It’s big news at the Reuning-Scherer household: my daughter Stephanie has a job.
She is now the cantor at Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in Hartford,
leading the congregation in worship and song in the 4pm Saturday mass.
It’s a pretty great first job for a 15 year old. In some ways, you could say that Stephanie has been preparing for this job all her life. She has, after all, been in church every week since she was a baby. Church is the family trade with me as pastor and my husband as a director of music, So both of our kids have been trained up to contribute: My husband trained Stephanie as a choir member, and I trained her to be an assisting minister. Meanwhile she has worked hard learning good vocal technique and sight singing in her lessons.
If you look beyond the surface, though, a series of gratuitous connections are equally responsible for this job. Stephanie was recommended for the job by our family friend, Sarah, who had held it for years. Sarah left the job in order to work for former SM musician, Michelle. Michelle, of course, had an opening to hire because she herself had just come to South Church, NB. Here at SM, we were sad to see Michelle go, but have been blessed to have Dick Silbereis join us as musician.
Of course at every juncture, the people in question had worked hard to acquire the skills for the job But at the same time to me this is an example of God’s grace: In a chain reaction, one gift creates another—even some things that don’t seem like gifts turn out to be a blessing. blessing begets blessing! This fall we have been calling these graceful occurrences God’s abundance.
We heard Debbie recall a visit with her mom who lives with Alzheimer’s, where a walk on the beach became a moment of abundance in the simple gift of being together.
We heard Rick speak of the transformation of forgiveness, the grace that led him to sobriety, and the importance of community.
Priscilla talked about God’s persistent care and providing in the months following Hurricane Andrew Where she and her family lost their home.
In all of these faith stories, we saw that God lavishes gifts of love and community, and supplies our daily needs— even when, or perhaps especially when, we wonder how we are going to make it through the day.
God’s grace has always been a bit of scandal.
Jesus lived in a day when people expected that you get what you have coming to you—
If you were a good person, God would love you.
If you made the proper offering, you were forgiven.
But Jesus paints a much different picture, in his behavior and in his teaching.
He aligned himself not with the “good people” but with the undeserving—tax collectors and sinners. In our Gospel lesson today, those who are Jesus’ fruitful disciples are marked by one common trait: They abide him. “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,” Jesus says. Like a branch growing out of a vine, Jesus’ people are connected to him by the life blood of grace. It has nothing to do with deserving. It has only to do with one’s openness to receive. And the more deeply we connect with Jesus, the more we fruitful we can be.
Martin Luther sounded the same theme at a time when people had once again forgotten
that God gives not because of people’s ability to be good, but because giving is who God is. Luther praised God’s grace, not human works or effort And proclaimed a radical freedom in Christ which liberated people from compulsion and fear And set them free to love God and neighbor as a response to God first loving them. The key insight of grace undergirded the entire Reformation And Luther translated the bible and the worship service into the native tongue so that everyone could learn about it.
Back at the Reuning-Scherer household, we parents have been talking with Stephanie about this job:
That it is an incredible privilege to be working in her field,
The gifts of the connections that brought this opportunity to her,
and the blessing that God has worked in her life.
We want her to notice God’s amazing abundance.
We don’t want to take for granted the possibilities she has before her
We want her to be grateful, because we know that a thankful heart is a happy heart.
So we have been talking about a spiritual practice to help Stephanie remember these blessings. We have suggested she give away 10% of her earnings as a sign of gratitude. At first she was not crazy about the idea— after all, Steph is the girl that doesn’t even like to share her tortilla chips! but when I reminded her that she still of 90% for spending & saving, she accepted it. And while we invited her to think about giving the money to a church, since the church is the reason she got this job,
we gave her the option to support another organization that has a mission she believes in. The most important thing is to acknowledge where the gift comes from—from God—
And to give in such a way that glorifies God.
Now lest you think that we are miracle parents, I have to confess to you that the jury is still out on what Stephanie will do with her first check, as she has not yet been paid.
But I will encourage this spiritual practice because I have found it beneficial in my life.
Making an offering is really a way to experience God’s abundance. Instead of rushing by God’s good gifts, when we thoughtfully consider a gift we slow down and savor what we already have. It’s like the difference between driving by your favorite the rose garden And actually taking the time to walk the garden and notice the sparkle of dew on a petal and to smell the subtle variations of scent in each bloom.
When you make a gift, you are paying attention to the generosity of God, and feeling the joy of gratitude. Grace is the reality that is all around us God’s gratuitous abundance is woven throughout the universe Our response is to notice it, and to respond.
That’s what today is about as we bring our intended giving cards before the altar.
Our giving here at SM is more than paying for ministries we value It is about recognizing the miracle of God’s abundant giving to us—an unearned gift of grace. Our giving becomes a response of gratitude In the act of giving we enter into the cycle of abundance Where blessings beget more blessings.
Where as Jesus said, My father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.