Spirituality Pages

We talk a lot about Stewardship in church. In general it has to do with our being entrusted to take care of God's creation. This idea comes from the basic definition of stewardship. A person who practices stewardship is a steward, and a steward is someone hired to take care of things for their boss. In this case, God is the boss and we are God's stewards. Since God's domain is the world, those of us who are God's stewards are to take care of the whole world. That means not just watering plants and feeding animals and nodding benignly at passersby. It also means really taking care of each other. We are called to take care of each other's physical and mental health, each other's economic status, each other's spiritual concerns, etc. In short our job is to be concerned with the lives of everyone and, moreover, to take their concerns seriously. This includes even those people we find a bit hard to take, and those whose concerns seem trivial or off the mark.

It seems to a lot of folks, however, more like, our bringing up stewardship is merely a ruse for bringing up the topic of fund raising. This then calls up the dread "M" word, i.e. that thing the love of which is the root of all evil, or so says the Apostle Paul (1 Tim 6:10). Discussion of the "M" word annoys lots of people, to a large extent, no doubt, because the love of it is so hard to shake and so pervasive in our society. Nothing new here, Paul wouldn't have made his famous dictum, had this not been a problem several millennia ago as well (also check out 1 Tim 3:3, 2 Tim 3:2, Heb 13:5, Ecc 5:10, and Mat. 6:24 and Lk. 16:13). The issue, of course is that when we're more concerned with holding on to our possessions than with sharing them, the possessions start to own us rather than the other way round. Nonetheless, many of us grasp at the straw of hope that suggests perhaps we could be good stewards while still keeping our hands in our pockets. Why wouldn't being a nice person suffice?

So let's imagine for a moment what happens if we don't bother to support the church. What exactly would happen? Well, one thing is that we could more easily carry on our love affair with that thing the love of which is alleged to be the root of all evil. It would also mean that our churches would close their doors. A benefit to that is that we'd no longer have guilt-inducing reminders, such as this one, that we're supposed to be taking good care of God's creation.

Why would the churches close their doors? Couldn't we get along just fine with free, volunteer preachers, a music program run by free volunteers, free, home-made church-school curricula, etc? Perhaps we could for a while. But rest assured, once the roof starts leaking, the inside temperature gets down below freezing, the music begins to generate more pain than spiritual connection to the Creator, and the preaching and home-made curricula degenerate to the unspeakably shallow, not many of us will be showing up on Sunday mornings.

Try to imagine for a moment a world without churches; a world without an institution that helps people learn right from wrong; a world without an institution that breaks down the barriers between young and old, smart and not so smart, sick and robust, etc.; a world without an institution that questions slavery, subjugation of women, racism and war. In short, without an institution whose focus is on encouraging people to care for each other rather than to exploit each other for personal gain.

Without churches, we would rely on popular culture to pass along moral values. The churches wouldn't be here to do that. So, our moral values would be derived from what we see on TV, things like "Survivors", "Friends", "WWF Wrestling", the pitches from all those good folks who advertise during the half-time of the Super Bowl, and the latest acts of shameless self-promotion by alleged celebrities (for example, Madonna's pontificating on motherhood). Sounds pretty grim to me.

Might the grimness of the above scenario have something to do with Jesus' admonition that "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Mt 6:21 and Lk 12:34)? Would we really be better off, separated from our neighbors, watching "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire" or "Bachelor/Bachelorette" than hanging out with cool people of all ages on Sunday morning, or at a ham and bean supper, or at the Mid-winter Frolic or Meatballs and Music or on a mission trip? Are our children really better off never knowing anyone over the age of 50 except for their grandparents in Florida. Are folks over 50 really better off not knowing anyone under the age of 20 except for their grandchildren in California? Without churches, that's how it would be.

It is only in a church setting that people of all ages, abilities, and interests come together to share the common purpose of caring for each other and for their neighbors in the world outside their small shells of experience. Without churches, we'd only know people exactly like us in terms of economic status, intelligence, age, physical capabilities, etc. That would be a loss: we'd only have a partial glimpse of God's creation. It would be a bit like living in a basement and never knowing that the sun shines.

Stewardship Sunday is February 29th. Please consider coming that Sunday to dedicate your pledge to ensuring the continuance of the church and ensuring the witness that the sun does indeed still shine.

18 February 2004

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