By Karl Doege….
The last post commented on the “person of the covenant” as set forth in the Sacrament of Baptism liturgy. It was stated that all baptized Christians are Persons of the Covenant, and that their behavior and priorities are governed, ideally, by the promises made at the time of baptism. Among the priorities named in the Baptismal Covenant are “fighting against the forces of evil,” and “following and obeying Jesus as Lord.”
The present post will set forth the implications of Eucharist in the life of a “person of the covenant.”
The term “Eucharist” is taken from a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” At his final meal with his disciples, Jesus, taking bread and wine, blessed and gave thanks for the bread and wine. He distributed these “creatures” to his disciples, instructing them to “do this in remembrance of me.” (Not unimportantly, Jesus also told his disciples that his body and his blood were present in the bread and wine.) Accordingly, when the priest, who in any sacrament represents the “persons of the covenant” (and even those not of the covenant) who are present, he/she is doing as Jesus wishes, i.e., blessing and giving thanks for the elements, and for the presence of Jesus (in some fashion) within the elements. The priest then distributes the bread and the wine to those who wish to partake of them. Thus, all who participate in this Eucharist participate in a service of thanksgiving according to Jesus’ instruction.
Mostly, we all know about this – at least everyone who is reading this is quite familiar with most or all of the above. The point to be emphasized here is the role of thanksgiving in the Eucharistic liturgy, and implications of thanksgiving for stewardship. So, as this is being written, a short study of the verbiage of the “Eucharistic Prayers” in the Book of Common Prayer is taking place in order to find language therein concerning what we ordinarily think of as “stewardship.” What does our Eucharistic liturgy say about why we should be thankful and how we must show our gratitude.
In Eucharistic Prayer A, (p.363), we ask that God would make us holy (“sanctify us”) so that we may “serve you in unity, constancy and peace.” (I interpret this to mean that it is our prayer to learn to live into our baptismal covenant.) But mostly Prayer A seems to be about atonement. I’d rather move along.
In Prayer B, (p.368), we give thanks for God’s blessings, namely, God’s “goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation; in the calling of Israel to be your people; in your Word spoken through the prophets;” – (referring to Jesus). (Note the capital “W” in “Word.”)] We also read, “. . . you have brought us out of error into truth, . . . out of death into life.” (These words have deep, symbolic meaning.)
In Prayer C, (p.370), we acknowledge God as Creator and remember how God has “blessed us with memory, reason and skill.” We thank God for the blessing God gave us in the person of Jesus. We ask that God “open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us.” We ask for solace and strength, for pardon and renewal. We ask that our community of faith might be as “one body, one Spirit in Christ.” We note that our grateful response to the fulfillment of our prayers must be “that we might worthily serve the world in [Christ’s] name.”
Prayer D, (p.372), addresses God as “Fountain of life and source of all goodness,” who made all things and filled them with blessing so that they might rejoice in the splendor of God’s radiance. We acclaim God’s wisdom and love, our being that is formed in God’s image, our role as stewards of God’s creation, God’s guiding love – even in spite of our waywardness. We thank God for guidance into wholeness by the words of the prophets. We praise God for the role model of Jesus (which we are to follow) who proclaimed the good news of our own healing, freedom to prisoners, joy to the sorrowful. We note that our response to all these great blessings must be our own resurrected and victorious lives. (The Prayer Book says it this way: “. . . and rising from the grave, destroyed death, and made the whole creation new.” (p.374)
So all of the Eucharistic Prayers emphasize a grand view of the many blessings we have received from God – for which we give thanks in response.
The Eucharist is not yet done: not until we give our verbal response to the reception of the bread and the wine. We say: “Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (p.365) Or, “. . .send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” (p.366) Eucharist has renewed us with strength to continue to live into our role as “persons of the covenant.”
Eucharistic liturgy is the way we enumerate our blessings and indicate to ourselves and to God the manner in which we will respond to them in gratitude. That’s the point of it all.
Through this sacrament we receive strength and renewal to love and serve: to be good and faithful stewards. Through this sacrament, we acknowledge that the bread and the wine are not just for us alone but, through us, they are for all of God’s creation.
Eucharist is a reminder that we are to be Good Stewards of all that God has given us, and that we must participate in God’s work in the world – because we are baptized and we are thankful.
Indeed, we are Persons of the Covenant!
Karl Doege, July 2012
Dr. Walter Brueggemann strongly supports the concept of tithing. He describes the “person of the covenant” as someone who understands tithing as a means of returning to God something that is owed to God for God’s many blessings. He cites Malachi 3:8ff in support of this position: “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. I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.”
How’s that for a biblical text that supports the concept of the tithe?
Yet, surprisingly, the scripture quoted above does not substantiate a biblical command to tithe. Rather, this scripture refers to a “tithe of a tithe.” The biblical text is critical of the Levites for not tithing from the tithes they receive from the other tribes ofJudah. The Levites, it seems, should be giving a tithe of all they receive, from the other eleven tribes, tithes they receive for their own sustenance. This “tithe of a tithe” is given in support of the members of the priesthood who are descended from Aaron and have no other income. So, in fact, it is the Levites, not the common Israelites, of whom the Lord is being critical.
Maybe I’m splitting hairs by thinking such thoughts. But maybe not.
I am not learned enough to critique Dr. Brueggemann – a preeminent biblical scholar – on this subject of tithing. He supports the concept of tithing, and so doI.But Dr. Brueggemann does not, in his address to the 2010 plenary session of TENS, (see previous post), cite a scriptural text mandating the tithe from all Israelites, (which subject will be discussed in a following post).
(Tithing is generally regarded as a biblical mandate. But it seems that there is some debate about whether tithing is scripturally mandated and, in the Stewardship page entitled “Resources,” you can learn of books, by (reportedly) biblical scholars, who argue that a mandate to tithe is not supported by scripture. I have not read any of the books, though I obviously must read one or more of them to become better informed about this issue. Indeed, the very idea that tithing may not be supported scripturally comes as a complete surprise to me.)
But here’s a way of seeing what a “person of the covenant” is all about, and how the “person of the covenant” responds to the terms of the covenant. The following comments support, at least, the concept of fighting against the forces of evil while following and obeying Jesus as Lord. How might such principles, found in the baptismal covenant, be translated into terms related to liberal giving and good stewardship practices?
All baptized persons are “persons of the covenant,” – the Baptismal Covenant – which poses the question, “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?” (BOCP, p. 302).
There are lots of “spiritual forces of wickedness” out there, and most of them encourage us to pay attention to our own needs. They encourage idolatry of self. Something of these spiritual forces can be seen in just about every advertisement that pops up on your cell phone, iPod, or computer: “Buy one of these,” “you need this.” On every billboard you will find something that encourages you to spend money on yourself or your family, that suggests that you can buy your happiness. On the other hand, I challenge you to find an ad that encourages you to give liberally in support of those who have so little that they cannot function, the homeless, the destitute, the hungry. A “person of the covenant” fights against spiritual forces that promote idolatry of self or anything else that does not contribute to God’s work in the world. The “person of the covenant” fights mightily against the tyranny of consumerism.
Also: “Do you promise to follow and obey Jesus as your Lord?” Jesus is the unchallenged human example, for Christians, of what it means to lead a “covenantal life.” He’s the author of the “Parable of the Sheep and the Goats,” (Mt. 25:31ff). He’s the one who demands not just our money, but also our selves, our souls, 100% of all we are – at any time and anywhere. (See “The Widow’s Mite,” (Lk 21:1-4), the “Story of the Rich Young Ruler,” (Lk 18:18-23)) Accordingly, if we are not fighting against “spiritual forces of wickedness,” – spiritual forces that encourage each of us to idolize our own wants and put them ahead of God’s agenda – we are not following and obeying our Lord.
That’s part of what it means to be a “person of the covenant.”
The other part will be the subject of the next post – the “person of the covenant” as set forth in Eucharist. Indeed, it is Baptism and Eucharist that mark all Christians as being “of the covenant.”
(I guess it might be appropriate to say that Christians are a subset of “People of the Book,” and that these two sacraments mark the major difference between Christians and the other religions of the Book – namely Jews and Muslims.)
I hope you didn’t finding reading this post too burdensome.
Ta ta for now.
by Karl Doege
In his address to the plenary session of the 2010 TENS Conference (The Episcopal Network for Stewardship), Dr. Walter Brueggemann profiles two different responses to the idea of stewardship. The first is that of the autonomous person. The autonomous individual thinks he/she has no one to whom to answer. This is the person who is prepared to “go it alone,” who doesn’t count anything as blessing, who believes that everything that happens is merely chance, who does not recognize any overall governing principle in his or her life. He/she doesn’t need any help. Such a person owes nobody anything.
It may seem difficult to recognize such cold characteristics in anyone we know personally, and I might be drawing too cold a picture of the autonomous individual. But a little thought might reveal that our lives are affected by such people – people whom we perhaps do not know personally, but whom we know about. We know these people primarily because of what they DO, not because of what they say. What they DO reveals that “the bottom line” is all that matters. They are people who use other people to promote their own causes. They are people who run the systems that we think of as “systemic evil.” They are often people who govern us. They may be people who run large corporations. On a less influential level, they may be the ordinary “users and abusers” who seem to always need something done for them, while they offer nothing in return, who think the world “owes” them something, who take but don’t give.
The problem is that we are all affected by such people, perhaps most often unknowingly – which might make us part of the problem rather than part of the solution. We are often unwitting victims of such an autonomous philosophy because we so often “buy into the system.” Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it – in the short term. In the case of governance, we don’t get much choice about who governs us. We might vote for the person whom we think represents the best choice, but that person is often beholden to the wishes of large corporations with no other motivation than increasing their own profit or promoting their own sinister interests. And in our own personal lives, we are all influenced by the norms of a consumer society – influenced to the degree that we become needlessly stretched financially and can barely afford what we need, so that we cannot afford be generous toward others.
A place to begin a fight against systemic evil would be to ask ourselves this question: “Do our own spending habits keep us from being generous toward meeting the needs of others?”
When we become aware of the way we spend our money and become aware of the choices we make, we may become aware that there is always a part of us that wants to be autonomous ourselves. Honest assessment of how we use our resources is the first step in becoming what Dr. Brueggemann would call a “person of the Covenant.” (I will be trying to describe such a person in my next posting.)
by Karl Doege
As a general rule, in church settings, a “Stewardship Program” is primarily concerned with the giving of money. Of course, there is honorable mention of giving of one’s time and talent and recognition that our congregation is simply unable to do what needs to be done with regard to church without the donations of time and talent from all of us. Just about everything that the church does involves the willingness of the members of the congregation to give both time and talent. Too, we make every attempt to emphasize that stewardship involves what we do with what we have in all walks of life. Stewardship really involves everything we do with anything that we have – all the time. Nevertheless, when we mention “Stewardship Program,” we are usually placing an emphasis on “financial stewardship” – giving of one’s money.
Accordingly, we go about getting our stewardship program message across by devising plans for “raising money.” We emphasize the fact that we have a budget for the coming year – a budget that needs to be met. The budget, of course, is an accounting of how the church staff plans to spend the money received in donation. So a stewardship program that raises money to meet its budget is actually a way of acknowledging what one will receive in return for giving: The staff will get paid; All the various programs will have money to keep functioning; a certain amount must be allowed for building maintenance, etc.
So raising money to meet a budget might really be viewed as a format for an exchange of services. In most circles this is called Fund Raising. And, to tell the truth, like it or not, this is what most stewardship programs are about. Fund raising is not necessarily a bad approach. It is even generally a needful approach. In any case, I’m not sure there its entirely possible to get away from such an approach given the reality that the church needs money in order to “do church” as well as to carry out its mission.
Another approach to Stewardship would be to emphasize the fact that we are all called upon to be generous with our monetary resources. We note that there are so many people who do not have food, shelter, clothing, family, anyone to help them. Of course, we note that we have a building and programs and staff, but their overall purpose is to minister to the poor and needy and those who are on the fringes and without resources. The emphasis in this latter approach is placed not on meeting a budget but on giving because Generosity is a way of Christian Stewardship – a way of life.
I’m not sure that the two philosophies of giving can really be divorced from each other. “Fund Raising,” while seemingly a very cold way of viewing stewardship, is what we need to do if the work of the church is to be carried on. The real question might be, “Are we raising funds for ourselves, to meet our own needs as a congregation, or are we raising funds so that we can minister to those who are in need.”
If a person gives for the latter reason, i.e., to share generously with those who are in need, then the person is giving from a spirit of generosity. If a person gives for the former reason, then giving is pretty much self-serving – and hard to get away from. (The reality is that serving ourselves has, over time, proven to be what we’re best at. And we resist a change of mindset – even for the sake of generosity, especially if it affects our pocketbooks.)