Happy Tenth Anniversary

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. - Psalm 118:1

It has been ten years now that I have served as an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. Some anniversaries, like tenth and fiftieth, and maybe all those in increments of ten, seem to hold a special place in our mental calendars. They seem to be more important milestones than say, the eighth or eleventh anniversary.

I have been thinking around this anniversary of the reasons why I said yes to the call and the occasion of my ordination. That ordination was on the Feast Day of Saint Augustine of Canterbury. Canterbury, not the more famous Augustine of Hippo. This Augustine, not of Hippo, was a monk at a monastery in Rome when Pope Gregory the Great chose him to lead a mission to England in 595. This mission was to re-establish the church in England following an almost two hundred year period when the British Isles were cut off from Rome and the Roman Empire. Augustine was a reluctant missionary and for good reason. His destination was an unknown land, ruled by Saxon heathens who were always fighting and selling the defeated into slavery. The Saxons spoke a strange language that no one knew and whatever authority the Pope had elsewhere did not hold sway here. What good could forty unarmed monks do if they even managed to survive first contact with these fierce barbarians? Augustine stopped before he reached his destination and made an appeal to the Pope to reconsider the mission. Gregory sent him a second time and he arrived in 597 to find a receptive King Aethelbert of Kent. As it turned out, the king’s wife Bertha was a Christian. The king soon converted, gave land for churches, and Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Who saw that coming for Augustine the reluctant monk, Augustine the fortunate, Augustine now forever the saint, and first Archbishop and head of our Anglican tradition?

In the aftermath, I wonder what Augustine had to say to God about his doubts and his hesitation. I wonder what Augustine had to say to God about his good fortune in finding a receptive king and something of a church still remaining in that forgotten land. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

It seems proper that I was ordained on the Feast Day of Saint Augustine. There have been many times that I have been like him. Like him, I can find myself with doubts and reluctant to take chances on the unknown. In those moments, I want to arm myself with data and probabilities for success before setting out to a reasonable end. Like him, my doubts can lead me to stop short of greater goals. And like him, I can find myself delighted by outcomes that were much better than anticipated. I have lots of old family photos and no one is smiling. They seem to have their doubts and their faces seem to show their reservation. Maybe that is a family trait or a larger German trait. A couple DNA tests say that I am 50-60 percent Britain. Maybe Augustine, with his doubts, is a distant relative.

It is important that doubts and reluctance are not confused with an absence of faith. My ancestors’ faith carried them through hard times and I am sure Augustine’s doubts were not about the core of his faith. Perhaps like you, the unknown gives me reason to pause and to question, but that is because we have faith and are in those moments grappling with our faith. Doubt and faith are not opposites. I would like to think that Augustine shares with me another trait - gratitude. I would like to think that he too experienced over and over that God is good and his love endures forever. I said yes to the call to ordained ministry out of gratitude for so many unforeseen blessings. God has been exceedingly good to me. One might think all those unforeseen blessings would cause me to be less doubting and less questioning. Those remain, but gratitude is really what has grown.

On this tenth anniversary, I am grateful for the places I have gone, often reluctantly, and have been blessed to find something greater than I could have asked or imagined. I am grateful that going through those places has brought me here. I give thanks to the LORD and my witness is that he is good and that his love endures forever.

Grace and peace, Fr Bill+

Founders Day

“The history of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd is your story as well as it is mine. It is the story of God’s people, created by Him to live according to His will and purpose. It is the memory and story of times and events we share, that made us the family that we are.” - Eleanor Wilson, 2005

By now you have likely noticed that I like to share stories. Stories are the vessels of our collective wisdom and truths. When memorable, they are usually more effective in communicating wisdom and truth than are speeches or lectures, or least they seem to have more lasting power. My guess is that many more people can remember and share the basic outline and morals taught by childhood fables than they can of any Presidential speech.

The quote above is from a small book written by Ellie Wilson for the fiftieth anniversary of this parish. If you can find a copy, it is well worth reading again or for the first time. It tells a story of the founders of this parish, how they came to establish this church, and the story of its life since then. In the early 1950's, four couples from Clay County, each with their own local faith community, would occasionally attend the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Murphy. In each couple, one person was a lifelong Episcopalian and the other had strong ties to these Western North Carolina mountains. It was those four - Rufus and Dorothy Vick, Ruth and Quintin Moore, Eva and Jim Ledford, and Ellie and Monroe Wilson - who started a monthly fellowship and study group that became the Church of the Good Shepherd.

From the very beginning, this church has been about fellowship and welcoming. Perhaps that is why we find those so important to our parish character and why we continue to do those so well. We also see that from our beginning this parish has been a meeting place for people drawn to a liturgical form of worship and for those drawn to live in the natural beauty of this area. This is our God-given genesis DNA. Ask your fellow parishioners why they are members of Good Shepherd and you will probably hear something about welcome and fellowship, worship, and the attraction of the mountains. This is in our DNA and it makes us a special place. Ellie’s book is full of stories that may help us all more appreciate just how very special is this church community and its various ministries. For example, do we not all appreciate our wonderful Chancel Choir and our music director, Keith Christensen? Do you know its history? In 1993 “the choir had five members, Mary Anne Koos, Bob Gaunt, Doris Etler, Joe and Evie Green. Every Sunday we pleaded with the congregation to come join the choir. One night this cute little blonde showed up and asked if it was all right if she could sing with us. We nearly fell off our seats! ... That was the first time any of us had met Bev Larson. Then she said she sang alto and she has a sister who sang soprano and a husband who sang tenor. We had more than doubled the choir.” I am grateful to that group of five and that they expressed the welcome and fellowship that mark us as a parish.

This year we have moved our Founder’s Day celebration to Sunday, May 19 in honor of Ellie Wilson’s one hundredth birthday. Ellie and Monroe’s children will be with us that day. Eva and Jim Ledford’s children will be here too. Two of those children are current members of the parish. Can you identify them? I ask that you please save the date for this special occasion when we will celebrate the story of us.

Grace and peace, Fr. Bill+


“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Romans 6:3-5

Have you ever been told that you should learn something because you will need to know it later on? How often has that been true or not true? Trigonometry, Beowulf, the periodic table, folding that bottom sheet. I realize that much of education is about learning to think and learning how to find and process information, and not just collecting data. Surprisingly, although I did not find it fun and my ability to read the text quickly left me, my two years of studying the biblical languages have continually proven to be helpful. “Boker tov, y’all!”

It is not that I remember and use the few hundred words of Hebrew and Greek that I learned, but that I know those words have more meaning than just that suggested by the typical English translation. And I know how to find that information. Getting into the biblical languages, the original Hebrew and Greek, can open up the English text of the Bible to new insights. Bible veterans in particular may appreciate this, but newcomers can do this too. Fortunately, there are now on -line resources that make this an easier thing to do.

Consider an important word for this Easter season - resurrection. There are likely few words equal to and maybe none greater to our faith than resurrection. Easter is about the resurrection and without the resurrection there would be no Easter. Further, without the resurrection there would be no resurrection for any of us. Without resurrection we would have no future, no hope. Most Christians associate resurrection with coming back from the dead.

When we look at the Greek text, we find for resurrection the word ἀνάστασις or anastasis which is a compound of ana + stasis meaning to up + stand. Resurrection is literally to stand up. Going deeper we find that the root of the word stand is ἵστημι or histemi meaning not just to stand, but also to be in balance and to be steadfast. Resurrection is a returning from the dead, but it also is a standing up, a being in balance or what we might call true, and it is being steadfast.

Since none of those require one to be dead, I wonder about the possibility of practicing resurrection among us not yet dead. Is resurrection something we can practice before the grave? Standing up for justice, peace, and mercy is resurrection life. Living a balanced life of work, study, prayer, and rest might be resurrection too. Remaining steadfast in loving your neighbor regardless of their worthiness, could that be resurrection too?

Alleluia, Christ is risen. May you know resurrection too.

Fr Bill+

To All the World

A borrowed story: “One Sunday evening, William Booth was walking in London with his son, Bramwell, who was then 12 or 13 years old. The father surprised the son by taking him into a saloon! The place was crowded with men and women, many of them bearing on their faces the marks of vice and crime; some were drunk. The fumes of alcohol and tobacco were poisonous. ‘Willie,’ Booth said to his son, ‘These are our people; these are the people I want you to live for and bring to Christ.’ Years later, Bramwell Booth wrote, ‘The impression never left me.’”

Some years ago, on a visit to Honduras, I asked to go out with Honduran missionary students to see how they do street level evangelism. I was joined with a young man and a young woman whose English was as limited as my Spanish. That did not seem to matter as we walked the neighborhood near their missionary training school and visited with anyone who cared to talk. There were middle-aged women making tortillas, older women watching over children, men transporting wheel barrows and working on homes, and young people just hanging out. Some conversations were simple exchanges of pleasant greetings, but occasionally someone would engage us in a longer conversation. I learned that they talked about how things were going for that person, what their concerns were, and what they might want prayer for along with a reassurance of God’s love. And that is it. Really simple, right? Just walking around, meeting people where they are, talking with them about their concerns, and offering them prayer and reassurance.

Later, a ministry leader shared with me that bars are common places where they do this kind of work. That sounded odd to me, but they explained that many people are often busy and in a hurry to get somewhere when you meet them on the street. People in bars have time on their hands and are often willing to have a conversation. So, they do bar evangelism. They talk to people about their lives and their concerns and about what help they need. They also go out onto the streets where the women are selling themselves. That is risky, but they are going where there is need, to the people who are in need.

At the end of his ministry, Jesus says to his followers “Go.” I think the church has made the going into all the world too “churchy.” By that I mean, we have made it too much of asking “Do you know Jesus” and “Have you been saved?” or “Do you have a church?” and “Would you please come to mine?”

By that I mean, we have made it too much about bringing people into the church instead of getting church people out of the church and into meeting, being present with, and maybe even serving others. What I have seen and what I believe is Christ-like evangelism, is to simply go and be with people where they are and to show them the love and support of Christ by helping them accomplish their dreams. Evangelism is just that. You and your family can do that in your neighborhood. You and a friend can do that around your town square. You can do it at the café area of Ingles. I have March 30 marked on my calendar for going out. Maybe I’ll check out the town square. I hope to see you around.

Grace and peace,

Spiritual Gifts

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. - I Corinthians 12:1

Saint Paul is writing to the church he planted at Corinth because he does not want them to be uninformed. I take it that he is writing this because they are in fact uninformed. If you read the full letter, you will find that they appear to be uninformed on a number of matters. Thank God for teachers like Paul who come along side us and help us. I find it good news to know I am not the only one in the dark and trying to figure things out. The church has a very long history of learning and often relearning who it is and what it is meant to . In this portion of Paul’s letter he instructs the church about spiritual gifts.

Some at Corinth were puffed up because of the spiritual gift they had. Holier than thou were they because in their eyes the spiritual gift given them was obviously more Godly, more powerful, more mysterious, and more significant to the mission of the church, therefore making them more worthy of honor than their brothers and sisters. Paul the teacher tells them and us that all spiritual gifts are from the same Spirit and all have the same purpose which is toward the common good of the community. He says that this is the Spirit’s doing, not ours, and so we have no personal claim either to more or less honor because of the gift we have been granted.

Our 1979 Book of Common Prayer communicates this in our baptismal covenant. In baptism, we are reborn by the Holy Spirit (p.306) and called to now confess the faith, proclaim the resurrection, and share with the church in the priesthood of all believers (p. 308). This is an important corrective to an otherwise clergy-centric church that would see the ordained ministry, but not lay ministries, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. We believe that all who have been called through the waters of baptism have been reborn and gifted for service to the church, within and outside its walls. The question is not if we are gifted, but do we know our gift or gifts and are we using them for God’s purposes.

Years ago, as a lay person, I participated in a spiritual gifts workshop. I recall that it helped me discern how I could best serve the church at that time with the gifts of mercy, faith, and teaching that I had at that time. It helped me find my place of ministry where I could use those gifts. Maybe you have participated in a similar workshop some years ago, or maybe this is all new to you. Regardless, I invite you to join me on Saturday, March 9 at 10:00am for a time for discerning our present gifts and conversation about where those gifts can best serve the mission of God in our time and place. Please see the sign up sheet in the hallway.

May God’s holiness be yours,
Fr Bill+


There are people who like surprises and there are those who do not. Even when those are what most would say are good surprises, like a surprise visit or gift or party, some would rather not be surprised. Maybe that is a control thing or maybe there is just so much going on already that surprises, even good ones, are too disruptive. I think both of those are understandable. Having our lives set and in order, and with some certainty that we can manage what we do and what happens to us, is comforting. And, when the world seems to be falling apart around us and we are wearied by constant changes, it can be hard to welcome the interruption of a another surprise.

Epiphany is a surprise. It is a sudden and surprising realization. There are many experiences that may lead to an epiphany, but often it is when people have had some kind of encounter with the spiritual that something powerful yet hidden becomes known. Often this epiphany will lead to a significantly new way of thinking and living. Does that sound to you as a welcome surprise?

For Christians, Epiphany is a season in which we remember the revelation to the world that the baby born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph is no ordinary baby. The Feast Day of the Epiphany recalls the visitation of the Magi, an encounter that represents the manifestation of God incarnate to the Gentiles. Surprise! The long awaited messiah was born not to a royal family in a palace, but to a humble family in a cave. Surprise! The long awaited messiah is revealed first to people outside the covenant rather than to God’s chosen people. Surprise! Neither Caesar nor Herod nor any other earthly ruler is the true king or true son of God. The true one is the baby of Bethlehem.

That kind of surprising encounter and revelation continues. Do we look for and welcome that surprise, do we expect that, do we pray for that? To do so might mean that we look beyond our own faith tradition to how God is speaking to non-Christians. I was surprised by how devoted both Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land were to very public expressions of their faith. As I watched a number of Bar and Bat Mitzvah processions near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, it was an Epiphany to me that our American Christian expressions are comparatively muted and far less public and that we are free to do something different. What would a more public celebration of our Episcopal tradition look like? To look for and welcome that surprise might also mean that we look for the Spirit of Christ in unexpected people and places. My cab driver from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv was a Muslim man. We talked about a few trivial things along the way and then his phone rang. Although I am thoroughly monolingual, I shortly realized that he was talking to his wife and then his child, an almost one year old as I found out. The baby would make cooing and gibberish noises and his father would repeat them. That is a universal language.

I saw many holy places, and many people dressed in holy garb doing holy rituals, but for me this man talking to his child had a sweetness and holiness beyond all else I had experienced. It was the sharing of a love that all parents, regardless of their religious beliefs or nationality, have for their children. It was a reminder in that very divided land that we all love and want to be loved, and it was an Epiphany of that spirit of love implanted by God in all our hearts, a love that seeks relationship and expression. Imagine with me this Epiphany season, what good news it could be for all of us if we looked for what is loving and good in others and gave praise to God for those epiphanies.

Grace and peace,

Chameleon Season

In one of the Lutheran congregations I served, the chair of the Altar Guild called this time of year the "Chameleon Season." This was because the "Color of the Day" changes so often. The paraments on the pulpit, lectern, and altar; as well as the stoles and chasubles worn by the clergy, change almost every Sunday as we end the church year with a variety of special days.

This year, Good Shepherd will observe Reformation Sunday on October 28. Father Bill decided to do this in recognition not only of your erstwhile Lutheran pastor, but also as a way of remembering and celebrating the fact that The Episcopal Church and my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are in "full communion" with one another.

On Reformation Sunday, Lutherans traditionally remember Martin Luther and the other 16th century reformers. The theme of the day is that the church is called to always remain open to change in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The color of the day is Red, just like at Pentecost and Ordinations, and Celebrations of New Ministries - because red is the color of the Pentecostal flame of the Holy Spirit.

Lutheran laypeople often wear red to church on Reformation Sunday. Although All Saints Day is Nov. 1 and All Souls Day (also known as "Commemoration of the Faithful Departed") is Nov. 2, we will observe both on Sunday, Nov. 4. Part of the observance will be reading the names of the Faithful Departed and praying for them. (There is a sign-up sheet on the bulletin board in the hall if you wish to have a name included.) The color of the day is White, signifying the Resurrection. This comes from Revelation 7:9 "After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands."

On November 11 and November 18, we are back to Ordinary Time, also known as the "Sundays after Pentecost" and the color Green. The season after Pentecost is green because it is a time in which we focus on the steady growth of discipleship and maturity in the faith.

November 11 is Veterans Day and we will observe it with appropriate hymnody, prayers and thanks to our veterans for their service. November 18 is my last Sunday as your Sabbatical Pastor. (I suggest we celebrate it with a hearty rendition of "Now Thank We All Our God!")

On November 22, Father Bill will be back and will lead the congregation in the celebration of Thanksgiving Day with a service in the nave at 11:00 AM, followed by a dinner in the Parish Hall. The color of the day is White. We finish off the month with Christ the King Sunday (also White) - the last Sunday in the church year. It is a relatively new addition to the church calendar, instituted by Pope Pius XI in the 1920's. Issuing his proclamation following World War I, Pius noted that while the war was over, there was no true peace. He lamented the continued divisions between people based on class, economic status, race, gender, and "unbridled nationalism." He was especially concerned about the rise of totalitarian states in Russia and Italy and the growth of fascism in Eastern Europe and Germany. Christ the King was instituted to remind Christians that our highest loyalty belongs not to our country, class, or party, but to Christ because, as Saint Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:28, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or femals; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

And just for good measure on the color change chart – Dec. 2, the Sunday after Christ the King is the first Sunday in Advent and the color is Blue – a sign of hope (not because the baby Jesus was a boy, as one of my confirmation students wrongly wrote on her confirmation class "final paper.") If you're keeping count, that's six Sundays and five changes of parament colors. Oh and by the way the bishop will be visiting on December 2. Pray for your Altar Guild this month.

+ Delmer

Page 3 The Shepherd’s Voice

From the Pastor

As I write these words on Friday, September 14, I am looking out the window at pure "Carolina Blue" skies and fluffy white clouds. It's hard to believe that right at this minute Hurricane Florence is churning away on the North Carolina coast, flooding towns and villages as far west as Goldsboro and Fayetteville. High winds are blowing down trees and knocking out power lines. It will take weeks to assess the damage and years to recover – some people never will.

We watch the destruction on television, we track the path of the storm, and we quietly lift a silent prayer of thanks that it looks like the worst of Florence will miss us. And we send our thoughts and prayers to those caught in the wake of the storm. But we all know that thoughts and prayers are just the beginning. Soon we will need to act; as individuals, as a parish and as a diocese. The calls will come in for help, at first for donations of money, later for donations of time and energy as mission teams are formed to go east to help with the massive clean-up. And knowing the folk of Good Shepherd as well as I do, I am fully confident that we will respond graciously and generously, reaching out in love to those in need.

Sometimes I wonder how often we look out our metaphorical windows and, because things are going well for us and those like us, assume things are "blue skies and fluffy clouds," for everyone else? There are storms raging throughout the world – storms of poverty and starvation, war and destruction, political oppression and societal upheaval. And yet, if it doesn't touch us, if it doesn't hurt someone we know and love – all too often we ignore it, act as though it doesn't exist. Jesus Christ calls us to a different standard, to a different way of looking at the world. The appointed Sunday Gospel Readings for September and October are from the book of Mark, there Jesus says things like this to the disciples (and to us):

"If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me." Mark 8:34

"Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. . . " Mark 9:35-37

"You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give the money to the poor . . ." Mark 10:21

". . .whoever wishes to be become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be salve of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve." Mark 10:43-45

It is a vital part of our calling as a Christian community to look beyond our immediate surroundings and our own personal comfort to see the pain and needs of others. As we give thanks and praise to God for the many blessings we have received, let us never forget to pray for, and take action to relieve, the needs of others.

My daddy was a good man, a church-going man, but he wasn't much of one for Bible reading or praying – in fact, I don't recall ever seeing him do either. Once, when I was a teenager, I asked him about that. He took a drag on his cigarette, grinned a little and said, "Your Mama and me are a team. When it comes to religion, she does the talking – I do the heavy-lifting." In that moment I remembered all the times I had seen him helping people in need, without a word said to anyone about it or a thought given to being praised or thanked. He was a man who really saw his neighbors, saw when the gray clouds and difficult times had come in their lives, looked beyond his own "blue skies and fluffy clouds," to see something that needed doing – and did it.

Peace, Delmer

The Double Goodness of Generosity

“Generosity is paradoxical. Those who give their resources away, receive back in turn. In offering our time, money, and energy in service to others’ well-being, we enhance our own well-being as well. In letting go of some of what we own for the good of others, we better secure our own lives, too. This paradox of generosity is a sociological fact, confirmed by evidence drawn from quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews. We have good reason to accept this conclusion, and no good reason to ignore it. We can also state the paradox negatively. By clinging to what we have, we lose out on the higher goods that we might gain. By holding onto what we possess, we diminish its long-term value to us. In protecting only ourselves against future uncertainties and misfortunes, we become more anxious about uncertainties and vulnerabilities to future misfortunes. In short, by failing to care well for others, we actually do not properly take care of ourselves.”

So conclude sociologists Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson in their book, The Paradox of Generosity. Generosity - the “virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly” - matters because it brings benefit not just to others but also to ourselves. This should be welcome news to Christians because it squares with some of the truths of our religious tradition.

Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely; who conduct their affairs with justice.
— Psalm 112:5
Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.
— Luke 17:33
One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but ends up impoverished.
— Proverbs 11:24
Remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
— Acts 20:25
Send out your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back.
— Ecclesiastes 11:1
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
— 2 Corinthians 9:6

Smith and Davidson find that generous people are happier, suffer fewer illnesses and injuries, live with a greater sense of purpose, and experience less depression. Yet, it seems that there are several conditions that must be met for generosity to have such benefits to self. First, generosity must be sought for itself, and not for the benefit it might bring to us. That is, it must not be self-serving. It is the good of other people that we must want. In church language, we must act in love and charity toward our neighbor, with that as the end in itself in order to obtain the personal benefits of generosity. Second, we cannot obtain the benefits of generosity by engaging in seemingly generous acts. The truth of our intentions matter and we cannot fake our way into receiving the benefits of generous giving. Third, generosity must be a regular practice, part of our regular disciple of free and abundant giving, and not “random acts of kindness.” For generosity to be true, it must lived out, repeated, and incorporated into the normal rhythm and way of being of ones life. When it becomes a foundational belief and practice, then generosity is beneficial to the giver as well as the receiver.

So, what does that mean for others who are still working on their selfless love of others or who do not have a regular practice of selfless giving? It means that if someone wants to become generous, they start by beginning to act like a generous person. Attitudes often follow from our practices, so that thinking like a generous person follows from and reinforces generous actions. Engage in regular acts of generosity and then reflect upon the feelings generated by those acts of selfless love for another person. The cumulative effect of pondering and recalling those thoughts and feelings will change our thinking and then our behaving. Generosity is a good thing for all of us when it is a regular disciple and we can all do that, even starting now.

Grace and peace,

Fr Bill+

One for the road:
A preacher in a very traditional church, where proper decorum was regularly observed, was halfway through his Sunday morning sermon when someone yelled out, “Amen!” The preacher nearly fainted. Once he regained his composure, he cleared his throat and continued. For a second time the man yelled, “Amen!” This time the preacher glared at him. By now the entire congregation was awake, wondering what would happen next. The preacher paused, then plowed on into his sermon once more. When the man yelled, “Amen!” even louder than the first two times, the preacher said to him from the pulpit, “We don’t do that in our church.” “But I’ve got religion!” said the man with enthusiasm. “Well,” replied the preacher, “you obviously didn’t get it here!”


“Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected. In the wilderness God gave Israel the manna every day, and they had no need to worry about food and drink. Indeed, if they kept any of the manna over until the next day, it went bad. In the same way, the disciple must receive his portion from God every day. If he stores it up as a permanent possession, he spoils not only the gift, but himself as well, for he sets his heart on accumulated wealth, and makes it a barrier between himself and God. Where our treasure is, there is our trust, our security, our consolation and our God. Hoarding is idolatry.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

I agree. That is what “amen” means. At the end of our prayer called the Great Thanksgiving, we say amen. God has saved the world and our future is secure. Amen, I agree. Christ is with us in the sharing of the bread and wine. Amen, I agree. In receiving that gift, we are given forgiveness and renewal, solace and strengthening. Amen, I agree.

Likewise, we end the Lord’s Prayer with amen. Life where God’s will is being done on Earth, where daily bread is available for all who are hungry, where forgiveness of sin leads to amendment of life, and where salvation from evil produces grateful saints - amen to all that. We end all prayer with that amen, or at least we should if we are serious about what we say, and believe, and hope. Amen is a statement of truth, a statement of faith, and a proclamation of our trust in God. By saying amen to all that God has shown us through the law and the prophets, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, through the coming of the Holy Spirit and the ongoing life of the Church, we are fundamentally saying that we trust the story of God who created us, cares for us, redeemed us, and remains with and for us.

In the quote above, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of a fundamental truth about all our material possessions. It is an amen truth. It is a truth revealed in scripture and applied to real life. God gives us what we need and so we need not worry and seek permanent possession of material goods. God provided daily bread for the Israelites in the wilderness and Jesus reminds us of that in Matthew chapter 6.

But an important part of the story can be overlooked. Anything kept in excess went bad, and not just the gift itself but also the hearts of God’s people. As Bonhoeffer put it, a heart set on accumulated wealth is a barrier to God. “Hoarding is idolatry.” For that reason we may realize that giving away excess, rather than storing up possessions, is a preventive to and remedy for idolatry. Giving away excess is a blessing to us and to those who might benefit from our sharing. It is also our witness to the truth of God’s caring provision and our trust in that truth. It is an amen truth.

Next month, pledge cards will be mailed and you will be asked to make a generous financial gift to the work of this parish. In many ways, you are being asked to trust - in God’s care for you, in God’s care for those you love, in the mission and ministry of the church, and in the wise use of your gift by those in authority. I bid you pray and trust. Amen.