September 4, 2012

Proper 18

Filed under: Financial Commitment,Lectionary — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:00 am

Look at this week’s readings! Sunday is one of those days in the lectionary when I look at the readings and think, “So many messages! How will I ever pick just one?”

Where do I even begin….

I begin by telling a story, the story of the very first time I ever visited one of Maine’s historic church buildings.

It was a gorgeous weekday evening in September. About six or eight of us were gathered in the choir, settling into Evening Prayer before we moved to the parish hall to begin our meeting. The doors were open; it was warm and sunny, with a light breeze floating in.

As we moved through the daily office, we heard a bit of noise on the sidewalk—not a troublesome noise, just the normal small town sounds of a family taking a walk after dinner. The mom was pulling a wagon. Seeing the open doors, the children clambered out and climbed the steps, their little voices joyfully declaring that they had seen something pretty inside. They wanted to have a look.

Disruptive? No! I wouldn’t trade that moment for the world! For me, it is that moment that will forever define the essence of this particular congregation. In that moment the doors of a historic building, opening onto a traditional village green, symbolizing the place of the church in Colonial history and polity, were transformed. They became doors thrown open in gracious welcome, where beautiful minds and curious spirits are gladly received, spiritually fed, and sent forth in peace through mission and ministry.

The people of this congregation are uniquely called to live in the both/and. They have been granted custody of a rich history and are called to live as stewards of the Gospel in this time and in this place. In some way or another, that is true of all of us, whether our building was built two years or two hundred years ago.

Living in the both/and is a tall order.

It’s not a job that we leave to the vestry, or the strategic planning committee, or the finance committee. It belongs to each of us and to all of us. It is a call to understand that faith is not merely a confession. Faith is a root cause of generosity, expressed in the offerings we make as whole and healthy stewards.

In the coming weeks many of us will be specifically invited to make a financial commitment to the church for the coming year. As you consider your response, consider also that the budget is not a financial outline of what the vestry expects to take in and how they predict they will spend it. It is a living document of our faith. It expresses our values. It explains how we, the people of God in each of our congregations, will act on our commitment to live as “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth”. The parish budget sends a clear message: This is who we are; this is the ministry we share, by faith, with thanksgiving.

Your pledge is an opportunity to celebrate this work of the Holy Spirit in your life and in your midst. It is an opportunity to make a choice.

Will you choose the path of Wisdom, putting relationships first, particularly those relationships that challenge your understanding of difference or of “otherness”? Will you take an active role in exploring what it means to open your doors onto the green, taking the risk that others will discover the beauty that lies within?

Will you choose the path of works, engaging your many and diverse offerings of time and talent, effort and dedication, love and compassion, prayer, presence, service, and gifts and funds to live as doers of the Word?

Or will you opt for the safety of the maintenance model, doing what you do, living in your comfort zone, and allowing some scraps to fall to those who would desire a full measure?

This is a question that even Jesus had to wrestle with. In his encounter with the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus is challenged by his own understanding of his ministry. This is the only time in the Gospels that we see him lose an argument—and he loses it to a woman, and a foreigner.

He must have gotten over it pretty quickly. The next thing we see in Mark’s Gospel account is the healing of the man with the impediment, a man who was also a stranger. Jesus has grown to accept that the Word of the Lord, the Word made flesh, is meant for all.

Such discernment is not easy, but it is worth the effort. It is in that spirit that I wish you strength, courage, and peace as you embark on this journey together.



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