In recent years our stewardship programs have utilized a variety of physical symbols to illustrate and explain the challenges of giving within the structure of a congregation. We have talked about seeds, about tools, about bread.
This year is a bit different. We are speaking this time about feelings - ideas - emotions. We are now engaging in a conversation about Gifts of the Spirit and how these particular gifts inform our giving and sharing here at St. Paul.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he speaks of three Gifts of the Spirit: faith, hope and love. We all know these words well.
And now faith, hope and love abide, these three.
During the early weeks of November we will focus our attention on these Gifts and reflect on what they mean in relationship to the stewardship of time and money. A committee at large, comprised of over 25 volunteers will make contact with every member of the community. This will afford every one the opportunity to ask questions about stewardship at St. Paul.
During each weekend worship service in November, special messages will be shared regarding stewardship and how we can respond to God’s gracious love to us. On or about mid-November letters will be sent to every member which will contain a pledge card affording each of us the opportunity to state our intended pledge for the year 2014.
This is our challenge: to grow in faith; to grow in hope; to grow in love; to grow in giving. Welcome to the adventure!
Stewardship: What does it mean to us? What does it mean to our congregation? How does it affect our daily lives? How does it affect our faith? Our faith in our lives? Our faith in our church? Our faith in each other? Our faith in our God? It’s not just about money. It’s what we believe.
Now, I can only share how stewardship affects my life. As some of you know, I lost my job unexpectedly last December. One of the first things I did was to lower my tithe. I just didn’t think I had the income to support my church in the same way I had in the past. But you know what? Somehow, I kept my tithe amount the same for the nine months I was unemployed. I just made sure the first check I received went back to the One who guides and supports me in my faith. I simply realized that I wasn’t giving as much as I should have been in the first place; I realized God really does provide if you have faith.
On one hand, most of us feel guilty talking about financial hard times because we have never known the experiences of starving refugees or homeless people. I personally can’t fathom those kinds of needs. Some of us know the stories of living through the Great Depression here on our own soil. Compared to that time in our nation’s history, we don’t really have a lot to complain about. But virtually everyone does know the reality of financial pressure. Even those who have significant wealth know the stress of trying to manage or grow what they have. And most others have experienced racing thoughts or tight chests from the pressures of earning and keeping money. Maybe you're juggling bills or have lost your job. Maybe you just fear you will. Maybe you are seriously in debt and see no way out. Or maybe you fear that you won’t have enough money for retirement.
In Deuteronomy, it says that the wealth or “abundance” in our lives is a gift, not a given. It is not entitlement but blessing in which others are meant to share. Then there's the Scriptural examination of tithing. Again, Deuteronomy tells us that tithing is a party! It is the whole community bringing the bounty of the land’s produce (abundance) together in celebration. Tithing is practiced here at Saint Paul, among us, so that there is appropriate “fear of the Lord”—a way of remembering that God is God and we are not. God is ultimately the provider and we are the beneficiaries of what God provides.
The question for us, first of all, is how we should face financial hard times as individuals and as a community—not as owners of money, but as those who see all of “our” money as God’s money. When we have committed ourselves to being managers instead of owners, how does our vision change the way we face financial challenge? Believe it or not, God uses financial hard times for our good. These are indeed proverbial blessings in disguise. Our challenge is to accept and take advantage of financial struggles in some of the ways that God intended. What are those ways? Well, most of us believe the money we have belongs to us. After all, we earned it. We’ve scrimped, we’ve saved; we may even be working two jobs to make ends meet. It must be ours. Right? Wrong. It may seem that way, but it’s just not true. The first way we become financially responsible and blessed is to recognize God as the source of our prosperity.
You may have worked a job, but it’s God who gave you your breath, your talents, your abilities, the power to think, and the blessing of life at a time of unparalleled opportunity in one of the most prosperous nations in the world. You didn’t do any of that. When we understand that God is the source of all our blessings, it’s easy to realize that we are merely the stewards of all that God gives us. The dictionary defines “steward” as a person who manages the affairs, especially the money, of another person. When we finally learn to appreciate what that means, it completely changes the way we think about and use money. To that end, I sincerely hope and pray that we can all become responsible stewards of money and wealth for our church and, most especially, for our God.
I’ve been here at St. Paul for almost two years. If there’s one word that describes how I feel about being a part of this Community of Faith, besides the word "joy"—unbounded joy—it would be "gratitude."
When I was very sick last year and couldn’t come to church, the people here came to visit me—in the hospital and at home—and not just once, but many times. And when I was finally able to return on Sundays, you welcomed me back like a lost sheep.
I am so very thankful for the blessings I’ve found here—the Gifts of the Spirit: Faith, Hope, and Love, which is our stewardship theme for this year. Faith, which is a gift I can’t initiate, only accept; Hope, that we will continue to grow and prosper and still be here for the next generation of seekers to find us; and, of course, Love, which the Apostle says is the greatest gift of all—the Love of God that binds us all together in this wonderfully diverse family.
So when I was asked to speak today, even though I’m a relative newcomer, I was happy to do it. I was introduced to stewardship early. When I was a child growing up in a small Lutheran church in Western Kansas, my mother gave my sister and me a dime every Sunday to tie in the corner of our lace handkerchiefs for the collection plate. How can I not give now when I have been given so much?
Since we’re taking our stewardship theme from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, permit me to refer to another of his letters—this one to the churches in Galatia.
When Paul went to Jerusalem to tell the leaders of the community there—James, Peter, and John—that he had been commissioned by the risen Christ to take the Good News to the Gentiles, they offered him the right hand of friendship. Paul writes: “They asked but one thing—that I remember the poor, which I was most eager to do.”
If a peripatetic preacher like Paul can take the time and make the sacrifice to gather money together for the good of the community, how can I not?
I will conclude with the words that our dear Pastor tells us every Sunday: “Let us with joy and thanksgiving (my two favorite words) offer up the first and the best of what God has temporarily given us.”
Every member of Saint Paul knows, by life experience and by being a part of this community, that giving—that is to say, financial offering—is a tricky business. Money is, in many ways, a necessary evil. We need it to keep the lights on, the heat going, the piano tuned, and the bathrooms clean. But there are other ways of looking at money. It doesn't have to be demonized, but can serve instead as part of our greater stewardship in the community and the world.
At Saint Paul, this is how we view financial offering. It is first and foremost the decision of the individual or family desiring to give. How much should you give? Nobody can dictate that; we've done away with traditional notions of tithing because they simply don't meet us where we are, nor make sense of our ever-changing call to stewardship. Instead, we ask every member and visitor to consider more fundamental notions of giving that connect all the pillars of stewardship.
Time. We all have time to give and it is up to each one of us to decide how we spend that time. Will it be spent with family and friends? Or perhaps at work? At school? On our passions and interests? Or on our obligations? If part of who we are and what we believe involves care of the world around us, how does that guide our use of time?
Talent. As part of our blessedness as Children of God, we each have gifts to share. Those gifts are as diverse and colorful as we are, and are needed in countless ways throughout our world—and in our own backyards. Do we recognize and appreciate the gifts, skills, and talents we have? Do we spend time honing them and using them toward the greater good? Do we offer them to those in need and not simply use them for our own benefit and good?
Treasure. Naturally, part of what we can give to the church, the community, and the world is our treasure. For many, that takes the form of money and regular offertory giving. For others, however, it means giving of material goods that are valuable to others—clothes, food, tools, etc. These all have value, and are all a part of the treasure we temporarily own. How do we share these goods we possess with the world? Do we do so freely, or are we hindered by greed? Do we hear the call to share and provide for those in need?
These three elements of stewardship—time, talent, and treasure—are ever on our minds and hearts at Saint Paul. There is no set path for giving and sharing, nor for how one should use these gifts for the greater good. All we can do is encourage everyone to listen to the call to stewardship in their own lives, and discern where their time, talent, and treasure are best used for the building up of the community and the world. It is an ongoing conversation, and there are many questions that arise. This place—this community of faith—is a place where those questions can be asked without judgment, and where true stewardship can blossom in an imperfect world.
As a way to help you frame your own approach to stewardship, we've assembled some online sources to look at and consider. If you'd like something more personal, don't hesitate to reach out to Pastor Kevin Maly or Pastor Don Sutton (see Staff page). They're always happy to chat.