We are the Church
Happy Birthday, Church of the Creator!
No, it’s not the anniversary of our parish or of the consecration of our church (coming up again in 2026!), but we are celebrating the birth of Christ’s Church universal and eternal, founded on the day of Pentecost. I’m celebrating twice this year because of the joy of finally being able to worship in our Sanctuary together. Welcome to the season of our longest season of the church year and a wonderful opportunity to deepen our understanding of what it means to have “tongues of fire” rest upon us. Pentecost is a big deal for us. Regathering in person in The Body is a big deal. Let us embrace all that God is laying out before us in blessing.
As we regather in the Church as the church, no doubt we give little thought to what that word means. “Church” is often used as the generic name for a place, much like “school” or “post office.” For us who love the beautiful sanctuary at Creator, perhaps the connotation contains a little bit more--comfort and security, perhaps, and fondness for a place we have come to know and love so deeply. When we speak of the “Church,” and really mean the building in which we gather, we are not completely incorrect. ‘Church’ finds its root in the Old English word cirice, derived from West Germanic kirika, which in turn comes from the Greek κυριακή kuriakē, which translates to “of the Lord” or “The Lord’s House.” In modern Hebrew, ‘Church’ is translated from the word k'ney'si'yah, which refers to a “building or organizational place.” Based on these Greek and Hebrew translations, then, the use of the word “Church” in reference to the building has merit.
There is another meaning of this word though, one which we reference often. The modern Hebrew word for Church is actually derived from the older biblical Hebrew word, mo'eyd, not for a “place to gather,” but for a people “gathered together.” In the New Testament, the word in the Greek translation of the Hebrew mo'eyd is ekklesia---“assembly.” This is the word used by the New Testament writers to refer to the local gathering of those who believe in Christ, and it carries the rich Old Testament connotations of assembling together as God’s chosen people.
In the New Testament we learn that there is a blessing and value of “gathering in Christ Jesus” that goes well beyond social or logistical purposes. St. Paul uses such phrases as “when you come together as a church” and “the whole church comes together” (1 Cor. 11:18; 14:23) as distinct events reflecting devotion to Jesus. Gathering as the “church,” St. Paul admonishes everyone to teach and encourage one another singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16); reading Scripture publicly (1 Tim. 4:13); encouraging one another (Heb. 10:24–25), and sharing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:17, 11:18, 33). This shared fellowship and responsibility is the purpose of the gathering; this is at once the reason the people are called together and the action that the gathering must accomplish. Of course, it is true that many of these things can and do take place among smaller meetings of the church (such as our Wednesday night Compline service or our Thursday night Bible Study), but these are derivative and bring with them the action of the Sunday church celebration. St. Paul was calling all believers together in “one place” to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and strengthened to “go and make disciples of all people.” (Matthew 28:9) Such commissioning and equipping simply cannot happen outside The Body of the gathered faithful.
In his earthly ministry, a reflection of God’s Divine intention, Jesus envisions “the Church” gathered as a whole, the ekklesia. The church must gather in Jesus’ Name to accomplish Jesus’ will and fulfill Jesus’ commands (Matt. 18:17, 20). Paul echoes this language as he instructs the Corinthians to implement church discipline “when you are assembled (same Greek word as gathered in Matt. 18:20) in the name of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:4).
The church assembly makes the church visible to itself, as Harvard theologian Everett Ferguson puts it: “In assembly, the church… becomes conscious of itself, confesses itself to be a distinct entity, shows itself to be what it is—a community (a people) gathered by the grace of God, dependent on him, and honoring him. The assembly allows the church to emerge in its true nature.”  The church assembly also makes the church visible to the world. Why did God join Jew and Gentile together into one body? He did this “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).
Like Paul, John wrote of the Church in physical terms. In his apocalyptic vision recorded in the Book of Revelation, St. John saw the church represented by seven lamp stands. These lamp stands represent the church as being the physically present light of Christ in the world. Just as real candles illuminated the darkness during the first century, so, too, is the church physically to be the light of Christ. So strong is this understanding of the need to gather for the true consumption of the Gospel, that John writes in his second Epistle, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” (2 John 1:12) Because the church is the worshiping, praising, celebrating body of Christ, John knew that his joy could only be complete when he was face-to-face with those others so called in Jesus’ name.
Throughout the New Testament, the witness of Paul, Peter, John, James, and the entirety of the Gospels compel us to gather to receive the Holy Spirit. It has been a long time and much has changed, but these truths remain the same and perhaps are more important than ever. Global pandemic aside, our modern days test us and strengthen us as to what it means to live and behave in a faithful, devoted community of believers. It is still a big deal, people of the light. I hope to see you all as we gather as the church to show whose we are, learn who we are, become who we are to be, and to rejoice and give praise to God for calling us to be. We are God’s people, Christ’s body, the Spirit’s temple, the shepherd’s flock, the vine’s branch, the kingdom’s citizens, the demonstration of God’s wisdom and grace—We are the Church.
Faithfully in Christ,
 Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 235.
Together In The Church
Rejoice! I say again Rejoice! Phil. 4:4
Greetings, Creator Family!
What a wonderful and joyful Eastertide this has been! Together in the Church, together on ZOOM, receiving the Eucharist—spiritually and physically—laughing on the portico, simply being a family in love and being loved by one another and by God. I am grateful for the Lord’s blessing and providence in seeing us through! I pray this message highlights for you the distance we have come and the many reasons we have to be grateful. I also pray for the return to in-person worship for all who desire it.
This week’s about-face on mask restrictions and the changing CDC recommendations are encouraging. At long last it really does feel like we are moving over the hump and venturing out to explore the new world we have been given. What opportunity we find and how we encounter those opportunities is ‘the stuff of faith.’ Thankfully, we are well prepared in the companionship of Jesus Christ!
To carry on the ministry of service to our Lord, your Vestry met last week to discuss on-going projects and concerns for parish life. Among others on the list are grounds maintenance and improvement, Church signage, and our timely and most economical solution to the broken sewer, all within the context of prayer and blessing. How will we engage this new world and introduce its inhabitants to Christ? Lee Barron, your Senior Warden, and I have been praying and working towards the formation of a new ministry team that will meet the challenges ahead. This ministry team, yet to be named, will help chart our course—both physically and spiritually, as we discern the will of God.
How will the building be used? How can we engage the community? What needs to be updated and what needs to be let go? What is our mission? How are we to serve each other and engage the world? Are we afraid or empowered? All these and ‘any more’ questions are fertilizer to the ground of the new land and we seek to plant and grow!
Do you want to serve in this ministry? Perhaps God is calling you in a new way - one you’ve never before entertained or run from pre-pandemic. If you immediately said “NO!” you may be right, but you could be wrong. The pandemic has changed us all, in ways I pray you let the Lord minister to. No one, or very few people, could readily answer ‘no’ to such an open-ended description without dedicated prayerful reflection. This ministry group, committee, gathering, whatever it will be, will be a blessing of ideas, love, friendship, hope, and holiness. In constant flux, pulsing with the rhythm and divine possibility or deliberately, constantly, and reverently moving forward, this ministry has a calling and commission for our parish and our community.
Please pray about this opportunity (and need) and then give us a call. At Creator, there is a niche for each and all because He calls everyone—no exceptions! It will be you, “those others,” and Jesus! You, the others, and the Holy Spirit! All of you and God!
Peace in Christ,
St. Paul admonishes us in his letter to the Philippians that,“Whatever happens, at all cost, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. For it [salvation] has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him”(1:27, 29.) To conduct ourselves at all times in the manner Paul speaks of, is to live in the expectation of coming events and the promises of God.
The encounter with experiential living is always with us. If the brush is dry, I expect the wildfire to spread; if the oven is too hot, I expect the pork will be dry; if the venue is full, I expect there will be a line; all of these expectations are reasonable because they are based on prior experience. But we are caught off-guard and wounded as events unfold, when, for lack of experience, we don’t know what to expect, or because we have incorrectly applied our experience, or because we have ignored a situation and then are confronted by it (a double offense since we usually punish ourselves with, “I should have known.”) This is usually the case when we hear those words, “You should have known,” or “What did you expect?” Regret once for the disappointment and twice for the lack of faith.
Being a Christian is a life of shared reality: the reality of my frailness and incompleteness and the reality of God’s omnipotence and love. As a person of faith, I am in constant pain, bearing the truth of the first reality and healed and liberated from that pain by the second. As a person of faith, I find the events of the first reality: all the events of my life, mediated by the second reality: the promises of God. There is a wonderful scene in Summerset Maugham’s book, The Razor’s Edge, when Larry looks to find the owner of a fleet of boats, one of which he is living on. Needing a guide to a Holy Place, he seeks the boats’ owner to ask for time off for the janitor, who is a local, familiar with the area and is willing to take him to the site. When he explains his request to the worker, he is astounded to find that worker himself is the owner—the owner is living a life of Holy Expectation.
We do not need to live life day to day “tossed to and fro’ by every wind” (Ephesians 4:14); we have the Holy Experience of God in Jesus Christ and the assurance of the outcomes. Our lives, lived in Holy Expectation, know that the great events as well the menial tasks (janitorial/custodial) are glorious and faithful expressions of our love and service. Even as we are confronted by the events of life which are out of our control, we need not be shocked or wounded. When we live lives of Holy Expectation, we encounter the inconvenient and tragic equally with the expectation of God’s love and fidelity.
Let me encourage you to stir your expectation that you are in Christ and to glorify God daily. To “know Christ and to make Christ known” is a weekly prayer of our gathered Body at Creator. That includes allowing God to reveal Godself to others through you in simple but supernatural ways. Stir your expectations, for "Your expectation shall not be cut off" (Proverbs 24:14). Stir your gifts (2 Timothy 1:6-7). To live in expectation means to have "intense anticipation, the thing I long for, to look for." Vines Dictionary defines expectation as "a reaching out in readiness to receive something, expecting, look for." As we put these meanings into practice by expecting God to prompt us, speak to us, direct us daily, we will find doors of opportunity opening to us everywhere we go.
Let us never forget that right now there is a very needy generation waiting for answers to their dilemmas. You and I are called by God to be the answers to those problems through our expectancy and availability to God in the NOW—right NOW! Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit—that is the key. Then carry the commitment to do whatever you hear (John 2:5). There will always be blessings to others on the other side of our obedience to God. Don't allow anything or anyone to rob you of that privilege to be a “worker together with God” (2 Corinthians 6:1), because you have developed the Holy Expectation to be used as a companion of Christ Jesus.
Friends in Christ,
This Eastertide I have been asked by the Diocese to write a reflection on the biblical Tithe, or Tithing in the Episcopal Church. The Diocese is currently producing a “Covenant Plan” for parish giving and as I saw the teaching and biblical Tithe as foundational to this new plan, I was asked to contribute.
I share portions of this reflection (below) less as a teaching to you, my Creator family, but more as an offering of my own, in thanksgiving to the generosity and true stewardship Creator has practiced and is continuing in response to God’s love and provision. Those of you ever involved in leadership at our parish know that our financial health has waxed and waned over the years, as it has for so many parishes. It’s no secret, only sadness, that we have lost members over the years and we struggle with increasing our faithful community. The recession, the pandemic, the “growing and going on” nature of a family-sized parish, the larger changing choices our society makes about religious life at all—all of this has taken its swipes at our Stewardship—financial and otherwise. Nevertheless, our Creator family remains faithful and intentional about giving. And I must say, beyond the heartwarming and affirming nature of this “Wow!” reality, I am very very grateful to be among Christian brothers and sisters who understand the deep theological and spiritual significance of honoring the Tithe. And now a portion of the paper I am presenting…
The Tithe: Church Background
1.The Episcopal Church has officially upheld the biblical tithe (10%-- the “first fruits”) as the minimum standard of giving since 1982. There have been seventeen subsequent General Convention resolutions reaffirming this standard.
2. Each year, our Vestries are required to sign the “Stewardship Commitment” in which they proclaim that they are “…committed to tithing or working towards the tithe as a minimum standard for their own giving.”
3. The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church require that all rectors and priests-in-charge instruct members of the congregations they serve regarding the teaching of the Episcopal Church on stewardship, Christian giving, and the tithe. (Title III.9.6.2.iii)f
The Tithe: Biblical Reflection
It starts where any action of a gathered church Body begins: with God, the giver of all good things. Throughout the Pentateuch we read of the Tithe as God’s command (law) to the people and a building block of the Mosaic Covenant (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:24). Later, in 2 Chronicles 31:5, God’s people, realizing they were not living by this command (and others) and suffering because of it, took drastic action to reform their lives and their community. The willing surrender of material “wealth” (wealth being a relative term when we place in Christian context the reality that “our cups runneth over”) has always been part of the commitment sealed into our Covenant with God, something from within and not without.
In the New Testament, Jesus never commanded tithing, though he repeatedly upheld the teachings of the Old Testament. In Luke 11:42 and Matt. 23:23, Jesus condemns the Pharisees and hypocrites for applying the Tithe as a rule-based action, affirming that the Tithe is to be observed, but with a spiritual awareness and devotion. Jesus illuminates the spiritual aspects of the tithe by asking, “Where is your treasure—where is your heart?” (Matt.6:21). He extols spiritual devotion and divine relationship through such parables of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44, and Luke 21:1-4), and the spiritual and practical cost of giving in Luke 6:1ff. In each of these telling illustrations, the act of giving is inseparable from the intensity and intentionality of the relationship.
The overwhelming truth is, the Tithe cannot be separated from our spiritual relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Tithing is an important, multidimensional act of devotion on our part and a profound teaching tool from God. We remember what Jesus told his disciples: “Do not ask anxiously, ‘What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What shall we wear?’ These are the things that occupy the minds of the heathen, and your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your mind on God’s kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well” (Matt. 6:31-33). Jesus is once again placing ‘asking’ and ‘giving’ side by side as the spiritual and relational truth. The act of giving oneself over to God eliminates fear and redirects the heart, mind, and spirit to trust.
The Tithe: Spiritual and Practical Reflection
The financial Tithe is a spiritual and practical action through which we are challenged to live out our weekly liturgical proclamation, “All things come from thee O Lord, of thy own have we given thee” and in very real and tangible ways reprioritize our commitments while in life. In these or similar words we are called to recognize Jesus Christ as the true center of what the secular world mistakenly reveres the most—money; or, if not money, then the security and satisfaction that comes from having it.
The Tithe, as a 10% sacrifice to God of God’s own, is an amount tied to a divine spiritual truth—how we understand our relationship with God through the Holy Spirit will be reflected in our ability to give sacrificially. We can’t tell people to “give till it hurts,” but we can teach financial giving as a first act of basic stewardship of any economy—be it individual, household, parish or diocese. Any Body giving along these lines will know the impact, will feel the impact, because it is the sacrifice and not the size of the gift that prospers the relationship. It is through devotion and trust that true Tithing becomes possible and those who practice it will know it.
The “why” behind our giving must be to love God with all our heart and mind and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. On these two commandments hang all the laws…including the law of Tithing.
If, after reading you would like to discuss or throw some questions my way, I am happy to continue the conversation. As in any of our life and faith walks, one can always seek greater understanding and more perfect practice. We benefit by discussing and recommitting to the practice of daily, weekly, monthly stewardship in our lives. Thanks be to God and to you for keeping the matter close in your heart and tangible in your daily life and in your acts of stewardship to our parish.
Father Bill Burk†