Sunday, November 29, 2015

The True Mission of the Church is to Grow Stewards.

In order to accomplish God’s Mission in the world we have to be willing to use some of our gifts for God’s work.  The tithe is the standard by which we measure our commitment to God.  But many find the tithe too rigorous a standard and I have suggested that half a tithe (five percent of gross income) might be a better start. Then we can commit to grow our tithe over time to a full ten percent measure.

Of course, if we give some of our gifts to God, that means we have less for ourselves. Then we begin to think that having less for ourselves means there is scarcity in our lives—we don’t have enough. This thinking comes from our culture and its insistence that our lives are filled with scarcity; everything is finite and there isn’t enough to “go around.”

But our lives are full of abundance. Is it difficult for us to count our blessings in this season of Thanksgiving?  Whatever failure we have in understanding that the abundance in our lives is from God, comes from listening to our culture and its message to live above our means.

We have been entrusted with great wealth and abundance. We have been gifted with resources which God will use in his mission to reconcile the world to himself. Growing stewards means we must learn to live within our means.

Recently on the “Today Show” there was a segment on how to save money on buying a car.  One commentator spoke of various financing options; lease vs. purchase, five year term vs. six years, new vs. previously owned.  The second commentator replied, “Buy a less expensive model—one you can afford.”

Stewardship is not money—it is how we organize our lives and set our priorities. It’s all about the care of souls.

Father Mark +

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Care of Souls

There is a conversation which is going on among church leadership and clergy groups wherever I go and that is a conversation about the changing of the church.  I’m not just talking about the decline of Sunday attendance in the mainline Christian Church—attendance has been declining for fifty years.  I am talking about the unexplained shift in society away from traditional Christian values with regard to the care of souls.  I am talking about the increase in the number of people we see who are raised outside of the family tradition of Sunday church.

All across this nation churches are closing and being re-purposed as bars, retail shops, residences, and classrooms.  These closings are the result of declining attendance and shrinking membership. People think they have figured out that God is not really necessary and God has no interest in our lives. Fewer and fewer people talk about eternal things. Fewer and fewer people spend time studying scripture.  Prayer has become a way to ask a divine being for favors.  More and more people find themselves adrift amid a society fixated on consumption, acquisition, and status.  It is like we find ourselves trying to sing in a world inhabited only by the tone-deaf.

As Sally Forth said in one of her comic strips, “the problem with keeping your head in the face of a crisis is, people don’t think you know there’s a crisis.

This problem may have many causes, and we may settle on many solutions, but each conclusion will have the same premise; the way we think about church and ministry must change.

As our society embraces the nihilism of the future, and as we walk away from all that previous generations struggled to build and leave to us, we turn further away from what brought us here as we simultaneously bemoan our loss of the life we hold so dear.
Maybe we cannot keep God on the back-burner until we need him.  Maybe we have reached a tipping point in church attendance and participation. Maybe our society is shifting away from the past and toward the future.

But our future holds a place for those things for which we long: liturgy, music, preaching, and Holy Communion.  These are the traditions which connect us with the traditions of the church.  These are the bridges which lead to God and the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And these are the Remagen bridges which we must fight to keep open in order to retreat away from a God-less society of tomorrow. If we let the church fade to darkness, to what will we return when we discover the promises of this day hold no solutions to the problems of tomorrow?

Think you are up to this challenge? You better be; for to be the church in this new and changing environment of tomorrow is going to take the total commitment of everything we have.

Father Mark+

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Live Like there’s Heaven on Earth

We continue our conversations about money with a simple question.  Does God really need our money? Our tithe is our response to our need to give, not God’s need to receive. We have read many times that the tithe is the place to start our conversations about our giving. A tithe is ten percent of our income which seems like a lot. Who can afford to tithe?  It is a big commitment considering some people don’t even save ten percent of their income. How are we expected to give ten percent to the church?

Our tithe is not about what we can afford, rather it is an expression of our deep gratitude for God’s grace in giving us more than we deserve.  If we received in income what we deserved, how much would that be? If you believe that your money comes from God—not from the business or company you work for—how much would God pay you for the work you do?

If you believe that your income is a fair representation of what you deserve, can you see yourself giving back a tenth of what God gives you in the form of a tithe to the church?  If that is too steep of an ask maybe you should start with a half tithe—five percent.

You see, God doesn’t need our money—God can take care of God’s self. We, however, need to give in order to avoid being mastered by our own money.  We need to give to show our gratitude for the gifts God has given us. We give to show we trust in God’s plan for our gifts.

More importantly, by giving our time, talent, and treasure to the church we are participating in God’s plan to heal the world by giving God the resources necessary to do His work and make it like Heaven on Earth—Here and Now.

Father Mark

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Over the next few weeks we will talk a great deal about money.  It is a topic we need to explore.  After all, Jesus said more about money than almost anything else. Thoughts about money consume our consciousness. Whether we are rich or poor, spenders or savers, we all think and talk about money—a lot.  To begin our conversation we need to begin at the beginning.  Gratitude.

Gratitude needs to come first.  As people of faith we are invited to discipline ourselves to express our gratitude at every opportunity. When prayers are answered, we give thanks. Sometimes when prayers are unanswered we also give thanks—as Garth Brooks taught us some years ago. When we experience success, like a promotion or a physical healing, we give thanks.  When God teaches us some valuable lesson regarding the faith, we give thanks. And if we remember to give thanks enough, pretty soon we realize that all good gifts come from God and we should be thankful and express our thankfulness.

Stewardship is the main work of the Church.  It is all we do with all we have all the time. It is paying close attention to the gifts God has given us—our intelligence, our education, our families, and our churches.  We must be clear how we invest those gifts for God’s use in the world and how we might pay forward some of our gifts to benefit others.

Are we slaves to our money or possessions?  Does our greatest happiness come from money or the things our money buys us?  We have become slaves to our possessions and our lives need to be re-oriented.  Our gratitude for God’s gifts needs to be reflected in how we use those gifts?  Our need to be gracious comes from the realization that we are the beneficiaries of God’s grace, mercy, and love. But, when we are slaves to our money and possessions we begin to feel entitled to God’s gifts.  Giving back to God as an expression of gratitude will help us break the stronghold our possessions have over us.  Too many of our possessions hold influence over our lives—making us slaves instead of Masters.

Next week:  How we participate in the healing of the world depends on the gratitude we have for the gifts God has entrusted with each of us.

Father Mark+

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Be the disciple Christ calls you to be!

“The Lord said to Moses, … ‘anyone who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet refrains from keeping the passover, shall be cut off from the people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at its appointed time.”   (Num. 9:13)

In our Wednesday Bible study we read this passage from Numbers where God instructs the Israelites on proper etiquette for keeping the passover to the Lord.  After the sole sanctuary had been built the slaughter of animals became sacred and sacrificial since they were killed at the altar.  Therefore, impurity became an issue and Israelites who were unclean or traveling and didn’t observe the passover were cut off before the Lord. The crucial importance of the passover offering to members of the community is reflected in this command.

There are things in our churches today that are of crucial importance to our community. What comes to my mind are the six signs of discipleship and the giving of our treasure for God’s work through St. Andrew’s parish.  Stewardship is the main work of the church. It is what we do with all we have—all the time. It is focusing on the gifts God has given us and how we use and invest those gifts and treasures. But mostly, the work of the church is to grow true stewards.

This is what concerns me. In the spirit of discipleship, our parish has been entrusted with the things of our faith: the Good News that God’s love abounds, grace that is freely offered to all people, knowledge that the kingdom of God is truly among us and within us, and that in Christ death no longer has dominion over us. We are not alone in this trust, but if we fail our sacred obligations who will step up and take our place? Who will continue in the prayers and in the teaching?   We are approaching the end of the church year and moving into Advent and the people of St. Andrew’s are behind in their commitments to God and the church by nearly twenty-thousand dollars; commitments that were made and have not been honored!

But unlike Moses, you will not be cut-off from the Sacraments if you made a commitment to tithe your income to the church and cannot fulfill that commitment.  But there is time.  If you are not able to meet you commitment by year-end, call your rector or vestry member and let them know your situation.  Your tithe is only a part of your plan to be a better disciple—albeit an important part!

So, continue in your prayers and study. Come to worship whenever you are able. Serve somebody, and continue to fellowship with other like-minded Christians. Be the disciple Christ calls you to be!

Father Mark+