Members of the two book groups agreed; no one could recall hearing a sermon on the topic of simplicity. We could all remember sermons decrying materialism or warning against consumerism, but we had not hear of the positive value of simplicity.
In this month’s book group, members and friends of the Congregation are discussing Living the Quaker Way by Philip Gulley; the chapter on simplicity caught our attention. The author is clear to distinguish between “grim austerity and liberating simplicity”, as he pointed to the freedom from constant distractions. Practical notes about the difference between a “want” and a “need” along with the need for patience in working toward simplicity made the chapter accessible. A quote from a Quaker woman drew the chapter to conclusion; she said, “I am so grateful for all the things I no longer want.”
Decades ago, Richard Foster identified simplicity as a spiritual discipline in his book, Celebration of Discipline. In this article , Foster describes his understanding of this spiritual discipline. Like Gulley, he see simplicity as freeing.
As we approach the holiday season, a time many people find stressful and overwhelming, I invite you to reflect on the ways it “Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free”. In order to better focus on Christ, we may need to step away from some of the clutter of our culture’s celebration of the holidays. In doing so, we may find even greater reasons to celebrate. Perhaps we may find the “valley of love and delight.”
May the peace of Christ be with you.
“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools…now we cultivate the reverence of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us through the Crucified One.”
~ St. Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho)
It is hard to find the words to describe the events of this past Sunday.
One moment, we were celebrating All Saints Sunday, the day we remember those blessed ones who have walked before us in the way of Christ and inspire us to receive God’s blessing and share it with others. It was easy to think of the saints and remember Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
And yet just as our service was ending, we were already mourning the death of 26 sisters and brothers in Christ at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Overcome with sadness and terror and anger, it was with broken hearts that we tried to make sense of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
In the middle of this emotional and spiritual earthquake, I was reminded of these words from St. Justin, one of the early martyrs of the Church. He describes the way following Jesus requires those of us who wish to be his disciples to lay down our weapons, take up our cross, and follow him, even unto suffering and death.
Especially in moments like these, this is perhaps the most unnatural thing we could do. When even churches are not safe from violence and bloodshed, it is easy to begin to tell ourselves that we need just a little more protection, just a little more security to keep us from being too close to the stranger, the other, and the neighbor it would be easier to ignore. This is not an apology for recklessness or an invitation to go looking for suffering; it is a steadfast refusal to answer violence with violence or live in fear of the other.
Justin’s most powerful word to his fellow Christians threatened by the violence of the Roman Empire, and to us who look to his example today, is that we are able to put down our weapons and cultivate a different way of life because of the future given to us through the Crucified One. The cross of Christ is God’s declaration that violence and death do not have the final word, and that God will not abandon us, even in the darkest night of our own making. God is the author of life, and there is always more to God’s story.
Our part to play in God’s story is this: to remember and to receive the difficult gift of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Let this be so.
Maybe you have leftover Halloween candy or are still savoring the All Hallows’ Eve service at the Chapel. Halloween was on Tuesday, All Saints’ Day was Wednesday, and this weekend we will celebrate All Saints’ Sunday. Fortunately, as people of faith, we are not spooked by death nor frightened by the grave, and instead we celebrate the lives of the faithful whose life on earth is complete.
This time of year, I think of my father, because his birthday was on October 31. It’s years ago now that I led a simple funeral service for him in northern New Hampshire. The attendance was small as he had moved from the Detroit area where he lived and worked for the majority of his career. Dad was not a church goer, yet with confidence I read Matthew 25. The passage speaks of the time when the Son of Man comes in glory, separating the sheep from the goats, declaring “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) Because of his dedication to caring for sick children and because of the promises of our Lord, I count my father as one of the saints I remember on All Saints’ Sunday.
We are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). These witnesses include our ancestors chronicled in scripture, the heroes and heroines of the faith, and those who have been near and dear to us. We continue to love our family members and friends who have preceded us in death, even though that love takes a new form when they are no longer present. And one day, we will join that great cloud of witnesses, adding our voices to the celestial choir.
As you remember the saints in your own life, may we together sing our praise to God.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
You may know that for many years the Congregation has supported ZOE , a non-profit organization with a unique approach for empowering orphans in various locations across the globe. ZOE originally stood for the Zimbabwe Orphan Endeavor. In 2006, ZOE expanded and was transformed into the model being utilized today. The name ZOE now stands for the Greek word for life.
The ZOE model works with a group of children to move beyond poverty and charity in a three-year period. Their website states, “Indigenous leaders and vulnerable children are empowered to develop sustainable solutions rather than being the recipients of handouts. Young people are developed into leaders and entire communities are transformed in the process.”
Visits from sponsoring churches and organizations are part of the three-year plan. This trip is not to provide hands-on work with the children or to simply be a time of observation. It is described as a family reunion. The children and sponsors get to know each other through conversations, presentations, and worshipping together. Pastor Carol and Jane Fellows took part in such a visit in Zimbabwe last spring.
Traditionally, the Congregation has supported one ZOE group at a time, for a three-year commitment. Upon hearing the report of Pastor Carol and Jane’s trip last spring, one congregant said, “Let’s sponsor two groups!” We now have an opportunity to do just that. Through donations to the newly established Empowerment Initiative, a second ZOE group can be funded – but only with your support. Please consider giving beyond your usual contribution to this special initiative. You will not only be supporting children around the world, but enabling them to thrive and sustain themselves throughout their lives.
350 plus 50
This month, the Stewardship and Finance Committee is asking all of us to consider ways that we will sustain this congregation with our financial gifts as well as with our gifts of prayer and service. The budgeted goal is $350,000 in contributions from members and friends of the Congregation. We receive no financial support from Duke University or any endowments, so we are entirely dependent on the gifts of current participants. The Stewardship and Finance Committee, along with the Council and staff, strives to be faithful and prudent with the gifts given to the Congregation. (Note: Contributions must be directed specifically to “The Congregation at Duke Chapel”) Details of our annual budget are available on our website , as are details about how to contribute . Further, you are welcome to review our audit report which is kept on file in the Congregation Office. If you have any questions related to the finances of our congregation, you are welcome to speak to the treasurer, Billy Chow, our financial administrator, Nelson Strother, or me. I invite you to join me, the staff, and the Council in making a commitment to sustain this congregation. Together, we can reach the $350K goal.
That’s the 350. Now the 50.
At its September meeting, the Council decided to challenge us to move beyond ourselves, and to look toward sustaining not only ourselves, but others. This is an opportunity to increase our generosity and go above and beyond our usual giving, so that we empower and strengthen others. To this end, the Council created a new, unbudgeted “Empowerment Ministry” fund with a goal of $50,000. This is a wonderful opportunity to reflect God’s generosity toward us with additional generosity to our neighbors.
The Empowerment Ministry fund will support endeavors which enable individuals to become economically self-sufficient. One of the two initiatives the Council has identified is a new and deeper partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Durham to fund a “Repairs Intern.” This partnership, the result of a year-long conversation between Habitat and the Council, will result in the employment of an individual who is currently un/underemployed. Through training and supervision by Habitat, the individual will gain skills enabling him/her first to provide fee-based home repairs to Habitat homeowners, and second, to find self-sustaining employment upon the conclusion of the internship. Further, we intend the intern to also provide mentoring to enable others to work towards economic self-sufficiency. This program will allow us to contribute to the long-term good of our neighbors. Further, it is one way to answer Christ’s call to love our neighbor. Please join me in offering an additional gift to the Empowerment Ministries.
Because God so generously and faithfully sustains us, let us join together in sustaining others.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
Next Monday, restaurant owners from around the Durham community will do something extraordinary.
They will tithe.
October 16 is Neighbors Feeding Neighbors Day at the Durham CROP Walk, and participating restaurants will donate 10% of their proceeds to hunger relief in Durham and around the world.
For some of us, giving the first fruits of our labor back to God and neighbor seems like the most ordinary thing in the world. For others, tithing to our community of faith is a novel idea, a habit we haven’t quite mastered, or maybe even a luxury in a season when we barely make enough to provide for our own families.
Our temptation is to make giving back to God something that is so automatic we forget why we do it, or to allow feelings of shame or embarrassment about our giving to separate us from God.
And that is what I find most extraordinary about the tithe local restaurants will offer next Monday. Their offering comes not out of a sense of habit or obligation, and isn’t driven by shame or fear of judgement.
Instead, I imagine that the generosity we see in Neighbors Feeding Neighbors comes from a belief in abundance, a conviction that by sharing what we can, there will be enough for all. We have all that we need to sustain our community—if only we can see it.
We see that abundance perfectly embodied in Jesus Christ, who took a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish offered by a young person, and made enough to feed 5,000. Scripture even tells us there were 12 baskets left over, an extraordinary abundance!
During this season of thinking about how we sustain our community at the Congregation, let’s begin our conversations about money from a place of abundance. Let us look to the example of our neighborhood restaurants who offer a tithe on what they make, not because they have to, but because they know there is an extraordinary abundance—enough for all to share.
Will you join me in doing an extraordinary thing: trusting so much in God’s extraordinary abundance that we tithe because there is enough to sustain our community, not just because we should?
If you can, eat out next Monday, and allow God to make an ordinary meal an occasion of extraordinary abundance, just as Jesus did on that beach in Galilee.
Grateful to share in God’s abundance with you,
They go hand in hand.
Two books groups are currently reading The Paradox of Generosity by Christian Smith and Hillary Davidson. The book is a sociological study which stems from the Science of Generosity Initiative at the University of Notre Dame. The book claims, unsurprisingly, that generous behavior correlates with well-being. All forms of generosity lead to multiple forms of well-being. Specifically, the book explores the connections between patterns of financial giving, volunteering, neighborliness, and relational generosity with happiness, physical health, sense of purpose in life, and personal growth. Generosity and well-being go hand in hand.
I believe that healthy generosity also correlates with sustainability. The Paradox of Generosity claims that giving is good for us, that it helps to sustain us in health and wholeness. Beyond this, however, our generosity helps to sustain the church, our neighborhoods, and our communities. Generosity enables us and our communities to thrive. Our congregation is entirely dependent on the contributions of time and money given by our members and friends.
Is it a surprise that these things go hand in hand? No, for we follow Jesus who taught us that when we lose our lives, we will find them. We worship a God who created a world of abundance and beauty. We are sustained daily by God’s ever-present Spirit. Can we be generous with our love and resources, even when the world is filled with violence and chaos? When we have received so greatly from our Triune God, how could we refrain from generously giving of ourselves and our resources?
During the month of October, the Council, staff, and I invite you to prayerfully reflect on how you will be a part of sustaining the Congregation. Further, we invite you to go above and beyond your contribution to the Congregation with special support of "Empowerment Ministries." Please watch for detailed information.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
A few weeks ago in Sunday morning worship, we sang the hymn "My Hope Is Built." Whenever I hear this hymn, the sound of my mother’s voice still resonates in my head, and in my heart. I hear her pure soprano voice, just as if she is in the pew beside me, singing:
…On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
I sat beside my mother on the pew in church on Sunday mornings since before I can even remember. There was no nursery in my small, rural North Carolina church at that time and for that I am grateful. I can remember getting restless at times, especially during the sermon, but whenever there was singing, it fed my little soul.
The Duke Chapel Service of Worship bulletin proclaims, “The Chapel welcomes families with children.” It also goes on to let families know, “If at any time during the service your child needs a place for active play, please know there is a nursery in the Chapel basement.” Please note this is not a mandate for all children younger than five-years-old to stay in the nursery. It is my firm belief that children belong on the pews beside their parents, as this is where they learn. On the other hand, there are definitely children that need “active play” as the Bulletin states. Forcing them to sit in church when they are not ready could be detrimental to what they learn about church. Since every child is unique, the delicate balance of attending “big church” versus the nursery should be made individually by each family.
Please welcome any children who worship with us on Sunday mornings. Be supportive to their parents who are nurturing their children’s spiritual growth. All of us are the face of Christ to these children and families. Someday, they may look back and remember their mother’s sweet voice singing and praising God on Sunday mornings as they sat beside her on the pew. Or, maybe they will remember that special person in church who always greeted them with a kind voice and a smile. Let us all be a ‘solid rock’ for the families and children in our midst.
Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, claimed that there were three conversions necessary for the Christian life: the conversion of the heart, the conversion of the mind, and the conversion of the purse. In the church, we talk about the first two, but rarely do we speak of the third. That is when some are moved to say to their pastor with concern, “You have moved from preaching to meddling!”
The rules of polite conversation steer us away from speaking about money. We don’t talk about the cost of items, the amount of our debt or savings, nor where and when we spend money. We do, however, argue about money. One researcher found that conflicts about finances are a top predictor for divorce. Why is it that money causes a “flight or fight” reaction for many of us?
Jesus talked a great deal about money and possessions. Those who count verses claim that Jesus spent more time talking about money than about heaven or hell. Perhaps it is time to explore what the scriptures teach us about this sensitive topic. I invite you to attend the Congregation’s Fall Retreat on Saturday, October 14 when The Rev. Dr. Will Willimon will lead us in a reflection on “Money and Christians.” This is not a fund-raising event. This is an educational retreat – an opportunity to think deeply about one aspect of our Christian lives. Retreat details are here .
I hope that you will be able to attend so that we may learn from one another and grow together.
May the peace of Christ be with you.
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:10-12
In eNews a few weeks ago, I shared some of my spiritual journey toward owning my racism and how a class in Divinity School helped me to wake up to the ways I participate in a culture of white supremacy. It was, and continues to be, a rude awakening: one that requires me to repent again and again as I am confronted by my sin of silence and complacency.
So when I sat down to read the passage above from Romans, one of the lectionary texts from this past Sunday, St. Paul's call to "wake from sleep" grabbed me, and would not let me go.
My mind went immediately to an image, the icon of Christ pictured here, that had caused another rude awakening in my life. It was my wife Sarah who first showed me this icon, written by a Franciscan friar, as she was praying for her patients, many of whom are undocumented migrants. While I had long known the biblical mandate to welcome the sojourner and stranger, there was something startling about seeing Jesus depicted as an migrant. The imagine shook me awake, and I began to see debates about immigration policy not as abstract conversations about borders and quotas, but as decisions of flesh and blood, life and death.
In the coming days and weeks, there will a national conversation about immigration, especially in light of a recent decision to end deferred action for DREAMers, children of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States and have been allowed to remain. Immigration policy is complicated and a solution is unclear; our representatives need our prayers for wisdom and compassion now more than ever.
Yet this is clear: now is the time to wake from our sleep, lay aside the darkness of fear and violence, and put on the armor of light that allows us to welcome the stranger and protect the immigrant. We must be awake to this: the deportation of flesh and blood people in whom we meet Jesus is part of the dark night which is far gone. As Christians, we live in the bright day of welcome for all, and look for the coming day when justice will roll down for all God's people.
As we enter this time of conversation and debate, will you join me in staying awake and helping others wake up? Keep up with the news, talk with your neighbors, and if you feel so led, call your members of Congress. Tell them this: "love is the fulfillment of the law."
Together, we can remind each other what time it is.