Tithing and Other Forms of Giving

"A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed."

- Proverbs 11:25 

The series on spiritual disciplines continues this week on tithing and other forms of giving. If you've missed the prior disciplines they remain available on our website. Giving is a very personal topic and the particulars can remain private, but it is an important spiritual discipline that deserves our attention. Different faiths and churches interpret the spiritual discipline differently, but most include some form of giving to others.

For some, it is a matter of how and when to give. We receive many requests from organizations and individuals. Our giving is between us and God, but others do end up involved as we make our choices. Some faiths refer to giving alms. That is a practice of giving to the poor, most often directly. We can do this collectively, too. At Ascension we give alms through clergy discretionary funds. This method helps us to become more involved than when we give in passing.  Giving alms is an acknowledgment of our own blessings and helping those less fortunate.
  
Giving to the church is in some ways an "all-in-one" approach. Money received by the church supports ministry. Some goes to direct services through outreach, while other supports all the various ministries of the church. We can offer alms and give back to the community while also sustaining and supporting a ministry together. The upcoming annual meeting is a time when the budget is shared and we can consider how our total funds are being allocated.

As to tithing, it refers to a specific practice of giving one-tenth of one's income. For many it seems an impossible standard. No matter one's income, a tithe shows that giving is a priority. When I find that someone tithes, I always try to ask about their practice, when they started, what it has meant to them. There are too many stories to recount here, but each time I am moved by powerful stories of the experiences shared.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Fasting

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

-Matthew 6:16-18

The ancient spiritual discipline of fasting is part of many world religions and cultures. There is a long-standing Christian practice of fasting prior to receiving communion each week. This may help you understand how the "early" service became popular! Other short periodic fasting helps accentuate the significance of the sacraments, prayer and God.  

Longer fasts are common in Lent. Sometimes we commit to fasting from a particular food or act for a longer period of time to remind us of what matters most. Others fast from food for days at a time. While this is not possible for some, and hard for all of us to motivate ourselves to do it, it can be quite rewarding. Perhaps you fast already. If so, I hope you will consider sharing the experience with others.  

Several years ago, prior to our arrival at Ascension, Sarah led a youth group on a 30-Hour Fast. The fast began upon arrival for a weekend retreat on Friday evening and was broken late on Saturday evening. Some were reluctant to sign up for this retreat, even the adults, when considering how cranky some teenagers get without food. I believe all found the experience rewarding. Even a fast of this length drew our physical awareness to God. 

Each of us can benefit from the spiritual discipline of fasting. I do hope you will consider it and be deliberate, consulting your doctor if you are unsure. 

Blessings - 

Fr. Paul

Honoring the Sabbath

If you don't take a Sabbath, something is wrong. You're doing too much, you're being too much in charge. You've got to quit, one day a week, and just watch what God is doing when you're not doing anything. “

                                                               - Eugene H. Peterson

Sabbath is a difficult spiritual discipline. In an era that coined the phrase "24/7," we must be deliberate to create sabbath rest, although I might argue this has always been a challenge. And why is that? Theoretically this should be an easy one to master, take a day off. Who doesn't want to do that? And... it's a commandment! 

There is no shortage of excuses, but I imagine few are legitimate. It may be difficult to honor it on a particular day, as some have work schedules that require Sunday shifts. Beyond that the scriptures include reasons why one might break the sabbath, such as "if your ox is stuck in a ditch you may work to free him." Perhaps this is the litmus test, you might ask yourself, is this truly an "ox in the ditch" type of moment?  

The sabbath is time dedicated to God. The sabbath is a reminder that we are not slaves. If we routinely miss the sabbath we might very well be slaves in the modern world. The sabbath is more than a day of rest, it does subtle work on us beyond what we might imagine. What marks your sabbath rest?  What can you do to mark the day as holy and connect with God?  

Part of my sabbath practice has been to not open my email.  Some wonder what the harm in checking in could be, but I have found it leaves me thinking about work throughout the day. Sometimes even small steps can move us toward a deeper observation of a spiritual discipline. I hope you will seek to make the sabbath holy, I believe it is a practice that is truly transformational.

Blessings -

Fr. Paul

Our Daily Prayers

"Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays." - Soren Kierkegaard

Amid this Christmas season, we also approach the celebration of a new year. In the church the first of January is a celebration of the "Holy Name." This follows the Jewish custom of naming a child on the eighth day. For many it is also a time when we set resolutions for the year ahead. So, it is fitting that I would continue a series on spiritual disciplines. If you haven't been following along, the last two weeks we covered the "observation of sacred seasons" and "sacred meal," which can be found on the blog page of our Ascension website. 

This week we will consider "fixed-hour prayer," that is, our daily prayers, particularly those offered more formally. Acclaimed author and theologian Phylis Tickle writes, "Fixed-hour prayer is the oldest form of Christian spiritual discipline and has its roots in the Judaism out of which Christianity came. When the Psalmist says, 'Seven times a day do I praise You,' he is referring to fixed-hour prayer as it existed in ancient Judaism."  

The Baptismal Covenant includes a commitment to "the prayers," which I see as a call to set at least one time a day to offer specific prayers to God. Indeed, many of us offer prayers of petition and thanksgiving throughout our day; this is setting a time to be deliberate. Perhaps it will be part of your New Year's Resolution? There are many resources to help guide our daily prayers. I'll include some links below to help you get started.

The Daily Officea website that makes praying the daily office simple:  If knowing which pages and prayers to turn to is slowing you down, this will be your site! It places everything in line for us to pray morning or evening prayer, updated daily.   

Common Prayera website born out of a movement called "New Monasticism":  This group desired a renewed call to daily prayer. The group created a great resource, available in hard copy for those who prefer it (on Amazon here) but all prayers are also on the site. 

Mission St. Claire I have less personal experience with this site, but have heard many say it is their preferred site for praying the daily office.  

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Sacred Meal

Holy Communion was a web, a web of people being stitched together.  And tomorrow, we would need to be stitched together again.- Nora Gallagher 

As we approach the fourth Sunday of Advent, I want for us to continue to examine spiritual disciplines. This week we consider our Sacred Meal. I begin by calling it "Sacred Meal" because I believe that it is holy and that it connects us with the other Abrahamic faiths. While Jews and Muslims practice some sort of a sacred meal differently, they still observe it as a discipline.  

The Christian practice of the sacred meal goes by many names, such as  Holy Eucharist, Communion, and the Lord's Supper. The Episcopal Church favors "Eucharist," which comes from the Greek "eukaristia" which is literally translated as "thanksgiving." This is an act of mutual gratitude between God and those who gather. It cannot be done alone; it requires community. 

The practice of receiving Eucharist regularly will transform you. Through the Eucharist, we receive Christ Himself. We are nourished by His body and blood. I find that the moments after I receive Communion are deeply profound. My awareness of Christ within me and those around me is elevated. Those moments offer a richness in prayer I cannot otherwise discover. I come to the altar expecting to be transformed and hope that you do too. Come, join the Sacred Meal and draw near to Christ and one another.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Observation of Sacred Seasons

The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge
that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

- Henri Nouwen

The observation of sacred seasons is an important spiritual discipline. Taking time to consider what each season means to our faith and brings to our lives can help establish a rhythm of spiritual consideration. Where we might otherwise allow weeks to turn into months and months to years, these seasons can help draw our awareness to what has changed in our lives and what remains the same.

The liturgical changes have helped accentuate Advent as a season of anticipation, planning and repentance. Please plan to arrive early to be inspired by the additional sacred music. This week we will have guest musicians, a brass quartet, that cannot be missed!  It will harken the coming of God Incarnate.

Spiritual disciplines are worth our commitment. I expect to write of others soon, fixed hour prayer, sacred meals, fasting and more. Each of these has the capacity to transform us as we make a commitment to seek God through them. Perhaps the best news of all, is that it is never too late to start, or recommit to these disciplines that draw us closer to God.


Blessings -
Fr. Paul 

The Gift of Presence

Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.  - Albert Camus

Giving great gifts can be a bit of an art form. I know some people who really excel at it, but I suspect even then it comes from practice. Some clearly find more joy from this art and practice, where many of us struggle to balance hopes and expectations of gifts with what's available, both in time to search and budget to purchase a great gift.

Having received some really terrific gifts, I often hope to emulate the experience for others. I'm confident I fall short of this more often than I rise to it. Occasionally I find something I know will be a great gift for someone. I treasure those moments, but find more often great gifts come from a more deliberate searching. The searching begins internally, as we seek out what may suit the other. Only then, can the searching for the actual gift begin.

I hope that through Advent we might not only be diligent in our search for presents, but also for presence. Time to be present to one another, friends and family is a gift in and of itself. Just as with the gifts we give, be deliberate to set aside distractions and be together. For all of our searching for gifts to wrap, I imagine our memories are filled with more moments shared, than gifts received. The gift of presence is worth celebrating.

Blessings 
Fr. Paul

Enhancing our Advent Experience

“The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”  - Isaiah 40:5 

Part of our calling at Ascension is to honor the sacred seasons of the church year. Advent is a season of remembering, a time to reflect on what life was like before God became man in Jesus. Advent is a season for the present, that we may focus on our worship and the peace and love we know in God. Advent is a season of anticipation, we place our hope and expectation in the return of Christ. 

We have a long tradition of beginning the season with an intergenerational gathering. Our 'Advent Fest' includes some annual favorites, but also some new activities. It will include a display of 'Advent Word' that I'm particularly excited about. It is familiar to many on social media, but this year there will be a print representation created by many members and coordinated by Sarah Klitzke. 

In years past St. Nicholas has made an appearance in Children's Chapel. This year it will happen within our first Sunday intergenerational service. We invite all children to leave shoes in a designated area in the narthex on their way into worship. St. Nicholas will be present in the procession and join me during the sermon as we speak of Advent and more. The children can return to their shoes at the end of service and find a special treat.

Further, I would like to encourage you to arrive early each Sunday in Advent. We will offer a prayer as we light the Advent wreath shortly after 10am and there will be a special musical offering each Sunday. These can help us focus our hearts and minds as we gather for worship, as well as connect us in God's spirit. If you're unable to arrive early, please be mindful of others and the music being offered as you enter.

Last, I offer a few links to resources that may help us all live into the spirit of this season of Advent:
Advent Conspiracy: a plan to help us to worship fully, spend less, give more and love all, check it out here: https://adventconspiracy.org/
Scripture Union will be posting a special Advent Reading plan:  https://scriptureunion.org/
Forward Movement: a resource many of you use daily, offers some specific resources for the season as well: 
https://www.forwardmovement.org/

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Practicing Gratitude

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.” - 1 Chronicles 16:34

There are studies that support the notion that practicing gratitude leads to greater happiness. That is, if we intentionally establish ways to acknowledge positive things and celebrate what is going well, it has an impact on our overall attitude and emotional well-being. It can be as simple as stating a few things you are thankful for to another person each day.

Thanksgiving is a time when we tend to state what we are thankful for more plainly. Perhaps it can also be a reminder of the importance of this practice. Maybe it is something we need to do more often and more deliberately. Thanksgiving can be a reminder of the value of gratitude, as well as a time to begin new practices. If it is on-going, it diminishes our need to be comprehensive.

I am grateful for my family, near and far. I am grateful for the community here at Ascension and the ministry we share together. I am grateful for the safety and well being I am afforded living in Dallas. I imagine you share in some of these Thanksgivings, I hope you will share your gratitude with others in the week ahead.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul

Change Can Be . . .

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”  - Frank Zappa

Change can be challenging, even when there is clear motivation and positive direction throughout. As we prepare for the holidays, most of us have a heightened awareness about tradition. There are things we would rather not see changed; yet each holiday gathering is also utterly unique. Even if the same individuals gather year after year, we each have changed.

There are some exciting changes at Ascension. There are new individuals and families among us in worship. Please help us continue our welcome to them and connect them to ministry. Further, the renovation project in the Upper Building is finally underway. Planning for our other capital projects continues with more updates in the coming weeks.

As we move toward Advent, we also face some changes with our relationship with the Diocese. Bishop George Sumner announced that Bishop Wayne Smith will be providing oversight for the parishes wishing to offer marriage equality. To read his full announcement click here.  Bishop Smith is nearing retirement as Bishop Diocesan in Missouri, but will continue this oversight in retirement. As we face the various changes in life and in our ministry together, may we seek God's guidance in all we do.

Blessings -
Fr. Paul