Thursday, November 03, 2005

Habitually Walking in Love

Consecration Sunday, November 20, 2005

Habitually Walking in Love

Habits are hard to break. Now, that’s a good thing if the habit is a good habit. One of the things I so appreciate about the liturgical tradition of the Episcopal Church is that we are formed by Word and Sacrament in the practices of our liturgical tradition. What results from our being formed in our religious tradition are good habits, and I believe that good habits formed by worship lead us into right relationship with God. Good habits can be a sign of maturing in right relationship with God, a relationship which will honor God and serve God’s purpose for us in this world.

I picked up one good habit, I believe, early in my childhood, the morning my uncle took me by the hand to a Lutheran church where he enrolled me in Sunday school. Every Sunday, before we went to our classes, students and teachers would assemble together to sing a hymn, make some announcements and say some prayers, ending in the Lord’s Prayer. Then came the time for the “offering.” This was an important event, I remember. Two children were chosen each Sunday to take up the offering, and at the singing of a doxology they would offer it to God. I could hardly wait for my turn.

In my eight year old mind, there was something special about putting my envelope into the offering plate and offering it to God. It became a habit—a good one. Initially, I formed this habit out of an expectation that this is what people do when they come together to worship as the body of Christ. But as my habit began to be formed in worship which lead me into deeper relationship with God, I began to understand “offering” as something much more than what was expected (or required) of me—much more than what I placed in an offering plate on Sunday morning.

My understanding of offering came to me by another name. People began to talk about offering as stewardship. Now, stewardship was an interesting word for me to conjure with as I grew into my young adult life. It placed the monetary value of offering into a greater context. I came to understand offerings as gifts, not only gifts of money or treasure, but of time and talent as well. I was pleased to be growing into a larger understanding of “offering” and what it means to offer ourselves to God.

When I came into the Episcopal Church about 14 years ago, my understanding of stewardship unfolded for me in yet another way. I was struck by hearing something called the “offertory sentence” before ushers came to take the offering. The sentence I heard most often is familiar to us at Trinity. It goes like this:

Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us; an offering and sacrifice to God.

Now, that got my attention. Because what I know about love is that you cannot know love or have love unless someone has first loved you. And if you have been loved, especially as Christ has loved us, you know what a gift you have been given. Unlike any other gift, you realize that love is a gift you cannot keep for yourself, not even if you try. You can’t help giving it away. You can’t help wanting to share it. Love is a gift which keeps on giving because it keeps coming back to you. It keeps placing you in right relationship with God and with all that God has created.

Sharing the gifts of life out of our love for the One who gave them to us is the theme of this year’s Consecration Sunday:

All of life is a gift—Share it!

And what a difference it makes when we think of all of life as a gift, rather than something we have earned, or achieved by our own efforts; when we think of life as something we just need to get through, or something we think we own to satisfy our own needs and wants. When we think of life and all its resources as a gift, we are inclined to

What a difference it makes to experience all that we have and all that we are as gifts given to us by God in love for the purposes of loving God in creation. We begin to think of ourselves as caretakers of God’s gifts to us—stewards, if you will, We begin to act as people who have been entrusted with treasures by the One who has given them to us for the sake of his own good purposes. For the good of all of God’s creatures in creation.

Anyone who has observed a wine steward at table in a fine restaurant might begin to understand the joy of being a steward of what God has given us in the world. The wine steward has been entrusted with the treasure of a vineyard. His greatest joy will be to share it with others. Watch him handle the bottle; listen to him talk about the fruit of the grape. Look at his face as you declare the wine to be splendid at the first sip. Can you see his love and enjoyment in serving the wine? Can you sense his expectation that those who will drink this wine will find joy and satisfaction in it? Can you know his gratitude when they do?

As Christians we live differently in the world when we see ourselves as stewards of all that God has given us. We become people who serve God’s purposes for the gifts God has entrusted to us. Words like “my” and “mine” no longer serve our purposes. (Can you imagine a wine steward opening a bottle of wine at your table, having you take the first sip, and then drinking it for himself?) We no longer live under the illusion that we own our lives and our material possessions. In fact, we come to realize that when we live as if we own our lives and material possessions, they really own us. They become our gods, our idols, and we spend our lives and our fortune trying to keep them happy. They begrudge any money or any gift we give to God because they want us to feed them first, if not exclusively. At best God gets what is left over, or nothing at all.

But not for Christians who see themselves as caretakers of all that God has given them, stewards if you will. And not for Christians who are being formed in worship by the liturgical practices of Offertory and Eucharistic Thanksgiving. We become a generous people who respond to a God who has been so generous to us. We live in the truth of doxology: “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” We find that “walk[ing] in love as Christ loved us” has become a habit, a habit formed in love which has made our life a place of abundance, and generosity, and gratitude and joy, and….a gift to be shared.

See you at the consecration Sunday brunch!

--Mother Donna Trebilcox

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