a rich harvest of understanding. However, understanding is not about our mental comprehension. Matthew elsewhere reminds us to be doers of the word and not simply passive hearers. Understanding derives from the rain and snow of God’s grace watering the fruit of our lives of action.

Action becomes visible when we participate with God in the bringing about of God’s rich purpose in the world – a purpose manifest in the virtuous cycle of sustainability.

Sustainable agriculture that provides for our daily bread – i.e. bread for eating -while taking care to ensure we have seed for the bread of tomorrow is a rich metaphor for our conservation of earth’s precious resources. However, humans are also social creatures and sustainability applies as much to our societal structures as to our agricultural practices.

Sustainable society is one in which justice rains down like dew from heaven –creating and protecting social environments within which individuals and communities are able to flourish and produce a harvest of unimaginable diversity and variety.

The parable of the sower is finally a parable about a risk-taking God who also expects us to be risk taking people. God the sower scatters the seed of the word willy-nilly – scandalously heedless of where the precious seed will land – a far cry from today’s profit driven efficiencies. Yet, the seed that lands among infertile rock is far from wasted. It becomes food for the birds who through their digestion cycle carry and deposit the seed in new and surprising places beyond the range of a single sower’s planting.  

Like the farmer in Matthew’s parable of the sower, if we risk scattering far and wide without regard for efficiency or short term profit – we will most likely be surprised by the unexpected results. If there was ever a time for us to be bold and to take risks with sowing tomorrow’s seed – it’s now. The challenge of risk is none other than the rich soil of opportunity.


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Thank you for supporting our ministry during this period of physical distancing.

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