Sunday, April 22, 2012
Good Stewards Once upon a time there was a little church somewhere in a middle sized town in the Midwest. It was a beautiful little church. It had rustic wood and moveable chairs and while its carpet may have had a few stains from drops of communion wine spilled, the church didn’t mind much. The church had beautiful new banners and a glorious worship table and while the fixture which was used to light the building may have been affectionately called “the spaceship” by some, it created an abundance of light and had won a place in the church’s heart. It was a devoted and dedicated church, a congregation that prided itself on its friendly welcome and family-like feel. The kind of church where children could run freely in the aisles during worship while adults gazed on happily and where a blessing could be sung at the end of worship and one had the sense that folks were really looking into one another’s eyes and offering a word of peace. But lo and behold, as churches do, the little church’s building aged a bit, and roof repairs needed to be made, and heating and air conditioning units were grumbling and needed to be spruced up a bit, and lighting units and sound systems needed to be updated a bit. And the church knew it, but when they first became aware of it, there were a few other things on their agenda. For times had been a little hard financially in recent years, and membership had dwindled some. And so the church waited, as churches are often wont to do. And lo and behold time went by. And a few years later a new candidate was called to pastor the little church. And this candidate was asked about her experience with capital campaigns, and groaning furnances and energy efficient lighting and she told the search committee the truth. Which went something like this: “I confess. I may not be the brightest bulb in the marquee when it comes to financial management. For, lo, I only received a C in high school algebra, and I balance my checkbook only in years that end in the numbers 99, and I often confuse the difference between an ounce and a pint.” And the candidate sighed, and thought sadly to herself that this interview might not be going very well. “But,” this candidate said, “If you want to have a capital campaign, I can promise you two important things. And the first is this: I believe in this church and its mission and I will support it in every way I can. And further, I will preach proudly about stewardship! For lo while my math grades were abysmal, my English grades were not!” And then this candidate prayed that there might be some way that the search committee might find it in their hearts to consider me that addle-brained, Math-challenged minister to serve among them. And thankfully the answer was, ultimately, yes. And so here we are, and here we have come. The little church that could and the little church that can. And the time is right for us to begin to consider what it means for us to be stewards—together, on this our first Sunday of our Renewing Peace Capital Campaign. This Sunday’s launch comes with much careful planning, and with much prayer, and with much hope. And what I want to instill in each of you, is that the way we can grow in this process is through learning what it means to be good stewards, and what it means to use wisely and appropriately the gifts that God has given us, and what it means to take a deep breath and trust that God has a future in mind for Peace Church. This journey is a journey which will need to be rooted in our prayer, and our discernment, and in our listening carefully to both one another and the God who beckons us. As we embark on the path, we remember our past, and we tell the story of that faithfulness. As we deliberately step onto the trail we recognize the many ministries that operate out of this building already, and the many more that can grow. As we prepare ourselves for this campaign, we remember that God is calling us into ever widening circles of mission and there are times when we have to get our house in order so we can focus on the work that lies ahead. And then we look beyond ourselves and our very real building needs and ponder where the road of mission will take us next, knowing all the while that it is a path carved out for us by a faithful God who offers us many different directions to consider. But this morning, let’s linger with just the first idea. The idea of stewardship. And what it really means, for I believe it has often been misunderstood. Okay, now, show of hands here. A little Bible trivia. How many of you were aware that there are actually two creation stories in the book of Genesis. Two. And this morning you got a chance to hear snippets of both of them. Genesis one offers the first story of creation. In it, God suggests that humankind be made in God’s image. And voila, male and female are both made. Together. At the same time. And they are invited to have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and the cattle and the wild animals and over all those creeping creepy things like mosquitos and anteaters and armadillos and warthogs. We know this verse, right? We remember this scripture. But sadly, it has been used to justify a lot of unfortunate behavior, specifically ecological destruction and devastation, because humankind has misunderstood that word, “dominion.” All too often, we assume that to hold dominion means that we are in charge, that there are others who we dominate. And yet, when we examine the Hebrew roots of the word, “Radah” we realize there is a little more responsibility implied. The root of the word “Radah” related to governing, or to “hold sway” It was this word which would have been used with heads of households, reminding them of their managerial function. It was a word which had benevolent implications, reminding those who were governing that they needed to respond with restraint, that their power was not absolute. In essence, all that they had was held in trust, and they were merely temporary managers for the one in charge. And so perhaps a translation which might resonate a bit more with our world is this one from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message.” Genesis 1:26 is translated this way: God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish of the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of the Earth.” If we are true stewards, then, God calls us to be responsible. For the land and the animals and the seas, they are not ours to own. They are things offered to us to hold in trust, with responsibility. They are not ours to dominate, or to use as we like. And we can wrap our heads around this, right? It’s not too hard. If we are responsible Christians we’ve already grappled with issues of environmentalism, and sustainability for our world. But, stewardship is bigger than just global resources (although that’s not small task), the idea of stewardship hits home in our own lives when we recognize that we are stewards of so much more. If we are parents than we are merely stewards of our children, for aren’t they God’s? If we are homeowners than we are merely stewards of our homes and our lands, for aren’t they God’s? If we are church members we are merely stewards of this building, for isn’t it God’s? And what about our money? Is it truly ours, or is it a blessing from God that we are merely to manage in the way God would want us to? It’s sort of a radical idea, really. And its elegantly simple. All that we have is God’s, and we are to use it wisely, in accordance with God’s discernment and wisdom. I want to share with you a poem that has been wandering through my head all week as I consider my response to God’s abundance in my life, and how I can respond. The words are from the Irish poet Billy Collins and the poem is called The Lanyard. I find I hear poetry better with my eyes closed (rest assured, I try not to listen to poetry while driving), so if you’re so inclined feel free to close your eyes and allow the words to seep into your soul. The other day I was ricocheting slowly Off the blue walls of this room, Moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano, From bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor, When I found myself in the L section of the dictionary Where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard. No cookie nibbled by a French novelist Could send one into the past more suddenly— A past where I sat at a workbench at a camp By a deep Adirondack lake Learning how to braid long thin plastic strips Into a lanyard, a gift for my mother. I had never seen anyone use a lanyard Or wear one, if that’s what you did with them, But that did not keep me from crossing Strand over strand again and again Until I had made a boxy Red and white lanyard for my mother. She gave me life and milk from her breasts, And I gave her a lanyard. She nursed me in many a sick room, Lifted spoons of medicine to my lips, Laid cold face-cloths on my forehead, And then led me out into the airy light And taught me to walk and swim, And I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard. Here are thousands of meals, she said, And here is clothing and a good education. And here is your lanyard, I replied, Which I made with a little help from a counselor. Here is a breathing body and a beating heart, Strong legs, bones and teeth, And two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered, And here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp. And here, I wish to say to her now, Is a smaller gift—not the worn truth That you can never repay your mother, But the rueful admission that when she took The two-tone lanyard from my hand, I was sure as a boy could be That this useless, worthless thing I wove Out of boredom would be enough to make us even. In many ways, our small sacrifices and tithes to God and God’s church are the lanyards that we offer in obedient and loving faith to the one who gave us all. Small payment for immeasurable gifts of grace. Like the son in the poem, we dutifully offer what we believe is sufficient. And God, acting as the mother in the poem, accepts our offerings with a knowing and delighted smile. For God knows. And the reality is that even our simple two-tone lanyards are welcomed as bountiful gifts. May we walk with deliberate steps on this journey to renew our church as we reflect on all that we have been given. And may we be good and faithful stewards who are responsible with God’s gifts, knowing that we can never completely repay our Creator. For, friends, this church and this world are simply on loan to us, until we can faithfully pass them on to the next generation, with pride. This building is, in a sense, our lanyard. Small token of our thanks to God. And now I imagine God must be sitting with delighted smile, watching to see what our next creations and ministries will be. Amen.