Dear Creator Family -
In the next several weeks, we will take a brief look at the Holy Eucharist and begin an ongoing study to help us understand the blessing of Christ’s Body and Blood.
The Holy Eucharist is the principal act of Christian worship and the central act of all Sunday services and feast days (para). This instruction, found on page 13 of the Book of Common Prayer, greets each person as they begin their journey into liturgical celebration. The primacy of the Holy Eucharist, coupled with Holy Baptism, is the liturgical center of our faith and it is through faith that we are elevated in Christ.
In 1571, after 35 years of prayer, discussion, and revision, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion were adopted as the defining statements of doctrines and practices for all branches of the Church of England, otherwise known as the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is one. The 39 Articles contain statements of our faith and doctrine to guide us as we seek God in faith and understanding.
The Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is described in Article 28 (XXVIII) of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion found on page 873 in the Book of Common Prayer. Article 28 states:
The supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves, one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.
While the language is archaic, Article 28 frames the Eucharist in the biblical image of Christ’s sacrifice and our reception of that sacrifice. From here, things get complicated, but not confused.
The Episcopal Church maintains that the Eucharist is the means by which Christ becomes present to the Christian community gathered in his name. It is the central act of gathered worship, renewing the Body of Christ as the Church, through the reception of the Body of Christ as the Blessed Sacrament, his spiritual body and blood. To help us understand this Anglican Eucharistic Theology universally affirms the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. R. C. Sproul, in his article, "The Battle for the Table," states that “the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the doctrine that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, not merely symbolically or metaphorically, nor literalistically, but sacramentally.” Sproul is affirming the larger and more intimate understanding of the Eucharist that is necessary for Anglicans if we are to appreciate the intention of Christ as we kneel side-by-side to receive his Body and Blood.
I say “necessary” because the church understands and affirms that the faithful reception of the Holy Eucharist is a sign of the individual’s depth of devotion to living in and through Christ. Since the Holy Communion is one of the two Dominical Sacraments (sacraments instituted by Christ) participation in it is participation in Christ’s intended life for us.
Next week, I break down the theology of reception to help us understand and grow as we approach the Altar.
Peace in Christ,
Dear Creator Family,
As we continue to reflect on our relationship with Christ within the context of Stewardship, it is so very important to understand and embrace Stewardship as a manner of life. Dave Briggs, President of Financial Stewardship Ministry at Central Christian Church in Arizona, and board member of the Christian Stewardship Network wrote a wonderful reflection with his readers in his article, What I Wish Every Church Leader Knew About Stewardship. I include some excerpts from that article below. His is a welcome voice as he provides a gifted biblical illumination.
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1) STEWARDSHIP, GENEROSITY, AND GIVING ARE NOT SYNONYMOUS
These terms interchangeably confuse people. Stewardship is simply the act of being a steward. In biblical times a steward was a respected person of high integrity entrusted with his master’s possessions. He was expected to manage the possessions following the master’s wishes. Since God created and still owns all we have, stewardship is recognizing God is the owner, and we are His managers. As managers, we are responsible for using God’s possessions to please Him.
Giving is an act, and generosity is an attitude. Generosity involves a willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of others personally. Giving is merely the act of abandoning something of value. Giving can be done without being generous (the Pharisees are an example), but you cannot be generous and not give.
2) STEWARDSHIP IS MORE ABOUT SPIRITUAL GROWTH THAN DOLLARS AND CENTS.
It is estimated that 25-50% of church attenders give nothing or next to nothing. The lack of giving is not a financial problem but a spiritual one. God is a giver. Our willingness to give reveals our relationship to God.
When we communicate to our people about money, they must understand we want something for them not something from them. If teaching on money is only about giving to the church, people tune out, and we will miss an excellent opportunity to help our people grow. When our people gain a biblical perspective of their role as stewards, a culture of generosity can flourish.
3) POOR STEWARDSHIP IS DANGEROUS TO OUR PEOPLE
In Luke 12:15-21, Jesus describes a rich farmer blessed with an abundant crop. He gives no credit to God, nor does he give any thought to being a steward but thinks only of himself. Jesus calls him a fool, not because he had great possessions, but because his possessions had him.
Similarly, in Revelation 3:14-17, we get a chance to eavesdrop on God’s letter to the church in Laodicea. Because the people in the church took such pride in their wealth, they concluded their material blessings indicated they were right with God. But God exposed their blindness, nakedness, and depravity.
In both these cases, their unhealthy relationship to wealth was the root of their spiritual blindness.
4) OUR STEWARDSHIP CULTURE IMPACTS OUR MINISTRY’S EFFECTIVENESS
A powerful example of how our relationship to money impacts our spiritual lives is found in the parable of the four seeds and the four soils in Mark 4. Beginning in verse 18, Jesus explains the meaning of the third seed. “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Don’t miss the critical message stressed here. Of all the things Jesus could have mentioned, He calls out the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for more things which lead to the real danger of “making the Word unfruitful.” A wrong relationship to money is not primarily a financial issue but a spiritual one that robs God’s Word of its fruitfulness. As leaders concerned about the spiritual vitality of our people, we cannot afford to miss this. However, Jesus gives us good news in explaining the fourth seed, “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” Isn’t this the kind of multiplication we want to see in every area of our churches? Teaching our people to resist the power of wealth to deceive will keep the door of their hearts open to “accept” the Word and to experience abundant fruitfulness. Stewardship matters!
5) TRUE STEWARDSHIP IS ABOUT HEARTS AND NOT CAUSES
We live in a world of abundant causes to support. And yet, the point of stewardship isn’t about causes – good as they may be. During a visit to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, in Mark 14:3-9, Mary emerges with a year’s wages worth of precious perfume and pours it on Jesus. The Bible says some of the disciples grumbled, imagining all it could have done for the poor. But Jesus wanted to focus their attention on the heart attitude of the giver. Mary showed her deep love for Jesus by how she utilized her resources. The disciples missed the point. How easy it is for us, church leaders, to miss the point that our relationship to money impacts our relationship to God. When we make God our highest priority, and we honor Him, it releases a spirit of love, which triggers acts of generosity.
In 2 Corinthians 8:8, Paul addresses this same concept when challenging the early Macedonian church, “I am not commanding you, but want to test the sincerity of your love.” Generosity, even amidst poverty, tests our love for God (v. 8:2).
6) WE NEED TO PREACH MORE ABOUT MONEY, NOT LESS
As a stewardship pastor, I can tell you our people are struggling financially more than we realize. Money is an emotional topic that causes many people to hide their financial struggles. Not only is this impacting their spiritual condition, but people often feel they are not in a position to be generous. Avoiding the topic of money intensifies the problem. Preaching frequently about money creates a greater willingness in our people to address their financial health. And, with stewardship ministries in our churches, they will have a place to go for help.
I’ve heard many messages on the Good Samaritan, but I don’t recall any that taught this parable from a financial perspective. In Luke 10, the Good Samaritan not only generously gave of himself, but he was also a good steward. He intentionally saved money in advance for an unknown and unforeseen need. Because he was a saver, he had the surplus to express his generosity to the wounded traveler tangibly.
7) THE RELATIONSHIP OUR PEOPLE HAVE TO MONEY IMPACTS THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO GOD
This truth is what energizes me to challenge people in their stewardship. This ministry is not primarily a financial ministry; it is a discipleship ministry. As church leaders, if we are not teaching and preaching about money, we are leaving our people spiritually exposed to one of Satan's most effective tools.
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says it is impossible to serve two masters. Either we will follow and serve the powerful force of money (Mammon), or we will serve the one true God. It is not possible to do both. Each one of us must choose whom to serve. As leaders, we need to be at the forefront of communicating that truth.
In one of the saddest passages in Scripture, we eavesdrop in on a conversation between Jesus and a rich young ruler. In Luke 18, the intelligent and influential man asks Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus engages him in conversation and learns that the man believes he has kept the commandments from an early age. Knowing the one thing that was holding him back, Jesus asks him to part with his wealth and follow. When confronted with making Jesus or his wealth a priority, the rich young man chooses his wealth. The power of money to deceive was stronger than his desire to follow the God of the universe. And he walked away sad.
The stakes are high. We cannot leave our people lacking a clear understanding of the spiritual implications of their relationship to money.
If we build a healthy stewardship culture, our churches will never be the same! Our people will grow closer to God; our congregations will experience increased spiritual vitality, and greater resources will be unleashed for significant Kingdom impact.
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That was a lot. As I reread this article I was inspired by his witness of biblical truth and spiritual relationship: is there any thing that can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?! No, of course not! Stewardship is not an area of contention or strife; it is another avenue of blessing which we travel down to the heart of God!
Peace in Christ,
Dear Creator Family,
The hot days of summer are almost behind us with the nights cool, announcing the gentle transition to Fall. Falling leaves and a somewhat (if not illusional) slower pace of life helps as we calmly set in to handle the end-of-year chores and begin our planning for the new year to come. Each year I wonder about how early it feels, but in truth, I began planning the new year even as the summer started.
For the church, planning in the Fall is filled with dreams and realities, hopes, and the everyday concerns of our ministry. No matter what has transpired, COVID, earthquake, or election, Christians look forward with purpose and confidence partnered with the God of Creation. Dr. John Koessler, professor emeritus of the Moody Bible Institute, wrote,
The Bible’s theology of stewardship is grounded in the creation account of Genesis. Adam’s job description had two dimensions. He was placed in the garden “to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15). The call to “work” the garden points to our responsibility to manage God’s resources strategically. This is labor that produces fruit (cf. Gen. 2:5). The other dimension of Adam’s charge was to keep or “care” for the garden. This is a call to guardianship.
The calling of stewardship did not belong to Adam alone. Eve was created to be his co-laborer in this task, and together they were given the responsibility of exercising “dominion” over God’s creation (Gen. 1:26–28). Dominion involves acting under God’s authority and in His stead. Mankind acts as God’s agent with respect to creation. Professor of Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary, Sidney Greidanus observes, “Genesis 1 proclaims that we were created in God’s image, that is, we are God’s representatives in this world. As images of God, we may manage this kingdom on God’s behalf.”
Here Dr. Koessler is explaining that the Christian understanding of Stewardship begins with God in all things. As we plan for the new year and reflect on our gifts to the Church, it is tempting to start with thoughts of budgets and expenditures; rather we must always start with God. As we pray and contemplate our Stewardship commitment to God at our beloved Creator, we are grounded in the Creation story, the Salvation story, and the Evangelization story. Our decisions honor God as we live God’s stories in partnership with our Creator.
Peace in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†