Sunday, June 12, 2022

Set Aside Tithing

One of the common suggestions to regular churchgoers is to tithe to their church. A tithe is based on a biblical notion that 10% of one's income (harvest) is to be given to God directly off the top. It is a commonly used "goal" suggested when churches do annual pledge drives for the church budget. It is an idea that is as old as the Bible itself. The Christian Church adopted the tithe early in its history, and it continues today in most denominations. Many denominations teach that the tithe is the minimum level of giving expected, with other offerings considered over and above the tithe. I'm going to argue that it is time for the Church to lose the idea and word. 

Through time, the tithe has been intertwined with some of the less Christ-like manifestations of the Church. The Crusades against Muslims in the first few centuries of the Church, for example, were funded by tithes. Tithing was, in essence, a tax extracted by the church around suggestions (or, in some cases, demands) that a person's salvation (from hell) depended on satisfying their tithe. Economically, slavery declined at the tail-end of the Roman Empire, being replaced by feudalism. The aristocracy held the major portion of wealth. While feudalism was a modest step up for the typical family, their "wealth" was marginally held in superficial (and tenuous) rights to the land, not in cash. The Church could use guilt, fear of the hereafter, and persuasion to get the parishioners to give, but if you don't have it, you don't. This is where the Church became more transactional in its approach to giving. Indulgences, a transactional system of tit-for-tat, augmented tithing. "We'll pray your sin away for a small fee." "For an offering of gold or silver, we will ensure your loved one will not have to spend eternity in purgatory or hell." To our modern mind, we might wonder just how gullible were people? Yet, in pre-science cultures, fear brought by superstition and belief in a wrathful God can be intense, and in truth, the hierarchies of the Church weren't that shy about exploiting theologies of God's wrathfulness. 

Because of this historical baggage, the Church would do well to walk away from and bury the term "tithing." No amount of money will "save you" or put you in any stronger position with God than the infinite amount of love God already has for you. One cannot buy more infinity. For churches to say, "Give us a tithe,(just because we've always done it that way,") is a morally bankrupt idea. If the church can't be better at inspiring hope and a vision for a radically different world than we are experiencing, they do not need a block of money just to keep a building standing!

In the book of Acts, we glimpse a more egalitarian hope-filled vision of Church life. We see the communal understanding of the Church. Church is where we find belonging. It is where we can work together to expand and implement the foundational experiences of God's/Jesus' intent for humankind. Utilizing an ethic of Equality in Love, together, people can build the Realm of God on earth. This is not a church built on guilt or arm twisting or fear. It is built on the expectation that my neighbor is part of my family and that working together, we can accomplish much more in this life than any of us can achieve alone. So, giving to the church is giving to our community, which increases our effective outreach to make a difference in the world we find ourselves in. All will benefit intrinsically and extrinsically. The degree to which your passion for that evolving vision grows should be the primary driver for how much you want to contribute, not whether the church hits a set budget number or how much you worry about a non-existent hell. The only hells exist in what human beings do to one another, largely due to the generational trauma imposed for hundreds of years on our families and psyches that nobody - including the Church - has dealt with in a compassionate, understanding, healing way. This is a large part of the work sitting in our laps, waiting to be done.

So, rather than expecting blank checks with "tithe" written on the memo line, let us transform our idea of giving to the church into being an investment in our "Beloved House of Belonging."

Tuesday, March 22, 2022



This morning I awoke. I awoke to just how profoundly embedded human physicality is sacredly tied to the rhythm of Mother Earth. In Mother Earth is all essence, all essential lessons of living (and dying.) The repeated cycling through of the seasons- seasons of the soul; the soul that is the very deep internal unbreakable linkage to all that is: light/darkness, winter/spring, frozen/thawed/blooming/fruiting/bearing/dying back/resurrecting. As we see in nature, so we see taking place in ourselves. Over and over again. The dark night of the soul, lying in the cold dark frozen ground- the valley of the shadow of death- psalms of lament, “Why? My God, have you forsaken me?” Then the faint pulse, the surge of a new possibility of… is that hope? Is that what I think it is? A stirring deep within me of a sprout? A bud? A tentative finger reaching out, wiggling its way out of the ground? Cold blustery wind blasts back the first courageous wakening. Retreat. Regathering. More lament. More waiting and wailing. More nurturing of soul to bust past- past the uncertainty of trying again. Regrouping to make a Camus-like bursting forth from the Abyss that attempts to poison our life with futility and always to hold us back. Frustrated with trying. Impatient for spring, for a life fulfilled.

There is something built deep into the DNA of all things that forgets, ignores, wallows, doubts, and yet responds once more to an unshakable belief in the Eternal Cycle of things. The biggest human trait over which we all struggle most is our impatience. Our mistaken, fanciful, thinking that we can will ourselves an exception, a way-out/around/beyond the time(s) of being forced into the dark ground. The uncomfortable, but special, times where we are pushed to cozy up to the smallest bit of compost for the tiniest measure of warmth that will get us through until our moment, the right moment as set by stars and planetary travels for our sprouting once more. Such is the way of love. Love Divine all loves excelling.

There is great human mythology that human beings can “do things our way.” Indeed, we’re given just enough latitude of heart, will, and strength to foolishly believe we can control— nay should be controlling— our destiny. But one wonders, in moments of deep pondering, whether the seed ever aspires to have this power and authority over the raw power of life within itself? The worst advice comes from these power wishers, who like Job’s friends, press us to self-blame or side-step “and cheer up” and self-determine how and when we bust forth, thrive, and prosper feverishly- usually by their definition and according to their mini-god plans.

The certainty of faith, the assurance we have of the heavenly workings of Love, is that everywhere we look around us- if we give ourselves the mind’s eye, the James Webb telescope of perspective- where we see death, there is new life sprouting out of it. Nothing is more eternal in Love than the rebirths we despaired were gone for good. Even in death, even in suicide, there is no prospect that does not involve life sprouting again, taking hold again, and coming around again. After each and every time of being a seed, something new arises, usually unexpected and of at least partial surprise. In the 23rd Psalm observe that the part about the banquet with head anointed with oil falls after the valley of the shadow of death, where we are admonished to “fear no evil.”

So, if you are in a seed phase, be grateful and exercise patience. Especially, be kind to yourself in your processing and waiting. If you are blooming, be grateful and full of joy. If you are in your harvest, be grateful and enjoy your fulfillment. If you are in your decline, be grateful and step back to see the larger scene laid out in all glory of what will be again. Again, Amen.

Monday, February 7, 2022

God's Intention - Sermon from 2/6/22

 I have often enjoyed messing with people from church by saying, “Were you at church last week?”  And when they say no, I’ll say, “Oh man you really missed it. It was the best.”  Were you at church last week?  No?  You missed Anne Redding Holmes sermon?  Dang, that’s too bad.  She was talking about 1 Corinthians 13 being the love chapter and how often it is used in weddings and then talked about how the Corinthians had kind of lost their way in the few short years between their conversion experience at Paul’s first preaching and the time of his writing to them – her phrase that stuck with me was “the honeymoon had worn off.” And isn’t that an accurate description of how we can get excited and juiced about something, but without holding on to the memory and intention of the commitment, the feelings, the intensity will fade – sometimes sadly to the point that the relationship or the experience dissipates into the vapors of the past?  It is true that you can’t live in a perpetual intense honeymoon, but with intention and memory you can keep the juice or reality of the event vivid and alive.  So, as Paul alludes to in today’s epistle, I hope to remind you of that love, that first love you discovered when you became aware that Eternity has your name on it.

This morning we find ourselves on the shores of the Lake Gennesaret, just another local name for the Sea of Galilee.  There is a humble, simple man, far beyond the general population’s depths, who could mesmerize, entice, transform the self-concept of millions upon millions of human beings merely by his teaching.  He is early in his ministry, having only just come away from his first miracle at Cana, and he already has so many Seekers that they crowd him off the beach into a fishing boat of an anonymous fisherman, who – if we follow on in the story – we soon get to know intimately as Simon Peter. The simple man puts out just a little way in this boat; he sits down and teaches them what they don’t even begin to comprehend, but they know his words move them, change them, and they feel something shift in the way they view and understand themselves and even the whole world. It sort of rustled their bones in a hopeful way.

This man radically shifts people’s self-understanding of how they and the world are put together. The mere memory of him brings him back to life for so many – most of you I trust.  It’s crucially important for us to keep Jesus alive.  We need his tangible grasp on God’s abiding love more than ever. And to hang onto it we have to refresh our memory and our shared common experience of him regularly. The world is drifting horribly far from the life our Creator intended for us. Interestingly, physics – a science that was not even known at the time of Jesus – is helping to reveal the larger universe that Jesus grasped. The new physics, quantum physics, is all about how time, energy, and matter all flow together.  Everything exists as a particle or wave. The particle part is the physical presence, the wave form is the energetic form.  A wave/energy converts to a particle the instant there is an observer. Our brains are the observer. They act like radios that pick up the energy and convert it to something tangible. The thought: move your arm has no substance at all, until your brain converts that energy to muscle action.  My wife and I saw an eagle in the top of the tree yesterday and because our brains received the light transmission and converted it to action, we went out and excited half of our neighbors to the reality of the eagle – and the reality of the eagle vanished as soon as it flew off… but my brain’s memory of it continues to resonate in my feelings of it.  We’re here this morning because we wanted to (intended) to refresh our real experience that Jesus is alive.  In some real way everything we call “physical” is ultimately a figment of our minds’ creation. We create our realities by what we agree to together, including even the concept of time.  We observe. We agree to a set of rules.  We stamp it with authenticity and  it becomes “reality.”  I have come to think of God as the Great Initiator  - the Great Intender – who sends a thought into the dark vacuum – Let there be light and there was light.  Nothing is exactly the way it seems, even if we accept things the way they are.  Remember, first and foremost, we are eternal spiritual beings, brimming over with God’s intent and because of that intent we merely occupy a temporary physicality. So, what impact does that have on us?  What effect should it have? I think the first significant impact this awareness can have on us is to know that as beings molded in the image of God, we have the powers of intention and the alchemy power of memory.  We can remember and with our intention, we can manifest the reality.  We can change things as they are. 

Jesus, sitting in that boat teaching on the Sea of Galilee, is made incarnate – manifested here before us this morning as real as we choose to make him.  Therein lies our greatest decisions that have reverberating repercussions across universes.  Do we believe?  Will we act?  What kind of world do we want?  One filled with white supremacy, hate, war, environmental destruction…. Or Love?  It is my most sincere belief that the creating power of God resides solely in Love.  Love is God’s shaping intention for everything.  It is everything that humans (with our big brain receptors) everything that humans can be living for and everything that we SHOULD be reaching for.

Jesus says to Simon, put your net out there.  Simon says, “Woe is me. I’ve been out there all night there isn’t anything out there Dude.” But he puts his net in anyway.  The next thing they know, they’re overwhelmed with fish galore. And Simon Peter knows he has just witnessed something so far outside his paradigm that the only thing it could be was God in the flesh. So, how about we agree to do this.  Let’s shift our paradigm.  God is here in the flesh – we have the physical representation of that reality on the altar when we take the bread.  Your intention to make Jesus real and to manifest him in the flesh happens week in and week out when you put that thin wafer in your mouth.  I mean look at the story!  Simon Peter doubts. Jesus asks him to set it aside so Simon casts his net. And from that one act – repeated hundreds of thousands of times admittedly – we are sitting here this morning.  We can make those same impactful ripples in the universe that cut across time and space. All we need is the memory of Love and intent for it to manifest.  And from the lessons we’ve received… Love manifested results in access to ABUNDANCE. Jesus’ first act was the wedding at Cana with more wine than anyone could drink and here we have more fish than anyone could eat. Food and drink.  In abundance.  Enough for the whole world. We’ve been trained not to think that way.  We’ve had plenty of others intent on pushing a scarcity goal so they could have more.  But truthfully, scarcity is far and away not God’s reality.

We are the umpteenth generation of power-hoarding systems that have coaxed, educated, brain-washed, punished, executed, and bamboozled us out of our birthright as Beloved Ones of God. Do you hear how much energy is being directed against God’s intent?  Don’t buy into it.  Don’t fall for myopic destructive anti-Love tropes. In truth, God controls and we are God’s own, from the least to the greatest. What would our world be like if we, instead of worrying over the way the world appears to be going into the dumpster, we focused instead on the Love that created us billions of years ago in the beginning?

I say to you this day: God intended Love from the beginning.  God intends love from this day forward.  It was the spark of Love in God’s heart that physics today calls the “Big Bang.” We are the observers of God’s love intention.  Let’s go out and make it as manifest as all the fish that jumped into those nets long ago.  And to Christ be the praise. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.