Sunday, December 07, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different-Part II

“And Now for Something Completely Different!”

The turn of phrase comes from an English slapstick group “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”. Using non sequitur, hyperbole, and just plain visual foolishness, reality is put to the test for the benefit of looking at things from an outrageously different point of view.

I’d like to add my voice to the “completely different” crowd as we think through the dilemma of our current economic bailout policy. I know that I am no economist, but I do like an idea that is only seldom mentioned in the current debate; namely the idea of the “Jubilee Year” to the Lord. It seems that in biblical tradition, every 50 years or so, things got so far out of hand that the land and the folks that lived on the land had to “give it a rest”. There’s some merit to the idea. If we don’t “give” it a rest from time to time, it will “take” one! I wonder if we need to “give it a rest” right about now.

It has not escaped the attention of many citizens of these United States that the ones receiving the benefit of the bailout seem to be those who have the most resources within their grasp. Those of us of more modest means wonder if this is not really at the root of much of the problematic we face just now. And moreover, we wonder if we don’t have things upside down.

Why then do we bail out the corporations and financial institutions that have gotten us into the problem in the first place? Why not rather forgive mortgage and credit card debt of those of us who have dug themselves too deeply into the hole? They sure could use a bailout right about now too! Would it not make some sense to put money into the pockets of those at the bottom of the economic ladder and thus satisfy debt from the bottom up rather than from the top down?

Just wondering! Perhaps I’m just a simple parish priest and cannot think clearly, or even worse I know just enough to be dangerous. Just once in my lifetime I’d like to see the money “trickle up” rather than “trickle down”. Now that would be something “completely different” indeed.

Many folks more conversant in economics than I will turn over these problems we face in their minds and hearts. And they will likely do so better than I in resolving them. In the meantime John the Baptist comes to us eating locusts and wild honey and looking quite the character…perhaps like something out of Monty Python. But the message he brings is completely different indeed. His message would have us level every mountain and raise every valley and make the rough places plain. John would have us prepare our hearts for the savior. And what he offers is of little quantifiable value in terms of the Gross Domestic Product, debt, bailout or the like.

What John has to offer is something “completely different” indeed. He offers forgiveness for our sins. He offers us a new way of life that leads to the forgiveness of our sins. He invites us to have our sins washed away and live a baptized life “on purpose” for God. He leads us to prepare our hearts to receive a savior. And right about now it is abundantly clear; we need a savior!

And Now for Something Completely Different-Part I

And Now for Something Completely Different

For those of you who follow the exploits of "Monty Python's Flying Circus", you may agree with me that John the Baptist could almost fit the image we have of a wild eyed character who bursts upon a barren landscape wearing "a coat of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and eating locusts and wild honey". No doubt this fellow was something "completely different" and brought a different message too. After all so much of religion up to that point was guilt ridden, judgmental, and filled with hundreeds and hundreds of prescribed rules and regulations. Here John comes proclaiming forgiveness, and gathers people by the Jordan River to encourage them to wash away their sins as a token of that forgiveness. In addition, he goes on to say that you may think that this proclamation of forgiveness is good but I baptize you with water. There is one who is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Sprit.

What John has to offer is something “completely different” indeed. He offers forgiveness for our sins. He offers us a new way of life that leads joy. He invites us to have our sins washed away and live a baptized life “on purpose” for God. He leads us to prepare our hearts to receive a savior. And right about now it is abundantly clear; we need a savior!

The Day of the Lord is Coming indeed….and now for something completely different!!! That applies to our life too as a congregation. In our case, what is different is that we need to rethink how we approach the matter of stewardship…and many others will have to rethink it as well. Our survival as a faith depends on it.

The Day of the Lord is Coming for us indeed…and now for something different, I thought it right to publish the names of those who have made financial commitments for 2009; so far…16 in all, I believe for a total of around $24,000. I’ve never done that before, but I’ve never faced a situation like this before either.

I’ve never had a congregation with an endowment before. Our portfolio was worth around half a million dollars at the beginning of the year…we had to take around $50,000 to pay for mandated building improvements according to city codes, and then we had a significant shortfall in weekly income. In addition, stock market reversals have taken yet another toll on the value of our investment…we don’t even know how much yet…but I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve lost yet another $50,000 in market value from our endowment. That means our portfolio is now worth something in the $300,000 range

Week after week, we’ve deposited, anywhere from $800--$1300…and week after week we’ve been spending $1600-$1800…and you can see that we are hemorrhaging rather significantly from the life blood of our financial well being. I publish our vital signs often so that you can see in black and white what is going on.

What is going on is that we are depleting our resources at a rate that puts the continuing existence of St. Peter’s at risk. It is time to say so right out loud. At the rate we are going, we will not be able to continue at our present rate…we will have to cut the priest out of the budget within a year or two…and then perhaps at best have a supply priest. That is not what I would like to see happen.

When I came here to be your priest, I did so with the understanding that there were three matters at hand for us to work on:
1. The healing of our relationships especially in the wake of recent hurtful realities
2. The discernment of our mission as a congregation
3. The rekindling of a vigorous stewardship program that leads to this church’s self support within three to five years.
We have made significant strides in the first two areas of our life together. The morale of this church in the wake of our recent fair and throughout our 275th Anniversary Year has been outstanding. I believe that the cumulative effect of all these activities has left us in superb spirit.
Our discernment that we are a “House of Prayer for ALL People” and our recognition that when we say “ALL” we mean “ALL” without regard to race, ethnicity, economic class, gender, or orientation…we all come to the altar as Christ’s own citizens ALL infinitely precious before Jesus.
Now the matter of Stewardship comes before us.
Yes, I published the names in the Newsletter. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if some are somewhat sensitive about that. I’ve already heard a rumbling or two about it…but we cannot afford to be squeamish about church finance anymore. We certainly have to have our wits about us when we face the household budget, so too when we face the realities of the budget for the household of God.
I believe it is time for us to stand up and be counted.
It is time for us to pray the prayer of oblation: Yes, God you can count on me!
I will do whatever it takes to uphold your church, because I love it so.
It is where our children are baptized, where many were married, our loved ones in so many cases were buried here.
How can we do anything less than have you count on us.
When we needed you, you were there.
And now the church needs you.
Will you be there for your church?

Yes my friends it is time for us to stand up and be counted. It is time for us to give generously from the bounty God has given us, in generous proportion to what God has given us…so we return to God.

It is time for us all to do something "completely different!"
Fr. Paul