As members of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity we covenant with God and each other to:
〉 Faithfully come together to worship God
〉 Encourage ourselves and others to regularly participate in all the church has to offer
〉 Actively use our gifts of time, taken, and treasure to support and participate in the work of God in the Church and community
〉 Listen to each other in discernment of God’s gifts for service, and support others in their service
〉 Pray with and for each other, offering care and support in joy and sorrow
〉 Study, explore, and incorporate Christ’s teaching in our lives
〉 Welcome, respect, and include all people as beloved children of God
Faithfully come together to worship God
Our life of faith begins and ends with worship. Worship is our highest duty and our greatest joy. Without worship our efforts will fail. What differentiates the Church from a club or a social service agency is this – that our primary task is to worship the One who created us, redeems us and dwells with us. Worship lifts us up from our preoccupation with ourselves and centers us on God. Worship reminds us that in fact it is not “all about me.” True worship expects nothing in return and does not seek to get anything, for true worship is not about us but is all about God. We are called to worship.
Jesus said “whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” When we hear these words some might be led to despair or to give up, for whom among us truly wants to carry the cross? But it is through worship that we are reminded that in fact it is not up to us to do anything to be worthy of salvation, Jesus has already done all the work, and all we are called to do is respond out of gratitude. It is in our devotion, our adoration, our prayers, our thanksgiving for the life, ministry, witness, death and resurrection of Jesus that we learn how to live.
Worship is never about us, it is always about God. Worship is also done in community. It is in community that we learn to see the image of God in the face of another. While of course we can experience God in the glories of the mountaintop or the ocean it is the worship of the community gathered which helps us see God in the unwashed and the broken.
Let us hold fast to this first promise, to Faithfully come together to worship God.
Encourage ourselves and other to regularly participate in all the church has to offer
Participate, that is a key word in this covenant vow. Not just participate, but regularly participate. Why is this so important? Well think about training for a sports event, or simply working out. I am currently struggling to engage in the practice of regular exercise. When I first started every muscle in my body hurt and I wondered why in the world would anyone do this?! The more I went to the gym, the less my muscles hurt. It would be a lie to say that I “want” to work out, but it is easier the longer I continue. In the same way a basketball player learns how to shoot free throws by actually shooting them, and a piano player learns a piece of music by practicing. And the person of prayer learns to pray by actually doing the practice of prayer. The practice is in service to the work. When we regularly participate in all the church has to offer we not only work our “faith muscles” but we come to learn deeply the practice and work of our faith so that it simply becomes part of who we are.
Our regular participation is also part of simply being a part of this community. It is a way of saying that the work of our parish matters, and we are committed to each other and our parish. Nobody can do everything, and nobody is asked to “do it all,” but everyone can do something, everyone has an important part to play. As St. Paul said: “for as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.”
Without each one of us regularly participating in what the church has to offer all of us are diminished. Let us indeed regularly participate.
Actively use our gifts of time, talent and treasure to support and participate in the work of God in the Church and community
Time, talent, and treasure. It is one of the ways that the church has talked about the stewardship of all we have. But often people hear “just another talk about money.” Stewardship is way more than money; it is the offering of our entire selves to God. We have a choice: to live self-centered lives or Christ-centered lives. God gives us all our time, talents and treasure; and in grateful thanks we remember that these gifts belong to God in the first place, and offer them in service to God.
We are called to give from our treasure. God knows that wealth has the potential to rule our life, to become an idol. By giving of our treasure to God we remember that our self-worth comes from being a child of God, not from our money. To hold back from giving of our treasure is to say that our treasure is more important than God. “You cannot serve God and wealth” and we are called to serve God. But giving of our treasure is not enough. I have heard it said that giving God our wealth without our heart is like giving gifts to your spouse but not your love. While giving of our treasure is important – especially in cultures such as ours were we “put our money where our mouth is” we also are called to give God our talent and our time. Give God our talent – God has blessed us with skills and gifts and it is with those that we are called to offer God our labor, for it would be a sorry world indeed where we only do tasks we are lousy at! And
we are to give our time to God. What would it look like to give God a tithe of our time? If we think about the roughly 16 hours each day that we are awake, that would be 96 minutes – 1 hour and 36 minutes of time given to God and the service of God each day. That time could be prayer, spiritual reading, service to others and anything else which is with intentionality offered to God for the work of God. (Or of course you could simply give all of Sunday!)
Time, talent, and treasure – it is through these that we offer our whole selves to God.
Listen to each other in discernment of God’s gifts for service, and support others in their service
Discernment is a word used frequently in the church, but how often do we remember that discernment starts with listening? The tradition of spiritual discernment requires time to pray, ponder, study and listen to what the Spirit is saying. Discernment is a prayerful and intentional sifting and sorting around a crucial question such as “where is God leading us?” and “what is God calling me to do?”
St. Ignatius of Loyola has handed down to us principles of discernment which are quite useful to remember.
Christian spiritual discernment leaves the outcome of the discernment in God’s hands. This is the hardest principle to put into practice, but is crucial to good discernment. As you discern ask yourself if you can really be at peace with whatever comes from this time of sifting, sorting, praying, studying and choosing. Opening ourselves to new possibilities is spiritually freeing.
Good discernment takes all the facts and practical issues into consideration. Spiritual discernment about God’s call does not and must not ignore the realities of life and the practical considerations of the ramifications of that call.
Good discernment is steeped in prayer along each step of the process. Are you praying, really praying? Are you taking long pauses of silence in order to listen and pay attention to God’s movement in your hearts? At each turn, are you asking “What does God desire for us?
Good discernment does not go on forever, at some point make a choice and take action. Although good discernment takes time, it is not an excuse to procrastinate. If you are waiting for certainty, forget it. Seek clarity instead. And just because we discern well does not mean we never make mistakes. Having prayed, studied, sifted and sorted to the fullest we need to take a leap of faith and act.
Listen to each other in discernment of God’s gifts for service, and support others in their service
Our covenant vow promises that we listen to each other, this is a recognition that it is in community that we can hear the voice of the Spirit and it is in community that we both serve and support others in their service. While we do not all have the same passions, we can as a
community help everyone find ways to serve and to live into their baptismal vows “to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.”
Pray with and for each other, offering care and support in joy and sorrow
One of the first callings of the Christian is to pray. We are told that Jesus often went off to be in prayer. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. The followers of Jesus spent time in the synagogue and Temple in worship and prayer. We are, according to Paul, all called to pray without ceasing. To follow Christ is to be a person who prays.
There are two types of prayer we are expected to offer – corporate prayer and personal prayer, and both sustain the other. Our corporate prayer engages us in the ongoing praise and worship that is offered up by the whole Body of Christ. Corporate prayer keeps us from focusing only on our own desires and wants; it teaches us that the world of prayer is much larger than just my own self. But God also desires that we offer our own self, and our personal prayer is important in order to name before God that which we desire and fear. Personal prayer is shaped by and informed by our corporate prayer, and is an important aspect of our life in Christ.
When we covenant to pray with and for each other we are covenanting to be there in corporate prayer with one another and to remember the needs and hopes and concerns of the parish in our personal prayers. Some people find to pray for others easy, some find it uncomfortable, but we simply need to be willing to be ourselves in our prayer life, and to pray. As someone once said, the only way to pray wrong is to not pray.
Our prayers for each other lead us to not only words, but actions. We covenant to offer care and support to each other in joy and sorrow. This is the call to community life, a life which shows up in times of need and grief, shows up in times of celebration and happiness.
But this call to prayer and care and support is not just about our parish members, it is about the whole of creation, it is about how we pray for the needs and concerns of the world. And so in our weekly prayers of the people we offer prayers for the church, the world, the community, those in need and the departed. This is why in our daily Noon Day prayers we pray by name those on our prayer list – those in need, those serving in the military, those who we have been asked to remember before God. Our prayers help us remember that the world is larger than our Valley and God loves all of it.
I have heard it said “I don’t know how to pray.” Most of the time I simply will respond that prayer is conversation with God, and it does not need to be more difficult than that. But there are types of prayer, and one simple way to think about our life in prayer is “acts” – adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. This is a good reminder that majority of our prayer life is not telling God what we want, but instead is worship, is offering our confession, voicing our thanksgivings and only then making our asking.
One time years ago I was having a difficult time offering prayers due to some things happening in my life and a friend said “I will pray for you.” This was not saying she would offer prayers to God about me, but that she would offer my prayers during this time when I could not. This is
another important aspect of our community, to do together what at times we cannot do as individuals, but as a community we can trust that the prayers will be offered, the supplications will be heard. Let us then pray with and for each other, offering care and support in joy and sorrow.
Study, explore and incorporate Christ’s teaching in our lives
We are Christians, which simply means we are followers of Christ. So it seems obvious that we would be people who would study, explore and incorporate his teachings. But what is “obvious” is not always done. For instance it is obvious that smoking is bad for one’s health, but people still smoke. We also are separated from his life by over 2000 years, and so have only what has been recorded and written down by others. I often think that all Bibles should come with warning labels – danger inside, read at your own risk. There is a rabbinical tradition that parts of the Bible are not to be read by anyone under 30. The rabbis know that the Bible is not just a nice children’s story. In the wrong hands the Holy Scripture is put to unholy use. The word of God is blasphemed when it is used as a call to hatred and war, was blasphemed when it was used to justify slavery. Scripture is abused when it is preached only out of fear and punishment.
Warning, danger inside, read at your own risk. And yet we also believe that Holy Scripture was inspired by God, and written for our learning. And so, we are called to hear the Scriptures, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them.
Hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. It is another way of saying “study, explore and incorporate.” By faith we know Scripture to be inspired by God, yet we also know that Scripture was written long ago, by a multitude of human authors over many centuries and in languages and cultures far different from our own. It has been studied throughout the ages more deeply than any other writing. More books have been written to explain the Bible than any other books. Books have even been written about books that have been written about the Bible. You might think that all should now be clear, and yet it is not. Each generation writes its own set of commentaries, each generation brings its own understanding.
There is a saying that you can never step into the same river twice. Each reading of God’s word is also new. No one reads the Bible the same way twice. It is not surprising that there are no easy or pat answers; it is not surprising that God’s word challenges us, and renews us. And some passages, you just have to wrestle with, you have to go deeper, look harder. Usually the most important question to ask is not “what?” but “so what?”
Hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. Go back and read the story again, hear the words of Jesus again, and you will learn something new. The story has continual surprises, continual lessons for each of us. Study with a friend, and gain a different perspective. The Holy Scripture is not meant to be heard once, and then you know what it means. It is meant to be taken into our soul over and over and over again. Only after much study and prayer can we hope to inwardly digest Scripture’s message, and be nourished by it.
While the Bible might well come with a warning label, it is also food for the journey, and sustenance for the soul. Each day it is there for us to take up again. Every day it is there, enough, never exhausted. But if not gathered, consumed, inwardly digested, the words become stale and useless to us, jottings in a dusty old book on a shelf, incapable of providing nourishment. But hear it, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest its words every day, and you shall never go hungry. Learn that, and then you will start to know the real meaning of Scripture.
Welcome, respect and include all people as beloved children of God
This might be the hardest covenant vow we have committed to. The history of humanity has been a history which separates people into insiders and outsiders, us and them, friends and enemies. Our scripture tells us however, that God created every living creature, and so ever person is a child of God, and as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, “God’s love is so immense that God loves you, and God loves your enemies just as much!” It is a reminder of the words of Jesus, “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”
It is probably easy to welcome, respect and include those who look like us and act like us and think like us. And in fact churches throughout America are mostly congregations of people who are very similar one to the other. But what about the person who comes in through our doors who is different? Or who simply has different ideas about how to do things? Or who doesn’t know “how we do things here.” We have committed to welcome, respect and include all people as beloved children of God, which means being open to differences and seeing those differences as necessary for our own wholeness.
It helps to remember that in fact all are beloved children of God, and then to specifically seek and serve the Christ in each person we meet. While this is not a superficial or an easy task, it is the Christ-like way of living, and one which together we can strive to live into as a parish.