October 13, 2012

Jesus Looked at Him, and Loved Him

Filed under: Financial Commitment,Lectionary,Legacy,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:14 pm

If “the purpose of religion is to comfort the uncomfortable and discomfort the overly-comfortable,”[i] then Jesus really nailed it this time, didn’t he!

This young man is clearly one of the overly-comfortable. His wealth provides him with material comfort, true, but also, we can assume, with the intangible comforts of status, influence, access to power, and the regard of others.

This in turn allows him the comfort of an ordered life. He knows the rules. He understands his place in the society and in the temple.

But if life is so nicely ordered, what compels him to approach to Jesus?

It is possible that this young man was so accustomed to a life of clarity and structure that he was simply double-checking that he had things in order, that he was on track for eternal life.

Murder? Nope, haven’t murdered.

Adultery? Nope, fine there.

Stealing? False witness? Fraud? Most certainly not!

Honor your father and mother? Absolutely!

Anything else? I’m good to go? Just wanted to be sure I’m not missing anything.

But somehow I don’t think that’s it.

There is a distinct intentionality in the way he runs up to Jesus and kneels at his feet. This man doesn’t just happen to be in town running errands when he notices Jesus and says, “Hey, can I get your opinion on something?”

No. This is a story of yearning. And as the conversation unfolds we realize that it is also a story of awakening.

The rich young man can’t help but suspect that there’s something more to this faith thing than just following a checklist of commandments. But he doesn’t know what that “something more” might be. So he asks.

And how does Jesus respond?

He looks at him.

And loves him.

Jesus does not react to the young man’s wealth, or his position, or his piety as a Jew. Jesus looks deep into his being.

Jesus sees immediately that the thing standing between this young man and a deeper experience of God’s grace and generosity is his attachment to his wealth—not the wealth itself, but his attachment to that wealth.

Adam Kligfeld, an Orthodox Rabbi in Los Angeles, puts it this way:

Life is not about amassing wealth but about amassing meaning, and things and objects aren’t worth nearly what we think they are. And at the same time, we’re supposed to enjoy all the bounty that God has given us. That includes enjoying some of the wonderful things about the modern world, while at the same time putting proper value on them. The key is not to take it too far in either direction.[ii]

That is precisely what moves Jesus to compassion—this man has taken it too far in amassing wealth. Jesus challenges him to amass meaning. Jesus wants the young man to discover that, to put proper value on things, he will have to recalibrate his understanding of God’s grace, his sense of generosity and abundance.

I suspect that most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have been in this young man’s shoes. At one time or another, various aspects of our lives have gotten in the way of our relationship with Jesus. We have faced the choice of recalibrating or parting ways.

The good news is that ours is not a checklist faith. Our faith is rooted in baptism; our lives are shaped by the vows of a living covenant, not by static, one-time promises.

Notice that the very first covenant that we make in baptism is to be in communion with one another. We commit to continue in the fellowship, and in the breaking of the bread because we need to be at this table. We need to challenge one another’s comfort zones. We need to take strength and reassurance from one another as we wrestle with our own understandings of grace, and generosity, and abundance.

The second vow of our covenant is to persevere. We just name it up front that we’re not going to get this right. We are going to fall short. We do not go away grieving, however, unwilling to face the challenge and grace of growing more deeply into Christ. We humbly confess both the things we have done and the things we have left undone, trusting that, with God’s help, we will do better next time.

It is only from this foundation that we move into that place from which our very energy ripples outward to proclaim the Good News, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace. It is only then that we genuinely become living stewards of an ever-living Gospel.

Each of us is in a different place on this stewardship journey. You may be growing into proportional giving, or into the tithe. You may be considering an offering from your abundance that is beyond the tithe. You may be hesitant at the thought of committing to a pledge when you don’t know what the year ahead has in store. Perhaps you are attending to the care of yourself and your loved ones at the end of life.

Wherever you are on the steward’s path, I ask you to consider this:

The parish budget is not just 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 how your congregation will act on a shared commitment to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in all of Samaria, and to the ends 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.

In these weeks many of us are being invited to pledge a portion of our abundance to the mission and ministry of our congregations. Such an invitation is nothing less than an opportunity for you to allow Jesus to look at you, and to love you.

So do yourself a favor: Don’t just put down last year’s number, or a pick an amount that feels affordable, or play it safe until you see what transpires. Engage in prayerful discernment. Reflect deeply on your own understanding of God’s grace, on God’s generosity and abundance, and on your own perceptions of what things are really worth.

And then hold fast to your confession. Approach the throne of grace with boldness. And discover the joy and gladness that comes from bringing the first fruits of your life and labor to the Lord.


[ii] Ibid.


September 27, 2012


Filed under: Lectionary,Legacy,Social Gospel,Stewardship of the Environment,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:36 pm

Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your name…[i]

It never gets old, does it?

I arrived in the Episcopal Church 18 years ago this season and I still remember my fumbling attempts to master the Sanctus. It’s tricky. If I tried to get the hang of the tune, the words passed me by. If I focused on praying the words, the music messed me up. I loved the idea of the liturgy; I just couldn’t get the hang of doing it. I struggled to be present in its beauty.

My relationship with the Sanctus changed in a twinkling, during a sermon on the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. The Anglican celebrant put the question to us: If you knew right now that you were to spend all of eternity in the company of heaven, surrounding the throne, singing praise without pause or ceasing, would you dread the boredom or would you anticipate the joy?

Well that’s a no-brainer. But what a question! What wonderful images it brings to mind, what wonderful dimension it brings to how I experience the Sanctus in the larger context of Holy Eucharist.

The first thing I remember about that evening is the impulse to look around. The priest in his cope, the beautifully dressed altar, the lighting, the incense, the gathering in worship and fellowship… If God’s abundance as I experience it in this life is seen in mirror dimly, if my friends and family and closest relationships are made in God’s image, how insanely amazing must it be to behold God face to face? How precious it truly is to honor God in all I that do, with all that I have, seeking and serving Christ in all persons in this life, knowing that there is yet another dimension of that experience yet to come.

The second thing that I carry with me from that moment is a deeply comforting sense of fellowship and an overwhelming sense of the present. Joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven: It is a far more satisfying image for me to join with those whom I treasure, those I have loved, those giants of faith and witness on whose shoulders I stand than to attempt to name them, or even remember them all, during Prayers of the People. There is something about the image in this phrasing that brings me deeply into a mindfulness of the vast fellowship we honor in the breaking of the bread.

But it’s a both/and. Along with the headiness of the communion of saints comes a deep sense of the present. Forever is in the now. We hold within ourselves the power to live lives that proclaim the glory of all who come in the name of the Lord. We are truly stewards, entrusted in our time with all that has been, with all that is, and with all that is yet to come.

And to that I can only say, Hosanna in the highest.

[i] The Book of Common Prayer, p. 334

September 20, 2012

A Capable Wife

Filed under: Financial Commitment,Lectionary,Legacy,Social Gospel,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 11:47 am

Proverbs 31:10-31

Wow. No wonder a capable wife is hard to find!

I am in awe of this woman. Her faithful stewardship guarantees the smooth running of the household, the increase of the fields, and the family’s prosperity. Her wisdom, prudence, and labor secure her husband’s standing, his reputation around town. He in turn honors her with his trust and praise. The sub-text of love and regard, of respect and partnership, is palpable. They each in their own way lift up the other.

But for as much as I admire the capable wife, there’s a part of me that says, “Wait a minute….” This passage seems to have a tone of worldly success, of social and economic status that feels at odds with how we normally talk about wealth in Scripture and Tradition.

It doesn’t make sense to me that today we hear praise for the capable wife, yet in just three weeks we will hear Jesus instruct the rich young man that he must go and sell all that he has and give the money to the poor if he is to truly inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

I was pondering this dichotomy while driving home from a meeting last Sunday, listening to, of all things, Marketplace Money. Tess Vigeland was presenting the third in her series on religion and money, talking with an orthodox rabbi and a young married couple from his congregation.[i] I was happily driving along, listening with some interest, when the rabbi said, “It shouldn’t come as a surprise at all to anyone who has dabbled in Jewish ideas that there are conflicting teachings (on how one should manage one’s money).”

He went on:

On the one hand, Judaism encourages frugality from the perspective that we don’t take our riches with us. Life is not about amassing wealth but about amassing meaning, and things and objects aren’t worth nearly what we think they are. And at the same time, from its inception, Judaism has been an anti-ascetic tradition….

…we’re supposed to enjoy all the bounty that God has given us and that includes enjoying some of the wonderful things about the modern world, while at the same time putting proper value on them.

Judaism speaks to both sides of that. The key is not to take it too far in either direction. Religion is there to comfort the uncomfortable and discomfort the overly-comfortable.

Now it all makes sense!

The capable wife is praiseworthy not just for what she does, but for how she does it, and why. She is admired for hands that are strong, hands that provide, that are open to the poor, that reach out to the needy. She distinguishes herself as a woman of strength and dignity, wisdom and kindness. She is honored for her works, not her worldly charm or beauty.

By contrast, the rich young man has erred in being overly-comfortable. While Jesus’ words ring true in a literal sense, they also serve as a warning, a call to balance in both the right and careful use of God’s abundance and the joy of being shareholders in all creation.

The second thing that caught my ear in this discussion was that the participants were describing a way of being in the world for which one might simply substitute “baptismal covenant” for “Judaism.” To paraphrase the young husband,

(The baptismal covenant) is something that, when done properly, infiltrates every aspect of your life. In my opinion it’s most enjoyable when you let it seep into every area of your life.”

And therein lies the key….

I don’t get the feeling when I read this passage that the capable wife is living a life of drudgery, trying to keep up with the constant demands of cleaning and cooking, working in the garden and keeping the livestock healthy, grocery shopping and making clothes, getting everything off to the market and making sure she comes back with some money and her supplies for the week…all while having babies and raising children.

Not at all! To my ears, this passage has a rhythm of calm, a feeling of content, a sense of vocation. It is clear from both what is said and what is implied that the capable wife attends to the rituals of worship, Sabbath time, and renewal. She is attuned to resisting evil and turning away from sin. Her actions speak of her love for all God’s children, of her hope for bringing justice, peace, and dignity into her sphere.

In this passage I hear an invitation that I now share with you: I invite you to reflect on how your stewardship of abundance “amasses meaning.” I invite you to appreciate how the mission and ministry of this congregation, in this community, speak of your love for God’s people, of your hope for justice, peace, and dignity. I invite you to enjoy all the bounty that God has given you, and let your baptism seep into every part of your life.

And in this journey that we take together as people of faith, I bid you peace, and wish you joy.


June 1, 2012

The Trinity and the Chocolate Fountain

Filed under: Financial Commitment,Lectionary,Legacy,Social Gospel,Stewardship of the Environment — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 11:43 am

In Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace Miroslav Volf invites us to think of God’s generosity and our response not as linear, giving and receiving, but as circulating, going around and around and spilling out all over the place.

The gifts of grace, love, and joy circulate first among the Trinity. The Three get so caught up in giving and receiving among themselves that their delight in generosity and praise becomes a mighty whirlpool. It spills over into creation, showering all things seen and unseen into our midst. As ones created in the image of God, we are moved to bless, break, and share all that we have in God’s name.

But wait…how do we make that happen? We can’t truly “give” it back to God—God created it! From God’s point of view, it’s like my giving my child some money to go buy me a birthday present. I’m empowering the child’s generosity, enabling the child to express her love and appreciation, but I’m not actually receiving anything that I don’t already have access to.  Is her ability to pull up my online wish list really that special?

What if my child pocketed the money and gave me a hand-drawn card, and maybe threw in a poem she wrote? That would certainly be a gift from the heart that I would always cherish. I would most definitely not be so crass as to ask her where my money went. But would you blame me for feeling a little cynical? Does God ever look at us and think, “Stingy brats!”

On the other hand, what if my child made me a hand-drawn card that said, “Dear Mom, I donated a mosquito net in your name and bought diapers for the local pantry. Happy Birthday.” She still didn’t buy me anything, but she did honor the idea of generosity and joy in celebrating my special day. She has invited me to reflect on my gift and ponder, “Who will this random unknown child somewhere in the world grow up to become simply because she doesn’t die of malaria?” She has launched my new year of life with the quiet knowledge that another mom out there is getting a few diapers’ worth of support for her challenges this day. The abundance of my life and longevity, entrusted to my child, has become something completely new and wonderful.

Transforming abundance in new and wonderful ways doesn’t always come naturally. Nor does the unbounded joy modeled in the Godhead always sit neatly in our cultural norms.

Consider a scene from The Vicar of Dibley. It’s Christmas Eve, 2004. During a pre-worship cocktail party in the manor house of the village’s grandest estate, the senior warden surprises the vicar with a chocolate fountain—not the usual table-top model; this one is probably about eight feet tall, absolutely flowing with sheets and sheets of chocolate waterfalls. The vicar takes one look at this extravagance and announces, “I’m goin’ in!”

It is then of course that the second surprise of the evening arrives and the humor turns on the vicar’s embarrassment as the Archbishop of Canterbury enters the room to offer his blessing on this special day. Quickly composing herself, the vicar drops to the floor, kneeling on priceless carpets, a dripping mess of chocolate running down her hair, face, and shoulders. She manages to stutter out a greeting and the Archbishop figures out a way to bless her without getting too messy himself.

As hysterically funny as this is, I wonder if Professor Volf would agree with me that the vicar’s response is not wholly inappropriate. It certainly runs counter to our cultural norms of decorum—that’s why it’s so hilarious, after all. But might we argue that the only difference between the vicar and the rest of us is that she actually did it?

Look at the vicar through God’s eyes: Here is a woman who knows a lavish gift when she sees it. The church committee’s love and affection for her has spilled beyond the niceties. They have determined to do something lavish and loving—they are already standing back, because they know as soon as they unveil it that she’s going to do something outrageous. They love her for that, and through her they have, over time, grown to understand why Jesus allowed insanely expensive oil to be poured at his feet without apology or concern for the cost. As she kneels, streaming with chocolate, I can’t help but see the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard; upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! (Psalm 133)

That is what God asks of us on this Trinity Sunday. God did not create all that is, seen and unseen, just so that we can stand back politely, or treat it as our entitlement, or just sort of live in it without really paying attention. No! I believe that God wants us to delight in the stream of life-giving abundance that flows in us and over us and through us, that spills beyond us, that is transformed  through joy and generosity.

So dive in. For it is there that the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.


April 25, 2012

Show Me!

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

…let us love one another, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3:18)

Whenever I read this week’s Epistle, Audrey Hepburn’s voice jumps into my head as Eliza Doolittle explodes at Freddie:

Words, words, words

I’m so sick of words!

Never do I ever want to hear another word

There isn’t one I haven’t heard…

…Say one more word and I’ll scream!

…Don’t waste my time, show me!

So….how? How do we put words into action? And just as importantly, how do we fall short? When do we withhold the love and compassion, the effort and dedication, the embodied offerings that God would have from us through our baptism? With seven billion people on the planet, how can we possibly seek and serve the Christ we see in all of them?

I tried on a number of ethical frameworks in pondering these questions. One after another, my trains of thought derailed. In some cases the path just didn’t go anywhere. At other times what I discovered was just too personal, too honest, too much looking in the mirror.

And then I got a crazy idea: I wondered if the Jewish tradition of tzedakah could apply to offerings other than money—could I test my attitudes and experiences of love in action against these progressively virtuous motivations? It wasn’t perfect, but it was an interesting exercise.

Here’s what I found:

Giving begrudgingly; Giving willingly but inadequately: When I think about putting love into action, I finally understand why these are sometimes called “giving in sadness.” At best these are the “Well, I suppose…” offerings, the ones I catch myself giving to save face. It makes me sad when I hear talk of “them” and “they” drowning out love, compassion, prayer, and presence in our culture of otherness.

Giving after being asked: Isn’t this the bane of parish leadership? “Why do I have to make phone call after phone call for the Holiday Fair? It’s been in the announcements for weeks; why don’t people step forward?” I confess this is a hard one for me. I have been through too many rounds of being a new member in a congregation and have learned hard lessons about stepping up to offer time, talent, and effort. It’s safer to wait.

Giving before being asked: Now we’re getting to the offerings I enjoy! In those times when I have succeeded in discerning a need and bringing my baptismal energy to bear, I have been privileged with a glimpse of what it means to love one another, to make our offerings in community, to live into the teaching of the apostles and the fellowship. Even though it falls in the middle of the scale, giving without being asked makes me feel alive in community; it shows me how God’s love abides in me.

Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient know your identity; Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity; and Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity. Though these are three separate modes of giving in the Judaic tzekadah, for me they work together when putting love into action.

Many years ago I was a patient at the Bennett Cancer Center in Stamford, Connecticut. Though this was a difficult time for me, I am to this day in awe of the way this facility was structured, physically and culturally, to hold the patient in an unbroken offering of love, presence, and dedication. Medical staff, support, volunteers, and donors all understood themselves to be in vocation around their shared commitment to patient and family well-being.

What is striking to me as I look back on this experience is how varied the underlying motivations to this common commitment were. Every combination of these three levels of tzedakah were visible throughout: named gifts given broadly; named gifts in honor of a named individual; anonymous gifts honoring named loved ones. All came together in a network of enacted care, with powerful results.

I think of this community often. I aspire to its example in my own expressions of dedication and compassion. I struggle with the unknown and unknowing. Sometimes it feels impersonal. Sometimes writing a check feels too easy. I’m starting to understand why these motivations are understood as progressively more difficult. And I like it that even as a fairly mature steward, I still have work to do.

Giving that enables the recipient to become self-reliant. One of the privileges of my vocation is to work with offerings that bring about transformation. I am regularly awed and humbled by the many forms of witness these faithful stewards offer: a touch, a word, a time of patience and presence, a gas card, a job lead, a major grant, a legacy gift. Lives are changed every day, in countless ways, by enacted offerings of abundance.

So no, I can’t seek and serve Christ in seven billion of my fellow human beings. But I can make generous offerings in gladness. I can work toward a better balance in the thoughts, words, and deeds that are done, and those that are left undone, praying with the author of John’s first Epistle that God’s love will abide in me and that I will grow to love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.


April 9, 2012

Sitting Shiva

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

Magnified and sanctified may God’s great name be. Amen

I have a confession to make: I have badly misjudged the disciples. Until now, I have thought of the disciples in this week’s Gospel reading as a scared little huddle, not sure what to do with their leader suddenly taken from them.

But this Lent I set myself the task of looking at the Passion and resurrection through the lens of Jewish death and bereavement customs. And in doing so I gained a new respect for the men and the women who were Jesus’ closest companions.

The first thing I realized was that Jesus had a very faithful Jewish death. The events described in the readings for Good Friday and Holy Saturday, along with the return of the women to the tomb on the morning following the Sabbath, correspond clearly with Jewish law and practices for death and burial. Furthermore, the readings appointed in our lectionary from Job, Lamentations, and the Psalms are those scriptures the grieving family is permitted to study, if they choose to study at all, in the week following the burial.

And so from that perspective, what the disciples were doing in that closed room was perfectly normal: They were sitting shiva.

In this seven day period beginning with the day of the burial, the bereaved family members stay together in one place. They sit on low stools and do not prepare food, clean the house, or do any sort of work. They literally sit there, feeling whatever they need to feel in that space of grief and sadness. As members of the community make their shiva calls on the family, they bring the food, tidy up the house, look around to see whatever needs to be done. Guests may talk with one another during their visits, but they do not speak to the family unless the family initiates conversation.

In this context, the scenario in which we find Jesus’ followers makes sense, with two radical exceptions:

First, one only sits shiva for first-degree relatives—parents, siblings, spouse, or children. By engaging in this tradition, if that is indeed what they were doing, the disciples and the women who were with them were declaring themselves to be family.

In his poem The Twelve, William Countryman describes them like this: They weren’t self-selected, would never have formed a team on their own initiative…As odd an assortment as one’s own family or the people where one works.

Yet here they are, making an intentional statement about their bond with Jesus and with one another.

Second, though a shiva house is typically crowded with visitors, the deceased himself isn’t usually one of them—there’s no doubt that having the risen Jesus in their midst was totally unexpected.

And what does he say to them? He simply bids them peace. He says it twice, leaving space for them to absorb it. And then he proceeds to give them words of comfort and instruction.

This is a scene that is played out over and over again in our day—in homes, in clergy offices, in hospitals and funeral homes—loved ones longing for words of comfort and instruction in the midst of grief. In bidding his companions peace, Jesus shows us how stewardship at the end of life is, at its heart, stewardship of our dearest relationships.

Imagine, for example, how a signed medical directive bids peace to family members who may be asked to make heart-rending decisions on our behalf.

Imagine the comfort a funeral plan offers in the shock and disorientation of intense mourning, those first days between death and burial.

And though barely 50% of us have done it, the opportunity to make a will provides the instruction that smoothes the way for those who will succeed us as stewards of our worldly abundance. It also gives us a chance to make a final gesture of generosity to those ministries that were most important to us in our baptismal life.

Think of it this way: What peace would Jesus have offered if he had appeared in that room, and in holding out his hands to bid his grieving companions peace, had handed them a notebook? As dry as that sounds, it is precisely what we are called to do in this period of Eastertide.

And so I invite you: If you have not yet attended to stewardship at the end of life, please take the time to begin in these weeks ahead. If you have already attended to these things, now is a good time to review your arrangements, pausing to pray and discern whether they still reflect your wishes for the continued stewardship of the abundance you know in this life.

…that God may comfort those you hold dear among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.


March 16, 2012

Noises Off

Filed under: Legacy — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 6:56 pm

One of my favorite stage devices is the unseen character, the person who has a significant role in plot and play but is never seen by the audience.

Today I am thinking about the householder in the parable of the talents. Without him, there is no story; the entire parable turns on his absence.

In many ways I feel like we come in on the middle of this story. I find myself wanting more background: Of all his servants, how did he choose these three? How did he decide how many talents he would entrust to each? What further instructions did he provide? How did they know what was expected of them in his absence? Could they be sure he was coming back?

Each of us is a householder. Each of us holds a generous portion of God’s abundance. And whether we feel comfortable naming it or not, each of us is on a journey that will ultimately require us to entrust others with the care and keeping of that abundance when we are no longer present. The unknown back story in the parable of the talents speaks directly to our responsibility for legacy stewardship—and it would be helpful to have a little more detail when we think about preparing or updating our wills.

The unknown back story would be helpful to congregational leaders as well. How do we become the servants the household chooses? How do we create the environment of trust and trustworthiness that inspires confidence in the householder? How do we move him to entrust us with a portion of his abundance toward perpetual mission and ministry in our communities?

These are important questions for prayer and discernment. And out of that prayer and discernment come some very important steps that all of us can take in our common journey as good and faithful stewards.

For congregational leaders, the most important first step is to develop and document those policies that prepare your parish to function as perpetual stewards of others’ abundance. The so-called “enabling documents” establish the structure that enables householders to make informed decisions about entrusting the congregation with a legacy gift. (These documents include the vestry resolution establishing an endowment or perpetual fund; a plan of operation; policy regarding the disposition of bequests; designated funds; investment guidelines; spending rules; and gift acceptance policies.) Do you have these documents? Are they up to date? How often does the vestry review and reaffirm them? Does the congregation know about these documents, or know whom and how to ask?

With the enabling documents in place, the congregational leaders are well equipped to invite the entire congregation into a time of prayer and discernment around their legacy as stewards of God’s abundance. This is far more than a pitch to get people to include the church in their wills. Stewardship at the end of life is at its heart stewardship of our most cherished relationships. It includes such things as the medical directive that eases the choices our loved ones may be asked to make. It includes a funeral plan that gives our loved ones clues to how we would like our lives to be celebrated in worship, liturgy, music, and scripture. One rector in the Diocese of Maine includes this gracious and grace-filled invitation in his parish’s funeral planning documents:

Are there any broken relationships, bad feelings, grudges or hurts that could be healed while there is still plenty of time? There is no better time than now to bury old hatchets, to reconcile with those you are estranged from, to ask forgiveness of those you have harmed, and to reconnect with those you have drifted away from. This is hard spiritual work, but it leads to joy. The Rector would love nothing more than to help you begin such healing.

When I consult with congregations on stewardship at the end of life, I always recommend that they involve the entire membership in this conversation, regardless of age or life stage. Consider, for example, the young professionals who have begun their careers and may be accumulating assets while they do not yet have heirs. As families move beyond their “tuition years,” mid-life adults may find themselves with life insurance that exceeds their needs. The focus need not be solely on older adults.

Consider also that legacy stewardship has a very long cycle—persons considering a bequest, for example, may want to talk with their family members who would otherwise expect to inherit the portion being considered. They would also spend time consulting with professional advisors and may decide to wait until their next estate plan review is due. The 50% of Americans who do have wills may have already made provisions for other organizations or for their colleges and universities and may need a period of reflection and discernment before they are comfortable changing those provisions or making additional gifts out of what would otherwise be their residual estate. Legacy stewardship involves a great deal of prayer, discernment, and reflection; it takes time to bear fruit.

But bear fruit it will, with joy and gladness beyond measure.

February 3, 2012

Aspects of Offering

Filed under: Financial Commitment,Legacy,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 9:17 pm

In their book Celebrating the Offering, brothers and Methodist ministers Melvin and James Amerson assert that offerings of prayer, presence, gifts, and service are all required to be good stewards.

This must have been in the back of my mind when I read this week’s lectionary. I little detail in Mark’s account of Jesus’ early ministry that I had read right over in the past: There in the midst of preaching and teaching and healing and fellowship, in the morning scurry to pack up and get the show on the road to the next town…. Jesus slips away to pray. It grabs my attention that Mark, never one for verbosity, takes particular care with the details of this scene. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”

We don’t know what he prayed, what was on his heart in that moment. All we know is that Jesus allowed himself to be discovered in the practice of stewardship of his intimate relationship with God the Creator. Jesus taught by example that his prayers, our prayers, indeed all offerings of prayer “communicate our gratitude and love of God’s grace, love, mercy, protection, provision, and …petitions for God’s blessings upon those gifts.” (Amerson, p.54)

Regular readers know that I struggle with prayer. The offering of prayer does not come naturally to me. Gifts and service, easy; I’ve grown tremendously in learning to offer presence. Prayer, not my thing. In the course of these writings I’ve had the pleasure of dialogue with others, some of whom share my discomfort and others who have found the richness of a gifted prayer life.

In this spirit of fellow-journeying, the Amersons suggest four questions that we might ask of ourselves and one another in order to deepen our understanding of the offerings we make. Realizing that each of us is growing differently in each of the four aspects, I have broadened the questions:

  • What motivates you to pray, offer your presence, make a material gift, or serve in the name of Christ?
  • Have you always been generous in your sense of offering?
  • What is the most exciting moment you have experienced in offering prayer? In experiencing presence? In making a gift? In the act of serving?
  • Is there a verse or passage of scripture that has influenced your practice of prayer? Your call to be present? The discernment of a tangible gift? An offering of service?

I like these questions because they invite both introspection and community dialogue. They ask us to look inside ourselves and learn from one another. They invite us to enter into Jesus’ example of transparency in the stewardship of our most intimate blessings and give us strength for the journey.

February 2, 2012

The Presentation of the Lord

Filed under: Cycle of Prayer,Lectionary,Legacy,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 6:51 pm

Simeon had only one thing on his Bucket List—and it was a big one.

As a devout Jew, Simeon waited and prayed for the day when the Messiah would deliver his people. This wasn’t an easy hope. Simeon didn’t have the option of cashing out a life insurance policy, hopping on a plane, and spending the summer solstice above the Arctic Circle just to say he did it. No, the only thing Simeon could do was to remain faithful, making sincere and devout offerings of prayer that this “light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of … Israel” would come.

I have to wonder if this baby, this 40-day-old infant, was really what he had in mind, but there it was—there he was—and Simeon could do no other than to make a heartfelt offering of praise and thanksgiving.

For me, a 21st Century Christian and steward of the Gospel, the Song of Simeon raises a profound question: What is the one thing, the one big thing, which would inspire me to burst forth with songs of praise? What is my devout hope for God’s people in my time?

When one chooses Christian stewardship as a way of being in the world, there is a lot riding on these questions:

What does my deepest hope for God’s people ask of me? Can I assist in bringing it about through offerings of time and material gifts? Or am I limited to offerings of prayer and supplication? Can I discipline myself to resist frustration and trust in prayer alone?

Do I have the strength to get out of the way and offer only my presence? Is my one hope for God’s people something I could miss if I weren’t paying attention? Would I know it if I saw it?

And then the even bigger questions: What would I do if it happened?

Simeon’s humility is breath-taking. His song of praise asks for nothing more; he has lived to see the day. He has received God’s greatest gift, the gift of knowing peace. This is not the over-hyped final episode of a pointless reality show. This is the most intimate moment of steadfast faith between a man and his god.

These are the questions that I ponder on this Feast of the Presentation. I would love to hear from others: What is your deepest hope for God’s people in our time? How are you called to make offerings of prayer, presence, gifts, and time that your eyes may see what God will bring about, in the presence of all peoples? How are you moved to unbridled joy and unbounded praise, this day?

January 20, 2012

Beyond Three T’s

Filed under: Financial Commitment,Lectionary,Legacy,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 7:28 pm

Over the holidays I read the book Reclaiming the Great Commission by Bishop Claude Payne and Hamilton Beasley. The book describes a transformational model for that Bishop Payne, clergy, and lay leaders developed and introduced during his episcopacy with the Diocese of Texas (1995-2003). The model challenges all of us—individuals, congregations, judicatories, and denominations—to move away from a maintenance orientation and embrace “the missionary power of first-century Christianity” in twenty-first century churches.

Among the many points in this model around which I personally found new energy is Bishop Payne’s approach to resourcing mission and ministry.

Is anyone else tired of time, talent, and treasure? Try “time and talents, love and compassion, effort and dedication, and whatever funds (we) can provide.” (p.123)

For me, this approach has a certain quality of servant leadership that I find particularly attractive now, in this season of annual meetings, elections of lay leaders, vestry and bishop’s committee retreats, and too often, difficult discussion and painful decisions about the annual budget.

Let’s take a closer look:

Time and Talent: I’m glad these are presented as a single unit—we rarely contribute our time to do nothing, and it is impossible to exercise our talents outside of time. Lay leaders make a significant commitment to spend time exercising their talents in leadership and discernment. As baptized members of the Body of Christ, these leaders are called to set the tone and be “attitude leaders” in the congregation for calling forth and celebrating the many offerings of prayer, presence, gifts, and service the congregation receives.

Love and Compassion: This one is probably my favorite. When we name love and compassion as resources that are present in our congregations, the cultural shift form maintenance to mission comes alive. If we understand ourselves as loving, compassionate stewards of the Gospel and of one another, our attitude toward capital and legacy stewardship shifts: It moves away from fundraising for the building and instead becomes a commitment to investing in long-term hospitality and radical welcome as we live the Gospel together in a building that needs some work.

Effort and Dedication: I don’t think I have ever visited a congregation and not heard a clergyperson or lay leader say, “It’s amazing how hard people work here. We have so many dedicated members who give their all to make things happen.” It’s true. The members of our congregations are living out their baptismal covenant in more ways than we can count. Clergy and lay leaders hold a precious trust as stewards of these invaluable ministry resources, ensuring that the gifts in their midst are called out appropriately, brought forth gladly, used wisely, and celebrated as faithful offerings.

Funds: And only now do we come to money. In this model, money is no longer something that we have to have because we have to have it. It is a tool, a means, a vehicle. What used to be the “third rail” of congregational life is now the Third M undergirding mission and ministry. As we move beyond maintenance and understand all that we do in congregational life and parish administration as having mission and ministry at its driving core, money simply makes more sense. As grateful and generous givers, our money follows our hearts. It’s that simple.

This is exactly the radical shift that we see in this week’s Gospel reading.

James and John are sitting in their boat, mending their nets. They are practically poster boys for maintenance thinking: This is what they do. It’s what they’ve always done and it’s probably what they would continue to do for the rest of their lives unless something really dramatic happens.

Then something really dramatic does happen. Jesus calls to them.

But notice what James and John do next: They do not say, “But we’ve never done it that way before.” No. The brothers hear the words of Jesus invitation, and they go.

How is your congregation hearing Jesus call to you? Are you content with mending your nets or are you prepared to take on new challenges in service of the Gospel? How will you engage the time and talent, love and compassion, effort and dedication, and funds with which you have been entrusted in this new year?

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