Learning through the generations of this community.
Relationships developed during lectio divina.
The Pentecost Parade
Bananas from the ALS Walk for sack lunches
Michael Fisher’s playing
RIP Medical Debt
Great discussion of the Gospels in the Men’s Bible Study
The awesome sermon by Deacon Chris on the completion of the cycle of thanks
Building a whole new life thanks to the Emmanuel community
Fr. Caleb and his coffee meetings, emails, and Common Table
The ability to increase my giving every year
The offertory anthems at the second service, which offer something new every week
Coming to Bible stuff to learn more about the Bible
Light from the stained glass windows on the walls
I’m sure all of you know where that list came from – it’s your words, all of you who have been taking time to notice God giving to us here at Emmanuel and to cultivate the joy and wonder of putting it into words and sharing it. In the life of a healthy church, everyone gets room and space to speak about their experience of God and what Jesus has done for them. We’ve tended to be a little timid about voicing our faith at Emmanuel, and I’m grateful that the chance to post cards on the Wonder in All board has seemed to help some of you take that risk. Thank you to everyone who has participated so far, and we’ll be giving another chance today. I’m grateful, also, for the eight laity who agreed to share experiences for the display of Wonder in All stories – thank you, Michael, Joyce, Cathy, Ray and Megan, Hope, Adam, and Lisa. It strikes me, as we hear today Jesus’ very pointed text about the Pharisee and the tax collector, that what those eight Emmanuelítes did, and what each of you is doing as you name God’s activity and write it down, has the potential to help us respond very directly to what Jesus tells us in today's Gospel.
There’s a Pharisee, who should be the good guy, the upstanding religious guy, in today’s Gospel, and there’s a tax collector, who should be the bad guy, the corrupt betrayer of his fellow Jews, in today’s Gospel. They’re in the Temple, and they’re each voicing something. The tax collector unexpectedly, is sincerely talking to God about God’s infinite mercy, and the Pharisee – well, you can see what he says. There are 4 sentence-phrases in the Pharisee’s words, and each of them has the same subject: I. I thank you that I am not like him. I fast. I give. I, I, I, I. It’s hardly a prayer, really, though it is allegedly aimed at God; it’s a series of self-congratulations. It’s as if someone went into the Great Hall and wrote on our Wonder in All cards what they thought they had accomplished by themselves. When we fall for the illusion that we’ve created a credit balance with the universe like that, we act out of the primal sin of treating ourselves as our own gods. Putting ourselves first: in our calendars, our budgets, our preoccupations, our plans. I, I, I, I.
Some years ago this parish read the book People of the Way, Renewing Episcopal Identity by Dwight Zscheile, and a passage from the introduction has always stuck with me. Zscheile was describing his work with a declining Episcopal diocese that had lost its sense of mission, and he wrote, “There was a striking reluctance among these Episcopalians to talk about God. I was stunned by the secularized nature of the conversations…. It was particularly rare to find a sentence in which God was the acting subject of a verb, i.e. God or Jesus or the Spirit actually doing or saying something. When faced with the harsh realities of a church in decline, Episcopalians were more comfortable talking about what they could do.”
If we follow the line of least resistance in our culture, we will indeed end up talking about what we can do and what we have done, acting like the Pharisee, because we’re so encouraged to focus on and express ourselves. But taking the credit for God’s work makes us spiritually weak, and it weakens our churches as well -- and then people around us, the ones God sent us to love and serve, lose access to the healing and the mercy that Jesus is here offering every week on our altars. For them as much as for our church, we need an antidote to the contagious disease of I, I, I, I that the Pharisee and that unnamed diocese Zscheile mentioned represent.
In her sermon a couple weeks ago – the one one of you said was awesome – Deacon Chris talked about keeping the cycle of generosity moving. God gives, we give back, God gives more. God gives, that’s the first step. But people do retain the power to stop the cycle right there. If, instead of naming God’s gifts as God’s gifts, we imitate the Pharisee and say I – I earned it, I made it happen, I deserve this - the cycle stalls and everyone loses. If, instead of responding back to God verbally, we keep our eyes on the gift and our own pleasure in it, the cycle stalls and everyone loses. If, instead of letting our hands be relaxed and open enough that blessing can flow through them, we grasp tightly and keep it for ourselves, the cycle stalls and everyone loses. When we don’t open our hands, we can too easily become narrow, constricted little blessing dams, grasping the water of grace until we forget it was a gift, and until it becomes stagnant. But we don’t have to! God has offered us antidotes. Confession is one, honestly naming the ways we block God’s love and throwing ourselves on his mercy. That’s what the tax collector is doing, after all. God, be merciful to me, a sinner. This man, says Jesus, went down to his home justified.
Giving not just on impulse but as a spiritual practice is one. Setting a giving goal each year, so that you can have help in tracking whether your hands are open or shut, is like the Fitbit of Christianity. Week in, week out, steady generosity pragmatically teaches trust in God and offers experiences of the provision of God in a highly effective way. You’ll have a chance to turn in your goal next week when we dedicate our thank offerings for 2020 to God on the altar. And speaking about God’s work, the way we’re doing this month, is another. Learning how to risk of actually saying “God” rather than “I,” is a great antidote. Remember the cycle again: God gives, we give back, God gives more. Naming that it’s God and that God is giving is what creates the spontaneous desire to give back, and then God says “they’re getting it! I can trust them to be open and share the wealth!” and gives more. It’s a wonderful antidote. Many of you have named that it’s God and that God is giving already this month, but it’s so important we want to give you one more chance. And now’s the time!
On the cover of your bulletin today, you have those areas of our life we’ve suggested you look for God’s activity in. I’ve asked the folks serving in the liturgy today to hand out Wonder In All cards to all of you. I’ll offer a prayer, and then give you a few minutes of calm during which you can ask God to bring to mind examples of ways he has acted here at Emmanuel, before we move on to the Nicene Creed. As they come to mind, note them – briefly, or more fully, as you feel comfortable – and then after Mass, go post the card on the board in the Great Hall. As you do this exercise, be like the tax collector and look at God, not at the people around you or at yourself. Let us pray.
Gracious God, we thank you that you are present among us in the Blessed Sacrament, in your Word, and in every Baptized person gathered in your Name. Let us feel that presence. Heal the fear, the apathy, and the cynicism that tempt us not to give you credit when you act. Open our eyes to see you, our lips to speak about you, and our hands to pass on the love and mercy you shower us with every day. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.