Grace Episcopal Church
Many of you know that a few years ago the structure of our annual parish meeting was changed to give time for Anne, Mary Lea and me to report on the highlights of our ministries during the previous year. I think that was a very positive change, not because I need another chance to speak to the parish, but because I never cease to marvel at the amazingly rich and creative work done by my colleagues and friends. I am always moved by the stories they tell, capturing a little of the crucial ministry that goes on largely hidden from view at choir practice, or in a Sunday school classroom or during one of the many events they devise and lead, especially for the children of Grace.
This year’s annual meeting presented me with a bit of a problem, though. I had only started back at Grace in mid-November, leaving me with very little material for my report. I also knew that in the latter part of the meeting there was going to be a frank and sober discussion about some longstanding and increasingly troubling parish financial issues. So, what should I say?
A few days before the meeting, I settled on the theme of gratitude. Of course, you can’t go wrong with gratitude! But, I was feeling particularly grateful to be back with all of you and to be working again with Lauren and my other friends and colleagues. Plus, as I flipped through the annual report, I was reminded of just how much we have to be thankful for – of all the many wonderful ministries that happen here and the talents and abundance we have been given. We have been given so many gifts!
The morning of the meeting one final idea popped into my head: God wants us to re-gift. In my remarks I wanted to make the point that usualy when we give someone a gift it’s hurtful if that person re-gifts what we have given to them. I made up a story about carefully choosing a sweater to give to Lauren for Christmas, only to later find that she had re-gifted my thoughtful gift to the clothing sale. Not a true story, though it got a big laugh at the meeting.
But, God’s different – God is all about gifts. God has given us everything that we have. It’s all gift! Moreover, God wants, hopes - even demands - that we re-gift. God calls each of us to re-gift what we have so generously been given.
Perhaps getting a little carried away, many of you will remember that I then challenged the parish to raise $4,000 in our “Souper Bowl” fundraiser on Super Bowl Sunday. I thought it was a doable goal but a challenging one, since we would not be receiving the matching grant that has been given in recent years. But, this would be a great opportunity to re-gift a little of what we have been given to some of the poorest and neediest people in our area, the people who are fed each day by the Community Soup Kitchen in Morristown.
Well, you know the rest of the story. The parishioners of Grace Church – you – came through with a whopping $5,460.50! After the 9:00 service on Super Bowl Sunday the Rite 13 youth group and I counted what had been collected so far, and, we had already achieved our original goal. The kids were so excited and amazed. I hadn’t thought of it beforehand, but what a lesson for them about the power and joy of generosity.
The Souper Bowl collection was a great example of re-gifting, of sharing with others even just a little of the abundant gifts we have received.
The season of Lent is a time when the Church invites and challenges us to focus on the ways that we have fallen short of living the loving and generous lives that God hopes and expects for us. During these forty days we are given a special opportunity to repent, to turn back to God and to turn back to our brothers and sisters. Many of us appropriately think of Lent as a time of self-denial, a time to give up chocolate or soda or smoking or something else that’s unessential, or even destructive, in our lives. In more recent times there has been an increased emphasis on “taking on” something for Lent – often a new ministry or spiritual practice. Again, this is certainly an appropriate way to mark the season, assuming that you can take on something that will help you and others and not just add one more burden to an already packed and stressful life.
Personally, while I may give up something and take something on during Lent, mostly I’m going to think of this as a special season of re-gifting. I’m going to try to use these days to reflect on all the good gifts that God has given me – my family and friends, meaningful and challenging work, and a comfortable life in a very pleasant community. And I’m going to look for ways to re-gift, maybe by dropping some cash into my “mite box” or in other unforeseen ways that God may have in mind.
I invite you to join me, since during Lent and in every season, we’re all called by God to re-gift.