Lenten Suppers and Evening Prayer

Join us the next two Wednesdays, March 9 and 16, for Lenten Supper and Evening Prayer. These are simple meals of soup and bread. We’ll start serving at 6 p.m. (bring a dessert if you wish), then join us for informal singing, prayer and closing time. Suppers are sponsored by the Intergenerational Ministry Team. Contact Sue Gramith if you would like to help, suegramith@hotmail.com.

During our Evening Prayer time, we have been gathering around the round coffee table for simple songs, scripture and engaging the “four elements” of nature. Pastor Anne leads us in exploring how we experience God through earth, air, and this week through fire and light. Small rocks, white feathers and battery-operated tea-lights have been our guides; next week, water. We conclude by 7 p.m. This is a great intergenerational worship time, and helpful for those needing some sensory input in their spiritual life.

Adult series on “transformation” this month

The word “transformation” is used often today and is part of our vision statement. Have you ever wondered what it means to be transformed and how true transformation takes place? Find out what Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has to say about transformation.

During the 9:30 a.m. First Hour on Sunday, March 6, 13 and 20, we will review a webcast teaching by Fr. Richard where he shares three key components to spiritual transformation and discusses why these are important for our growth as spiritual human beings. Conee Biggs will join Pastor Anne in leading this conversation.

Celebrate “Fat Tuesday” on Feb. 9

Come celebrate Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, with us on Feb. 9. Food, games, mask making and lots of fun! At the end of the evening, we’ll have an informal Ash Wednesday observance for all ages. Join us from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Gathering Room.Glitter

As God’s sons and daughters

By Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis —

Before I came to serve as your interim minister over a year ago now, I was leading a United Church of Christ congregation in northern Virginia, in the suburbs right outside of Washington, D.C. One of the members there shared an encounter with me that she had with her grandson who was active in our church ministries. Having received her permission to share this story, I will tell you that this grandmother and her grandson were spending the day together one winter snow day while his parents were at work. Somehow they had gotten onto the topic of “currencies.” An unusual conversation with even a precocious 6-year-old.  After some discussion about how different countries have different types of currencies (dollars, yen, strings of shells, euros, pesos and such), the child decided to create some credit cards and debit cards. Which are often our current currency of choice these days, at least the one obvious to our children. After some mutual play with various pretend credit and debit cards, the boy announced it was time to make a “worship card.” “Hmmmm…that’s interesting,” said Grandmother. “Just what does a worship card do?” “Well, you can use it to get things, like you can buy goats to send for Heifer project like we do at church” replied the child confidently, “You can get food for poor people with it.”  Apparently a loaded “worship card” can make good things happen and it is about getting things for other people.

Hearing this story, I was struck by this boy’s insight into how a “worship card” might function. This 6-year-old, through his few years in worship, hearing numerous children’s messages, involvement in Sunday School service projects, wider church food drives and meal packing for those in need, was on to something important about our life together as a church. He knew that any “plastic” has to have something loaded on it, be it a debit card, a credit card, gift card, for it to be worth anything. I suggest that a “loaded” worship card can do more than we know. It provides certain value: spiritual and emotional currency that, for starters, enables us to make life choices based on our values and beliefs. Might we receive something to draw on, some newly imagined way of being in the world, because of our worship life together? And…is this just about our own individual needs?  Is weekly corporate worship simply a spiritual “7-Eleven” where we dip in for a quart of intellectual stimulation and a loaf of “feel-good” inspiration? Are we just privately “tanking up” here?

Each month in our church newsletter, I describe our weekly worship as “the heart of our life together” here at Falcon Heights Church. What do we receive here in worship? What value loads up for us on our “worship card” that we don’t get elsewhere in our lives? It makes good sense to say that, in worship, we learn more about what God cares about—the hurts and needs of the world—so we can go out and do something about being God’s healing partners. But I also think that one of the most important things that get loaded up on our “worship card” is a deeper understanding about ourselves. And it is that transformed understanding of ourselves that eventually starts to make a real difference in our lives.

Our biblical forbearers spent a lot of time asking God to clarify their current situation: “Are you still with us?” they would demand of God during difficult times. “Things are a mess! Who are we to you, chopped liver?” In their worship and in their sacred writings, the community would recount where they had been and what it had meant: wandering Arameans were our father and mother and we were chosen as God’s own; we were slaves in Egypt and we were released and saved by God’s almighty hand; we were given a new land and taught to become a light of justice and compassion to all nations. As followers of Jesus, you and I stand within this tradition of those who would look back and remind themselves of God’s claim on them. In these words we just heard from the Jewish prophet Isaiah, we have been taken by and kept by God, in spite of our failings. We too have been given a covenant to be that Light and to open the eyes of the blind, release the prisoners. As we join in worship week after week, singing, pondering, praying together, our “worship card” gets loaded up with this deep awareness of who and whose we truly are.

Why does this matter? Because the world so often tells us otherwise. Our media tell us we are important if we look a certain way, are a certain age and own certain things. Bosses tell us we matter based on our productivity. Who are we; whose are we? Are we owned by our work, our hobbies, our debts, our past failures or mistakes? We come to worship and we hear a different message. We are reminded that we are created, formed, redeemed, owned by God. According to the prophet Isaiah, writing during the horrendous time of Israel’s capture and exile to Babylon in the 6th century BCE, we are each called by name: “You are mine,” says God. Whose are you, Anne? Who names and claims you? Well, I come from the Swallow clan, hardy New England stock, married into the Gillis clan, lived in a lot of places, sure do like to think that I own myself, have autonomy over myself, if I’m really honest. Empowered and independent, I am! Don’t nobody own me!

But scripture seems to indicate otherwise: “Anne, you are not your own. You are mine,” says God, “you are my beloved daughter.” All of us: We are God’s offspring, God’s children, sons, daughters of the living God. When we baptize our little babies and our adults, when you and I worship together, Sunday after Sunday, we are loading up this identity awareness on our “worship card.”

Early in the first decade of the first century, John the Baptist invited fellow Jews come to the rural outskirts of Jerusalem. He challenged them to reflect and repent, to turn their life around and be baptized as a sign of the forgiveness of their sins, of the new life they were choosing. We have no idea what suddenly drew Jesus to do this public ritual, to emerge from an obscure youth and young adulthood, and align himself with a radical prophet who was already in trouble with the local authorities. Did Jesus bring a sense of his own shortcomings, his own hesitancies, up to that point? “Who am I, whose am I, why does it matter?” might he have asked himself? Could he have possibly have been feeling spiritually dry himself? Was he seeking to quench some deeper thirst in those river waters, to ritually engage his past and his future as he entered into a dramatically public and dangerous path of teaching and healing? Here is someone who so clearly was able to convince other people of their essential worth and lovableness. This Jesus who, with baptism, knew himself to be worthy, loved and intimately connected to God, as he heard the words from heaven: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Perhaps the question for each of us is similar: Do we know ourselves to belong to God, to be beloved sons and daughters? Do we truly experience that God is pleased with us?

The rigors of Christian life, with the constant call to self-honesty, generosity, openness and inclusivity, can be overwhelming. We load up our “worship card” each time we are together, with the stories of Jesus and the taste of God’s grace that we receive in one another’s’ presence. In worship together, we reimagine another possible world of justice and peace. We hear again that God is pleased with us, just the way we are…and that God desires more from us than to stay just the way we are. In baptism we receive the watery mark of God’s grace and we come to the Table to receive the taste and texture of God’s extravagant welcome. Through these sacraments, these holy acts, we boldly remember we are identified individually, named, by the Mysterious Creator of the Universe, and that this reality lays claim on us. We load up our “worship card” as we remember whose we are. And we once again head out into the world, strengthened and empowered by the value on that card. Thanks be to God. Amen.

2016 sermon archive

2016 sermons by the Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis and the Rev. Jacob Kanake

1-10-16 As God’s sons and daughters

2-14-16 The Lord’s Prayer: What’s in a name? 

2-21-16 The Lord’s Prayer: the Kingdom of God’s good pleasure 

2-28-16 The Lord’s Prayer: bread and fish for all 

3-6-16 The Lord’s Prayer: The challenge of forgiveness 

3-13-16 The Lord’s Prayer: Facing evil, making choices 

3-20-16 A provocative entry

3-27-16 Easter message 

4-24-16 Tunes and testimony 

5-22-16 The community of God 

5-29-16 The contour of faith 

6-5-16 New life, new hope

6-26-16 Exploring our expectations of our new pastor

7-3-16 We are the church 

8-7-16 God’s good pleasure 

9-25-16 Seeing the seeds of hope 

10-2-16 Another look at “faith” 

Help provide home-delivered meals

Our Inreach Ministry Team provides home-delivered meals to members of our congregation who are coping with serious illness at home. Several families have needed our help over the holidays, and we would like to grow our list of volunteers. Contact Carolyn Hill of the Inreach Ministry Team if you can provide a meal (651-646-6656 or davidcarolynhill@msn.com).

Falcon Heights Church Statement of Faith

United Church of Christ Statement of Faith
(from FHCUCC Constitution, Article II –

While granting each member the freedom to interpret God’s Truth as God gives each of them light and wisdom, this church recognizes and accepts as the basis of our common purpose, faith and covenant found in the Statement of Faith adopted at the Second General Synod and revised and affirmed in this form in 1981:

We believe in you, O God, Eternal Spirit,
God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God, and to your deeds we testify:

You call the worlds into being, create persons in your own image,
and set before each one the ways of life and death. You seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin. You judge people and nations by your righteous will declared through prophets and apostles.

In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior,
you have come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to yourself.

You bestow upon us your Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.

You call us into your church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship,
to be your servants in the service of others, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.

You promise to all who trust you forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace,
courage in the struggle for justice and peace, your presence in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in your realm which has no end.

Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto you. Amen.

“My Kingdom is not from here”

By Rev. Glen Herrington-Hall, guest preacher —

The readings for the final Sunday of this church year, for this Christ the King Sunday (2 Samuel 23:1-7, John 18:33-38a), include one about the end of a beloved king’s life, and one about another who has been called king which leaves us with a profound question unanswered. It is an anticlimactic way to mark what could be an excuse for a big end-of the-year party. No hats and horns, no cake and presents, no royal feast and shiny crown. No, what we have a death and an awkward silence.

But after a couple of weeks like we’ve had, like this broken, hurting, bleeding world has had – bombings in Paris and Beirut; murdered innocents in Kenya and Mali; protests following another death in Minneapolis, a death with unanswered questions and a community grieving again and racial tensions rising – maybe some awkward silence is a good thing. At least, maybe it’s the best we can do.

It’s David who is dying at the end of Second Samuel. He was beloved. He was a hero: mighty in battle, having defeated Goliath the giant as a young man, and rising to power despite his predecessor’s jealous rages and attempts to kill him. He was handsome, a poet as well as a warrior. A man of God as well a flawed husband, father, and friend. This poem is attributed to him, as his last words. He was the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel, and here he reminds the people that those who would be king after him must be faithful to God for the people to prosper.

David was praised and remembered as a great king, but it was a long struggle for Israel to have kings at all. They had long wanted a king, to be like every nation around them, but God had denied them a king for generations. God knew, God knows, how frail monarchies could be, how terribly human our leaders are, how such power corrupts, how nationalism replaces devotion to the greater good, and how flags and crowns themselves become idols.

But the people of Israel were persistent, and despite the safeguards built in, with the presence of the prophets and the priests advising the king, Israel began a cycle of falling away and returning and falling away and returning to God. Internal division and exile was their fate over centuries. The hopes for a glorious rise, of a king like David, fell time and again, as the kings, and the people, forgot who they were and whose they were, and what ultimately set them apart from all other nations. They forgot that indeed the king was king only by God’s blessing, and that the people were a people in God’s name, in service to the strangers, widows and orphans who lived among them, and not to the glory of the king.

And so it was the time of Roman occupation into which Jesus was born, and the Roman occupation in which he lived, and a people in exile to whom he preached. And it was an agent of the occupation, Pilate, whom Jesus stood before on the eve of his execution, that we read about in John today.

Jesus has entered Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, been welcomed with shouts of Hallelujah, as if he were himself a King, the Anointed One, the Lord himself.

Now we recognize these as religious terms, but these are political titles as well. It was the Caesar who was the Lord, Anointed, the one who who held all power and was the only one worthy of worship. Whatever peace accord the local Jewish leaders had managed to strike with the local Roman authorities was now clearly threatened. Jesus and his followers had been under surveillance for some time, and there had been meetings before, but this was too much. This was more than could be tolerated, more than could be contained. Their greatest fears had been realized. Something had to be

And so when under the cover of darkness, away from the crowds, he was arrested, detained, and brought in for questioning. That’s how he landed before Pilate, Jesus, this pretend King.

Jesus’ teaching, the healings, and other the miracles he perfomed, all pointed to a new reality. For the faithful, they challenged the authority of the scribes and pharisees, those who preserved the tradition, maintaining the peace between the occupied – the Jewish population of Jerusalem – and the occupiers – the Romans.

Jesus’ teaching, the healings and other miracles, went beyond mere religious meddling. Through them, he spoke not only with a new theological voice but offered an alternate political truth. He challenged not only the authority of the temple leaders but of the Roman occupation,and threatened to unsettle the uneasy status quo established between the temple and the palace.

When Jesus stands before Pilate, Pilate wants to know if he is, as he has heard, “King of the Jews.” That is an absurdity, of course. Pilate is mocking Jesus, as well as his accusers. There is no such title; the Jews are no longer a political entity. They have been subsumed by Rome, swallowed up. Jesus’ reply knocks Pilate back to Jesus’ own level: Get real; you only ask that because of what you have been told.

Pilate acknowledges that they are now sparring: Okay, so now you tell me what you have done, who you are, to cause such trouble. Jesus gets to the point: My kingdom is not of this world, he says. It is not like any kingdom you have ever known. It is nothing you can possibly understand. It is not bound by borders, or limited by language, it is not restricted to one land or to one people.

In his retelling of the gospel, Eugene Peterson, in The Message, offers Jesus’ words to Pilate this way: “I was born and entered the world so I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for the truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.”

That is how the realm of Jesus is known, how it is measured, and that is why you can’t find it on a map, and why Pilate can only answer, “What is truth?”

Pilate had to ask that, because he had not seen the truth Jesus had revealed.

He was not there when Jesus washed the disciples feet.

He was not there when Jesus fed the 5000.

He was not there when he saved the woman accused of adultery from being stoned to death by an angry mob.

He was not there when Jesus made the lame walk, gave sight to the blind, and raised Lazarus from the dead.

He was not there when Jesus told his followers to love one another, and that such love would be how others would know that they were followers of the way, the truth, and the life.

And he was not there when Jesus told his followers, over and over again, so they would never forget, that everything he did, he did only because of the one who sent him. “When you see me, you are looking not at me, but at the one who sent me.”

That is the truth Pilate had not seen and did not know. That is who this King of the Jews was who stood before Pilate. And that is the realm of Christ in whom we live today.

This congregation, in this interim time, has a unique opportunity. In this critical moment in your life together, one that doesn’t come around too often, hopefully, you can redefine yourselves. You can take these days to listen to our still speaking God with a future fully open, and ask not with the sarcasm of Pilate, of overly confident or one fearing for his future, but of the grace of community hungry to be faithful, “What is truth?” And hear your Christ say back to you, “I am the way, the truth, the life.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In the realm of Christ there’s a radical expansion and inclusion. What’s promised in the line of David, the line from which Jesus comes, according to the tradition, isn’t just the restoration of Israel, as the disciples understandably but mistakenly thought, but the redemption of the world. Nothing that God loves will ever be lost. No evil will endure. All that God has created (will be redeemed.) The (realm), proclaimed by Jesus the Son of David, is forever. And it’s for everyone.

The gospel this week records the most dramatic political confrontation in all of Scripture: Pontius Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus… For John the passion narrative in general and the trial before Pilate in particular were political rather than religious crises. Jesus’s trial and Roman execution epitomized a clash between two kings and two kingdoms, and the allegiance that they both solicit from us.

The kingdom of God that Jesus announced and embodied is what life would be like on earth, here and now, if God were (sovereign) and the rulers of this world were not (Borg, Crossan). The political, economic, and social subversions would be almost endless:

peace-making instead of war mongering,
mercy not vengeance,
care for the vulnerable instead of privileges for the powerful,
generosity instead of greed,
humility rather than hubris,
embrace rather than exclusion.

The Lord’s Prayer, then, just might be the most subversive of all political acts: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” People who live and pray this way have a very different agenda than Caesar’s, whether Republican or Democrat, whether capitalist, socialist or communist, whether democratic or theocratic. Why? Because they’ve entered a kingdom, pledged their allegiance to a ruler, and submitted to the realm of Christ the King.

May it be so. Amen.

italicized portion: Daniel B. Clendenin, journeywithjesus.net

What does giving do?

By Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis —

As we approach Veterans Day again this year, I remember that my own father was only a small cog in a big wheel of a huge battle. As I described in my Children’s Message just now, he played a small part in a very big war. Yet for anyone who has worked on a combat mission, sports team or factory division or office work group, you know it takes all the little pieces working together. Families know this, churches know this. It takes everyone contributing his or her small piece.

On this Veterans Day weekend, I imagine some of you are thinking of your own military service, of the men and maybe even women, who served with you. All the small and seemingly insignificant pieces you or they contributed to war and peacetime efforts together. Some of us think about family and friends who are connected intimately to us on this day; we might think of those who currently serve in Afghanistan or the Middle East, or are stationed anywhere around the globe, doing/giving their small parts of a huge effort by our nation to keep the peace, insure justice. They do their part to, yes, enable the continuance of a certain way of life that we Americans have come to expect, with all the freedoms and the privileges that this way of life entails. We might recall that there is not, at present, a draft and compulsory service in this country. A very small percentage of our country actually fights our wars for us now, smaller than any time in our history. Acknowledging of national observances like Veterans Day can get complicated! While my dad’s generation experienced a general, although not full, agreement about “who is our enemy” and the need for our countries fight in both Europe and the Pacific, we really haven’t shared that kind of consensus about going to war as a nation since then. We’ve seen debates about the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and more recent wars/invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq divide families and congregations. Many of us want to honor veterans and support current troops, yet few churches have ongoing programs addressing the often nightmarish needs of our most recently returned veterans. How do we acknowledge that Veterans Day is both a happy and sad day, as I described to the children? How might we to respond to the enormous needs of the current group of returning veterans, as we look ahead to Veterans Day on this Wednesday? What are we called to give?

We remember that it was 97 years ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month that the armistice with Imperial Germany and the Allied nations went into effect and the killing in Europe stopped. Both my grandfathers, young men in their early 20s, served in the trenches in northern France. When I peppered my surviving Grampy with questions about life in the trenches however, he would only say with a solemn smile: “Well…the trenches of France were where I learned to drink black coffee.” Answering my puzzled look, he continued, “because we couldn’t get cream and sugar in the trenches.” And that was all he would say. I remember pondering over this small detail, really the only child-appropriate detail concerning the hellish conditions of trench warfare, and a whole new world opened up to me. Into my safe, bountiful, post WWII childhood experience of the world came a new awareness about not just wartime, but about less, having little….and learning to appreciate what you had.

Jesus of Nazareth seemed to have a preference for little, insignificant things. In his teaching stories he would talk about little lost sheep, small coins misplaced in a house, tiny mustard seeds. And today in Mark, this story of the widow dropping a minuscule gift, roughly equivalent to two pennies, in the Temple offering box. The New Testament Gospel accounts record that Jesus spent a lot of time with the little, insignificant people of his time, the lowly street people, the reviled sex workers of his day, the resented tax collectors, the repulsive folks with leprosy, and all those scrappy bothersome poor people.

We say in the Christian faith that Jesus is the visible sign of “God’s character and passion” (Marcus Borg, “Heart of Christianity,” p. 81). I would guess that God must be pretty interested in little things and insignificant people too. As I read through today’s story from Mark, I would dare say that God has a real passion for the small: God is concerned about the underdog and the weak in our society, those without title or status or education or property, the people who seem “little” to us.

We learn about God’s attention and concern as Jesus points out the widow in the temple in today’s reading. Jesus has been doing some people-watching on the outskirts of the huge Temple in Jerusalem. He notes this sharp contrast between the pompous giving of the scribes and the generosity of the woman with little money. Scribes were not Jewish priests in the temple; they were actually a rich class of educated landowners found in the urban centers, and at that time were often known for their manipulation of the poor, including powerless widows. Lest we think of ourselves as too different from the scribes, we remember that most of us probably live well or even adequately in part from our own efforts, and also in large part, for many of us, because of the accident of our birth into particular skin color, families and communities. We live well in part because others around the world live poorly. This was the case of the first century scribes. They lived well because of others’ poverty. It is difficult for me to remember, as I marvel at some inexpensive item at my local big box store, that imported cheap goods are mostly made by people in factories who are brutally underpaid. So small daily choices I make even in my shopping connects me with the rest of the world.

Jesus wants us to consider the scribes’ disregard for and even misuse of the poor. He also wants his listeners to notice the widow’s confidence, this woman with just a few coins. She boldly walks up to the Temple offering boxes and gives everything she has. She doesn’t hold back, paralyzed by thinking she is too old, too weak, or poor or insignificant to accomplish anything for God. Small things done with faithfulness, with consistency. This is the work of God’s kingdom, says Jesus.

It is important to remember in this interim time, this period between one settled pastor and your next settled pastor, that God can do much with small things. Maybe you have never pledged before to a church, or haven’t pledged your financial support here in a long time. For starters, it may help to remember that the size of a pledge is not the most important issue here. I believe it is the intention, it is the claiming of a hopefulness, a willingness to engage in the unfolding future of this congregation, even if the pledge is for only a few dollars a week. It’s the consistency in fulfilling that intention that begins to shape us through the year, as we commit ourselves to God’s work in and through this church. Some would say it’s a discipline that, when practiced regularly, helps put a lot of things into perspective for us. Our giving makes us more conscious about how we spend our money in general; we watch and are aware of each piece of spending that we do and each intention and value that this spending reflects. Small daily activities, that add up over time and shape us into who God calls us to be.

Perhaps this Veterans Day weekend, it can be the daily small acts of bravery and compassion performed by our servicemen and women that inspires us. What do we do here on the home front that furthers God’s hope for peace and justice in our world? How might this church reach out to both active-duty servicemen and women and to our local veterans? How might our church contribute to peacekeeping in our community? Perhaps we might explore how this church could provide a forum for civil, respectful and peace-filled conversation about the controversial sidewalk issue emerging in Falcon Heights! There are new small things that we have yet, with God’s guidance, to imagine.

Let us not underestimate what God is doing now, and dreaming of doing in the future, through this church. Size doesn’t seem to be an issue to our creative and transforming God. God is simply looking for partners who will side with the vulnerable, the poor, the returning veteran who is struggling, the disenfranchised in our world. Who will do these little but self-sacrificing things on their behalf, like the woman with the few coins? God is asking us to be co-creators in taking little and creating much. And how blessed we are to be invited into this partnership. Amen.

Treasures and generosity

By Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis —

You may have heard about how the popular personal finance expert Suzy Orman begins each of her conversations with a new client. She asks them to think back over their upbringing and youth, their early adult years, and to describe to her their memories about money. She invites people to tell a money story from these years. I might tell a story about learning the value of a few small coins after I had taken some from my mother’s purse at age 5. And then lied to my dad about it! What story would you tell about money in your childhood? Do you remember seeing it or holding some before you knew what it was? Perhaps there was strained money talk between your parents, grandparents. Was there arguing about how it was spent or earned or saved, or was it never discussed at all? What memories about money might shape how you think and feel about money today? If you were raised during or right after the Great Depression in this country, your experience of money would be very different than someone born in the 1980s.

If you were raised in a faith community, what did you learn about money in Sunday school or from your church leaders? What did you think God thought about money? How did your parents and church leaders talk about money? Was it an encouraging message? Or did the pastor or priest harangue folks about giving, giving, giving?! Did large donors to the church get treated differently than the people who gave less?

We each bring different experiences about money into the life of a congregation. And each generation represented in this congregation brings different ideas and attitudes about money, based on when they were born and which generation they identify with. The World War II generation, and those born during World War II, have quite a different perspective on money. They often have stayed with one company or business, eventually paid off their home mortgage and may seldom carry a credit card debt. There is my generation, the Baby Boomers. We have different ideas about savings and debt and compensation. There is my own kids’ generation, duly named the Millennials and born from the mid-1980s up until about 2000. A generation often mired in school debt, with early access to credit cards, and sometimes unable to find adequate work or to buy a home of their own. Perhaps not raised in the church, this generation may have no history or practical knowledge of what it means to support the work of the congregation financially. And oh, yes, how about those kids born in this 21st century? They are not very old yet, don’t hold jobs or credit cards, but their experience of money is already very different. Watching parents pay with debit and credit cards, or the flash of a smart phone, they may not even know what paper money or coins look like! This is getting complicated. Is it any wonder we get all tangled up when talking about money and dealing with finances in the church?

It’s Foundation Sunday, a long-standing tradition in this particular congregation. Not a bad time to do some reflection on money, stewardship and generosity. It’s a day to welcome the annual gift, which comes from a portion of the interest earned on the balance of the church endowment funds that are held in trust. Funds accumulated over the years from gifts received. Gifts from Falcon Heights Church members and friends who affirmed the founding vision of this church, and were hopeful and trusting about the evolving ministries of this congregation. Gifts given out of a deep desire that the giver’s own positive experiences about God’s power and the blessedness of community could be extended to others, long after he or she had left this earth. Legacy gifts, given to signal what was most important to the givers. Gifts that were a sharing of treasure, which give us an idea of where their hearts were at the time of the giving. This is a good Sunday to think about what we each treasure and how this connects with our spiritual well-being.

“Where your treasure is, there you heart will be also,” said Jesus. I love the fact that Jesus often talked about money, because it reminds me that Jesus was always practical about the life of faith. He knew where to touch people, where they were most needy, bringing comfort to the discomforted. He also knew where to nudge or poke people where they were most stuck, bringing discomfort to the comfortable. People in his time would often store their treasure in the purchase of extravagant and costly garments; women’s headdresses might be woven with coins. Not unlike today, with our homes, cars and clothing, you could tell who was of a certain means. We “store” our treasure in all kinds of places besides banks. Jesus not only called people out on not giving to the poor, a supreme value and mandate in their Jewish religious tradition. He also knew that how we “store” our treasure has a lot to do with our spiritual health. Not whether or not you get into the afterlife, but our spiritual well-being in this life. How attached am I to my possessions, to my stuff?

Perhaps you have heard the story of his interaction with a young rich man. This man approaches Jesus and asks about eternal, abundant life – Jesus, how can I live most fully, most abundantly, both now and in the life to come? Jesus patiently walks him through the basics of their Jewish faith: are you loving God with your whole heart, mind, body and soul? Are you following the Ten Commandments? Are you acting with love toward your neighbor? Yes, yes, says the young man. Well, says Jesus, and you can imagine him eyeing this young man very closely then—had news of this inquirer’s wealth reached Jesus, or perhaps it was obvious in his dress? Well, first, sell all you have and give it to the poor….and you will have treasure in heaven….then come and follow me. But “when the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” (Matthew 19:23).  What was the extreme loss this young man was grieving? He didn’t want to let go of something that he treasured. But something grieved him in the holding on. What did he recognize in that moment, with his hands and his heart full of attachment to his possessions?

The apostle Paul later wrote to the church at Corinth, as he implored them to give generously to help people in need in faraway Jerusalem: “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” It’s a wonderfully ambiguous phrase in Greek: God loves a cheerful giver. It also can also be translated: a cheerful giver loves God. Jesus knew that the rich young man’s love of God and giving away of his possessions were intimately related.

Give away your possessions and “you will have treasure in heaven,” said Jesus. Is this about accumulating brownie points with God, which add up to a certain amount, the scales are tipped and we have access through the pearly gates when we die? I do not think so. But what? It may help to remember that Jesus was constantly reminding people that not only is there an unseen world all around and within us, but the Kingdom of God, God’s reign here on earth, is somewhat obscure. He knew we have a “default mode” where we tend to think that what we see, feel, taste, touch, measure is the totality of the real world. Like a default setting on our consciousness (see commentary by Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, February 25, 2009, on Working Preacher.org <https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=25>).
Jesus was always about confronting and shifting our attention, altering our perceptions.

Jews in his time were not preoccupied with the afterlife, certainly not in the manner that we Christians became myopically focused on heaven and hell beginning with European medieval times. When we hear Jesus talk about “heaven” we need to pay attention. He is referencing the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, God’s reign of peace, justice, mercy and compassion here on earth and within each of us. Generosity with our money, addressing the needs of the poor, is about something much more basic than heavenly brownie points. It enables us to put our “treasure” – what is most important to us – in God’s hands. We make our relationships, our bodies, our families, our possessions, our money, all that we treasure, available for the work of God’s reign among us.

Since you and I live in a money economy, where almost every day we are making some kind of transaction that involves our accumulated money treasure, we have many opportunities to engage this spiritual practice. And it’s a balance, isn’t it? We each have responsibilities and obligations related to our money. Few of us can give it all away. Somehow we must be fed and sheltered, and do that for our dependents. But Jesus would say, where is your treasure? Where is your heart this week? As we reach for the plastic credit or debt card this week, write a check, perhaps look over our investment portfolio, finger some dollar bills, rattle some change in our pockets, and make the exchange to purchase some additional something…where will our treasure be?

Thanks be to God for those who have gone before us in this congregation and who have generously shared of their treasure through the Foundation Trust fund. As the Apostle Paul declared: “…the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints (the church), but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” Amen.