Oct 15, 2012

Blessed to be a Blessing

Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina may be the closest thing we have to a rock star in the Episcopal Church. His sermon at this summer's General Convention in Indianapolis rocked the house and changed the tenor of the entire gathering (I was privileged to be there that day). Normally I wouldn't be worthy so much as to carry the case of his i-Pad. But for some reason I've been lumped in with him and four others who have written reflections for the Episcopal Church's Blessed to be a Blessing stewardship series.

This six-part offering provides brief essays on stewardship  based on the Sunday readings in the form of bulletin inserts. It runs from October 7 through November 11, basically the height of the church's traditional stewardship season.

Here's the lineup and some info straight from the website:
The "Blessed to Be a Blessing" stewardship reflection series is designed to complement and support
congregations during their annual giving campaigns, October 7 - November 11, 2012. Each of the six Sunday reflections features a different writer from across the Episcopal Church, exploring stewardship as a response to that week's lectionary reading from the Gospel of Mark.

Sunday, October 7, 2012 (Proper 22B, Mark 10:2-16) - The Right Rev. Catherine "Cate" Waynick, bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis

Sunday, October 14, 2012 (Proper 23B, Mark 10:17-31) - The Very Rev. Walter B.A. Brownridge, dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Andrew, Diocese of Hawaii

Sunday, October 21, 2012 (Proper 24B, Mark 10:35-45) - Lelanda Lee, member of Executive Council and lay leader at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Longmont, Colorado, Diocese of Colorado

Sunday, October 28, 2012 (Proper 25B, Mark 10:46-52) - Cindy Ruiz, lay leader at St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church, River Oaks, Texas, Diocese of Fort Worth

Sunday, November 4, 2012 (Proper 26B, Mark 12:28-34) - The Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist, Hingham, Massachusetts, Diocese of Massachusetts

Sunday, November 11, 2012 (Proper 27B, Mark 12:38-44) - The Right Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina

As you can see, I'm the token "simple country parson" here. But regardless, I encourage you to read them -- there's some good stuff here -- and download them for parish use. As a preview, I've pasted in my reflection below but here's the pretty format. And you can also read it in Chinese.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Mark 12:28-34

Taking the Plunge

My kids make fun of me for taking so long to get into a swimming pool. When I was their age I, too, used to race toward the water with t-shirt, flip flops, and towel flying as I launched myself into the deep end. Let’s just say I’ve gotten less exuberant in my old(er) age.

Similarly, when it comes to stewardship, we sometimes dip a toe into the water rather than taking the plunge. It’s safer that way, we tell ourselves, yet God wants all of us, not a portion or a percentage or a piece.

That’s the essence of the Shema, the Hebrew prayer that forms the basis of Jesus’ Greatest Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

The word “all” binds together this ancient prayer. Jesus bids us to love God with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul and all our strength. This isn’t easy, of course, as there lots of distractions: kids get sick, things get crazy at work, we have needy friends, it’s time to get to the grocery store, American Idol is on. Loving God with all your heart and mind and soul doesn’t mean ignoring the practical realities of life. It means taking the time to be aware of God’s presence not just on Sunday morning, not just when it’s convenient, but in the very midst of life.

In the context of faithful stewardship, this doesn’t mean God wants all our money. The annual stewardship campaign isn’t a glorified back alley stick-up. Rather God wants all of us – heart, mind, and soul – and when we give our all to God, our financial resources naturally return to the God from whom all blessings flow.

Returning a portion of what we have is a recognition that we are merely temporary stewards of our resources. They were in the world long before we arrived and will be there long after we’re gone. You may already be fully immersed in this concept or perhaps you’ve merely stuck a toe into the waters of stewardship or maybe you’re up to your waist and contemplating whether to dive in. Most of us are somewhere in the middle as God beckons us into ever-deepening relationship.

I do eventually get into the pool. When the boys complain I’m taking “forever” I remind them I have a lot more surface area than they do. Taking the slow route can be painful but in time I find myself just as fully immersed as those who took the initial plunge. However we arrive at being fully immersed in stewardship, God rejoices.

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