By G. Bradford Hall, St Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Palm Desert, California.
Summary: One basic principle involved in stewardship is that we are supposed to enjoy the good things in life and take pleasure in them as gifts from God, but we need to learn not to let the things of life take over our hearts.
A distraught woman writes Dear Pastor, In reply to your request to make a pledge, I wish to inform you that the condition of my bank account has made it impossible to give. My shattered financial condition is due to federal laws, state laws, city laws, brothers-in-law, and outlaws. Due to these laws, I pay so many taxes that now my brain is taxed. I am required to get a business license, dog license, and marriage license. I also contribute to every charity and organization which the genius of man is capable of bringing to life, including the Red Cross, purple cross, and the double cross.
For my own safety, I must carry life insurance, property insurance, liability insurance, auto insurance, and now, earthquake insurance. As a result of all of this, I try to give an inexhaustible supply of money for every known need, desire, and hope of the human race, and when I don’t, I am talked about, held up, or robbed. Now pastor, had not the unexpected happened, I could not have enclosed a check with this letter--The dog who has been coming to my door begging for his bit everyday, just had pups in my kitchen. I sold them and here’s your share!
What’s it all about?
That’s a humorous letter because it reflects a frustrating truth about how it is in life these days with so many demands for our money and support bombarding us with needs and threatening to overwhelm us. Views such as that of this honest woman, sermons that aim at your wallet, and letters that ask to give from your limited resources make stewardship all about money. But, that’s not what Christian stewardship is all about.
So rather than make another demand for money today, I think it might be helpful to remember and rethink the biblical concept of stewardship. How should we tend to all our limited resources? Stewardship has very little to do with paying a bill to the church. Stewardship has more to do with how you view your personal relationship with God, and your neighbor. Indeed, the Bible says that decisions about money and possessions are, at heart, spiritual decisions because, for good or ill, they affect our relationship with God and our neighbor. Surprisingly, Jesus talked about money and possessions more than any other topic. Jesus talked about the widow’s mite, rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, the rich young man, and that great parable about the use of our God-given talents--all these illustrations provide us clear guidance about stewardship.
Where’s your treasure?
Perhaps the most powerful statement about the relationship between you and your possessions comes from a one-liner in Matthew’s sermon on the mount: Where your treasure is . . . there also will be your heart. A modern translation puts it this way: Don’t store up treasures on earth where moths and rust can destroy them and thieves break in to steal them. Instead, store up your treasures in heaven . . . and remember your heart will always be where your treasure is. In the long run the things of our lives will find their way inside us, and they will shape our inner spirit.
A little boy was given two dimes. He was told one was for the church and the other for an ice cream cone. He ran down the street with a bit too much enthusiasm, stumbled and fell. To his dismay one of the treasured dimes rolled out of his hand and down the sewer drain. Looking up to heaven with a sad face he said, Well God, there goes your dime.
What’s taken over?
One basic principle involved in stewardship is that we are supposed to enjoy the good things in life and take pleasure in them as gifts from God, but we need to learn not to let the things of life take over our hearts. Jesus did not say it was sinful to have possessions or even to be wealthy. Indeed, there is some indication that wealthy women supported His ministry. However, He did say that unless we use them wisely, possessions can be a barrier to our spiritual health. So Jesus insisted that we keep our priorities straight and not be possessed by the act of possessing. Our first priority must always be the kingdom of God; our second priority must always be taking care of those in need and sharing of what we have. St. Augustine said it well some 1500 years ago with his classic definition of stewardship: Find out how much God has given you and take from it what you need. The remainder that you do not require is needed by others. The superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor. Those who retain what is superfluous possess the goods of others.
When asked of the columnist, How do you save up good ideas so you can write them in the future? Erma Bombeck responded, What is saved is often lost. I don’t save anything. My pockets are empty at the end of a week. So is my gas tank. So is my file of ideas. I trot out the best I’ve got, and come the next week, I bargain, whimper, make promises, cower and throw myself on the mercy of the Almighty for just three more columns. I didn’t get to this point overnight. I came from a family of savers who were sired by poverty and worshiped at the altar of self-denial. Throughout the years, I’ve seen a fair number of my family who have died leaving candles that have never been lit, appliances that never got out of the box. It gets to be a habit. I have learned that silverware tarnishes when it isn’t used, perfume turns to alcohol, candles melt in the attic over the summer, and ideas that are saved for a dry week often become dated. I always had a dream that when I am asked to give an accounting of my life to a higher court, it will be like this: ?So, empty your pockets. What have you got left of your life? Any dreams that were unfulfilled? Any unused talent that we gave you when you were born that you still have left? Any unsaid compliments or bits of love that you haven’t spread around?’ And, I will answer, ?I’ve nothing to return. I’ve spent everything you gave me. I’m naked as the day I was born.’
Where’s your joy?
What’s unique and special about this form of Christian stewardship is that it brings great joy into life. Indeed, we are encouraged by God to enjoy living freely and openly by giving up the strings that bind us to things of the world. There’s an old Jewish proverb that says: Every person must render an account before God of all the good things he beheld in life and did not enjoy. The key words are beheld and enjoyed, not saved, stored, and treasured.
One philanthropist summed it up saying I get three kicks out of every dollar I’ve ever had: one, when I make it (and you know how much I love to make a dollar, he grinned). The second kick is when I bank it (and I do have a Yankee lust for savings), but the third kick comes when I give it away--and this is the greatest kick of all.
What’s your response?
Think about your responses to God’s gifts. In the world of entertainment, Jack Benny was a legend of stinginess. For most of his professional life, Benny kept up a running gag of his unwillingness to part with a penny, embarrassing everyone with creaking vaults in the cellar and reluctant fumbling in his change purse. One particular show, it was a dark and rainy night and Benny was accosted on the street by a mugger. The robber sticks a gun in Jack’s face and says, Your money or your life. There’s a long pregnant pause and the impatient robber shouts out a second time, Your money or your life! Jack strikes his classic pose and responds, I’m thinking, I’m thinking.
Think about your stewardship. It’s all about your money and your life.