The annual stewardship season is fast coming to a close. We will be making decisions on how we share the gifts that God has given us with our church, and in other ways that touch lives and causes that are special interests of ours. We most often consider what we do based on our financial resources and the taxes we can save next April.
We need not find fault with the money we give or the taxes we do not have to pay. But there is more to stewardship than money and tax savings. Look again at our Collect for today: âAlmighty and most merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faith people offer you true and laudable service.â
Both our Gospel story from Matthew and Paulâs instructions to the church in Thessalonica give us guidance to the greater gift of stewardship.
Godâs creative force is the foundation of our stewardship. In creating all things, God has made it possible for humankind to give back to God what is already Godâs. Stewardship is an everyday occurrence. It needs to be the lifeblood of how we see the community around us: our family, our work, our friendships, our ministry.
In the Matthew lesson Jesus tells his disciples, and the crowds that gathered around him, to pay attention to the scribes and Pharisees; listen to what they say and teach and follow their knowledge of past prophets; but do not practice what they do. They create heavy burdens, yet are unwilling to âlift a fingerâ to move those burdens. Most of us have known individuals âwho had all the right answersâ but had no desire to implement them. They always wanted someone else to perform their âwisdomâ and give them credit.
This is a story about âGodly leadership.â Jesus understood the dilemma of the multitude. Those in power had the rule of law. They demanded obedience; yet they did not follow the laws of past generations themselves.
One of the great gifts of stewardship is the ability to be a good leader, and to understand how Godâs gift of leadership can be used to guide others to be good stewards of their own time and talents. Some people are leaders; other people are followers. It takes both a leader and a multitude of followers to accomplish many of the challenges of the church and of society.
Godly leadership calls us to use another gift of stewardship: the gift of discernment. Especially in the church, we need to understand those who are called to be leaders and those who are called to be âworkers in the vineyard.â There must always be checks and balances. There are those who want to be the center of attention. They may believe they hold the power of life and death. Watch for the clues of false leadership that can tumble down the faith community struggling to be built. Prayer becomes the source of discerning leadership.
Jesus reminds all that there is but one teacher and it is heâthe Messiah. We are all students. Likewise, Jesus says, we are to call no one father for there is but one fatherâ the one in heaven. Godly leadership is best when the greatest among you becomes as a servant.
Paul makes the effort in this Epistle to prove that his behavior is beyond reproach. Paul had been criticized by the people of Corinth, and elsewhere, for working to earn his keep instead of obeying Jesusâ command to allow his needs to be met by those to whom he ministered. Some could say he did not trust God; in reality his trust of God was unswerving!
Paul is making the point that his ministry comes from love, not from his own personal needs. Compassion calls for flexibility. Paul had great compassion: a fundamental desire to share Jesus and his teachings with those who would listen. Paul was gifted with the ability to sit down with others, share his concerns, letting people know clearly and concisely where he stood on issues confronting the new Christian. But with the Thessalonians he could not do this. He needed to communicate by letter. In so doing, he made his point.
We need to know that in the church of today ongoing communication is essential. It is essential between priest and people, between vestry and communicants, between rector and staff, between those who see needs and those who are comfortable with the status quo.
After declaring his message of âacting in the spirit of love,â Paul turns abruptly to verse 13 and gives thanks. It is his attempt to encourage the people to join him in his desire for them to receive Godâs word and the benefits Godâs message can bring to their lives.
What does this have to do with stewardship? It is about the stewardship of far more than our monetary resources. It is about our whole life, our purpose in Godâs creation.
It is our ability to see the goodness in Godâs creation and to understand how we can exercise Godâs gifts in what we do, say, and share with others. We become the extensions of Godâs love for Godâs children: our brothers and sisters. We become stewards of Godâs creation.
Just recently a woman in her early fifties went through the rigors of cancer treatment. After successful surgery she was asked to be a volunteer at a small hospice for people with few resources. Her first reaction was, âI canât do it.â But a friend said, âGod told me you had a special gift of listening.â She reluctantly volunteered. Today she is the âangelâ who sits and listens to special people dying of cancer. She says little, but she is a priceless example of the stewardship of compassion. And her friend who listened to God, exercised her gift of discernment as well.
Look around and see what new thing you can do in Godâs creative world this next year. It doesnât need be a gigantic leap of ministry, but a simple act of faith. Share your life with someone else. Pray for them, give them a smile, a hug, an acknowledgement they exist.
Make their dayâin the name of Jesus! Thatâs stewardship of time and talent. Money is important, but people are the church! Godâs love is for the faithful who serve him in unlimited stewardship!