Trinity, Morgantown, June 7, 2020

Many Episcopal churches celebrate their patron saints with a yearly “patronal” celebration. Over the years I have served different churches among various dioceses in multiple capacities: St. Peter’s, St. James’, St. John’s, and St. David’s, as well as Christ Church and St. Michael’s, indeed, even an 'All Saints' Church. Other churches I served did not bear a saint’s name, but affirmed instead a theological point-of-view or frame-of- reference: i.e. Grace, Redeemer, Good Shepherd, Zion, and now Trinity, Morgantown. As the liturgical calendar would have it, today is Trinity Sunday, (and according to the Collect for the Day) it is a time to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity…to worship the Unity…in order to bring us at last to see the one and eternal glory; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…who together now live and reign as one God, for ever and ever. (Admittedly, it’s a bit complicated!)

The Good News for us at Trinity Church is that we are still here; rendering ministry from the same spot for over 200 years. Numerous clergy and laity have provided capable leadership at the helm; and hopefully that spirit of dedication and purpose will persist. Though our worship is temporarily on-hold, we are looking forward to continuing our mission, “welcoming all to (worship and) walk with God.” Evidence of this commitment was seen at our Annual Meeting in January, just before the coronavirus shutdown, when we had a change of leadership in the office of Senior Warden. After two years of service, Zach Thayer notified us that he was being called to a different role in life…that of first-time father; so he passed the torch to current Senior Warden, Ed Devine.

With Zach, what I particularly enjoyed about our clergy/warden relationship was the fact that he and I were so different in many ways; not polar opposites by any means, yet dissimilar enough that we would frequently go-to-the-mat and theologically arm-wrestle our differences. He was always sending me “thought pieces” that were debatable, if not religiously suspect (and I admit I countered with a few even more thoughtful “thought-pieces” that he needed to consider).

Zach is now a happy new Dad, yet he still passes on material for me to “think about.” Here’s his latest missive that I concede raises several relevant issues. This serves as a fitting reflection for today’s Trinity “patronal” celebration. The ‘preface’ is an excerpt from First Things: Journal of Religion and Public Life by Peter J. Leithart, followed by Zach’s perceptions and insights.    

Landowners were forbidden to harvest the corners of their fields, retrieve dropped sheaves, or harvest vineyards a second time (Lev. 19:9-10). All that food belonged to the landless poor, who were permitted to harvest the uncut corners, follow harvesters to pick up sheaves, and collect fallen grapes from harvested vineyards. The Torah imposed limits on landowners, who were not allowed to maximize their yield, and it ensured that everyone shared the abundance of the land. Poor Israelites and sojourners had to work for their grain and grapes, but the land belonged to Yahweh and he gave its Eucharistic bounty not to the wealthy but to all Israel. Instruction about mercy and justice may seem out of place in a ritual timetable, but it’s not. Feasts (especially Pentecost) were occasions for generosity, reminders that Israel must distribute Yahweh’s gifts fairly to orphans, widows, strangers, the landless, and everyone without resources of his own (cf. Deut. 16:11, 14). As my Theopolis colleague Alastair Roberts points out, there’s a numerical link between Pentecost and the year of Jubilee, which was observed every fifty years (Lev. 25:8-12). During Jubilee, slaves were freed and land returned to its original owners. Every year, Israel celebrated a micro-Jubilee on the fiftieth day after Passover, when they shared the fruits of the land with all God’s people

(Zach continues the theme.) - I think this gets at the heart of a major issue for modern Christians, and it is an area in which I personally feel I fail significantly.  How do we justly distribute the bounty of the land that belongs to God?  We don't have an Israel in the same way that the people of Leviticus and Deuteronomy did.  There is no Holy Roman Empire, there is no geopolitical power of Christendom within which we can establish just and right relations, and now more than ever the United States is a country that is divided.  Divided by race, class, gender, political ideology, and religion.  When an entire people's world view, culture, and religion form a cohesive nation - such as the biblical nation of Israel - it is a lot easier for people to get over the idea of maximizing their yield.  They are a group of people all working on the same team, toward the same goals, and fulfilling the same duty to the same God.

All this to say, it is easy to give charity to people who are like you and who agree with you, it is difficult to give charity to people who disagree with you, and may even hate you.  It is easy for me to give money to causes I agree with, I don't give money to causes I don't.

So that is the first issue, our divisions.  However, there is at least one other issue as well - the separation of our work from the land.  If charity was once not maximizing your yield and so allowing the poor to "work for their grain and grapes" in the land that belonged to God - what now when the only planting I do is maybe some tomatoes in the summer?  Where is that dividing line that allows us to think of what comes from the earth as belonging to God?  I don't even get a paper check for my work.  It goes electronically into my account.  My work is far removed from working with the earth.  How do I leave the corner of my field for others to harvest? 

With the way we work now, there is nothing to leave for others to do.  The poor aren't left the corners of a field to harvest to feed themselves, they are given food in places like our church - and while I think ensuring people don't starve is a good work, it is apparent that something is being taken away from the person who is being given food from the soup kitchen.  It is almost like a bit of their humanity is obscured. 

I believe it to be true that "whatever gifts the Spirit gives me are for the edification of the church. Whatever wealth God entrusts to me serves the common good, especially of his household." But - what is The Church when we are so divided? Who is in his household?

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.  Kind regards,   … Zach Thayer

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If any of this stimulates questions, thoughts, or ideas, please send them along. It will likely make for some good theological arm-wrestling matches.  … Michael+