Michael Fitzpatrick attends St. Mark’s while working on a doctorate in Philosophy at Stanford University. He currently serves as the President of the Episcopal-Lutheran Campus Ministry at Stanford, and can often be found preaching or giving other forums and classes at St. Mark’s.
We are the radicals in the world, the game-changers, those who break all the rules. Who are we? We are the followers of Jesus, God’s Christ. This Jesus is the one who came to bring “life, and life abundant” (John 10.10). This means life to the full, a cup overflowing. We are followers of this Jesus because he taught us how to see God as a loving Father, and to become children who love God and follow God’s commands. “And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5.4). We have chosen to follow Jesus, which means to relinquish each part of our lives to God. For our whole lives—our families, our possessions, our careers, our communities—are gifts from God, having their worth only through living them for the righteousness of God. But when we live for what God declares to be good, then our lives become full of life, and life abundant.
We give because of the abundance of what we have been given. If what we have is a gift, it is not ours to dispense with as we please, but rather to give in recognition of what we have been given. Jesus himself teaches, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10.8). One way we give is by manifesting God’s grace in the world. We can do this through loving the least of these among us, caring for the wounded traveler on the street, and welcoming the prodigal child home. Such grace is modeled in the New Testament early church. When the widows in Jerusalem were in need, St. Paul invigorated churches all across the Mediterranean to pool their resources into a shared offering, and give it as a gift to the church in Jerusalem for the care of the widows (Romans 15.26-28).
We are not just to bring grace into the world on our own, but through the community of those following Jesus, which St. Paul calls “the Body of Christ.” This Body is to function as one organism, with Jesus himself as its “head,” leading and directing our movements. We are to be this Body of Christ for the world that he died to save, the world Jesus loved from the Cross. Creating grace in the world as a community means sharing our resources: not simply monetary resources, but also resources of time, talents, and tools. There’s a misunderstanding about the church that there are only three “holy” orders: bishops, priests and deacons. Actually, any calling God lays on our lives to serve Christ’s church is a holy order.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4.11-13)
Christ Jesus himself has filled the church with people possessing various callings. The above verses in Ephesians simply outline the major roles active in St. Paul’s day; today, we have others, including childcare workers, communion breadmakers, altar guild, lectors, acolytes, choir, prison chaplains, Eucharistic visitors, and more. All of these are roles that exist “so that the body of Christ may be built up.” And why do we do all these things? Because having seen the love of God displayed in the face of Jesus, we refuse to settle for anything less than “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Wow!
Many of the ways the Body of Christ brings grace into the world requires money. The church’s resources are not earned through labor and markets, but gifted through the God-given grace of our own gratitude. In the Bible, giving out of gratitude is modeled by a widow (note: whenever you see widows mentioned in scripture, remember that widows were considered to most vulnerable members of society in Jesus’ day). In Mark 12.41-44, Jesus and his disciples are watching wealthy people toss great sums of money into the temple treasury, and probably boasting as they did so. But then Jesus notices a widow living in poverty who comes and places in the temple two pennies. Jesus tells his disciples present, “I tell you the truth, this widow living in poverty has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
The lesson here is not that we should give all our money to the church. Rather, the lesson is that we should give God everything, trusting that God’s wisdom will direct us where to put each of our resources, including the money we have earned. The woman gives everything, whereas the wealthy in the story only give some. Whatever we are called to give to the church, whether in time or labor or funds, is given because God has chosen to use this church to bring grace into the world. This St. Mark’s family is not just a community existing for its own sake, but a part of the Body of Christ committed to giving our whole lives to Christ—who in turn tells us to go out and make disciples of all nations, proclaiming the Good News that God will bring justice and healing to everyone, and that the Bridegroom has prepared a wedding banquet, and all are invited!
There are many churches in Palo Alto—indeed, there are many churches on Middlefield alone! Yet I chose to join St. Mark’s because it was here that I saw the Holy Spirit moving, it was here that the sacraments of God’s love are given, it was here that families are thriving and people are welcoming. I love the Episcopal/Anglican tradition, and I yearned for a church fully embracing all that our tradition has to offer. I believe that God is poised to do great things in Palo Alto through our church, if only we will have the courage to stand up when God calls us to the ready.
When we commit to the church our time, or our labor, or our abilities, or our income, we do so to fulfill God’s heart for the world. And in so doing we fulfill God’s heart for us also, that we should “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13.14), wearing Jesus like a garment until people no longer see us at all—all they see is the love of God shining out of our lives into them. Rowan Williams writes in his book Where God Happens that part of our mission is to be Christ for each person we meet. Everyone should encounter the love of God we have been privileged to know, and we are the conduits who channel God’s love. Being faithful stewards and pledging generously from what we have to the church, however much or little that is, is how St. Mark’s becomes Christ for Palo Alto. We are taking God’s gifts to us, and clothing this church with the Lord Jesus Christ, until we can say
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, black or white, circumcised or uncircumcised, citizen or illegal immigrant, slave or free, Republican or Democrat, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. . . . And over all these virtues we put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. We let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, since as members of one body we were called to peace. And we are thankful. The message of Christ dwells among us richly as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in our hearts. And whatever we do, whether in word or deed, we do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3.11-12, 14-17)