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Epiphany 1, The Baptism of Christ, January 9, 2011

Epiphany 1A RCL The Baptism of Christ January 9, 2011

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10: 34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

This morning, we celebrate the Baptism of Christ and we celebrate and recall our own baptisms.

We begin with the lesson from Isaiah, which describes the Servant, with whom we as Christians identify Christ. This passage can also describe the ideal servant community. Isaiah says of the Servant, “A bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” The servant is infinitely gentle. Yet, says Isaiah, “He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth. The servant, or the servant community, is quiet, unobtrusive, does not force, yet has great endurance and doesn’t give up until justice is established. Isaiah continues, speaking to the people in exile, “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoner from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.”

A new creation is beginning. A new order of justice. The Servant will establish his reign of justice, but he will do so by protecting the weak plant until it can grow and by cupping his hands around the flickering flame until it can grow strong.

Our passage from the Book of Acts is the central sermon by Peter, which is found in the middle of a great story. This story begins with Cornelius, a centurion on the Roman army. This means that he commands a company of 100 soldiers. Cornelius believes in the God of the Jews, but he does not follow the law. He is a devout man.

One afternoon, at about three o’clock, Cornelius is praying, and an angel of the Lord comes to him and tells him to send messengers to Joppa so that they can find a man named Simon Peter and tell Peter to come and see Cornelius so that Cornelius can hear what Peter has to say.

While those messengers are on their way to find Peter, Peter has gone up on the roof to pray, and there he has his vision of all kinds of food coming down on a sheet, and the voice of God saying, “Kill and eat.”

Peter tells God that he has always followed the law; he has never eaten anything unclean, and God tells him that nothing is unclean. In other words, Peter, who has always felt that the new faith is only for Jews, now realizes that the faith is for everyone. Peter has thought that converts would have to follow the Jewish law. God tells him this is not the case. Something new is being created.

Just as Peter is puzzling over this vision, the men sent by Cornelius arrive and tell Peter that they have been sent by Cornelius, an upright and good man, to take Peter back to see Cornelius to see what Peter has to say.

So, bright and early the next morning, Peter and some other believers from Joppa set out for Caesarea to see Cornelius. When they get there, Cornelius has gathered a group of his family and friends, all Gentiles. As Peter is preaching the good news to them, the Holy Spirit falls on the entire group of Gentiles, who begin to speak in tongues and praise God. Peter then realizes that, since these people have already received the Holy Spirit, they should be baptized. This happens, and then the whole group spends several days together. In other words, a new community of faith is being born.

Jesus is baptized, and his true identity is revealed. Our baptism tells us who we truly are—children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.

We can clearly see how Jesus embodies the characteristics of the Servant described by Isaiah. These are the qualities which are needed for ministers and ministering communities. We are all ministers by virtue of our baptism. Everyone here at Grace carries out an amazing ministry out on the world. Each of you nurtures those who are weak until they can become strong. Each of you treats those who are hurting with healing tenderness. Each of you and all of you minister God’s care for each person as an infinitely precious child of God. I believe, and I think we all believe, that God has called us together to be a ministering community following the model of our Lord.

Peter very firmly believed that the mission of the apostles was only to the Jewish people and that new converts would have to follow the law. What a quantum leap it was for Peter to realize that, in his own words, “God shows no partiality, but in every nation everyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God,”

Both Cornelius and Peter were listening very carefully to God and following God’s guidance. If they had not been faithful, this amazing encounter, the showering of gifts of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent baptisms would never have happened.

What are these lessons saying to us? One thing is that we need to ground ourselves in the Servant songs of Isaiah. Most scholars think that Jesus’ vision of his ministry was rooted and grounded in the model of the Servant. Like Jesus, we are called to base our ministry on that model–gentleness, especially toward those who are most vulnerable, and yet perseverance, hanging in there until God’s shalom covers the whole wide earth.

Secondly, we are called, I believe, always to be open to God, always to be listening for God’s direction. If Peter hadn’t listened; if Cornelius hadn’t listened, we would have lost that outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If Peter had not listened, the nascent faith would have been a tiny sect of Judaism.

May we be a servant community of compassionate gentleness and stalwart endurance. May we always be listening for the guidance of God. May we be always open to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Christmas 2, January 2, 2011

Christmas 2C RCL January 2, 2011

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Our reading from the prophet Jeremiah is speaking to a people in exile, people who are finding it almost impossible to hang on to any hope, people who are finding it difficult to believe that God is still present. Of this passage, the wise biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote, “In every season, including ours, the oracle of God breaks the dread of exile. Exiles are those who live in resignation, believing that no newness is possible.” God calls to the people, calls them home, tells them that everyone will be returning—the blind and the lame, those with child, everyone. All of God’s people will be restored in community.

So we see here two powerful themes—the theme of exile and the theme of homecoming. Perhaps some of us have experienced a sense of exile. All of us yearn for home.

Psalm 84 is a song that was sung by pilgrims going to the temple in Jerusalem. It is a song of homecoming.

The epistle this morning reminds us that, before the creation of the world, God was reaching out to us in love. The great gift of Christ is just that—a gift—nothing that we could ever have earned. And God is always working on our behalf. The writer prays for a spirit of wisdom and revelation for the people in Ephesus, and also offers that wonderful prayer that “the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened.”

In today’s gospel, we focus on one of the key figures of Advent and Christmas, and that is Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph. Joseph is an extraordinary man. He is very close to God. Earlier, when Mary found out that she was going to give birth to the Savior, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him that this new life was the work of the Holy Spirit. Now, after the Wise Men leave, an angel appears to Joseph and tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod, who is searching for the child to kill him.

After Herod dies, an angel tells Joseph that he should take his family back to Israel, but, when Joseph finds out that Archelaus, Herod’s son, is ruling over Judea, he is guided in a dream to go to Galilee. And so he goes, and settles his family in Nazareth.

The word angel literally means messenger. Angels are messengers of God, and in those days, God often guided people through dreams. Joseph was a deeply spiritual man who lived his life according to the guidance of God.

Mary, Jesus, and Joseph began their life together as exiles. They had to flee to Egypt in order to stay alive. There are many people in that situation today, people who, because of tyrannical rulers, are subjected to hardships beyond description. Our Lord began his life on earth in that position.

As we continue to celebrate the Light that shines in the darkness, we are never far from the forces of darkness which would overcome that Light. As we celebrate the call to the exiles to return home, we also may become aware of ways in which we are in exile—paralyzed, cut off in various ways—perhaps from God or from our own best and truest selves, or from a full vision of what life can be.

God calls us into the light. God calls us back from exile. God calls us home, to our ultimate true home, with God. And God sustains us and has been sustaining us since before the world began.

May our lives and our life together be filled with that Light!

Amen.

Christmas 1, December 26, 2010

Christmas 1 Year A RCL December 26, 2010

This morning we are contemplating the amazing fact that God loves us so much that God came to live among us as one of us, to lead us into new life here and now.

There is a wonderful story about this which you may have heard before, but which captures the meaning of the incarnation so powerfully that I am going to share it with you.

This particular version of the story is by Daniel Juniper. It is called “A Glimpse into the Stable.”

Tom stared at the fireplace but he could hear his wife’s rising anger. She called through the kitchen doorway.

“Why can’t you go with us to Christmas services?”
He sank into his leather armchair and sighed.

“Gail, I don’t want to argue about it. You know that I believe in God. But as for God ever becoming human—that’s something I just can’t understand. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Nothing more was said. She dressed their little boy and then drove away from the farmhouse, the car headlights outlining birches against the winter sky. Heavy snow lay on the ground. Even for Vermont, it was a bitterly cold night.

Tom threw a log into the fireplace and became lost in his thoughts.
“Christians claim that God has become human. Yet why would the infinite God of the universe do such a thing? Even if it were possible, it just doesn’t make sense….”

Suddenly there is a sickening thump on the windowpane. Tom gives a startled glance out into the night. “What’s going on out there?”

A flock of birds has gathered, drawn by the warm light of the house. As they flutter on the deep snow, their wings begin to freeze. Tom opens his front door. The little birds are so miserable that he has to do something. But he shakes his head. “They’d never come into the house. They’d be too frightened,” he thinks to himself.

Though there is no starlight, Tom can see the shadow of the old vacant stable across the farmyard. Lantern in hand, he walks across the farmyard and swings open its door.

“It’s not much, but at least you can get out of the wind,” he tells the birds.

He circles from behind and shoos the birds toward the stable. But they scatter across the barnyard, a confusing of fluttering shadows. Tom mutters irritably,
“Come on, I’m not trying to hurt you. Can’t you understand?”

He opens wide the doors of the stable, hanging the yellow lantern-light in an empty stall. Again Tom waves the birds toward the stable and again they flutter across the snow.

Tom stands hopeless in the cold. “They’ll freeze to death. If only they knew I’m trying to save them, they would understand. …….If only I could become one of them….”

He looks at the frightened dying birds and then glances upward. A break in the clouds has unveiled a single white star just above the lantern-light of the stable.

Silently, Tom understands.

Then he bows in the snow
before starlight
before stable-light
and before the God who has become one of us.

Amen.

Advent 4, December 19, 2010

Advent 4 Year A RCL December 19, 2010

Isaiah 7: 10-16
Psalm 80: 1-7; 16-18
Romans 1: 1-7
Matthew 1: 18-25

In Our first lesson today, King Ahaz of Judah is in a terrible political bind. The northern kingdom of Israel has united with Syria against the powerful and ruthless Assyrian Empire and they are threatening Ahaz with destruction unless he joins them. Isaiah, speaking as the prophet of God, is telling Ahaz to rely on God for help and stay neutral in this conflict. The suggestion here is to trust in God and do nothing to try to fix the situation. A difficult thing to do.

Ahaz does not want to listen to Isaiah or to God. He has his own ideas. His motto is, “I have made up my mind. Please don’t confuse me with the facts.” Isaiah offers as proof of God’s care and involvement the promise that a young woman will bear a child who will be named Immanuel, God with us. As Christians we associate this promise with the birth of Jesus. Incidentally, Ahaz ignored Isaiah, slipped out of taking any advice from God by saying he did not want to put God to the test, made an alliance with Assyria, and was eventually defeated by that empire. How difficult it is for us to listen to God at times. How challenging it is do to nothing, to just pray, to simply pay attention, wait, and be alert for God’s word and presence and guidance.

We are very close to Christmas now, and the gospel is telling us about the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s point of view. He and Mary are betrothed, engaged. In those days, this was the equivalent of being married. When Joseph hears that Mary is going to have a baby, imagine how he feels. What can he think but that she has broken her vows to him, that she has been unfaithful? What a shock. Joseph knows Mary very well. We know Mary very well, and we know that she is not someone who takes commitments lightly. She gave birth to Jesus, she raised him, she followed and supported him, and, when many of his followers ran away, she and a few others stood at the foot of the cross. So, knowing all this, we know that Joseph must have been hurt and filled with disbelief. This is not like Mary. Yet she is pregnant. Something must be done. He is a good and decent man. He decides to divorce her quietly. No scandal. No publicity.

But now Joseph has a dream. In the Bible God often speaks to people in dreams. The angel tells Joseph that this baby is the son of God. Joseph is a very different man from someone like Ahaz. Joseph is a deeply spiritual person open to God. Later on, he will have another dream, which will save their lives and ours, the dream that tells him to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt. Joseph, like Mary, is an extremely courageous human being who totally trusts in God and follows God’s direction without question. So Joseph and Mary are married.

Immanuel, God with us. This is the name of this baby who is to be born. God is always with us. Do we, like Ahaz, put our own agenda ahead of God’s guidance? Do we say, “Thanks, God, but I think I can do this myself. I’ll call you when I need you.” We seem to have an innate tendency to want to take everything into our own hands. We sometimes fail to realize how limited our vision is in comparison with God’s vision. Ahaz is a clear example of that tendency.

Can we be like Joseph, always listening for God’s guidance? What an excellent example he is. His whole life is falling apart. The person he trusts the most in the whole world has, it seems, betrayed him. He is desolate, beside himself. Embarrassed, humiliated. An angel of the Lord tells him want is really going on. It is not as it appears at all. On the human level, there is only one explanation. But on God’s level things are very different. What if Joseph had not been able to believe? What if Joseph had not had so much faith? What if Joseph had not been a man of prayer, open to God’s presence? What if Joseph had been like Ahaz?

Can we move our attention from the human level to the divine level? Can we listen for God? Can we give up our agendas and see what God has to say? Can we quiet down? Can we look up at the night sky as the shepherds did and listen for the immensity of God’s love and good tidings? Can we dare to hope?

Gracious God, open the eyes of our faith and the inns of our hearts so that, when he comes, we nay have a place prepared for him. Amen.

Advent 3, December 12, 2010

Advent 3A RCL December 12, 2010

Isaiah 35: 1-10
Canticle 3, BCP p. 50
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11: 2-11

In last Sunday’s first lesson, Isaiah described God’s reign of peace. In today’s lesson, the prophet adds to our understanding of the ways in which God will restore the creation. First, the land is renewed. Waters break forth in the wilderness and streams flow in the desert. The desert rejoices and blossoms. What was barren bears fruit. What was dry becomes moist and full of growth.

As the land is made new, so the people are made whole. The eyes of the blind are opened, the deaf hear, the lame can now jump into the air, and those who were unable even to speak can now sing for joy. One theologian, writing about this passage, says, “The Bible is relentless in its conviction that nothing that is skewed or distorted and deathly need remain as it is. God’s power and God’s passion converge to make total newness possible.” (Texts for preaching, Year A, Westminster John Knox Press, 1995, p. 19).

In today’s gospel, John the Baptist is no longer out in the wilderness preaching repentance and baptizing. He is in prison because he has criticized Herod for his inappropriate relationship with his sister-in-law. John is apparently questioning whether he was right about Jesus. Is this man really the Messiah?

John sends some of his followers to question Jesus, “Are you the One, or should we wait for another? In responding to this, Jesus refers to the vision of Isaiah, and the portrayal of the Messiah from the scriptures: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” And Jesus goes on to say that he is indeed the Messiah and that John is the forerunner, the one who will prepare the way.

John the Baptist preached a harsh message of judgment and scholars tell us that it is probably accurate to assume that he was beginning to doubt Jesus—that, like many people of that time, he may have been looking for a Messiah who would rise up and overthrow the Roman Empire by military might.

A ministry of healing, forgiveness, and transformation does not measure up to that harsh standard. So, here in Advent, we see the beginning of the shadow of the cross. Jesus was not the kind of leader who operated on the principle that might makes right. And for that he died.

The epistle this morning was written toward the latter part of the first century after Christ. Jesus had died and risen several decades before. At first, the Church expected him to return very soon, but, as time went on, people began to wonder. We can really begin to wonder now, two thousand years later. We are on this journey and we can be like the kids in the car on a long trip. How long is it going to take, God? Are we there yet? We need to be patient as the farmer is patient in waiting for the crops to grow, but we also need to get out there and pull the weeds and put on the compost and water the plants and do all those other things which are needed to make the garden bloom.

What kind of a king are we looking for? Are you the one, or should we look for another? The classic distinction between authority and tyranny can help us here. Tyranny is rule by fear, oppression, force, power-over others. True authority—auctoritas in Latin, is authorship, creativity, what theologian John MacQuarrie calls letting-be. Deserts bloom, people really see, ears hear more clearly than ever before, lepers are cleansed, there are no outcasts, everyone is on the road to Zion together.

Our king is not going to stop building his shalom until everyone and everything is whole. Our God is not going to rest until the entire creation and everyone in it is made new. But how will we know him?

A poem by an unknown fifteenth century writer puts it this way:

Thou shalt know him when he comes
Not by any din of drums
Nor the vantage of his airs—
Nor by anything he wears—
Neither by his crown—
Or his gown—

For his presence known shall be
By the holy harmony
That his coming makes in thee.

Amen.

Advent 2, December 5, 2010

Advent 2 Year A RCL December 5, 2010

Isaiah 11: 1-10
Psalm 72:1-7; 18-19
Romans 15: 4-13
Matthew 3: 1-12

Isaiah is giving us this morning two profoundly important concepts of our faith. First of all, he is describing the one we call the Suffering Servant, and then he is elaborating on the theme of the reign of God, the kingdom of God, the shalom of God. The Suffering Servant, whom we as Christians identify with Christ, is steeped in the wisdom of God. He does not evaluate things on a superficial basis. He looks deep within. This servant-king is on the side of the disenfranchised, the poor, and the oppressed. His is a kingdom of justice.

And then we have the description of that kingdom, that shalom. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

Natural enemies are lying down together; babies are playing very near the homes of poisonous snakes. This is the restoration of the garden, the bringing to fullness of the creation, God’s vision of shalom for the world. It is the extending out into the creation of the life and vision and attitude of the servant-king. It is the reconciling of opposites, the healing of conflict, the bringing together of all things in love. This vision is not some sentimental platitude. It is the spirit of what we are called to work for in the name of Christ. It is the reality of what we are called to work and pray and give for—the shalom of our Lord.

Across the landscape of this Sunday and next strides one of the key figures of Advent—John the Baptist. He probably studied and spent time with the Essene community who devoted their lives to prayer and to political and social action. He is a wilderness person. The wilderness is a place to get away, a place to sharpen our focus, a place to strip away all of the irrelevancies and get close to God, a place where people often go to immerse themselves in the vision of God.

John the Baptist is not wearing a three piece suit. He is not into power lunches. He is coming from a very different place. He is coming from the wilderness of God, the desert. He has the vision and he has it very clearly. He is probably quite scary to behold. If he walked in here right now, we might gasp.

And he is saying that the status quo is just not going to cut it. The values which are prevailing are not the values of God, and things are going to have to change—inside each of us. John is preaching repentance. He is saying that we have to do a spiritual right about face. We have to reach out for and experience that thing called metanoia—that process of inner transformation. We are heading away from God in so many ways, and we have to get back on course. And John is also saying that he is the one who is preparing the way for the messiah, the king. One of the most excellent things about John is that he knows who he is. He knows that he is the forerunner, not the king. Later he will say of Christ and of himself, “He must increase and I must decrease.” He knows his place. He knows his identity.

John is baptizing with water, but Jesus is going to baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is going to bring the grace for that real process of metanoia, that process which will take place in our heart and in our spirit and from there will grow to bring in God’s shalom.

Simultaneously with all of this, we are aware that our King has already come among us as a child born in a manger. Our king comes to us in total vulnerability and with that we can realize that this whole process of transformation is a process of birth. One of the great mystics said that we must allow Christ to come to birth in us over and over again. And that is another way to think of this metanoia, that we are opening our hearts to Christ so that he can be born in us.

The gift that our Lord gives, this baptism with the Spirit, this grace of transformation, is the kind of gift which makes us people of hope and people of light and people of love. May we prepare the way of the Lord. Amen.

Advent 1, November 28, 2010

Advent 1 Year A RCL December 5, 2010

Isaiah 2: 1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13: 11-14
Matthew 24: 36-44

Advent, more than any other time in the Church year, is the season in which we look forward to and prepare for the completion of the creation with the coming of our Lord to establish his shalom, his reign of peace and harmony and wholeness. Isaiah is one in a long line of prophets who have given us this vision. In today’s passage, written at a time when foreign empires threatened Israel and Judah, Isaiah looks to the time when swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, a time when peace will be pursued as energetically as we prepare for war when we see a threat.

And this opens our lessons with the theme that we are called to work actively for God’s shalom. But instead of changing ploughshares into swords, instead of converting peacetime production into manufacturing military armaments, God’s vision of shalom focuses on the opposite—putting more and more of our energy into waging peace. Herbert O’ Driscoll writes, “What today must be cultivated? What in our society might ploughshares and pruning hooks mean? In an underdeveloped society this might mean land redistribution. In a developed society it might mean affordable housing and social programs for real need. Ploughshares symbolize all those actions which make possible a community of justice and peace.”

The epistle brings this point home. First, Paul summarizes the commandments, the framework for our ethical life and sums then up in “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he speaks of a great Advent theme, the theme of waking up, being alert. “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Another resounding Advent theme is the opposition of light and darkness. “Put on the armor of light.” Later, he advises us to put on Christ, to metaphorically clothe ourselves in Christ!

The gospel builds on the theme of being awake. When our Lord comes to bring in his shalom, his commonweal, as our Presiding Bishop says, it will happen quickly. Be ready. Two men will be in the field. One will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. We need to be prepared and vigilant with the same devotion and energy with which the householder stays awake in order to prevent a robbery. We are called to make the same level of investment in God’s shalom that we make in protecting our property and our families.

There is a bumper sticker that reads, “World peace begins at home.” The reign of God, the peaceable kingdom, begins in our hearts. Each of us has within us light and darkness. It would be a wondrous and perhaps quite scary thing if tomorrow morning we could all wake up and be entirely creatures of light with no darkness within us at all, but it doesn’t happen that way. As we move into this season of anticipation and preparation, this season in which we focus on the vision of peace which we are called to bring into our hearts and lives, we may become acutely aware of our own places of darkness and powerlessness and confusion and loneliness. The light shines in the darkness but sometimes we feel far from that light. We are called to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, but, in reality, it is often a slow, painful wearing away of the darkness. It’s hard work, work which can be accomplished only with God’s grace. We know what we are aiming for, and, with hard work, prayer, and large doses of God’s grace, we move toward the goal, slowly but surely. The goal is to be more like Christ; that is our aim. The goal is to be as much as possible creatures of light. But it is important and necessary for us to admit our darkness, talk about it, bring it out into the light so that Christ can heal us and clothe us more and more in the armor of light, and help us to become more like Him.

Helping to bring in Christ’s kingdom means working toward peace and wholeness at all levels—peace in our lives, peace, shalom, in the workplace, peace in our relationships, peace deep within ourselves. Herbert O’ Driscoll says, “We are called to ‘wake,’ to offer God that active quality of human loving, an active peace seeking which can bring day rather than night.”

May we prepare for your coming, O Lord. May we abide in hope. May we be alert and awake. May we move more and more into your light and love. Amen.

Pentecost 29 Christ the King November 21, 2010

Pentecost 29 Christ the King Proper 29 November 21, 2010

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Canticle 4, p. 50 BCP
Colossians 1: 11-20
Luke 23: 33-43

This is Christ the King Sunday. In the gospel, we see our king hanging on the cross between two criminals. As we look upon this horrific scene, we can hear the taunts being hurled by the crowd. “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, the chosen one.” We can hear the mocking of the soldiers and of the first criminal. We can feel the scorn that surrounded our Lord, hanging there appearing to be totally helpless, allowing himself to be powerless when he could have marshaled armies upon armies.

The first criminal joins the mockery. “Are you not the Christ?” Save yourself and us!” But the second criminal–some have said his name was Dismas—sees what is going on. He sees very clearly that Jesus has done nothing wrong and does not deserve this torture. He also realizes his own guilt and his need for forgiveness. He asks Jesus to welcome him into his kingdom. And Jesus tells him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

The eternal Word, who called the creation into being, who energized the creation into life, from vast galaxies to the smallest sub atomic particle, hangs, apparently helpless, on a cross. This is our King. A King who will not force, a King who will not overpower. A King who asks God to forgive those people who do not realize what they are doing. A King who pours his life out in love and forgiveness.

Dismas gets the point. He sees how far short he has fallen. He acknowledges his need for this kind of king, and he takes a quantum leap into eternal life. This man sees that all the external power in the world is not going to bring about the kind of transformation which is needed—to restore each of us and to restore the creation to where God wants it to be—a realm of peace, harmony, and justice. But he could not have reached out and grasped the promise of this radical kingdom if he had not felt the forgiveness, the love, the profound understanding, and the courage pouring out from Jesus.

That’s where stewardship begins—with our growing awareness of how much God loves us. God is constantly and forever reaching out to us in love. As Paul said, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

Everything we have is a gift from God. These gifts fall into three categories—time, talent, and treasure. God gives us every moment of the time we have on earth. God gives us talents, the gift of teaching, helping others, making music, playing sports, building things, cooking, community organizing, making spaces accessible. As I have said before, there are many gifts which God has given us here at Grace. And God gives us treasure—money and all the things money can buy. Time, talent, and treasure are all gifts from God.

God calls us to be stewards. A steward is someone who manages property for someone else. We are stewards of God’s creation. We are called to take care of the earth. And we are stewards of the time, talent, and treasure which God has given us.

Now we can say, wait a minute, I earned the money I have, I worked hard. And this is true. But where did the abilities and energy to earn that money come from? They came from God.

Out of gratitude to God for all the gifts God has given us, we return a worthy portion to God. This is the pledge we put on our pledge card. The biblical proportion is the tithe, or ten per cent. The amount is not the important thing. We need to be aware of the percentage we are returning to God. That is between God and ourselves. And we need to feel that we are giving back to God a worthy portion of what God has given us. It all belongs to God anyway. We are just holding it in trust for God.

The Vestry is not going to make up the budget until all the pledges are received. We are not making our pledges in order to meet a budget, We are making our pledges out of gratitude to God for all of God’s gifts to us. We are returning to God a worthy portion of what God has given us.

If you contribute to organizations which are doing God’s work of caring for the creation or helping those in need, those are all part of your stewardship. The Red Cross, Episcopal Relief and Development, the United Thank Offering, groups who work to save the environment, all these are doing God’s work.

Our culture operates on a theology of scarcity. We are taught by our culture to hang on to whatever we have because you can never really have enough to be totally secure. But Christians have a theology of abundance. There is enough for all of us to have what we need. God calls us to share with our brothers and sisters down the road and around the world.

So, we are people who are able to let go. We are people who do not have to hold on. The more we share, the more we have.

Love and gratitude are powerful forces. As we sense more and more how much God loves us and cares for us and helps us to become more and more whole, our gratitude grows. And this process of transformation is at the heart of every vibrant Christian community. This is what Anthony Robinson is writing about in his book Changing the Conversation. Robinson says that churches are called to be communities of transformation. At the heart of that transformation is our growing awareness of the depth and power of God’s love. When we allow God to come into our lives and heal our wounded places and strengthen our weak knees and empower us to share the Good News, amazing things happen.

In gratitude for God’s love and all of God’s gifts, I ask you to pray about your pledge and then return your pledge card sometime within the next month.

This is also the Sunday before Thanksgoving. When we gather with friends and family to give thanks for all the blessings God bestows upon us.

Thanks be to God for all of God’s wondrous gifts. May we be good and faithful stewards. Amen