Living in Grace and Gratitude!  Bethlehem’s Stewardship Focus for 2017

We understand that stewardship is rooted in, and shaped by, our grateful response to God’s generosity and there is more to generosity than money.  As a virtue and a practice, generosity has to do with the way we use our skills and the manner in which we share ideas, practice hospitality, offer encouragement, make connections, and use our time to address the needs of others.  Stewardship is the gift and task of living ‘in Christ’.  It is a communal life, full of being blessed in order to be a blessing.

Living daily in grace and gratitude is reflected in the quality of our relationships and the way we engage with people via acts of caring and compassion.  As a lifestyle, living in grace and gratitude is measured by our giving, our service to others, as well as the way we nurture relationships and live out our neighborliness.

So this stewardship season, let’s practice noticing God at work in our daily lives!  The more we practice, the more we notice!  Practice does not make perfect, but it does make a difference.

We invite everyone to take as many pictures as you would like over the course of the next several weeks.  Every time you see the Spirit at work throughout your day, capture a picture– on the driving range or golf course, in a food pantry, in a business meeting, the board room, helping someone jump-start their car, washing clothes, celebrating a wedding, traveling…you get the idea. 

Jesus sometimes started a story by saying, “let those with ears to hear, hear.”  I don’t think Jesus meant that some people were able to hear and others weren’t.  I think Jesus meant that it takes practice to hear, and to see, and to listen and to notice.

Where in the world is the Spirit, God’s very presence as we live out our lives—let’s find out together!

Here is the plan!

A four week focus based within the book, Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

  1. Book Study – 4 groups/for 4 weeks/1 hour each study (locations, facilitator’s TBD) based on each chapter outlined below
  2. Weekly Devotion – paper form/e-communication; web-site –formatted to complement each chapter
  3. Weekly post card emphasizing that week’s theme
  4. Sermon Series based upon 4 chapter outline 
  5. Re-commitment Sunday
  6. Follow up letter and calls (script for Council)

“My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”

Barbara Brown Taylor

— An Altar in the World

Let's Get Started!

Devotion Week #1

“The Practice of Paying Attention”

On pg. 26 of her book, An Altar in the World, Taylor quotes Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple:  “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”  Do you make time to notice things like the color purple in a field?

Along with the things we choose to notice are the things we choose to ignore.  Taylor offers a list of things commonly ignored by most people, such as where our food really comes from or how our wool sweaters are made—starting with the sheep and ending with the rack at the store.

The terms “paying attention” and “reverence” are used interchangeable throughout this chapter.  Taylor writes that reverence will take on many forms, depending on what it is that awakens awe in us by reminding us of are true ‘size.’

Taylor’s suggests that one of the easiest practices of reverence is to simply sit down outside somewhere and pay attention for at least 20 minutes.  The practice of paying attention takes time. Reverence requires a certain pace. It requires a willingness to take detours, even side trips, which are not part of the original plan.

When we pay attention, we learn how God pays attention –to all of creation. Through something as small as a peppercorn, we learn how God pays attention to us, how God holds us!  This is one way we can live into a different way of being , full of treasure for those of us who are willing to pay attention!  To see how something as small as a peppercorn, can become an altar in this world.

Devotion Week #1 —“The Practice of Paying Attention”

Questions to reflect on this week:

Can you describe the last time you stopped and noticed something in your world as beautiful or unusual and therefore holy?

What are some things that you choose to ignore and why do you think you ignore them?

How do you define reverence?  How do you recognize it in your life and the lives of other people?

Devotion Week #2

“The Practice of Waking Up to God”

How, when, and where do we encounter God?  Many of us who spend time in churches say we encounter God at church.  But does God only have one house? Scripture is filled with images of all creation praising the goodness of God, standing witness to God’s abundant and steadfast love.  Read Psalm 148 if you want to see how the earth itself sings praise: mountains/hills, fruit trees/cedars, fire and hail, even the sea monsters.

There are stories too, of God’s people encountering God in unexpected places.  Jacob met God while sleeping in the wilderness, Abraham and Sarah met God at the door of their tent.  For many years, the people of God carried God’s tent around with them in the wilderness, until they decided to build God a house in Jerusalem—although God was not convinced this was such a good idea (2 Samuel 7:1-17).

When God encounters us in our ordinary lives, right in the middle of a place we had never thought as particularly ‘godly,’ then we have a choice: we can keep on going and ignore what has happened, or we can set down an altar.  We can mark—even just within ourselves in that moment –the spot as holy.

Devotion Week #2 —“The Practice of Waking Up to God”

Question to reflect on this week:

Where do you encounter God in the world?

What places in the world have been particularly holy for you?

How do you see God in the world?

How will you practice waking up to God this week?

Devotion Week #3

“The Practice of Being Present to God”

On page 176 of her book An Altar in the World, Taylor writes, “To say I love God but I do not pray much is like saying I love life, but I do not breathe much!”

In this chapter Taylor admits that for a long time she thought she was a ‘failure’ at praying. She began to realize that prayer might mean something more than getting down on one’s knees, either in public or in private, to address God in a way that was respectful enough, focused enough, unselfish, and theologically correct enough to merit God giving up some time and listening!

Taylor eventually began to see prayer as waking up to the presence of God no matter where we are or what we are doing.  When we are alert to whatever or whoever is right in front of us; when we are able to give ourselves wholly to the moment we are in, then we are in prayer.

We tell God what we want and we trust God to sort it out –what sounds like an answer to one person can sound like silence to another.  What seems like a providentially big fish to someone registers as blind luck for someone else.  The meaning we give to what happens in our lives is our final, inviolable freedom.

The theologian Kathleen Norris writes, “I have learned that prayer is not asking for what you think you want but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine.  To be made more grateful, more able to see the good in what you have been given instead of grieving for what might have been.”

“Did God find me or did I find God?”  Taylor writes at the end of this chapter, “Hush,” she continues, the time for words is past.  The best “how-to” in the bible is Psalm 46 “Be still and know that I am God.”

Devotion Week #3 — “The Practice of Being Present to God”

Questions to reflect on this week:

Do you believe in answered prayers?

Have any of your own prayers been answered?  How do you know?  In what way?

What are your alternative prayer practices?  What makes them prayer-like for you?

Devotion Week #4

“The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings”

When Christians speak of the mystery of the incarnation, this is what they mean: for reasons beyond anyone’s understanding, God has decided to be made known in flesh.  Matter matters to God.  The most ordinary things are drenched in divine possibility.  Pronouncing blessings upon them is the least we can do (pg. 201)

The idea of blessing—blessing things, or people, or parts of the earth, or moments, or anything at all—is not part of most of our everyday, ordinary lives.  Barbara Brown Taylor writes that , as an Episcopal priest, she was occasionally invited to bless a home, a meal, but that those ‘professional’ opportunities to bless gave hear a reason to think about the larger practice of blessing.

In the Jewish tradition, there is a tradition of pronouncing one hundred blessings (brakoth in Hebrew) every day.  If you try this, you will find that finding one hundred things to bless while you are awake –say, for 16 hours a day—means you will have to bless something every 9.6 minutes.  Pretty soon we could be blessing our shoelaces.  And our coffee cup…you get the idea.

Of course, this is exactly the point.   “To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective” Brown says.  To meet someone with a blessing on your lips is quite different than many of our daily interactions.  Nor is it easy.  But it may open us up to some very unexpected altars – surprising places in which we will encounter God in the world.

Devotion Week #4 —“The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings”

Questions to reflect on this week:

How does blessing play a role in your daily life?  Or not?

If you had to bless 100 things today, what would be on your list?

Have you been given a blessing in your life? What was that like?

How will you practice offering blessings this week?

Bethlehem Lutheran Church 

Stewardship Commitment Program 2017

I.  Preliminary

October Magazine Introductory Article

Week of October 2 – Liturgical art emphasizing theme to be set

Monday, October 2 – 1st Mailing (intro, week 1 theme) – will be a large postcard

II.  Week 1 – October 7/8**

Theme:  “The Practice of Paying Attention”

Scripture:  Exodus 3:1-5, Mark 1: 29-39

Preacher:  Feltman

Monday, October 9 – 2nd mailing (week 2 theme)

III.  Week 2 – October 14/15

Theme:   “The Practice of Waking Up to God”

Scripture:  Exodus 2:21-36, Matthew 2:1-12

Preacher:  Hutchison

Monday, October 16 – 3rd mailing (week 3 theme)

IV.  Week 3 –  October 21/22

Theme:  “The Practice of Being Present to God”

Scripture:  Psalm 46, Luke 18:1-8

Preacher:  Rohde

Monday, October 30 – 4th mailing (week 4 theme)


V.  Week 4 – November 4/5

Theme:  “The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings”

Scripture:  Numbers 6: 22-27, Matthew 5:1-12

Preacher:  Feltman

Monday, November 6 – Mail estimates of giving recommitment letter***

VI.  Recommitment Weekend – November 11/12

Theme:  “Come & See”

Scripture:  Isaiah 55: 1-3, 6-12, John 1:35-39a

Preacher:  Rohde

VII.  Follow-up – November 13-20

Thank you/confirmation letters are mailed

 Council makes thank you calls to those who give est. of giving

** — introduce the song “Nothing Is Lost…” – maybe song we sing throughout these several weeks.

*** — we will have extra copies for the weekend of Nov 11/12 that the ushers/or stewardship team members can hand out during the services prior to bringing these forward in our worship time.