Considering Giving – A Lenten Reflection

I was on tap for last night’s Lenten Program.  You can listen to the talk on the Saint Paul’s Website, or read it below.

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, whose loving hand has given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor you with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Good evening! Welcome back to the third installment of our 2014 Lenten Series: 5 Weeks to Renewed Stewardship. During our first week, we did a little fine tuning of our eyesight as we attempted to pay attention to the gifts that God has given us. A brief list included: Children,
House, Rain, Job, Friends, Food, Community, Family, Stars, Garden, Nature, Water, Travel, Transportation, Knowledge, Church, Money, Air, Hearing Aids, Toilets that work, Medical Care, Bed, Heating, Roses, and Shoes. Then last week, Father Keith helped us define stewardship in a new way by thinking about what it meant to be a steward of his shoes including thinking about how the way he walks will make them last longer. As he finished, I overheard somebody come up to him and suggest that he hadn’t gone far enough with the analogy, that perhaps he should have talked about where his shoes take him to reach out in love and service in the name of Jesus. That is, of course, “the next step.” Pun intended. Tonight’s topic then is “Considering Giving.”

If you’ve ever suffered through a season of stewardship in a congregation, Saint Paul’s or otherwise, then you’ve heard the old saying that stewardship is about time, talent, and treasure, and then the entire month of October is spent begging you to give more money to the church. Clergy, Vestry members, even little kids stand up in front of the church and tell everybody why giving God 10% of their income has changed their lives. According to my colleague and Lent Madness Guru, The Rev. Tim Schenk, the average pledge to churches nationally is 2.6%. In conversations I’ve had over the years, the assumption is that the average pledge in Episcopal Churches is about 1.5%. Obviously, the starry-eyed speeches of tithers just aren’t working. Probably because we completely ignore time, talent, and treasure and make it all about money.

That’s precisely what we’ve tried to not to here because it really isn’t about money, and it certainly isn’t about giving the church 10% of it. As we’ve come to realize over the past two weeks, it is about everything. Which is why I love the prayer we’ve been using to open our sessions together so much. In its original form in 1889, the prayer was entitled, “For the Rich” and it was all about money.

O ALMIGHTY God, we beseech thee to send thy grace upon those whom thou hast entrusted with great possessions, that they may praise thee in their lives, honour thee with their wealth, and lead others by their example to seek for that inheritance which thy beloved Son will give to all those who have followed him. Have mercy upon such as neglect to minister to the wants of thy poor; and grant that, remembering the account of their stewardship which they must one day give, they may be faithful almoners of thy bounty, and so at last attain to thy heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
By 1928, it had been revised to take into account a more holistic view of stewardship and renamed, “For Faithfulness in the Use of this World’s Goods.” In the 1979 Book, it is more accurately called a prayer “For the Right Use of God’s Gifts,” and it invites us to think about how we might honor God with our substances of time, talent and treasure by being faithful stewards of his abundant gifts of time, talent, and treasure.

The greatest gift we receive from God is the very gift of life itself, and that life affords us each new 24 hours period in which to live. Our first place to give back to God is our time, 100% of it, 24 hours a day. In his First Letter to the Church in Thessalonica, Saint Paul encourages the faithful to live a Christ-like life, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Being good stewards of the time God has given us means living content, joyful, prayer fueled lives. All. The. Time. It means finding ways to be thankful even in tough circumstances, even if all you can be thankful for is a heart that beats, air to breathe, and a God who loves you. Sure, giving of your time to work that builds the Kingdom at Saint Paul’s or Foley Elementary or Meals on Wheels or Ecumenical Ministries is good and noble work, but being a steward of all your time is the proper response to God’s gift of life. God doesn’t ask for 10% of your time to be given back to him, but rather that you give him all your time.

Elsewhere in his letters, Paul tells us that in baptism, each disciple of Jesus is given gifts of the Holy Spirit. He lists things like preaching, teaching, administration, healing, and tongues. Keith joked last week that there are two tragedies in the Church: those who have gifts and don’t use them and those who use gifts they don’t have. The talent piece of stewardship goes beyond spiritual gifts, however, and incorporates every part of your life. It isn’t about the carpenter who gives an afternoon to frame a Habitat house, but it is about the carpenter who uses her gifts to the up building of the Kingdom and the glory of God. It isn’t about the teacher who volunteers for Sunday school, but about the teacher who gives his all to his students that they might grow into the fullness of their potential. God doesn’t ask for 10% of your talent to be given back to him, but rather that you give him all your talent.

Finally, there is the treasure component, which is often translated as, “God wants you to give 10%, pre-tax, to the Church.” As I alluded to earlier, however, when we think of all the treasures that God has given us, we realize that our treasure goes way beyond a paycheck. God wants us to use everything we have: our homes, our cars, our shoes, our minds, and our passions to serve his Kingdom. Of course, most of those things require money to buy, and how you spend your money is a big deal in scripture. Making wise decisions about what to buy and where to buy it may seem silly when Wal*Mart has everything you could ever need, but the truth of the matter is that like Keith’s shoes, everything you buy impacts the lives of a lot of people all around the globe. In Luke, chapter 14, Jesus said, “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” And we like to soften that up as much as possible. We reference his encounter with the rich young ruler later on in Luke and say “Oh, but Jesus meant that just for him, not for everyone.” But here, Jesus clearly means it for everyone in the “now large crowd that was following him.” I’ll soften it up a little bit. I don’t think Jesus is affirming communal living. I don’t think he meant sell it all and give it to the poor so that you too will be poor. But I do think he meant to hand over all your possessions and possible possessions to him, by giving God that which is due him, and by really taking notice of the sacrifice you’ve made. God doesn’t ask for 10% of your possessions to be given back to him, but rather that you give him everything you have. It has all come from him anyway.

Once you’ve developed a lifestyle that relies fully on God’s gifts, you’ll eventually realize that you are more inclined to give specific things to the Church. You’ll begin to volunteer more often, you’ll find that your talents match the church’s needs, and you’ll see that regularly donating money to the Church is a source of spiritual depth and great joy, but if it is just a list of “have to’s” or “ought to’s” or “it’d be nice to’s”, it’ll never be the true response to God’s bountiful grace that giving is meant to be. Giving should be like life:

The Lord be with you.
And Also with you.
Let us pray for the wisdom and courage to make stewardship a way of life.
Almighty and everliving God, you are the giver of all good gifts and the source of all that we have and all that we are. Help us to place You, our loving Creator, first in our lives by becoming more prayerful and more focused on loving and caring for our families and our neighbors in need, and by becoming less preoccupied with material things. Help us, Lord to find the true source of happiness and fulfillment that we all seek and that You, alone, can provide. Help us to hear Your call to be good stewards of all Your gifts by sharing them for Your purposes. Help us make Your priorities our priorities. Help us challenge each other, as disciples of Jesus Christ to put our faith into action, through the power of your Holy Spirit, who with you and the same Jesus Christ lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

 

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