Stewardship; What’s in it for Me
Stewardship 2019 (No recording, Power Outage)
Last night I decided to pack one suitcase just in case. Walking around the house and trying to decide what to pack was quite the exercise. I decided to keep it to one suitcase and started practically with the passport and doc security card. Tax documents live in the computer, sermons live in the computer, so the computer is coming…but that was it for the practical. What next? I have about 8 big photo albums so I knew they wouldn’t fit, ….and the exercise of trying to decide which of the albums to choose became a kind of Sophies choice moment. Do I take the album of Morgan as a newborn, charlotte, or the ones where they’re older, and at some point decided that the stress wasn’t worth it. I picked up this guy, the oldest toy and only thing from my childhood I have, my grandmothers pasta bowl, an old table cloth, the bracelet that my father gave me *that’s quite a story…the bracelet of my mothers, the picture of this blue bird Eric gave me, this necklace of my mothers that my sister had and she gave to me, which I know wasn’t easy for her, because being my sister she told me so…and then this necklace form my other sister….and that’s when it hit me….I was choosing things based on the relationships in my life. I wanted the things that people gave me. I didn’t even think of packing my expensive cashmere, shoes or jewelry I had purchased. the entire experience was an exercise in how important relationship is, and how insignificant money was. Everything I was choosing was an attempt to hold onto a symbol of a valued relationship.
AS many of you know I belong to a Clergy Cohort group that meets once a month. There’s about 6 groups that meet and it’s invaluable for clergy. We read scripture, we pray, we meditate and we share our lives, with personal and professional… as we talk about the state of our churches, the challenges that come with ministry, the celebrations that come with ministry.
And the last time we met, this was said……Church is not just about relationship, it’s all about relationship……It’s about the relationship between us, one another, between us individually with God, and with us as a whole and God, which comes with a responsibility to care for those in the greater community, those in need, and we do this, and we do it well.
In the 50’s and 60’s church was a far more prominent place where people gathered to be reminded of what mattered. It was a direct extension our core values, family, God, country. Fraternal lodges, union membership, holidays like the 4th of July, memorial and labor day, were all much more significant than they are today… we went through the depression and world war 2 and the space race together….all of which built a sense of life that both held us in relationship with one another but broadened our identity into one that is so much greater than our individual self.
I’m not sure what to blame the shift on, but we know that millennials are experiencing more isolation, addiction anxiety and suicide and we also know that they’re not turning to religion as the antidote. They’re creating their own kinds of community. And they are very aware of bringing a deeper sense of meaning to their lives, and I’m mush more hopeful about them as a generation than most, maybe because I’m the mother of two of them.
Most of us, with the exception of Ebony and Joanne Larson and the white family who aren’t here this morning,…. have clearly entered the second half of life, which is a wonderful half of life. Just like the suitcase I went to fill last night we have a new suitcase in the second half of life that is filled with space, because we’ve let go of so much of the baggage we carried when we were younger and building things like a marriage, a career, a home, a family…
The space in our suitcases, or our lives, are an entirely different kind of space. It’s filled less with obligation and struggle and more one of reflection and appreciation.
And as a church of folk we are primarily sitting in a privileged place of wealth when you compare us to most of the country. So what and how do we want to fill up the suitcase that is this community, this place of relationship? how do we nurture it, not so much to appeal to others, like a marketing tool, but as a place of opportunity for you to grow in wholeness, grow in meaning, grow in relationship with one another and for God.
Oh yeah, God, who I’ve barely mentioned. That’s the first line of the psalm…
What can I give back to God for the blessings he’s poured out on me?
This is so much more than asking you to consider your pledges. That goes without saying that this building needs care of if we’re going to maintain and I do hope that you’ll recognize the importance of increasing your pledge as I have done each year….But that’s not the space in the suitcase I’m talking about this morning.
When we ask as the psalmist asks
What can I give back to God for the blessings he’s poured out on me?
My hope for this next phase of our relationship together is that you understand your church as a place of infinite possibility. One that holds the opportunity for each of you to discover new ways of giving. And this kind of giving should carry with it a sense of joy, a sense of play along with a sense of responsibility to God for all the gifts God has given you. But I don’t thin God wants you to do things out of obligation. Well some things we have to do out of obligation, that comes with the role of being a disciple.But I believe God wants you to do things out of a sense of gratitude for all the many blessings we hold.
Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.
You are as a whole an accomplished educated, gifted people in the second half of life who still have gifts to give. Gifts to share.
Now that our honeymoon phase is over, people are starting to say no more. I hear this phrase often…..I don’t have the time. The truth is you, me, we don’t have the time to do things we don’t want to do but we all have the time to do things we want to do when those desires are born in gratitude.
The trick is not finding the time, the goal is finding what excites you, what God is calling on you to do… to share, ways to take this institution which holds all kinds of possibilities and find the ways to express the gifts God has given you.
In one church a woman who has always wanted to try painting, decides on year she’s going to invite others who have always wanted to paint, to gather a month before lent and each paint a stations of the cross. They gather their materials, they meet in the Bayview room, they let go of all the should and the judgment and the painting its becomes a spiritual practice….then when lent comes, they hang them in the narthex or int he sanctuary. In the meantime, those people, have spent time together creating, in relationship, deeming their sense of God in community and celebrating the gifts God gave them, not because they’re experts at painting, but because the practice became a way of thanking God.
Another, who joined the church recently but didn’t grow up in the church looks around the church. They ask, do you guys have a library? I gently remind him that the church belongs to him too, and the question is do we have a library. Not really, but if you’d like to create a space that could become one…..that’s another way of giving.
Another decides they want to volunteer for hospice. That’s a wonderful thing to do. The church needs your new found skills. You can help you here too, through your church.
Another likes to quilt and begins a sewing circle.
Another notices that there are so many who are caring for spouses and decides we need a support group.
And another says, I just want to focus on social justice. So I’m going to sit with Kathleen and Michael on outreach committee and find a mission we can join.
We have this community of relationship and this incredibly beautiful facility. We are doing better financially than we’ve done in years. (John doesn’t want me to tell you that) But I believe that that creates an opportunity for us to seize this moment and do more not less. We are experiencing a moment in time when the church is changing from the old model of belief systems into a new model of practicing our faith through what we do, how we live and how we create meaning by what we choose to put into that suitcase.
My motivation is not to gain members anymore than my motivation was to put expensive shoes in that suitcase. I believe that in the doing, the practicing of our faith, by deepening relationships, by giving from a place of gratitude, the numbers will take care of themselves, because others will be attracted to what this community is.
Part of leadership is holding others accountable. And I’m afraid I’m not going to win popularity contests this way, but it’s part of what God is holding me accountable to. My call, my job, is not only to be your friend, although I love that part of it. It’s also to remind you that you have a responsibility. You have a responsibility to find the joy in giving, you have a responsibility to find gratitude in the tasks of calling the lumber when the pipe breaks, every bit as much as when we hang cloth form the ceiling of the Bayview room for a party. Why, because it’s all part of the same gift that is church.
What can I give back to God
for the blessings he’s poured out on me?
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
If the suitcase is metaphor for what we carry into the future after the house burns down….than how much greater is a community of faith that gathers each week to count it’s blessings for life itself.
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And finally Luke 6:37-38
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.