Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lives of Meaning and of Purpose::Fund Raising vs. Stewardship, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Each year the Bishop's Committee of St. Mary's Church asks the supporters of the congregation to submit a pledge card. The information from the cards—both indications of financial giving and for contributions of time—are used by the Bishop's Committee to plan for the next year and beyond. The pledge cards are a purely practical way for the leadership of your parish church to have adequate information for planning.
There are also some practical reasons for doing the pledge cards in the spring. Although the administrative year for The Episcopal Church is the calendar year (January 1) the Diocesan budget cycle requires the Bishop's Committee to submit its grant request by the end of July each year for the coming calendar year. Having our pledge drive in the spring also gets us out of the fall with its family and social needs at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
We have chosen the Sundays of Eastertide to offer Moments for Mission, short talks by members of the congregation about their own sense of stewardship, and to explain why they support St. Mary's Church as well. These are also invitations for you to engage these persons in conversation about their sense of stewardship.

All of this is done at the risk of sending a mixed message. That is, it is all too easy to fall into thinking that stewardship is what we do when we give to the church. I cannot emphasize enough that the pledge drive is fund raising not stewardship. STEWARDSHIP is living a life of meaning and of purpose, as God leads us to understand that purpose. Giving to your church may be part of your overall stewardship, but it ought to be only a small part of that stewardship. Does St. Mary's Church desire and need your contributions of money and time? Of course it does. At the same time, the needs of your church ought to be considered only as a small part of how you are living your life as a Christian.

To live a life of meaning and of purpose is to embrace life in all its glory and its pain, to commit oneself to a way of life that is guided by the spirit of Jesus. It is a considerate life, one in which you consider what is right for you.

It is only in this context of an understanding of stewardship that the comment I have made so often can make any sense: I do not care if you give to St. Mary's Church or not. What I care about is your spiritual life in all its fullness. Do I, personally, believe that giving to St. Mary's Church is important? Yes—and I contribute something over 10% of my income to this congregation. But I also give to other things and needs. My money contributions to St. Mary's Church are but a small part of my overall stewardship of myself.

At the same time, I care very much that you submit a pledge card to this church. Why? First, because your Bishop's Committee needs that information in order to act out its stewardship for the church and its people. Second, the pledge card is a tool to remind you to take stock of your life of meaning and of purpose on a regular basis. That pledge card is only a practicality. Use it as an opportunity to consider your own life of meaning and of purpose.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Choices...and vines and fruit: To choose, or not to choose...or to choose not to, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Is refusing to make a decision - to make a choice - different than choosing not to do something? Or, does refusing to make a decision create a default position of having chosen for?

Entire libraries of philosophical literature have been penned about these and similar questions. For now, let us take the normative Christian view, which is that not to choose defaults to the choosing against. On the other hand, one might not choose affirmatively for Jesus, but one’s actions align one with Jesus. This is based in the view of Jesus’ teaching that “those who are not against me are for me.”

In his prayer of commissioning of his disciples in John 15 Jesus speaks of abiding in Jesus as the branches of a vine “abide” in the stalk and root. The vine, and certainly the fruit of the vine, cannot exist without an essential connection to the rootstalk. Jesus says, I am the vine; you are the branches; abide in my love.

Whoa! I thought we were talking about vines not love! Where does this “love” thing come in?

The first and simplest answer if that the love of which Jesus speaks is like the sap in the stalk and branches. The sap is what carries the nutrients within and throughout the plant. Think of it as the love of God moving through the members of the Body of Christ into the fruit of good works.

This is not a bad image, but it misses the “abide” thing. What is it to abide in Jesus who is the vine and of which we are the branches?

In the Gospel according to John “abide” a core concept. It has the same meaning in the original Greek as it does in English: to settle in, to set up housekeeping, to live within both a house and a community. To “abide” in Jesus, according to John, is to live in the richness of Jesus’ love, experienced as the movement of the Holy Spirit. However, as the miracle detergent pitchman says, Wait! There’s more!

The word “abide” occurs as a noun in another important passage in John, in chapter 14, where Jesus says “In my father’s house there are many mansions.” Mansions is better translated as “abiding places.” That is, in the cosmos of God there is lots of room in which people may abide in Jesus’ love. God’s love is expansive, roomy, generous. This is not one size fits all; this is spacious room for all sorts and conditions of persons, abiding places in which we can feel comforted, comfortable, and loved.

In my view, there are two implications of all this. First, we are being invited to live—abide—in God’s love. We can choose to do that or not. We can respond to the invitation to settle in or not.

However - and this is the second implication - if we choose not to abide, or even simply defer or refuse the decision, we have cut ourselves off from the vine. That is, we have chosen to live apart from the love of God, and we become spectators not participants in that love.

And that is, in part, why we go to church. Not giving ourselves the opportunity to give thanks to the source of all that is, seen and unseen, means that we have cut ourselves off from the nourishing fellowship of the Body of Christ. To worship the Living God is response to our experience of being loved. It is not requirement or duty; it is response to the instigation of the Spirit. We can ignore it; we can refuse it; it is still there, like an invitation to a party sitting on one’s desk unopened.

The reality is that we can consistently bear good fruit only when we are part of the vine. We are the branches that bear delicious, inviting, fruit that is nourished by the source of all in those deep roots sunk into the soil of the universe.

In other words, it is all about God’s love for us and for all that is.