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.

Our Daily Bread, Give Us

I imagine that in Jesus’ time, among those who followed him and those among whom he ministered, having food for the day was an unsure thing and so a big deal. Food scarcity was a reality for most and this fact magnifies the significance of the miraculous feeding of the four and five thousand. With scarcity on their minds, Jesus asked his disciples to trust him with the few loaves and fish that they might otherwise keep for themselves. Very likely, his words spoken here in prayer to our Father reminded them of the manna given in the wilderness. All very necessary to sustaining life along the way and all very necessary to being God’s people. They were hungry in the wilderness and they were grumbling against God, against Moses, and probably against neighbors too. How hard must it be to love God and neighbor when ones stomach is empty and when ones well-being is truly precarious? “Our Father in Heaven, give us our daily bread, that freed from the pains of hunger, we can love and serve you and our neighbors.” Maybe these words said in church every Sunday can again remind us - not shame us - of the hungry folks in our community and around the world and that feeding is more than just redressing hunger, but is a freeing of people to love God and neighbor. Maybe in that light we appreciate more deeply our roles as stewards of the God-given treasures we have been gifted for our use and for sharing.

This observation does not, of course, exhaust the treasury of what Jesus says. The way he frames this petition suggests how important this is not just for us but to God. Notice where this one line is placed within the Lord’s prayer. It comes between the weighty matters of Heaven come to earth and the forgiveness of sin, between matters of good and evil, between the incarnation of Heaven come to earth and the resurrection to new life through the forgiveness of sins. Between issues of cosmic and eternal consequence, is a request for earthly bread. Does that feel out of place, like the insertion of a less weighty matter? Actually, its placement heightens its significance. Daily bread is for life lived now between the inauguration of the Kingdom and its future fulfillment, the first coming of Christ and the second. It is right there in the middle of revelation and redemption, of “your kingdom come” and “forgive us our sins.” The giving of bread is Heaven come to earth and it is food for the healing of sin and for the resistance to evil. Daily bread tells us that in the midst of all that is happening in the heavenly realm, God has his eyes on us and our needs. It signifies that God’s love for us is something in which we can take great trust. As beneficiaries and stewards of that love, let us trust more deeply in God’s love for us and trust that we can more generously share God love through committing our time, talent, and treasure to the building up of God’s Kingdom in our time and place.

Grace and peace,
Fr Bill+

Our Father in Heaven

Jesus taught us that his father is our father. He taught us that his father, and our father, is a father who loves us, not one who is angry with us and who wants to punish us for our failings. His father, and our father, is a father who is present and hears us, not a father who is distant and uncaring. Because we have such a father, we need not worry about things like having food to eat and clothes to wear. We need not worry about tomorrow, because our father knows what we need before we do and will give us the things we need.

These are things Jesus taught about his father, and our father, who is in heaven. And this is what he taught us to say, “Abba” - a term of endearment, a term signifying close relationship, a term of intimacy. We say Abba because that is what his father and our father feels about us. Abba wants us to know that we are his beloved just as he called Jesus his “beloved.” We are not nobodies or anybodies, but God's very children, made co-heirs by Jesus Christ, and so also the beloved in his father's eyes.

Does this make any difference for our faith and for our trust in our father in heaven? I understand that some who did not have loving fathers can find father imagery difficult. But, perhaps all can differentiate their earthly fathers, both those inclined toward the saintly and those who fell far short of sainthood, from our one true father in heaven. I also understand that some are concerned by what may appear to be a masculine exclusivity. All this father-talk appears to exclude or even diminish the feminine. When I think of God’s strength, I think of both the strong men and the strong women I know. When I think of God’s tenderness, I again think of both the tender men and the tender women I know. I married a strong and tender woman and she daily shows me that she is made in God’s image.

Again, I appreciate that these are difficult matters and I do not suppose that my few words here are sufficient. Yet, regardless of how we feel about this gendered language, I wonder about trust. Do we trust as Jesus trusted? Do we trust enough not to worry? Do we trust enough in Jesus’ teaching and life that we can practice love even when facing hate, practice generosity even when we feel we have little, and practice trusting in God’s care for our needs even when the world tells us to be fearful for our future? Our Father in Heaven, help us to trust in you and help us in our unbelief.

If this is the father you know, please share that knowledge with others. Please tell others, even if just your spouse or children or best friend, about your experiences of God’s surprising and ordinary care for you. I believe these stories are meant to be shared for the building up of the people of God. So, please share. Jesus did.

Grace and peace remain with you always,
Fr Bill+

Honduras 2019

And Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” - Mark 16:15

I invite you to a transformational journey of body and spirit. In February 2019, I and some of your brothers and sisters are returning to Honduras to visit with our friends at the LAMB Institute in Tegucigalpa. Come and see. The LAMB Institute is a multifaceted ministry including a school in a marginal community in the capital city, a group home for children, a micro -loan program for small business start-ups, a soccer program to counter gang membership, and an antisex trafficking effort. Founded in 1999 by Suzy McCall, the LAMB Institute is now led and staffed by Hondurans with Suzy, an ordained priest, serving as the spiritual director for the ministry. This will be the third team from Good Shepherd to make this journey and it will be my sixth visit to LAMB. I anticipate having my body and spirit challenged. I anticipate laughter and tears. I anticipate making a difference and coming home different.

Some wonder about the value of such trips, questioning whether they are worth the expense, whether they have lasting value, and whether we should not instead focus on local or national missions. When thinking about those questions, I think about the friends that I and others have made with whom we remain in touch. I think about how I know something of the lives of Ariel, Jose Luis, Angel, Amanda, and Wendy. I think of the hopes and dreams they have shared and the photos of their families. And I know that a North American taking time to come and see them means a lot. We work together and we share, but it really is being present that seems to matter most. Is there lasting value? We are building relationships as well as lasting structures.

Some are called to serve locally and some beyond the local community. The Spirit speaks to others to leave the land they know. Saint Paul said that he was commissioned by the one Spirit to be an apostle to the Gentiles as others were commissioned to serve the community in and around Jerusalem. There is no competition here where serving beyond our local community means something proximate will be shortchanged. Our faith is in a God of abundance who will provide for the work to which we are called, whether that is locally, nationally, or abroad. I encourage you to find your place for serving the world outside of the parish and to pray for the guidance of the Spirit in that endeavor. For those who feel called, for those who are wondering, I invite you to come and see what God is doing among our Christian brothers and sisters in Honduras.

Inquirer’s meetings will be held Saturday, May 19 and May 26 at 10am.

Going to Gallilee

“But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'" - Mark 16:7

Have you been to Galilee? It is that place where Jesus was from, where his family lived and where he was reared. Had he been born in more modern times, it may have been that his home in Nazareth would have been turned into a tourist destination with website, advance ticket purchases, and strict tour times. No lolly-gagging and holding up the line. Be sure to stop at the Manger Gift Shop which doubles as the exit. One would also be able to see where he went to primary school, attended church camp, and the stadium where he played quarterback for the Nazareth Saints. People in the area still talking about that “Hail Mary” play his father, the coach, called and that he pulled off on that Good Friday against the Gehenna Demons. I do not know what is to be found in the real Galilee, though I suspect there are plenty of places claiming to be the authentic place where this or that happened. I have not yet been to that Galilee, though I have been to Galilee.

The evangelist Mark ends his gospel with a mysterious scene from Easter morning. Some of Jesus’ followers are headed to where he had been buried, carrying spices and other things that would commonly have been used for a proper burial. With the Passover coming and it being late in the day when Jesus died, his body was simply wrapped in linen and placed in a tomb. So these women were coming to do what was proper. Their concerns were practical. The right thing needed to be done, did they have enough spices, and who would roll away that large stone they had watched being rolled into place a couple days earlier. Perhaps they hoped the guards would help them. What they find is an empty tomb and a messenger saying that he is not there, that they will find Jesus in Galilee. “There you will see him, just as he told you.” How often it is that we want to go back to what used to be, to try to fix things, to try to make things better. How often it is that we get stuck in places where something precious has died. Jesus calls us out of those places into new life. That is Easter. He has gone back to where it all began and where it all continues. He is out there among his people, teaching, healing, feeding the poor, welcoming children, and raising the dead. Have you seen that Galilee? Have you been there?

Mark tells us that the women who went to the tomb were frightened by what they saw and heard, and so told no one. Well, we have the story, so apparently they did tell someone. They told what they saw and heard, and importantly, they told others where they could find Jesus. He is out in Galilee. Have you been there?

Easter blessings to you, Fr Bill+

Shalom for Lent and Beyond

Shalom to you and to those you love, my friend. Shalom is a Hebrew word meaning peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. I am not the first or only to say this, but shalom is God’s dream for all creation. Peace to the cosmos. Harmony to the earth. Wholeness to broken bodies. Completeness to our sanctification. Prosperity to our ministry. Well-faring for all people. Tranquility instead of strife. It is a beautiful dream. “Peace be with you” really means may all things for you be in harmony and be whole, be perfect and be well. God offers us shalom and shows us shalom through Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit. As members of God’s family, as people whom Jesus calls his brothers and sisters, we should seek shalom for ourselves as Jesus did for himself. Shalom is a family trait and a family practice.

On Ash Wednesday we heard Jesus tell his followers to engage in acts of piety that are done in secret. God is the proper audience for our prayers, fasting, and alms giving. There is an interior life for all of us to tend to, and it is these acts of piety done before God who is in secret that produce peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, well-being, and rest for our souls. The change these produce can be slow and imperceptible to us, but God who is in secret works on us in secret. Properly understood, prayer, fasting, and alms giving are pathways to shalom. Properly understood, prayer is a place where in the presence of a loving God we can be honest about ourselves and accepting of ourselves, and where we can experience ourselves as infinitely loved and not in competition with others, or captive to the opinion of others for our self-worth. Properly understood, fasting curbs the desire to possess and control people and things that causes rivalry. Properly understood, alms giving is for the benefit of the giver more so than the receiver. Alms giving frees us from our inclination toward excessive selfinterested acquisition and action, and brings to mind the shalom of our brothers and sisters and of all creation.

Because we are one body with Christ as our head, we should seek shalom for others. There can be no shalom for one part of the body while shalom is denied another. Our many rivalries, as civilized as they can appear when institutionalized, our many divisions caused by those rivalries, our many claims to our rights and our rightness, and our accusations against others are a denial of shalom. Rather than rivalry, Jesus says to diffuse the rivalry by turning the other cheek, giving your cloak along with shirt, and walking an extra mile. He refused to engage in rivalries that we seem to take for granted. He refused to play the power game. He told his followers to put away their sword, and he refused to call in the support of angels. At the end of his mortal life, he accused neither his accusers nor his executioners. Rather, on that good Friday, he said for the benefit of their shalom and shalom for all of creation, “Father, forgive them.” Anything else would have been to respond to rivalry with more of the same. Accusation, blaming, and seeking revenge, as right as we might often believe those to be, is to fall in league with the Accuser.

Shalom to you and those you love, my friend. Fr. Bill+

The Spiritual Life

Ash Wednesday, we hear Jesus speak from scripture saying “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Your Father who is in secret will reward you. As many will recall, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about proper disposition and warns them to not be like those who pray in order to seen and esteemed as holy by onlookers. There is also an important practical matter being addressed, one that may be especially important to our busy minds. Apparently even in Jesus’ day, people’s minds wandered, so the suggestion to go into a secluded yet familiar place and shut out the world was likely helpful. I would not be surprised if Jesus’ home had a prayer closet - a place set aside for prayer.

This much has made sense to me for quite some time, and I have found the secluded space helpful. But I have wondered about what he meant by “your Father who is in secret” and “who sees you in secret will reward you.” Recently, I have been reading a book titled Inwardly Digest by Derek Olsen. Its subtitle gives away the subject matter - The Prayer Book as a Guide to a Spiritual Life. Olsen argues that the liturgies of the prayer book along with the calendar of readings and feasts and fast, offer a means of spiritual growth that often happens without much notice that any change is happening. Slowly, over time, faithful adherence to praying the ritual liturgies of the Prayer Book shapes the spirit in ways that can usually only be seen over a long period. Something happens as if in secret. Deepening spirituality requires commitment to prayer even when one does not feel like it and when one feels like it is doing no good. But pray we should, noting that Jesus does not say “if you get around to pray...” but assumes that you will pray saying “whenever you pray ...”

A few men of the parish joined me on retreat a week ago. We went to a monastery for time away in our secret closet and to participate in a series of conferences on the topic “Confidence in God.” We talked about many things and I would rate the experience as excellent. Brother Mark, the monk co -facilitating our conversations several times mentioned “God who works in secret.” It is a reference, to the inner life of the spirit and to what happens, often slowly and imperceptibly, when we come to God in prayer. I believe this long-term deepening of the spiritual life, a growing into Christlikeness, is the reward of the God who works in secret. And one of the wonderful things about this is that you should come as you are with all your hopes and dreams, all your hurts and failures, because your Father already sees and knows you, and who loves you as an only child, desires that you come as you are.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. The faithful often use this season as an occasion to take on some discipline, such as giving up something to which they have developed an unhealthy attachment or taking on a spiritual practice. Some may find this Lent a time to establish or renew a commitment to prayer in secret. Your Father who loves you as an only child is waiting for you.

Grace and peace be yours,

Fr Bill+ T

Happy New Year

I pray that in this New Year all of us would think about the gifts of God that we may have left “unwrapped.”

I am aware that many are reading this message before the New Year has begun, but maybe that is for the better. Maybe some will be reminded that something new is upon us and we wish and hope that the new thing will be a happy occasion. My thoughts this new year are about the years that have passed since coming to this wonderful parish - of all the holy things you have accomplished in and outside the church, of the praise and worship of a generous and loving God that I have seen in and through you, and the continuing hope I see expressed especially in those who have experienced significant challenges and loses over these years. In these thoughts, I recall the words of Paul who encouraged the faithful saying, “Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

As was true of the early church and the days of the kings and prophets before the church, we live in a world that challenges us and threatens to overwhelm some of us. I am grateful for the love of God shown through his church and especially this parish. The church and its people are the embodiments of God’s truth and honor and its ministries are the incarnation of God’s justice and holiness. They are pleasing and commendable and excellent and worthy of praise, and importantly they keep us grounded in the love of God when chaos and darkness enter our lives. In this New Year, I am reminded that these are gifts of God for the people of God. They are freely given and for a people, people like you and me, children of God who are dear to his heart. It is a simple thought, but God wants to give us something. He just gave us his son at Christmas, yet God is not done giving. We know that, but I wonder if have stopped receiving? Are there gifts God offers that we fail to receive because we have stopped expecting to be surprised? I was at our Tuesday soaking prayer service a few weeks ago and was gifted with a wonderful reflection on the presence of the Holy Spirit in this parish. These several weeks later that message is still inspiring my soul. I guess I needed to hear the Holy Spirit speak and maybe you do as well. I believe God is always offering gifts and I had to be there to receive that message I know was spoken to all, but I also know was meant just for me.

I pray that in this New Year all of us would think about the gifts of God that we may have left “unwrapped.” Some may want to resolve this new year that they will not leave the gift of receiving Holy Communion unused. That gift is offered every Sunday and Wednesday. Some may want to start the new year with a renewed commitment to holy living through a formal act of reconciliation. Your priests are here for you. Some may resolve to seek the healing power of God by taking advantage of the intercessory prayers offered during Sunday worship and on Tuesday night. Your brothers and sisters in Christ are ready to pray for you. Others may want to recommit themselves to some form of discipleship, studying the Word of God and serving others in a renewed and intentional quest for the gift of holiness. May the light of Christ shine upon the path to the gifts you wish to receive and may the inspiration of the Holy Spirit lead you to greater gifts in this new year.

Fr Bill+

A Willingness to Serve

Somewhere along my spiritual journey I was told that God is more interested in our faithfulness than our success. I was told that we are called to be faithful, not successful. I found that liberating at the time and still do. Those who grew up in environments where achievement and success mattered greatly, and failure was associated with embarrassment and shame, may also find this liberating. For God, it is not whether you succeed or fail in your calling or ministry, and it is not results or awards that count, but it is whether you answer the call. The Bible gives us a multitude of examples of this including just these few.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
— Isaiah 6:8
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
— Luke 1:38
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
— Luke 22:42

It is our faithfulness, our “yes” to a call to serve that matters to God. There are a number of reasons why that “yes” may lead to what we see as a successful ministry or outcome, but there are probably just as many reasons for why we do not see successes. And the truth may be that most of either outcome is beyond our individual control. We do pray after all, “your Kingdom come, your will be done” as we admit that God’s will and Kingdom are “mysterium tremendum et fascinans” (a terrible mystery).

Your vestry nominating committee has been busy talking with folks about their willingness to serve on the Good Shepherd vestry. I understand that there are many legitimate reasons why someone would not be able to serve at this time, but for others I want them to know that their “yes” it is not about success or failure to be elected but about their faithfulness in answering the call to serve. If you are willing to serve, please let me or a member of the vestry nominating committee know.

May God’s holiness be yours,

Fr. Bill+