Question on Stewardship
2010-09-28 by Stephanie Sorge Wing
Question: Stephanie - I like the impetus for communal lament - how does such lament fit in for the beginning of stewardship season?
Response: Much of the lament in Scripture is communal lament - including our passages from lamentations and the Psalm for this Sunday. Communal lament recognizes our connectedness as a community of faith - when some are hurting, all are hurting. Communal lament recognizes sorrows or ills in the life of the community, even if those sorrows and ills are borne unequally. Right now in our communities, there is undeniable cause for lament. While some communities have weathered the recent recession relatively well, other communities have been decimated. I don't know of a single community that has been untouched by the recession, but even if such a community exists, even those members must join the lament. Recent census data reports that 1 in 7 people in this country live in poverty, and 1 in 5 children. I recently read a statistic that among homeless women, 1 in 5 is pregnant. All of that is reason for communal lament, no matter where we live.
In terms of stewardship, if we are called to care for the most vulnerable populations, if we are called to promote peace and justice and to live lives that point to the kingdom of God, we must take a hard look at how we are using the resources that God has entrusted to us. There are enough resources in the world to provide basic needs for all people - nutritious food, shelter, and clothing. Most of us in (American Mainline Protestants) have more than enough, and yet we often feel as if we are just short of what we need. We are accustomed to upgrading our lifestyles in accordance with our income. What if we were accustomed to upgrading our own lifestyles only in accordance with the welfare of our community? What if each of us lived as though we made 80% of our current salary, and then used the rest for giving and savings? Not all families are able to give 10% of their income. But some could give much more than 10%. Ironically, the data on giving in the US shows that the percentage of income that a household gives each year to religious or charitable organizations is inversely proportional to income levels. In other words, households with the lowest incomes give higher percentages of their income than their wealthier counterparts.
If God has provided enough resources to go around for everyone, and yet so many in our communities, in our country, and throughout the world are without basic food, shelter, and medical care, where is the disconnect? If we lament the needs that surround us, if we lament the ways that God's created world has been polluted and transformed from a life-giving planet to a toxic environment, if we lament the status quo - as we should - then we must also hear in that a call to more faithful stewardship of what has been entrusted to us - individually and as the church.
Thanks for the question! Those are some preliminary thoughts, and certainly not easy ones to think about, and even less "easy" to preach. I wonder what others think?
Report from Sept 26
2010-09-27 by Stephen Schuette
To report on the sermon from Sept. 26... I came to the conclusion that the story of Lazarus and the rich man is exceptional. Most stories from the Gospels contain something of the whole in their kernel. In fact that may be part of the genius of the gospel writers. However in the story of Lazarus and the rich man it may be the reverse. This story seems to need the whole of the gospel around it, and may never have been meant to stand alone.
On its own it's a bit like the story of Ebenezer Scrooge facing the ghosts of past, present, and future without the ending where he shouts out the window to buy the turkey and became the one, of all people, who knew how to keep Christmas. And while there are certain points in our lives that we can never recover again, the hope of the gospel needs to be the larger truth in which the story of Lazarus and rich man is told.
2010-09-27 by Stephanie Sorge Wing
Starting thoughts -
I imagine that as most of us prepare to preach and lead worship this Sunday, World Communion Sunday will be on our minds and in our liturgies. This week's lectionary readings provide some - shall we say interesting? - texts for this particular Sunday, which also coincides with the first Sunday in our church that we will be inviting members to make pledges for 2011. A quick glance through the texts is almost enough to make the confirmed lectionary preacher go rogue for a Sunday!
The passage from Luke begins with a request of the disciples - "Increase our faith!" It is a good request, and one that many of us perhaps find on our own lips, but it is met by one of Jesus' famous one-liners: "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you." What follows is a somewhat disturbing parable about a slave's expectations of reward following the work that is obviously expected. Kimberly Bracken Long points out in the Feasting on the Word commentary that this parable is to encourage us to understand faith as a way of life, rather than something received to be stored away and added to. She highlights the importance of our faith in the life of community, and what better time to think about that connection than on World Communion Sunday?
The reading from 2 Timothy also points us to look at the life of faith to which we are called. Pointing to the faith heritage handed down by mother and grandmother, can we not also reflect upon the faith heritage we have received from our mothers, grandmothers, and other ancestors in faith on this World Communion Sunday? I am also drawn to the 13th verse - "Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." The mention of "sound teaching" immediately brings to my mind the many disputes among Christians today - interdenominationally, intradenominationally, with those who worship "next door" or "across the street," and with those who worship a few pews down from us. Perhaps we can invite the congregation to ask with us what it looks like to be united as one Body of Christ, to recognize our one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, when we don't even recognize the same baptisms, or offer welcome to all at the table of the Lord.
Finally, we have two readings from Lamentations. We are also offered the choice of Psalm 137. I often go to the Psalm for a Call to Worship, though the telling of happiness of those who take little ones and dash them against rocks might be rough. On my initial scan through the lectionary passages, I nearly skipped right through those from Lamentations. And yet, this is the only time in our 3-year Cycle that we are offered Lamentations in the Sunday lectionary readings. How often do we, as a worshiping church, have the opportunity for communal lament? Perhaps we organize special services - such as the "Blue Christmas" or "Longest Night" service that is becoming part of our Advent worship. We might gather immediately following major disasters or tragedies, or on the anniversaries, but there is seldom room in our regular Sunday worship for time and space to lament.
I am going to paraphrase and butcher something that John Bell put much more eloquently. Each Sunday when we gather, there are those in our midst who do not particularly feel like giving praise and thanksgiving to God. They do not fell like singing joyful songs. Perhaps we find ourselves there at times. Where is the room for those individuals in the life of the worshiping community? But if we can afford and offer that space, on occasion, for lament in worship, then they can more authentically be united to the worshiping body, to hear that our praise is your praise, and your lament is our lament. It really doesn't take much to look around and see cause for lament in our society, and I imagine that most preachers can quickly name at least a few individuals in the congregation on whose hearts are words of lament, not to mention those unknown to us. As I continue to enter into the Word this week, I feel drawn to grab this once-in-three-years opportunity to preach from this book of Lamentations.
Jonah-Play October 10 for Un-Other Sunday
2010-09-27 by David von Schlichten
I am translating Jonah and then adapting it into a one-person play that I will peform in lieu of the first two readings for worship on October 10. I will then preach on Jonah as a story about un-othering, i.e., getting past our stereotyping and belittling of one another and treating each other as real people.
The book of Jonah shows the protagonist othering the Ninevites but God challenging him - and all of us - to un-other one another.
This day at St. James will be called Un-Other Sunday.
I am then going to perform my Jonah play for other church functions or whatever. The performance can be part of a service or can stand on its own, can be a fund-raiser or just a fun/awareness-raiser.
What do you think?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Hope and Love
2010-09-24 by David von Schlichten
I agree, Stephen. Fear can be a strong motivator, but, given God's agapic orientation, love and hope are better motivators.
It will be a challenge to get parishioners to hear that, though, because they are generally wired to think that the Church is about scaring and guilt-tripping people to action. Perhaps the Church has indeed been about such strategies, but God is about hope and love.
My sermon will be along these lines, and I will post it soon at the cafe.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
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