Rector’s Study ~
I recently read the suggestion that one thing that all people have in common with one another is the universal capacity for God. I like this idea. Bernard of Clairvaux , 12th century monastic and theologian, wrote frequently of humanity’s capacity for love and of how any increase in this capacity is purely a gift from God. Bernard nearly equates love with God. Bernard is credited with introducing the idea of humanity’s capacity for love, and so is credited also with introducing the concept of humanity’s capacity for God.
His theory was that awe in wonder, pain in need, and joy in abundance or victory were all potential avenues by which people can meet and know God. The sudden need for God in a distressing situation, or the meeting of God in speechless awe can move a person to transcend himself or herself. In this moment, the person finds the inner capacity for God and for loving God is increased. It is in these moments, in these events, hat people are able to love others, and even to love themselves either in ways that are new to them or in ways that they have forgotten.
All of this stands in sharp contrast to a business model for the Church. Love is not a measurable commodity in the practical sense. Business models seek to make things easy for the consumer of an organization’s service or product to want and to acquire that product or service. Loving others and loving oneself, and feeling loved and lovable, can be difficult. This is especially true in times of hardship. I’ve noticed it; maybe you have, too. People are more generally stressed than usual. Our economic environment today is challenging, to say the least. People are looking for employment now who have never in their lives had to worry about having a job. People are struggling to find or to keep their homes, who have never before in their lives had reason to worry about being homeless.
At the same time, people today who are struggling with these things for the first time ever in their lives are also finding graces that they’ve never experienced, either. Some folks are finding for the first time the grace of being a recipient of the kindness of others. They are being introduced or reawakened to the magnitude of blessing contained in so small a thing as a smile, a welcoming word, a bit of someone’s time and attention. Even in the midst of their relative deprivation, their capacity for God is being increased.
My hope is that as we all share this common experience of tightening budgets at home or at work, as we worry about meeting basic needs, or worry about someone whom we know and love who is struggling to meet theirs, we will indeed share this common experience. My hope is that we’ll identify will the person in need more often than we’ll turn away weary or impatient. And my hope is that we’ll share with God our experiences so that we can find God increasing our capacity for God’s presence in that person in need, including in each of us ourselves.
Here at ECR we continue to provide materially for people in need. Aside from being a source for a wide variety of goods at extremely low cost, our Thrift Shop’s ministry continues to provide outright donations of clothing and basic goods for people who have none. Our Food Pantry continues to take in donations of food that we share with the local Community Center for distribution to the hungry. The kind donations that people make to the Rector’s Discretionary Fund enable me to provide basic financial assistance to persons in dire need. And ECR in general provides people with a place and a community where they find a welcome that they’ve long dreamed of, a respect that they’ve been sorely missing. None of this is good business. But it is good Church.
We find this here ourselves. Material gifts to people are meaningful, yes; but never more than when they are genuine expressions of our love for God and of God’s love for them, for us all.
As important as a business model may be for a community, ECR’s motivation is our ministry, our expression of God’s Love. Our leadership is rightfully responsible with the financial matters of the church, and we need to thank them for this often thankless job. And what’s more, they tend to their responsibilities with heart and mind always set on ECR’s ministry and mission.
Their focus is representative of that of the larger ECR community. We love God and, because of this, we love one another. And we love the ‘outsider,’ the stranger in our midst. We love to bring that stranger more deeply into our collective life and ministry here at ECR, blurring and eliminating the distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ We are ever inviting God to increase our capacity for receiving God’s love and for giving it away.
Certainly at this time of year, when we’ll all hear soon about the importance of our pledges that will go to fund the ministry and mission of ECR in the coming year, the distinction between being a church and being a business is important. But it’s important all the time. When you or I are struggling with circumstances or even with other people, it’s important that we approach these struggles from the perspective of loving, forgiving, compassionate, and gracious church, rather than from that of a competitive dispassionate business.
It is important that you and I recognize in struggles and in joys the opportunity to find God in ways new to ourselves, and to share God in ways that we’ve not recognized. How can we share God with someone in need? How can someone with whom we are struggling share God with us? It is my hope that before and after our prayers for increase of one kind or another, we will continue to make it our prayer that God would increase our capacity for God.
God’s Peace. Jim +