Getting Ready for Sunday

It's fitting to encounter this reading as we are moving into the time of year when many churches are considering the coming year’s budget, and turning attentions toward pledge campaigns and related matters. Most churches with which I am familiar don’t spend money extravagantly, but the need for money is fundamentally no different for churches than it is for any family. I would like to offer four observations about these things. 

1) What to do with your money is a matter for prayer.

We sometimes have a propensity to go off, as it were, half-cocked; to make decisions in an unconsidered or unadvised way. This, of course, is imprudent and wrong. And the more important or substantial a decision is, the more considered and advised it should be. And the greatest advisor, or Counselor, in our lives is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me,” (John 15.26). So we should pray to Jesus to send us the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, and to enable us to give of ourselves in a Christian way – that is, with reference to Jesus, to whom the Holy Spirit bears witness. If, when we are trying to discern the right decision to make, we sometimes feel perplexed, we should pray. The epistle of St. James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask,” (James 4.2). If we would like clarity, we should ask God for it, with simple faith. So before you decide what to do with your money, pray about it. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you.

2) You should make a will, and make sure it is up to date.

A little-regarded passage in the Book of Common Prayer (page 445) says that priests are “to instruct [their] people, from time to time, about the duty… of all persons to make wills, while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses.” This is a duty that we owe to God, who has entrusted us with every temporal good we enjoy. As stewards of these things under God’s authority, therefore, we have a duty not to treat them with prodigality in life or in death, but to ensure that they are directed toward the glory of God. This likewise is a duty that we owe to our near relations – i.e. not to saddle them with the enormous burden of disposing of an estate in chaos when we die. After providing for our surviving dependents, leaving bequests to the Church is a sure way of orienting the fruit of our labor, and the residue of our lives in this world, toward the glory of God.

3) Giving money to divine purposes is a good-faith effort to discharge our debt.

The epistle of James says “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,” (James 1:17). Similarly, Paul asks, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). All that we have and all that we are comes from God. In the grand scheme, we are all beggars, all living off of divine charity. If you are tempted to think that you have much because you are smart or talented, you might ask yourself: where did your intelligence and your talent come from?

4) Giving money to God’s purposes is Eucharistic, a way to participate in the mystery of the cross.

We owe God everything that we have. The old Prayer Book Eucharistic canon speaks this way explicitly: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee…” God has given us everything, and we so we owe him everything. Most of us spend the majority of our time transmuting the substance of our lives and our energies into money, but that transmutation is not like a divine tax loophole, an end-run around God’s just claim over the whole of my being. The income tax rate of the Kingdom of God is 100%, and there will be nowhere to hide our assets when Christ at last fills all things, searching even the recesses of our hearts. Everything we have and everything that we are must be devoted to God, in union with Jesus Christ, who offered the entirety of his being to his Father acceptably on the cross. THAT must be the shape of our giving. 

Thinking this way will require that we cease thinking the way that America has habituated us to think – namely that Sunday is the day on which we devote our time and energies to God. The truth is that God wants all of us. All of our time, all of our money, all of our being, “our selves, our souls and bodies,” all day, every day. While this may demand a rejiggering of our assumptions (what the New Testament calls “metanoia” or “repentance”), there’s a powerful incentive to get it done – i.e. that we might one day have spoken to us the words of the Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.”

Posted by The Rev. Will Brown with

Getting Ready for Sunday by the Rev. David Thompson

Is. 25:1-9; Phil. 4:1-9; Matt. 22:1-14

Growing weary of kingdom parables in ordinary time is common, I suppose. Like working a crossword, I eventually tire from looking for buried meaning and uncovering clues to riddles. My interest wanes and I tend to want to move on. Which is fine if it’s a crossword, there’s a time to put it down and you won’t miss out on much. But we are talking about the kingdom of heaven here! Part of my brain fatigue stems from losing focus on this very point, this goal. The pursuit is intriguing for a time, but won’t be sustained without arriving at some sight of the kingdom, which is not a game, but an end and resting point.

Losing sight of the kingdom seems to loosely parallel the loss of sight in this parable Jesus offers about a wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-14). The first-round guest list chooses to ignore the invitation, as though they have better things to do. They do not see the joy to be had in coming to celebrate the beginning of a new relationship in the community. They would rather gain and get ahead of their peers in business and commodity dealings than give the gift of each other’s presence in celebration of a communal centered marriage. The invitation is to enter into joy in fellowship and union, yet they go to their jobs in isolation (v. 5). They have lost touch with God centered priorities, which is a fundamental point of intersection with our day. It’s not that jobs and daily affairs are bad, but when they become the supreme focus, over and against joy in God and the feast he prepares and invites us to come and share, then we have a perspective problem.

St. Paul addresses the same problem in Philippians 4, though more explicitly. There is no puzzle to piece together and find yourself in here in this epistle reading, but a clear admonition to simply “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Rather than a parable, it’s plain speech. And we need it sometimes. He says it twice because he must know we need the double reminder, again and again. “The Lord is near,” he goes on to say, and the invitations have gone out; let nothing get in the way of this invitation to rejoice in and with God. Again, a connecting point with our ways of living today. Our busy lives let so many things come between us and the joy of God. The temptation is to let the things of time, even good things, get in the way of the things of eternity.[1] Paul goes on to list things worthy of setting our minds and time on, whatever is “true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, etc.” (v.8). But notice how all such things follow our rejoicing in the Lord. Joy in God is the umbrella, out from under which we end up flooded in the anxieties and frets of the world, whether that be our jobs, families, finances, relationships, etc.

All such things will become like the heat of the day that Isaiah speaks of in 25:9. If we come out from under the shelter of our God, his stronghold of joy, then we will go and build in all the wrong places. We’ll forget how and where to seek his kingdom, preferring to build our own “palaces” (Is. 25:2). But all such fortifications will come down in the end, becoming nothing more than a “heap” (v. 2). And that is something to rejoice in! Along with Isaiah, “I will praise your name for you have done wonderful things…for you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin” (vv. 1-2).

In these lessons, what comes through is the joy that comes when we find the kingdom of heaven, and decide to leave our palaces for it.  

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, p. 296

Posted by The Rev. David Thompson with

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.