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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Friday, October 04, 2013

Stewardship: God Needs Caretakers for the World

To best experience the context for the commentary here, watch this video.  The commentary – hopefully – is clear enough on its own, but will gain extra meaning if your mood is set by watching the video first.[1]

After God created the world and all that is in it, God needed help keeping it going and maintaining it.  God needed someone with specific skills and interests and talents, so God created people in God's own image.  We are farmers helping crops grow and raising animals, as in the video, while others of us live and work in many, many other facets of life.  All this helps God's dream for creation come to fruition, become a reality.

Our part in this is stewardship.  We are God's stewards.  Stewardship is a holistic concept, a way of life for us.

So "stewardship" is not just giving money to churches and other charities.  That's only one manifestation of it.

All this was introduced to a group of lay people the other night at a workshop at the Mercer School of Theology at the Diocese of Long Island in Garden City, New York.  The presenter was the Rev. Laurel Johnston, Executive Director of TENS, The Episcopal Network for Stewardship, a national organization.  We offer a summary of her remarks here on Ways of the World precisely because there are so many roles for stewards in the world.  We are currently watching – and some of us are feeling the ramifications of – the lack of stewardship sentiment among our federal government officials, so we see what happens when the sense of stewardship slackens off.  And surely we want people in business to recognize that they are stewards too.

Participating in the stewardship way of life is nurturing for us.  We have been, like the farmer in the video, called and marked by God, and we are living God's dream.  In seeing our lives this way, we acknowledge our identity as God's stewards.

What are some aspects of this identity?  We find ourselves called to be parents, managers, caretakers, teachers.  All of these facets involve trust.  We are Managers of Trust – or perhaps "Managers in Trust".  God's trustees:  a high calling, indeed.

 The Genesis creation story relates that God gave humans dominion over creation.  But Mother Johnston points out that "dominion" should not be seen as  domineering ruling like a tyrannical king; it is bringing about an environment of peace and justice.  This fosters conditions of shalom, helping all creation reach its potential.

All of this is a gift to us.  All we have is God's gift to us.  We want to be generous with what God has given us.  God's own generosity is seen in the gift of his Son.

At this time of year, the activity churches pursue is not a "stewardship campaign", but an "Annual Giving Campaign".  The stewardship campaign, seen in the broader sense presented here, goes on all year round.  At one or two specific seasons, we are more precise in asking members of our community to help us plan by telling us about their intended giving amounts.

We do need to be specific in talking about money and giving.  Mother Johnston told her own story of making her career working at the international poverty organization CARE.  At first she felt she didn't need to make money gifts to charities and her church because she was devoting her career to this work.  But she came to understand that she has resources at her disposal which she needs to share.  Her walk with God and her walk with her own wallet had become separated.  But they must be together.

She mentioned the Biblical statistics: Jesus talks on prayer 500 times; He talks on faith more than 500 times, but He talks about money 2,000 times.  This is because the role of money so frequently got misaligned in his followers' lives – and it surely does in our lives too.  Money gets in the way.  It becomes an idol and we begin to violate the 1st Commandant about not having any other god before God.  So Jesus is not opposed to wealth, Mother Johnston stated explicitly, but He wants us to keep our money and our faith in the proper perspective.  As she said, we have passion, purpose and purse, and we want to keep all three of those in the right relationship.

Giving is an act of worship, a statement of faith.  We acknowledge that God is the source of everything and we place our ultimate trust in God, knowing that in God we have ultimate security.  One of the Episcopal Eucharistic Prayers describes the offering as a "sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving", and we don't want to offer God "cheap praise".  We give to fund God's dream in our communities, and when our offerings are brought forward, they are blessed, even as we are.

For more specifics about an Annual Giving Campaign, visit the TENS website, Mother Crafton has authored one of the bulletin inserts in this year's theme program "Flourishing in Faith", about Zacchaeus.

[1]The video is a commercial by Dodge Ram trucks for the 2013 Super Bowl.  We are hardly meaning to advocate for Dodge Ram trucks, but we do applaud the creators of the ad.  The overlay speech was given by broadcaster Paul Harvey at the 1978 convention of the Future Farmers of America.

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