July 23, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
I’m off to Luther Seminary for a stewardship conference there. Our ELCA sisters and brothers are doing good things in this area. I look forward to sharing learnings with you in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, here’s a list from Margaret Marcuson of ways to say thank you :
Here are ten ideas for celebrating those who give:
1. Write a thank-you note to each giver of record. My mother taught me to write notes by hand. In today's world, a hand-written note will make a powerful impression.
2. Celebrate in worship those who give, outside of stewardship season.
3. When you highlight a ministry in worship, in a publication or on your website, make a point about those who support it by giving their time and money.
4. Use social media to thank those who give. (If you don't know how, ask a young person. If you do know how, teach someone else how.)
5. Tell the story of someone who left a legacy to the church, recently or long ago.
6. Celebrate the founding members of your church. If any are still living, thank them in person.
7. For pastors, preach a sermon celebrating those who give, without asking people to give.
8. Celebrate and thank those who give sacrificially on a small income.
9. When you receive the final total in pledges, have a big celebration in worship and after worship.
10. Ask an artist in your congregation to create something beautiful to celebrate your givers.
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Grace and Peace,
Living in God’s Grace
Perhaps you've enjoyed a church potluck/picnic or two already this summer. If you have, then it may be easy to imagine: tables brimming with chips, watermelon, and an array of dessert concoctions; mouth-watering smells wafting from a barbeque; sounds of laughter and conversation; and the feeling of a full belly and a fellowship-enriched soul. We bring our humble gifts (e.g., that 3-bean salad that everyone loves!) to these events and we come away with far more than enough. These simple, often spur-of-the-moment gatherings have an uncanny way of offering us glimpses of God's great abundance and a foretaste of God's ever-emerging Kingdom/Kin-dom.
The Gospel reading for this week presents a picnic of sorts: John's story of the "feeding of the 5,000" on a mountain side near the Sea of Galilee. It's a most unlikely picnic that defies all human economic sensibility. In it, possibly the poorest of participants (a young boy) offers his meager gifts and, in doing so, helps to unveil God's Grace to a world that hungers desperately for it. Through this child's small gift -- and mighty acts of stewardship -- Jesus reveals great abundance where scarcity was once the only foreseeable reality. May you too discover the "one small gift" that God is inviting you to bring - that humble yet crucial gift that will help announce to a hungry world that God's table is set and all are most welcome!
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
"Giver, Giver, Giver"*
By Walter Brueggemann
Creator, giver of goodness,
creator of all that is,
dayenu** -- loaves abound!
Redeemer, giver of new creation Spirit, multiplier of loaves
We are children of your bounty,
daughters and sons of privilege
We live amidst ample food, ample clothes,
ample housing, ample cars, ample stereos,
ample friends, ample security.
We have ample and count on it,
reckoning our luxuries to be necessities.
And we are grateful.
In our gratitude,
we notice the war refugees...;
we notice the war on poverty,
even with our government surpluses;
we notice our ample housing
along with 20,000 in Atlanta on the streets;
we notice how you grace our church
midst our fear and rage and cunning;
we wonder about our grades
and our worth and our honor;
we ask about inheriting eternal life
and turn away with our great possessions.
Giver, Giver, Giver who overrides fear in utterance
who overrides scarcity in abundance
who overrides parsimony in generosity,
we are among the 5,000
we are dazzled by twelve baskets left.
Our gratitude does not match your generosity,
but we are grateful
For all your gifts including the gift of your very own life to us,
We give you thanks. Amen. And the people said...
*From AWED TO HEAVEN, ROOTED IN EARTH: PRAYERS OF WALTER BRUEGGEMANN © 2002 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission. As a Hebrew Bible professor, Brueggemann began each class with a carefully crafted prayer. He offered his class the prayer above on October 20, 1998.
**Dayenu is a traditional Passover song of deep gratitude. In Hebrew the word dayenu means "it is enough for us." The Passover song begins, "If God had only brought us out of Egypt it would have been enough"; the second verse adds, "If God had only given the Torah of Truth, it would have been enough"; then continues for thirteen more verses with the same refrain.
Image: 4th Century mosaic from the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves, Tabgha
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary texts for July 29, 2012: 2 Samuel 11:1- 15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
(As mentioned in previous editions of Radical Gratitude, during Ordinary Time lection texts are typically considered independent from one another. This week's reflection will focus on the reading from John.)
This week's beloved Gospel story is a gift to all who explore and try to embody whole-life stewardship. In many ways it is a story of God's great abundance and our role in helping to unveil it. The story begins with Jesus going up a mountain (a biblical hint that something great is about to happen) and joining his disciples, perhaps in a time of rest. But, all of a sudden, here comes the crowd of people that's been pursuing Jesus. Maybe some in the crowd come with such great medical needs that their friends are carrying them; maybe others come carrying everything they own on their backs; some are women and children who rarely get counted as "people"; all of them are poor in one way or another. Here come more than 5,000 people hungry for Jesus' healing touch, his potential political might, or whatever he has to offer... their hungry souls will gobble it up! And, Jesus recognizes that their hunger is not only spiritual, it is immediate and physical as well. He also knows that there will be a feast of abundance that day (v.6); but rather than simply revealing his banquet vision, he invites his disciples to stretch their hearts and minds to envision how such a feast might come about. As Jesus' followers, we too are invited to stretch our hearts and minds to envision this abundant reality.
At least two disciples, Philip and Andrew, respond to Jesus' evocative question in verse 5. Philip performs some quick calculations and arrives at a vision of scarcity. His words (v.7) may suggest sentiments like: "this feeding thing is way too expensive and it's definitely not in our budget"; "we don't have enough resources or volunteers"; "there's not enough time, people are hungry now"; and "this will set a bad precedence -- more and more people will be clamoring after us if we do this." (Do these words ever ring in our well-intentioned church and Conference committees?) Andrew goes one step further and looks outside of the "budget" (so to speak) but finds just one small boy with a meal fit only for a poor person.* When Andrew finds this boy and his small gifts, he too arrives at a place of scarcity.
Other than his poverty, we know almost nothing about this boy -- the third person to respond to Jesus' question: "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" We don't even know if he is real or figurative. The only other thing that we can say with certainty about this boy is that his small "mite" would become a miracle for all, once placed in Jesus' hands. Richard Donovan poses the question: "What if the boy were unwilling to share his lunch? What if he were to say, 'I need this for myself' -- or 'My little bit won't make any difference'?" (How many times have we uttered these words to ourselves or to those with whom we serve in ministry?) In Jesus' hands, the boy's mite becomes eucharistesas or Eucharist** -- the thanks-giving feast -- that not only satisfies the 5,000+ hungry, but there is food left over! Jesus transforms the little bit into the more-than-enough. Biblical commentator William Barclay writes, "There would have been one great and shining deed fewer in history if that boy had refused to come or if he had withheld his loaves and fishes. The fact of life is that Jesus Christ needs what we can bring Him. We may not have much to bring but He needs what we have."
How many times have we faced the same situation that the disciples must face? We see so many members of God's creation clamoring for sustenance and help; we know that God promises abundance; so how will we help to realize God's vision of abundance for all? Shall we respond only with careful calculations (like Philip); with a limited and self-defeating fundraising-like campaign (like Andrew); or with words like "I need this mite for myself" or "My little bit won't make any difference"? Let us instead hear, trust, and embody that blessed doxology from today's reading from Ephesians 3:20- 21: "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
*Barley bread was eaten by poorer people. These barley loaves and this story in general, are meant to bring to mind stories like that of Elisha's feeding of 100 people in 2 Kings 4:42-44 and God's providence of manna to the Israelites in the wilderness in Exodus 16.
** Wes Howard-Brook writes, "By the time of the fourth gospel, Christian communities had been breaking bread together in memory of Jesus for at least 40 years. ...the primary ritual act that marked Christians was participation in the Eucharist." (From "Undermining the Power of the Law" in Sojourners Magazine, May 1993.) Reference to the Eucharist in this week's text lays the groundwork for what will be said about it in the lectionary texts over the next several weeks.
Image source: Hermanoleon Clipart.
Telling the Story
Over the years I've encouraged pastors to follow a practice I learned from one of my mentors early in ministry. It's the practice of using the time of the offering to "tell the story." Here's a suggestion to introduce the offering this Sunday:
We are blessed by the ministry and leadership of the bishops of our jurisdiction. During this time of transition we give thanks for the leadership of Bishop Hoshibata over the past 8 years, and look forward to the leadership that Bishop Hagiya will provide. Our bishops are supported through our Shared Giving.
Today as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let’s do so in celebration of the visionary leadership our bishops bring.
Awareness and Action
In their 2009 pastoral letter, "God's Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action" our Bishops stated:
"We pray that God will accept and use our lives and resources that we rededicate to a ministry of peace, justice, and hope to overcome poverty and disease, environmental degradation, and the proliferation of weapons and violence...
Among the specific pledges is this:
"With God's help and with you as our witnesses:
[#4] We pledge to measure the 'carbon footprint' of our episcopal and denominational offices, determine how to reduce it, and implement those changes. We will urge our congregations, schools, and settings of ministry to do the same."
United Methodist Women have produced an excellent on-line resource for raising awareness of "carbon footprints" and tools for measuring them as individuals, congregations, communities, and Annual Conferences. This resource is divided into three sections:
• What is a "carbon footprint?
• Why is it important to reduce our carbon footprint?
• How can I measure my carbon footprint?
What can I do at home, in my local church, in my community, and as part of my United Methodist Annual Conference?
"How can I measure my carbon footprint?"
• For Individuals and Households: Carbon footprint calculator from the Nature Conservancy
• For Congregations: Carbon footprint calculator from Interfaith Power & Light
• For Communities: Clean Air, Cool Planet carbon footprint calculator for small towns and ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA carbon footprint calculator for larger cities and towns
For United Methodist Annual Conferences: The Rev. Jenny Phillips of the PNW Conference developed a worksheet to guide United Methodist episcopal offices through an analysis of their carbon footprint. Once you fill out the worksheet, input the figures to the calculator at www.carbonfund.org.
“I pray that you may … know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
--Ephesians 3:18-19, NRSV
We have a lot to celebrate as a denomination.
This year, Africa University celebrates 20 years as the first private, international university in Zimbabwe. Africa University graduates are returning to their communities, establishing new churches and working to address major issues such as food security, public health, peace and economic development.
I personally see the impact of your support of higher education every day. The United Methodist Church helps to fund 11 historically black colleges and universities through the Black College Fund. This fund has enabled 17,000 students this year alone to seek higher education. We are proud that The United Methodist Church supports the largest number of accredited black colleges and universities in the United States.
I can’t emphasize how life changing your support to this fund is. Seventy percent of Black College Fund students come from families that earn less than $40,000 a year. This is double the national average for all college students.
But allow me to personalize this even further. My students come from families that earn $20,000 a year less than the national average, and just $7,000 above the poverty threshold for a family of four.
My students, like all students at historically black United Methodist colleges and universities, simply have a desire to better themselves and their families. Your support is important because your help fundamentally changes lives and changes futures for the better.
-- Adapted from remarks by the Rev. Walter Kimbrough, president-elect of Dillard University, New Orleans, to the 2012 General Conference
In the early 1970s, most small black colleges were losing students to racially integrated state institutions. Their endowments were low. Their pools of affluent alumni were small. Through the initiative of the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, a churchwide Black College Fund was created to ensure that the 11 historically black schools related to the denomination were solvent, well managed and fully accredited.
All United Methodist congregations contribute to the Black College Fund, which has produced more than $294 million since its creation in 1972. The recently approved goal for the fund during the next four year is $42.1 million.
United Methodists can be justly proud of these institutions. They include Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tenn./; Dillard University, New Orleans; Philander Smith College, Little Rock, Ark.; Bennett College for Women, Greensboro, N.C.; Bethune-Cookman University, Daytona Beach, Fla.; Claflin University, Orangeburg, S.C.; Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta; Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas; Paine College, Augusta, Ga.; Rust College, Holly Springs, Miss.; and Wiley College, Marshall, Texas.
Please give generously!
--Adapted from a letter by Tom McAnally to The Tennessean, May 19, 2012
Like the poor boy who once placed his precious gifts of bread and fish into Your hands,
we trust You now with these tokens
of gifts You first gave to us.
Please take our offerings -- as meager or grand as they may be --
and transform them into "more-than-enough"
for a world so hungry to taste Your Grace.
In Your name we pray, Amen.
from Radical Gratitude
God of wisdom, thank you for the opportunities to learn, not only about you, but also about your wonderful world. Enrich our minds so that we may pass on the gift of learning, especially to those for whom a college education may seem elusive. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
Generous God, forgive us for the fear and lack of trust that allow us to see scarcity where you have provided abundance. We don't want to be like the disciples by the Sea of Galilee who saw only problems and not possibilities. We would choose instead to be like the boy who, in faith, took all he had and made it available to Jesus to do something miraculous. We offer these gifts to you with confidence that you will work to multiply what we offer into overflowing baskets of blessings in abundance. We pray this in gratitude for the greatest gift of all, your Son, our Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen. (John 6:1-21)
from General Board of Discipleship
A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other persons, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving."
-- Albert Einstein