May 17, 2012


Filed under: Financial Commitment,Lectionary,Social Gospel,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:00 am

You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

What does it mean to be a disciple in this post-ascension age? What does it mean to continue a tradition of witness that began 2012 years ago, for which we inherit responsibility through baptism? Where do we find Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth in our lives?

Gil Rendle and Alice Mann* describe these rippling, concentric communities thus:

Jerusalem: This is us. The people of Jerusalem are the people we know, the people with whom we engage in day-to-day relationship. We find them in our families, schools, congregations, communities, and on Facebook.

Judea: Judeans are people like us. We might share common levels of education, background, experience, and cultural references. We do not know them by name, but when we meet them, we recognize them as being like us. They marry into our families; our kids meet their kids in class and we try a few play dates; they are newcomers in our churches and move into our communities.

Samaria: Samarians represent otherness. We struggle to connect with them. We might even avoid them out of simple fear or lack of understanding. Encounters with Samarians are awkward, for us and for them. Yet they are not limited to people we see on the news or wish we could stop watching on reality TV. They, too, marry into our families, enroll in our schools, and visit our churches to see if they fit.

The Ends of the Earth: These are the nameless, faceless strangers, people we are unlikely ever to know, or even encounter. Whether they are in our own town or on another continent, they live beyond our understanding. Yet we somehow feel a baptismal call to care for them as children of God.

As I reflected on today’s reading from Acts and Rendle and Mann’s interpretation of the ripples of witness and responsibility, I began to wonder what shape Jesus’ words might take in the life of the whole and healthy steward.

So I made a grid. Across the top I labeled 11 columns: love, compassion, time, talent, effort, dedication, funds, prayer, presence, gifts, and service. Down the side I labeled four rows: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the Ends of the Earth. Then I presented myself with a challenge: How do I, as a steward of the Gospel through baptism, make current and meaningful offerings in each of these 44 areas?

I gave myself very few rules:

  • Offerings had to be current.
  • Offerings I used to make but no longer practice could be noted as a reminder to come back to this thought: What in that offering fed me spiritually? Why did I stop making that offering? How might I reengage this offering, either by picking it up again or by finding a new expression of its meaning?
  • It’s OK to leave a square blank; that’s part of the point of the exercise. No beating myself up for short-comings. (I ended up using big question marks in these squares because I needed to see patterns at a glance.)

I can’t tell you the outcome because I haven’t finished yet! This turned out to be far more engaging than I expected. I can tell you a few things I’ve learned so far:

  • The patterns of jammed squares and empty squares aren’t where I expected them to be.
  • I enjoyed being surprised along the way to notice which squares were easy, which were a little more demanding, and which were really hard.
  • I did give in to feeling ashamed of some of the blanks; I had to remind myself that these were not failures, but potential focal points for spiritual growth.
  • I yearned for dialogue. As much as I loved spending this quiet time within myself, I wanted to bring this conversation into the continuing of the Apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, and the breaking of the bread.

I share these thoughts on this Ascension Day as an invitation: I invite the conversation. Try a grid of your own. Consider the possibilities for your congregation’s spiritual growth or adult formation program. It would make a wonderful four-week series, each focused on one of the ripples. Think about how it might undergird the Stewardship Committee’s planning for the financial commitment segment of holistic stewardship in the autumn months.

The possibilities are as broad as the creativity of the baptized itself. Try it. And please let me know how it goes….I’d love to have the conversation.

*Rendle, Gil, and Alice Mann. Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations. Herndon, VA: The Albann Institute. 2003.


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