That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Malachi

Remember and Rejoice: Sermon for the Funeral of Sheryl Ann King (14 December 2015)

====================

A sermon offered at the Funeral of Sheryl Ann King (12/14/1967-12/09/2015) on Monday, December 14, 2015, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons selected by the family were Isaiah 25:6-9 ; Psalm 121; Revelation 21:2-7; and John 14:23-30.)

====================

funeralsprayA Native American proverb instructs us, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced; live your life in a manner that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.” Today, on what would have been Sheryl Ann King’s 48th birthday, the world (you and me and everyone who knew and loved Sherry) is crying, but Sherry is rejoicing. “If you loved me,” Jesus told his followers, “you would rejoice that I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:28); we who love Sherry, let us rejoice (even through our tears) that she, too, has gone to the Father.

In the Jewish religion going back at least as far as the Babylonian exile it is a tradition that those mourning the death of a loved one recite a prayer called the Mourner’s Kaddish. The prayer begins with these words:

Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name in the world which God created, according to plan. May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime and the life of all Israel – speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen. (ReformJudaism.org>

As the prayer continues to its conclusion, there is not a single mention of the loved one, no mention of the loved one’s passing, no mention of the mourner’s grief. The prayer is, in its entirety, a sanctification of God and a petition for peace. The rabbis tell us that this tradition arose to remind us, even in the midst of great sorrow, to rejoice and to give thanks.

Nonetheless, there is a very human need to acknowledge the loss of the one we love and in a prayer book of the Reform Jewish movement entitled New Prayers for the High Holy Days there is this lovely meditation:

At the rising sun and at its going down, we remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn, we remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live,
for they are now a part of us.
As we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make, we remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share, we remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs, we remember them.
For as long as we live, they too will live,
For they are now a part of us, as we remember them.
(Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Riemer, We Remember Them, New Prayers for the High Holy Days, Media Judaica, New York:1970, p. 36)

What memories do you have of Sherry? I will always remember three things about her. The first is her competence and her drive. When Sherry was doing volunteer work here at St. Paul’s Church, I knew that if she said she would do something it would get done and it would get done well. (Parish priests really appreciate that and remember with special blessings those members on whom they can rely as one could rely on Sherry.) The second is that she loved to have a good time: she was a great hostess and she enjoyed a good party. I’m sure that she is just as pleased as she can be to be joining the saints in light at God’s great party, the one Isaiah described, that “feast of rich food, . . . of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (Is 25:6).

The third thing I will remember is the way she always looked when she came back from her annual trip to Cancun. Sherry was someone who clearly enjoyed the sun! I have to admit to being somewhat amused when I realized that the family had selected a psalm with the verse, “The sun shall not strike you by day” (Ps 121:6)! I’m not sure Sherry would have gone for that, but I am sure she is now enjoying what Malachi prophesied, “For you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” (Mal 4:2) Sherry, we believe, is now in that place “where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.” (BCP 1979, p 499)

And this is where our Christian faith takes us beyond the meditation in the Reform Jewish prayer book. We are assured that more than our memories sustains the lives of our departed loved ones; it is not “as long as we live” that they shall live, but forever. We are assured, because of the birth of Christ which we will celebrate in just a few days, because of his life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension, that the way to eternal life has been opened to Sherry, to all of our loved ones gone before, and to all of us.

Sometimes when we bury the dead, we also celebrate the Holy Communion. In the Episcopal Church as part of that service, in the introductory preface to the consecration of the bread and wine, the priest presiding at the altar says these words:

Jesus Christ our Lord . . . rose victorious from the dead, and comforts us with the blessed hope of everlasting life. For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens. (BCP 1979, p 382)

This is our Christian hope and our assurance, that in Christ Jesus God has (as Isaiah prophesied) “swallow[ed] up death forever” (Is 25:8), and as John of Patmos heard the voice in heaven saying, “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

So, our memories are precious and we cherish them, but it is more than our memories which sustain Sherry or any of our departed loved ones: through the love of God and the salvation of Christ, rest eternal has been granted to them, and light perpetual shines upon them. And we honor them with more than our memories; we honor Sherry not by living in the past, not only by remembering her, but by living into the future. When Queen Mother Elizabeth passed away in 2002, this meditation entitled Remember Me by David Harkins was included in the order of service. It seems to me appropriate today as we remember and celebrate Sherry’s life:

Do not shed tears when I have gone
but smile instead because I have lived.
Do not shut your eyes and pray to God that I’ll come back,
but open your eyes and see all that I have left behind.
I know your heart will be empty because you cannot see me,
but still I want you to be full of the love we shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow
and live only for yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow
because of what happened between us yesterday.
You can remember me and grieve that I have gone
or you can cherish my memory and let it live on.
You can cry and lose yourself,
become distraught and turn your back on the world,
or you can do what I want –
smile, wipe away the tears,
learn to love again and go on.
(See Poetic Expressions.)

The French novelist Marcel Proust once wrote, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” (Pleasures and Days, Hesperus Classics, London:2004, p 116) “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” said Jesus, “and do not let them be afraid.” (Jn 14:27c) Instead, let them blossom, and let us rejoice and be grateful for the life of Sheryl Ann King. Amen.

====================

A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

====================

Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

One Is Never Too Old – From the Daily Office – June 24, 2014

From the Book of Numbers:

The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, along with their households — everyone who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they with all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. All Israel around them fled at their outcry, for they said, “The earth will swallow us too!” And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Numbers 16:32-35 (NRSV) – June 24, 2014)

Chinese Hair QueueBelieve it or not, I’ve actually had the last of these selected verses quoted to me as part of an argument against the use of incense in the church. I was in a conversation with someone about our use of incense in “high church” liturgies, being told (among other things) that incense was fine when we were younger and acting like hippies but now that we are older and mature we should put aside such childish ways, when this chestnut was pulled out. Since I’ve studied the Old Testament (as most clergy have) I knew my critic was misusing the text.

Such a reading is hard to square with other parts of Scripture in which the use of incense as an honorable offering to God is approved. For example, speaking through the Prophet Malachi God says, “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal 1:11)

It’s even harder to harmonize with those places were the burning of incense in religious ceremonies is not only approved, it is commanded. For instance, in the Book of Exodus Moses is commanded to make an altar for incense upon which Aaron is to burn incense two times every day: “Aaron shall offer fragrant incense on it; every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall offer it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening, he shall offer it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations.” (Ex 30:7-8)

And more than that, that reading doesn’t accord with the verse’s own context, and that’s what I’m thinking about today. The story of Korah’s and his followers’ destruction at the hand of an angry God has nothing to do with incense. The burning of incense although it figures prominently in the story is really incidental to the story; Korah and his tribe were destroyed because of their pride, because they sought to usurp the priesthood of Aaron which was not and never would be theirs. In the story, Aaron also burns incense to the Lord and his offering is accepted; further, shortly after this incident Aaron stops a plague among the people through the burning of incense. Clearly, incense is perfectly acceptable to God.

So to say that “fire coming out from the Lord and consuming the two hundred and fifty men offering incense” is an indictment of the use of incense in worship is proof-texting of the worst type, inconsistent with other scriptural references and inconsistent with its own context.

I recall a joke (or maybe it’s a true story) about a preacher who abhorred the traditional Chinese men’s hairstyle holding forth in California in the late 1800s urging Chinese immigrants to abandon the queue or “topknot.” All Chinese men, but particularly those who had converted to Christianity, he argued, should cut off their queues because Christ himself had uttered the words, “Topknot go down!” And he was correct, sort of. What Jesus had said was, “Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house . . . .” (Mt. 24:17) Picking and choosing the Bible’s words out of context is not a new phenomenon.

The only way to combat proof-texting is knowing the Scriptures oneself. Jesus is our model in this regard. Tempted by the devil after his baptism, he was able to answer each of Satan’s references to Scripture with counter-references of his own. (Matt. 4) If we are to respond to misuses of Scripture, we must know it ourselves.

Now, I don’t agree with my incense critic about old age and maturity being a reason to give up incense, but I suppose there might be something to that. Perhaps given the respiratory problems some older folks have, one can be too old for incense. However, one is never too old for Christian education and Bible study!

====================

A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

====================

Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

I Saw the Light! – Sermon for the Feast of the Presentation – February 2, 2014

====================

This sermon was preached on the Feast of the Presentation (“Candlemas”), February 2, 2014, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day were: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7-10; Hebrews 2:14-18; and Luke 2:22-40. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)

====================

Simeon's Moment by Ron DiCianni

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, *
according to thy word;
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, *
which thou hast prepared before the face of all people,
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, *
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
(BCP 1979, p. 66)

Some texts just need to be recited in the language of an earlier era. I have said that canticle almost every night since I was 14 years old and first became an Episcopalian, and although I find the truth perhaps better spoken in the more modern translations that we find in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible and in the modern language of the Rite II Evening Prayer service, there is an elegance to the poetry of the earlier Books of Common Prayer. Simeon’s song is known liturgically as the Nunc Dimittis, and I find it comforting as a bedtime prayer.

Old Simeon had been hanging around the Temple for many years, a devout and orthodox Jew, hoping to see the coming of the Messiah; indeed, he believed he had been promised by God that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. One day, this young couple of poor, country folk came in to perform the sacrifices of purification and redemption, the restoration of Mary to ritual purity following childbirth and the pydion haben or redemption of their first-born male child. As soon as he saw them and the baby they brought, he knew his hope was realized, that God had kept God’s promise.

I’ve always heard behind the older translation, “now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,” a hint of Simeon’s own death, a sort of “now I can die happy” statement. The more modern translation of the NRSV, however, has none of that dark foreshadowing: “Now you are dismissing your servant” has no hint of death in it, but it lacks the exuberance of the Prayer Book’s Rite II version, “You now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised.” In Simeon’s encounter with the Child, he is set free! I can almost hear him breaking into Hank Williams’ joyful country hymn I Saw the Light:

I saw the light; I saw the light;
No more darkness, no more night.
Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight.
Praise the Lord! I saw the light!

I can just see him dancing in the Temple holding this Holy Infant! Simeon is not just dismissed; he is set free, not to die, but to live! He can, of course, die happy; but before that he can live free. He is among the first of the redeemed.

In bringing the infant Jesus to the Temple, Mary and Joseph are continuing what they began at his circumcision; they are raising this child to be an observant Jew, they are teaching him to be a child of the Law, a participant in the Covenant from birth on. Mary comes to be restored after giving birth, which according to the Torah, rendered her ritually unable to participate in the religious life of her people. The Law of Moses in the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 12, prescribes:

If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean seven days . . . . On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three days; she shall not touch any holy thing, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed. . . . When the days of her purification are completed . . . she shall bring to the priest . . . a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. . . . If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.

With this ritual, Luke conflates the ritual of redemption, the pydion haben. In Exodus, Chapter 13, God says, “You shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. . . . Every firstborn male among your children you shall redeem.” (vv. 12-13) In the third chapter of Numbers, this command is repeated: “All the firstborn are mine; when I killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both human and animal; they shall be mine. I am the Lord.” (Num. 3:13) The price of redemption is then set at five “shekels of the sanctuary, a shekel of twenty gerahs.” (v. 47) Luke leaves out this detail, but it is very likely that Mary and Joseph carried through as required by the Law.

Joseph and Mary, as my colleague Juan Oliver has noted, “are the embodiment of the majority of Jews, who, illiterate and too poor to offer any sacrifice, lived perennially in a state of ritual defilement or ‘sin.'” We observe in their adherence to these rituals, in their making of these offerings, the lowliness of Jesus’ family and their marginalized position in society, but more importantly their participation in the full life of their faith. It is from that fullness of faith that Jesus’ self-understanding and his mission flows. Because of his parents’ faithfulness to the Law, Simeon sees in this infant “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of [God’s] people Israel.” Hope flows even from places of extreme poverty when those with the least embrace the rituals of an abundant life.

We began our worship this morning with one of our own “rituals of an abundant life.” From very early on in the life of the Christian community, it has been a tradition to carry candles on this day, and to bless the candles that the church will use throughout the coming year. For that reason, an alternative name of this Feast of the Presentation is “Candlemas,” the Mass of the candles. The tradition of blessing the candles dates to the mid-Fifth Century, and the candle procession is first attested to in the Diary of Egeria which describes such a procession in Jerusalem in middle of the Fourth Century.

An 11th Century Cistercian abbot, Blessed Guerric of Igny (c.1070-1157), preached of the symbolism of the Candlemas procession:

Behold then, the candle alight in Simeon’s hands. You must light your own candles by enkindling them at his, those lamps which the Lord commanded you to bear in your hands. So come to him and be enlightened that you do not so much bear lamps as become them, shining within yourself and radiating light to your neighbors. May there be a lamp in your heart, in your hand, and in your mouth: let the lamp in your heart shine for yourself, the lamps in your hand and mouth shine for your neighbors. The lamp in your heart is a reverence for God inspired by faith; the lamp in your hand is the example of a good life; and the lamp in your mouth are the words of consolation you speak.

Go forth then from this place and, like Simeon, speak of the freedom Jesus gives us, speak words of consolation, spread the light of Christ, the light to enlighten the Gentiles. Go forth and sing, “I saw the light! I saw the light! No more sorrow! No more night! Praise the Lord! I saw the Light!” Amen.

====================

A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

====================

Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

The Highway of Salvation – Sermon for Advent 3, RCL Year A – December 15, 2013

====================

This sermon was preached on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 15, 2013, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The Revised Common Lectionary, Advent 3A: Isaiah 35:1-10; Canticle 15 (The Song of Mary, Luke 1:46-55); James 5:7-10; and Matthew 11:2-11. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)

====================

Highway though Blooming Desert

There are some numbers that made the news this week: 194 and 11,507. They are important numbers, numbers which represent an unpleasant reality of the world in which we live. I’ll return to them in a moment. but first let’s explore the Scriptures assigned to this, the Third Sunday of Advent, the second week in a row the Gospel focuses on John the Baptizer.

Last week we heard from John himself, this week we have Jesus asking people why they paid attention to John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” he asks them. “A prophet,” would be the correct answer, but more than a prophet – the forerunner of the kingdom of God. Jesus draws on the tradition of the prophet Malachi through whom God had said, “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me . . . . ” (Mal. 3:1) It was Malachi who predicted that the Messiah would be heralded by the return of Elijah: “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” (Mal. 4:5) This was and remains in Judaism a traditional expectation known to all Jews. By equating John with Elijah, Jesus was announcing to one and all that, in himself, the reign of heaven had begun, that salvation was at hand. Some who heard him took this testimony seriously, but many others rejected. We take it seriously and because we do, we are preparing once again to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

We take it seriously that salvation is at hand, but what do we really mean when we use that word, “salvation”?

I know that many will say that salvation is a personal thing. “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” wrote Paul to the Romans. Many people believe that what this means is that, doing those two things, each person will get into heaven when he or she dies.

On the other hand, we have the witness of the prophet Isaiah in today’s reading from the Old Testament that salvation is more communal than personal. God “will come and save you,” he says: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.” Hands that are weak will be strengthened, knees that are feeble will be made firm, and those who are fearful of heart will be made strong. Salvation is something that happens for the whole human community.

And not only is salvation communal, it is universal! Not only is salvation for the human community, it is for the whole of creation! “Waters shall break forth in the wilderness” and “the burning sand shall become a pool.” “The desert shall rejoice and blossom; . . . it shall blossom abundantly.”

Isaiah makes it clear that salvation is so much more than personal; it is so much more than simply getting into heaven when we die. Salvation is for everyone; it is for everything; and it is for the here-and-now. Jesus affirms this when John sends word to Jesus and asks, “Are you the one?” Jesus replies: “Tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Notice that everything Jesus says is present tense! It’s here! It’s now! It’s not “will be;” it’s not “might be;” it’s not sometime in the future. It’s not in heaven when we die! It’s here and it’s now!

So why, then, if salvation is for everyone and everything in the here-and-now, are we told to wait “until the coming of the Lord?” Why in our Epistle Lesson does James tell us to “be patient [as] the farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains?” That question haunted me during my prayers and my meditations this past week as I thought about what to say this morning. As I pondered the question, however, I came to realize that I was focusing on the wrong things. I was looking at and questioning the waiting and the patience, and I should have been fixing my attention on the farmer.

I grew up in a farming family. My nuclear family weren’t farmers, but my maternal great-grandfather, Hinrich Buss, homesteaded several thousand acres of Kansas farmland in the late 1800s and quite a few of my Buss cousins to this day run farms on that land. Some grow corn and soybeans; others run dairy farms. I know from family example that while farmers do a lot of waiting and have to be patient people, they are never idle. “Waiting with patience” doesn’t mean sitting around doing nothing; to wait and be patient as a farmer patiently waits is to be active, to be attentive, to take a hand in bringing about that for which one is waiting.

Salvation that transforms the human community, that enables all creation to sing together in present and eternal joy happens as people’s eyes are opened to see and their ears are unstopped to hear both the Good News of God in their own lives and the needs of others to know that Good News in their lives. When that happens, the desert wilderness blooms and becomes a verdant landscape.

Passing through that lush landscape, says Isaiah, there will be a highway. “It shall be called the Holy Way” and the redeemed shall walk upon it to Zion, singing and rejoicing as they go. How will that highway get there? In a few more chapters, Isaiah will answer that question by saying to the People of God, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” That highway, the highway of salvation, will get there because the People of God will build it!

There is an old story about a time of economic depression in France. The government decided that it would put the unemployed to work building roads. Initially, this worked well: the workers received paychecks, their spirits were high, and the government was pleased with itself. But then some of the laborers began to ask where the roads were leading. The government had to admit that these roads were simply make-work; they were going nowhere, just out into a swamp or something. The workers became dispirited; they lost a sense of purpose in their work. In a very real sense, their eyes were shut and their ears were closed up because they had been robbed of the hope that they were making life better for others and for themselves.

Salvation happens, the highway in the wilderness gets built, when there is hope; hope is there when our eyes and ears are opened to perceive that God is in our midst and to know that amazing things are possible. People of God have known this in every generation and they have seen it in every generation. God “has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.” God shows “the strength of his arm” and “scatter[s] the proud in their conceit” in every generation. God “cast[s] down the mighty from their thrones” and “lift[s] up the lowly” in every generation. God “fill[s] the hungry with good things” and sends “the rich . . . away empty” in every generation.

God does these things through God’s People who in every generation have seen Isaiah’s vision of a God of infinite and unstoppable hope, who in every generation have wondered how to see it more clearly, how to believe it more firmly, and how, like the patiently waiting farmer, to actively and attentively take a hand in transforming the often unpleasant desert realities in which they live.

I mentioned some numbers earlier, numbers that I suggested represent an unpleasant reality of the world in which we live: 194 and 11,507. Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We were tragically reminded of that massacre by another shooting incident on Friday at Arapahoe High School in suburban Denver, Colorado. In our country during the year between those two incidents, 11,507 people have died from gunshots; 194 of them have been children 12 years of age or younger. It is an unpleasant reality of the wilderness in which we still live, where we are still called to build the highway of salvation.

Let us pray:

Almighty God our heavenly Father, you have promised to come and save us as the eyes of the blind are opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped: Open our eyes and unstop our ears that we may know that you are in our midst and may share your vision of infinite and unstoppable hope, that we may do the work of transforming unpleasant realities and building the highway of salvation for all; for the sake of him who was and is and is to come, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

====================

A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

====================

Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Putting God to the Test – From the Daily Office – November 23, 2012

From the Prophet Malachi:

Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me – the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Malachi 3:8-10 (NRSV) – November 23, 2012)
 
Dear God Black Friday memeThis “test me and see” verse is a favorite of preachers of the so-called “prosperity gospel” (of course, it’s not from a gospel, but that doesn’t seem to bother them). To have it turn up in the Daily Office readings the day after the United States celebrated Thanksgiving Day is a real eye-opener! On Face Book this morning, a humorous “meme”* showed up picturing a young woman at prayer holding a credit card with this caption: “Dear God, we are so thankful for all we have . . . now, if you excuse us, we’ve got to go get more stuff. There’s a great Black Friday sale at Best Buy!” Could there have been a better juxtaposition?

Malachi says pretty bluntly that we are robbing God. Stealing from God is not something to be taken lightly. Many preachers cite this text about robbing God in the context of stewardship sermons. We rob God, they say, when we deny God what is rightfully God’s. We rob God, they say, when we fail to tithe, to make an offering of 1/10, or 10%, of our income. But it seems to me Malachi is more concerned about attitude than with particular actions like paying or not paying the biblical tithe.

Essentially, it comes down to our attitude about who owns what. If we believe (as most Americans seem to) that we have earned all we have, that we are entirely responsible for our prosperity, then we will have an ungenerous attitude toward everyone, including God. If we take a step back and realize that God is responsible for our well-being, we are more likely to be generous. The question is, “Who owns my possessions, bank account, and even my life?” To whom are we truly thankful for what we have?

Jesus told a story about a rich man who had a lot of stuff, so much stuff that he had to build a bigger barn for it all. When he had built the barn and stored the stuff, he sat back content. But just then God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20) Jesus’ point (and Malachi’s) is that we have no control over our possessions, our money, or our life. Anything and everything may be lost at any time. The truth is that we don’t own anything, not even ourselves. God owns it all.

When we fail to use it to benefit others around us, when we fail to hold it in trust for God with the proper attitude of generosity, we rob God. If, on the other hand, we use what we have to do what good we can, if we have an attitude of gratitude (the one we claimed we had yesterday), we will benefit as much as if not more than those around us. “Put me to the test and see,” says God.

So, today, what’s it to be? Rush off to the Black Friday sales putting Thanksgiving behind us, or rather making thanksgiving a way of life, not just a day on the calendar? Either way, we put God to the test . . . .

*An internet meme is a concept that spreads via the internet often taking the form of a captioned image.

====================

A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

====================

Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Cheesy Tuna Surprise – From the Daily Office – November 21, 2012

From the Prophet Malachi:

A son honors his father, and servants their master. If then I am a father, where is the honor due to me? And if I am a master, where is the respect due to me? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, “How have we despised your name?” By offering polluted food on my altar. And you say, “How have we polluted it?” By thinking that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not wrong? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not wrong? Try presenting that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Malachi 1:6-8 (NRSV) – November 21, 2012)
 
Wilted Flower ArrangementSeveral years ago I served in a small parish which had a very tight budget. Among its many cost-saving efforts was the reuse of altar flowers. Arrangements would be purchased and used on one Sunday, then quickly put away in the refrigerator in the basement kitchen to be used again the next week. Of course, they didn’t last as well as they might have been wished to (and some varieties of flower fared worse than others), so it was noticeable that they’d been around for awhile. In addition, if there’d been any sort of parish dinner in the interim so that food had been stored in the same refrigerator, they would often have taken on a bit of the odor of fried chicken or garlic or cheesy tuna surprise.

After holding my peace about this my first few weeks, I suggested to one of the older altar guild members, a woman about my mother’s age, a child of the depression, that it seemed to me that putting reused flowers at the altar was rather like offering a blemished cow. She looked at me with an expression that was both dumbfounded and angry – an interesting look to be sure. I explained the proscription of Jewish law against the offering for sacrifice of an animal that was defective in any way (see, e.g., Leviticus Ch. 3-5). She didn’t see the parallel but, because (as it turned out) she was the one who had come up with this money-saving scheme, she was fairly convinced the new priest in the parish was defective. Nonetheless, I held my ground and exercised my role as chief liturgist and insisted that if we were going to have flowers, they were going to be fresh. Better to have no flowers than a floral offering that was second-rate (and much better than flowers that smelled of cheesy tuna surprise).

We often run into this in the church, the giving of the less-than-good. Church youth group rooms and lounges are furnished with hand-me-down, out-of-fashion, and often badly worn furniture from someone’s recently redecorated home (or from someone’s recently deceased parent’s home). Clothing-for-the-poor drives amass large piles of worn out sport coats, scuffed shoes, and long out-of-date bell-bottom trousers. Recently, a box of food donated to our church’s food pantry ministry included a box of cereal that had been opened and partially consumed; I guess the donor had decided he or she didn’t like blueberry crunch whole grain healthfood breakfast food. We seem to have forgotten that the Bible commends the giving of unblemished offerings.

I’ve learned that if one challenges these less-than-perfect gifts the nearly universal justification for giving them is “Beggars can’t be choosers.” That may be true, but givers certainly can be! We who give can choose to give the very best, not our worn-out, cast-off hand-me-downs. The laws of the Old Testament, including these rules about blemished gifts, are meant to teach us to choose to do and to give that which is our best. The several Jewish laws, it is said, are where faithfulness to God is translated into action. When we strive to do our best to follow the ways revealed in Scripture, God’s words and God’s Word are etched into our hearts and become an intimate part of our identity, whether we are Jewish or Christian.

Since 1944, Hallmark Cards has used the sales pitch and slogan, “When you care enough to send the very best . . . . ” That’s what the rules concerning sacrifice of unblemished offerings are all about. They ask us whether we care enough to give the very best. What we give is a reflection of who we are. Are we people on whose hearts the Word of God is indellibly etched? Are we people for whom the Word of God is an intimate part of our identity? Do we stand, as our offering should stand, unblemished before God?

Or are we defective, or sick, or lame, or polluted . . . like last week’s flowers smelling of cheesy tuna surprise?

====================

A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

====================

Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.