A Fundamental Rule of Customer Service

Way back in February 2018, I backed a project on Kickstarter. It was the very first Kickstarter project I backed. And I learned something from it.

If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s a platform that people can use to fund projects and that other people can use to get good deals on items by investing in a project that doesn’t exist yet (and that isn’t available in stores). The creator makes a post about their project and offers ‘rewards’ for people who back the project with different amounts of money. Once the project is fully funded, the creator gets the money, begins producing the thing, and then starts sending the rewards out to their backers. So, for example, someone who wants to create a board game might offer a copy of that game—at a significantly reduced price—to backers. Creators get the capital they need. Backers get something they want for less than it will cost once it hits stores. Everyone wins.

The project I backed was a bag from a company called Använda. What I backed was a large version of a burgundy colored bag. You can see a picture of it to the left. They promised a large bag (19.7in high by 13.8in wide by 9.1in deep) that could be carried multiple ways, had YKK zippers, was well-designed, was comfortable, and that wasn’t a wearable logo.

I had a couple of messenger bags. But the idea of a bag that I could use as a messenger or a backpack appealed to me. Plus, the muted red of a burgundy bag would add a pop of color to my getup. So I backed the project and expected to have my bag by June… or, at least, late summer or early fall.

And then things started going wrong.

Over the ensuing months, I learned that the bag wouldn’t be quite as large as promised, that it would be a significantly brighter red, that the zippers would come from a different company, that there would be quite a bit of branding on the bag, and that it would be late… very, very late.

Some of that is normal for a Kickstarter campaign. Unexpected things come up during production, and international shipping logistics can be complicated. Changes have to be made and delays are all but inevitable. It’s part of life.

But Använda… oh, Använda. Where Använda really messed up was communication.

You see, there’s a fundamental rule in customer service: you want to find and fix any problems before the customer even knows that there is a problem. And when the customer does find a problem (or if the customer hasn’t noticed it, but you can’t fix it before they find out about it), you should be honest about it, apologize, and work with the customer to make things right.

That isn’t what Använda did. Instead, they waited until customers—well, backers really… investors—noticed. Then they claimed to not know what was going on. Or they made excuses. Or they lied. Or they went silent. The bag measurements suddenly included the D-rings. The color was really more attractive. Or the zippers were an upgrade. Or the holiday delayed the bags. Or… whatever.

And a lot of people got very mad. And some people initiated chargebacks on their credit cards. And some people started writing unpleasant reviews of a bag they didn’t have yet and a company that had let them down.

Yes, this is one of those unpleasant reviews. But there’s an important lesson here for anyone who works in customer service. That includes nonprofit fundraisers (who need to satisfy their donors) and pastors (who need to satisfy their congregants) and a lot of other people who might not think that they’re in customer service: avoiding the problem—making excuses, going silent, or making misrepresentations—almost always makes the problem worse. It is far better for us to own our mistakes and find solutions.

And I’ll be up front. I’ve been on the receiving end of the complaints. I’ve failed to make good on promises. I’ve tried to avoid responsibility. But it’s a bad move that just brings more trouble.

And it’s also true that the customer isn’t always right. There are times—especially as a pastor—when we have to push people. Sometimes, those people will be angry. It happens.

But the fundamental rule of customer service is still there and it still works. When it comes to customers, be honest, apologize, and work to make things right. When it comes to congregants, be honest, acknowledge what they’re feeling (and apologize if that’s appropriate), and work to repair the relationship.

And maybe that works in every relationship. Maybe that’s just a good rule for life.

Be honest. Acknowledge. Repair.

It’s simple, really.

Where Are You From?

 

(I apologize for mispronouncing Wampanoag right off the bat. I think that I do know how to pronounce the word, but in the moment I got a little tongue-tied)

Where are you from?

It’s one of those questions that seems important… and it’s a question that’s worth pondering on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Just a few days ago, you might have thought about the old story. A group of people from across the sea, our Congregationalist ancestors, arrived on this continent. They met the Wampanoag who already lived here, and those Wampanoag taught them how to survive in this land.

And, as winter and harvest festivals approached, the settlers and the Wampanoag celebrated together.

There’s more to the story, of course. And our ancestors are not the heroes of that story.

Where are you from? Part of our history is bound up with a band of pilgrims who went from England to Holland to here. We aren’t from here.

Where are you from?

Last Christmas, I got an AncestryDNA kit as a gift. You might have used one, or another kit that’s like it. If you haven’t, you probably know someone who has, or you’ve seen the commercials. Either way, you know the idea: you send a vial of spit to a large corporation and they tell you… where you’re from.

And I don’t mean “where you’re from” like “you grew up in Wisconsin” or “you moved here from Ohio”. I mean “where you’re from” like “your ancestors lived here”.

It turns out that my ancestors lived more-or-less where I thought they did. A lot of me is from England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and ‘Northwestern Europe’ (also known as France). The rest of me is from ‘Germanic Europe’ (also known as Germany).

So I’m very British and a little German.

But it’s not like I’m from those places. I’m not from England or Wales or wherever. And I’m not from Germany or Prussia or wherever.

I don’t know enough of my mom’s family history to tell you their story; I think my mom’s dad’s dad’s dad—or something like that—came here from Prussia.

But I know more of my dad’s family’s story. And if you trace back through my dad’s dad’s dad’s dad’s dad’s dad—and so on—I am part of something like the 13th generation of Warfields to live in what is now the United States.

And you would think that would make me pretty American. But there’s this weird thing about America. There are people who are from here, and they are called the Wampanoag, and the Apache, and the Chickasaw, and the Seneca, and the Potawatomi.

They are many nations called by many names. And there are millions of them.

And the rest of us are from somewhere else. Whether we know where that is or not. We are Irish and German and Swedish and African and a thousand other things. America is a place that you’re probably not from… even if you’re not really from anywhere else.

In today’s readings, we hear from two kings. And there’s nothing that tells you where you’re from like a king.

On the one hand, we hear the last words of David, the king of Israel. And not just the king of Israel, but the king of Israel. He is George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and King Arthur.

And it’s important to remember that, even though he is the king of Israel (the people) and king of Israel (the land), he isn’t from there. David’s ancestor Abraham came from Ur and lived in the land that would become Israel. And his descendants moved to Egypt and were enslaved. And their descendants were led out of Egypt and conquered the land that would be Israel. And the people who already lived there were killed or enslaved or pushed aside.

But David’s last words establish him and his house as kings of Israel forever. This is what he says: God says that a king who rules over his people justly, ruling in fear of the LORD, is like the light of the morning. And my house has been like that. God has made an everlasting covenant with me and my house. My help and my desire will prosper.

David is setting up an expectation: no matter what trials and tribulations come, someone from the house of David will sit on the throne. If everything falls apart—if there is exile or occupation—eventually, someone from the house of David will rise up and take that throne back. As long as there is a king of Israel (the people) and a king of Israel (the land), that king will be from the house of David.

On the other hand, we hear a conversation between Jesus and a man named Pontius Pilate. Jesus has been arrested and summoned before Pilate. And Pilate is the ruler of Israel and a representative of the ruler of Israel. He is the prefect of Judea, representing the Emperor of the Roman Empire, in charge of a little backwater province of the most powerful Empire in the world.

And he asks Jesus, this preacher and teacher and healer from this little backwater province, “People have told me things about you… are you the king of the Jews?”

And I’ve told you this before: if you were alive at that time, and you were Jewish, and you thought that Jesus was the Messiah, then you would expect an answer. You would expect Jesus to say, “Yes. I am from David’s house, and this is Israel, and these are my people. And I am the rightful king here… and we are taking back this land.”

But that’s not what he says.

Instead, he says this: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Instead, he says this: “I’m not from here. My kingdom is not of this world.”

On the one hand, there is David, establishing his kingdom in one land… forever.

On the other hand, there is Christ, who isn’t from here and whose kingdom is not of this world.

I don’t like to set up choices between the stories in the Old Testament and the stories in the New Testament… but these two readings set up a choice.

Where are you from?

As Iowans, we are from Iowa. And as Americans, we are from the United States. But most of us aren’t really from here. We are immigrants, and children of immigrants, and grandchildren of immigrants, and—and let’s see if I get this right—great great great great great great great great great great grandchildren of immigrants.

And we mark that by saying we’re English or German or African or Japanese or whatever. We have a list of identities—a list of places we’re from and places we’ve been and what it means to be from somewhere else and living here—and… it’s complicated.

But as Christians…

As Christians, we are not from here. We are not from Iowa or America or Britain or Germany or wherever.

We have given up our from-here-ness to be from a kingdom we have never visited and of which we have seen only glimpses.

We have given up our from-here-ness to be pilgrims and sojourners in this world.

We have given up our from-here-ness to be residents of this little consulate of the Kingdom of God.

We are immigrants to the church. And that means that we are now from another place. We are from truth. We are from mercy. We are from love.

And there is something powerful there. Because once we know that we are sojourners and pilgrims, we can welcome those other sojourners and pilgrims. We can welcome people who are coming to this land—this Iowa, this America—looking for a better life. And we can welcome people who are coming to this church, looking for hospitality and hope.

We can be representatives of truth because we are from truth. We can be ambassadors of mercy because we are from mercy. We can be a people of love because we are from love. And we can tell everyone that no matter where you are from, you can be from here—from the Kingdom of God, from the church of Jesus Christ—too.

Where are you from?

It’s one of those questions that seems important. And it’s a question that is important, but not in the way that the fine folks at AncestryDNA try to tell us it is.

It really doesn’t matter if I’m Iowan or Wisconsinite. It really doesn’t matter if I’m American or English or Welsh or Irish or German or whatever.

It matters that I give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty and welcome to the stranger. It matters that I give clothing to the naked and care to the sick and company to the prisoner. It matters… it matters that I love.

That is where I want to be from.

Nothing Standing Between You

I’ve told you this before: before I was your pastor, I worked for Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi. In fact, I worked for the Mission when I was ordained. And not long after I was ordained, something amazing happened.

I was visiting the Mission—I spent most of my time working from my home here in Iowa and from the road—when the woman who directed our food pantry and emergency assistance program came to my office. She had a client in her office who was distraught. And she wanted to know if I would come to her office and pray with that client.

And that struck me as strange. It struck me as strange for a couple of reasons.

First, no one at the Mission had ever asked me to come and pray with a client before. I know that they had clients who wanted to pray. They had simply never asked me to pray with them.

Second, and I said this to my colleague, there was nothing that was keeping her from praying with her client. God doesn’t see a difference between her prayers and my prayers.

But I also knew why she had asked me. And I knew why she had asked me then, but never before. I was now ordained. And despite the fact that she knew that God could hear her prayer just as clearly as he could hear mine, there was a part of her that saw me as someone with more authority. There was a part of her that saw me as someone who God would listen to.

There was a part of her that saw me as a kind of mediator between her and God. There was a part of her that saw me as a priest.

And that’s weird. Because we’re protestants and congregationalists and we don’t have priests. We left them behind with the Protestant Reformation. We said that we were democratic and that everyone had equal access to God.

But it turns out that it is hard to let priests go.

In today’s reading from First Samuel, we are in the days before there was a king in Israel. We are in the days before there was a great temple in Jerusalem. We are in the days when the people did what was right in their own eyes, families made their own sacrifices to the LORD, and there were different temples in different cities. And one of those temples was in Shiloh.

And in today’s reading from First Samuel, we hear two stories… intertwined.

On the one hand, we have Eli, the high priest of the temple in Shiloh. Now, the high priest has many responsibilities. But this is a time when all proper worship included sacrifices. And if Eli had a nice, printed-out, bullet-pointed list of his responsibilities, ‘oversee sacrifices at the temple’ would be right there… at the top… in bold letters.

On the other hand, we have Hannah… who is nobody. You see, there’s this man named Elkanah, who has two wives. Hannah is one of them, and Elkanah loves her, but she hasn’t had any children. And Peninnah is the other wife, and she has had children. And Peninnah mocks Hannah relentlessly. And Hannah is distraught.

Watch how the stories loop around each other.

Eli is sitting on his seat near the temple door when Hannah, fresh from Peninnah making fun of her, comes storming in. And she kneels and breaks down and rocks and sobs and prays to the LORD.

“O LORD of hosts,” she says, “if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazarite until the day of his death.”

And a nazarite is a person who has made a vow to God and set themselves apart. They do not drink alcohol, or eat anything with grapes, or cut their hair, or go near corpses or graves. And while this is usually for a set length of time—like a month or a year—Hannah is promising to set her son aside as a nazarite until his death.

She is saying, “If you give me a son, O LORD, I will make him a living sacrifice to you.”

But Eli doesn’t hear this. He’s just sitting on his seat near the temple door when this woman comes storming in. He sees her fall to the floor, kneeling and rocking and sobbing. And he sees her lips move, but he doesn’t hear what she is saying.

And at the top of his list of job responsibilities—in bold letters—is ‘oversee sacrifices at the temple’. And nowhere on that list does it say, ‘console clearly distressed woman who stormed into the temple and fell to the floor and started kneeling and rocking and sobbing.’ And I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t even think it fits under ‘other duties as assigned’.

So he assumes she’s drunk. And he interrupts her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.”

And she replies, “I am not drunk. I am troubled. I am pouring my soul out before the LORD.”

And Eli answers her, “Then go in peace; and the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And he doesn’t know it, because he didn’t hear her, but what he is saying is, “May God accept the sacrifice you have promised.”

And what is happening here is so important. Hannah is not a priest. She is not the head of her household. She has no right to offer this sacrifice. But she does offer her sacrifice, and the high priest of Shiloh blesses her sacrifice, and God accepts her sacrifice, and she bears a son to her husband, and she names him Samuel.

And I won’t tell you Samuel’s story here. But it’s a good story and he becomes an important man. And he only shows up in the story because Hannah stormed into that temple in Shiloh… and prayed… and made her living sacrifice.

And that matters. It matters because it shows us that even in those days when there was no king in Israel, even in those days when there was no great temple in Jerusalem, there was no barrier between God and God’s people. A woman in distress could walk into a temple and pray… and God would hear her and answer her.

Our reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews takes it even further. In this reading, we are in the days when there was a ruler in Israel, and it was an occupying empire. And we are in the days when there was a great temple in Jerusalem, and priests made sacrifices to God there. We are in the days when there were priests to serve as mediators between God and God’s people.

And earlier in the epistle, the author of Hebrews gives us that priestly job description, with the words right at the top, in bold letters: “Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”

But in today’s reading, writing to the early Christian community, the author of Hebrews wants us to know that there is only one mediator between God and humanity: Jesus Christ. And he wants us to know that Christ has made the sacrifice that ends sacrifices.

And that can be hard for us to understand. It can be hard for us to get, because we do not live in a world of temples and sacrifices. We aren’t used to taking a portion of our livestock or our crop to a great temple in a big city and watching a priest burn it on an altar.

But today is Stewardship Sunday, so maybe we can get it a little bit.

There are people who talk about giving to the church like those gifts are sacrifices. There are people who will tell us to take a tenth of what we make—gross, off the top, before taxes and debt—and hand it to the church as a way of returning the first fruits of our labor to God. And there are people who will tell us that, somehow, that transaction, that payment, makes up for our sins.

And what the author of Hebrews wants us to know is that Christ has made the sacrifice that ends sacrifices. The good news of Jesus Christ is that any payment for our sins has already been made; that we are free from the burden of sin.

And the author of Hebrews wants us to have all of the confidence of Hannah… and more. He wants us to know that we can walk right into the temple, through the way that Christ has opened, and stand before God in faith and hope. And that God will hear us and answer us.

And that the gifts we give are gifts of joy and gratitude and thanksgiving.

Now, I need to be clear about something. I am not saying this to demean my friends and neighbors who are Catholic or Orthodox or Anglican. We have priests in this world and in our religion, and they are doing amazing things.

And I am not saying this to put my own job at risk. I am not the mediator between you and God, but I do useful things. And one of those things is this:

I stand here at this pulpit and tell you that you can have all of the confidence of Hannah and more. No matter where you are, you can walk into the temple of God. You can stand before God in faith and hope. You can kneel before God in desperation. You can weep before God in distress. And God will hear you and answer you.

If you want me to pray with you, I will pray with you. But my prayers are no weightier than yours. Yours carry the weight of the world.

If you want me to serve you a meal at this table, I will serve you that meal. But the words I say are no different than yours. You can eat every meal in remembrance of the one mediator between God and humanity.

This is, perhaps, the best news of all: that there is nothing standing between you and God. Hallelujah. Amen.

Real Change is Hard

I’ve played a musical instrument for most of my life. There were the basics of course. I played flutophone and recorder along with the rest of my music class in elementary school. Sometime in late elementary school, I started piano lessons. And kept at those until sometime in early high school, I think. In fifth grade, I joined the strings program and played the cello until the end of high school. And in sixth grade, I joined the band program and started playing the clarinet.

And, if I do say so myself, I was a good clarinetist. I took private lessons for a while, I placed well in solo/ensemble contests, I was consistently first or second chair in my school band, during high school I played some in the local university’s band, and so on. But, when I went to college, I wanted to be in the jazz ensemble. I got in on the strength of my clarinet playing, but I had to learn the tenor saxophone. Now, on the surface, there isn’t a huge difference between playing the clarinet and playing the saxophone. But there are differences, and I was not a saxophonist. I was a clarinetist who also played the sax.

That hit me hard recently. Over the years since college, I’ve played my sax less and less. That was partly because I didn’t really have anyone to play for. But it was also because I owned an old King Cleveland student saxophone that I had bought off Ebay for something like $600. I still have that horn. It’s not a very good one. And while having the right gear doesn’t make someone a good player, having the wrong gear can certainly make someone a worse player. Then, for my last birthday, my wife very generously bought me a new tenor sax: a P. Mauriat Le Bravo 200. Not the best horn on the market, but a very good one, and a vast improvement over my old King Cleveland.

And I’ve been practicing… almost every day. I still don’t really have anyone to play for, but I’m working on changing from being a clarinetist who also plays the saxophone to being an actual saxophonist.

And here’s something I noticed recently.

This is a clarinet.1Image Source: photo credit: annamariaschupp <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/137366214@N04/39913879342″>Clarinet</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a> It has a lot of keys, and, if you look closely, you can see that some of those keys are just rings that go around a hole in the instrument. If you put a finger over one of the holes, that changes the note that the instrument plays. And the ring make sure that other mechanisms on the clarinet move, improving things like tone and intonation. Those rings also make it possible to play more notes than you can play on, say, a recorder.

 

This is a soprano saxophone.2By No machine-readable author provided. <a href=”//commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Sylenius” title=”User:Sylenius”>Sylenius</a> assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/” title=”Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0″>CC BY-SA 3.0</a>, <a href=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=795619″>Link</a> It works a lot like a clarinet, but if you look closely—you can click on the image to see a larger version—you’ll see that there are no rings! The tone holes are completely covered by keys and pads. All the mechanics are the same, it just uses the pads to cover the tone holes instead of using the fingers directly.

And that changes technique. When I’m playing the clarinet, I need to life my fingers away from the rings when I want the tone hole that the ring is on to be open. If I leave my finger there, it will close the hole a little bit and change the pitch and tone of the instrument. But when I’m playing the saxophone I need to leave my fingers on the keys. If I move my fingers away like I would on the clarinet, then I can’t play as fast: I end up needing to move my finger to the key and then push it down. That extra step slows things down.

So, I need to change my technique. But how?

This is how. That’s a closeup of my saxophone (again, you can click for a bigger picture). And that’s tape on the keys. It’s gift wrap tape, so it’s not super sticky, but it’s a little sticky. And now my practice sessions include twenty minutes or so of doing scales and arpeggios and loop exercises with that tape on the keys. If I can’t feel the stickiness, my fingers have gotten too far away. And I know it’s a little weird, but it helps. Even when I don’t have the tape on the keys, I can feel it when my fingers are getting away from the keys and I can get them back where they belong. There’s plenty more work to do with the tape—I still feel my pinky fingers go flying off the keys—but I’m getting a little better every day.

So why am I telling you this? Because real change is hard. It’s easy make superficial changes: to make a statement or pass a resolution or whatever. It’s much harder to make real, substantial changes in our personal lives and in our organizations: it means looking at the fundamentals of how we do things and practicing doing them differently; it means constantly looking for the ways that we are falling back into old habits and correcting ourselves; it means taking the time—the long hours of practice—to teach ourselves new ways of being.

And it means having some grace. We need to understand that we will slip into old habits and that we will make mistakes. We need to know that that’s okay. And we need to stop, correct ourselves, and get on with doing the new thing.

Footnotes   [ + ]

The Seeds They Planted

Today is All Souls’ Sunday. It’s a day when we remember those who have gone before us. We’ll take some time to read their names and ring a chime and light a candle for them. And, if we have a photo of them, we’ll show that, too.

And, as part of that, you’ll see a photo of my dad. You’ll see the official photo. The photo we used for his obituary. And, while that’s a good photo, I wanted you to see this one, too. Because, while the official photo is definitely a picture of my dad, this one is—somehow—more a picture of my dad.

He’s got a hat. He’s wearing shorts and a tucked in button down shirt. He’s carrying a camera and a zoom lens and a camera bag. That is my dad.

And some of that rubbed off on me. Not the shorts with a tucked in button down shirt. But the camera.

I own that camera now. It’s broken. I need to take it in and have it fixed, but I keep not doing that. And I keep not doing that because I always have a camera in my pocket. And if you follow my Instagram you know that I don’t post very often. But, when I do, it’s usually a mouse or a bunny or a spider or a bird or some other piece of nature that I thought was cool.

Doing that sort of thing is… a piece of my dad that I carry with me. Not because I remember my dad with a camera and try to honor him, but because part my dad is part of me. That part of who he was is just as much a part of who I am. It is a tether that ties us together.

And it probably ties a line of Warfields together. There was probably a prehistoric Warfield somewhere on a paleolithic plain who said, “Hey, look at that neat mammoth,” before drawing it on a cave wall.

There are people who have gone before us. I am a Christian and I believe that there is something beyond the veil of death, and that those who have gone before us have gone to glory. But I also know that we we carry pieces of them with us. Some of those pieces are memories. And some of those pieces are who we are.

And, I think, that might be what it means to love them… carrying pieces of them as part of ourselves.

In today’s reading, an expert in the law overhears Jesus arguing with a group from a Jewish sect called the Sadducees. Hearing Jesus answer the Sadducees well, he asks his own question: “Which commandment is the first of all?”

And Jesus responds, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

And then Jesus keeps going, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

And the expert in the law says, basically, “Yes. That’s right.” And Jesus tells him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And Mark moves along with his story.

And those of us who hear the story are left to ask… what does that mean? How are we supposed to love God with all of our hearts and souls and minds and strength? How do we love our neighbors as ourselves? How do we get closer to that Kingdom of God?

And, let me tell you, I wish there was an easy answer to those questions. I know that there are people who will tell you that there is an easy answer to those questions. I know that there are people who will present you with a list of rules and who will say, “Do these things, and don’t do these things, and that’s what loving God and your neighbor is. And then you’ll be in the Kingdom of God.”

But I can tell you that I’ve tried that. I’ve tried doing these things and not doing these things. I didn’t feel any closer to God or to God’s kingdom. I felt guilty and I felt shameful because I could not satisfy the rules. I could not find room for grace in the rules.

Rules are the wrong way to think about love. Love isn’t about rules. Love is about carrying a piece of someone else as part of ourselves.

Loving God is, at least a little bit, knowing that God made us and planted a seed in us. Loving God is, at least a little bit, about nurturing what God put within us.

Loving our neighbor is, at least a little bit, knowing that God made them and that we are bound together by the seeds that God planted. Loving our neighbor is, at least a little bit, about nurturing the seeds that God planted in our neighbors and letting them help nurture ours.

And believe me, I know that doesn’t give us clear instructions on what to do and what not to do. But it might just be that faith is, at least a little bit, about trusting that God will show us what to do; that, in Christ, God has shown us how to care for the great forest that God has planted all around us.

Today is All Souls’ Sunday, when we remember those who went to glory before us. Many of the people we are remembering today were a part of this congregation when they were alive. And all of them are a part of this congregation today because we carry pieces of them with us: in stories… and mannerisms… and turns of phrase… and memories.

And while today is All Souls’ Sunday, it is also stewardship season. So there’s a question in front of us: as we remember those who came before us, how do we take the seeds that they planted and grow them?

You see, we don’t remember those who went before us just by saying their name and ringing a chime and lighting a candle. We remember those who went before us by continuing their work in this world.

And part of that work is this congregation. We don’t just give to the church because we need to pay utility bills and buy printer paper and pay our, let’s face it, really pretty incredible pastor. We give because we see the amazing ministries that others planted here, and we want to nurture them and care for them and grow them.

We want to revitalize and transform old ministries. We want to discover new ministries within us.

And part of how we do that is through our giving. So I want you to do three things with me.

First, I want you to look around and see all of the amazing things that have grown in this community. This building and all of the things that are in it, the tress and gardens outside, the ministries and traditions among us, the stories of our faith that each of us carry. Those things exist because of the people who came before us and the people who are here with us.

Second, I want you to imagine all of the ways that we can nurture and grow those things, whether that means pruning away an old ministry, revitalizing or growing an existing ministry, or planting a new ministry. And I want you to ask yourself what it would take to do those things. And I will tell you that it is almost certain that it will take more money.

Third, I want you to think, carefully, about your place in making those things happen. I want you to think about how you will give your time, your talent, and, yes, your money, to care for what has been planted here, to nurture what is growing here, and to create new things in this community.

And I want you to know that you aren’t doing this alone. We are in this together. Our friends and neighbors in this church are with us. Those people who we are remembering today are with us. And I pray that God is with us as we use the gifts that he has entrusted to our care to love him with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength; and our neighbors as ourselves.

This is a picture of my dad. He’s got a hat. He’s wearing shorts and a tucked in button down shirt. And he’s carrying a camera. And I can imagine him taking pictures of birds and flowers and everything else he can see through the viewfinder.

Somewhere along the way, he planted that seed in me. And now, part of who I am is a guy who takes pictures of the neat caterpillar that was on my back door, or the spider who built a web between my neighbor’s house and mine, or the killdeer who nested in the church parking lot.

And part of how I love him is by being that person.

There are people who came before us. And somewhere along the way, they planted their seeds in this church. And now we are people who host mental health first aid trainings, and have beef dinners, and show up for a church member who needs help staining their deck, and make shorts for kids in Jamaica.

And part of how we love them is by being that church, that community, that little consulate of the Kingdom of God.

Let us be everything that they dreamed we would be… and even more, let us be everything that God wants us to be. Amen.

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