In the last several reflections, I have explored various aspects of Christian stewardship. I would like to think that any one of them might inspire you to place more emphasis on the spiritual vocation and practice of Christian stewardship in your life. Now, in summary, here’s the heart of the matter.
We need to give.
God is frequently referred to as “the giver.” For example, we pray to God, the “giver of every perfect gift,” “giver of life,” and “giver of pardon.” The favorite of all Christian Bible verses is “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). God is the Supreme Giver and we, who are created in God’s likeness, are endowed with a godlike and uniquely human capacity to be givers. We need to give!
Our gift to God establishes a pattern that sanctifies what we do with the remainder. One of the offerings in ancient Judaism was the offering of First Fruits. The first portion of the harvest, “first fruits,” was offered to God. (Leviticus 23:10) “Honor the Lord with your wealth, the first fruits of all your increase” (Proverbs 3:9) And St. Paul wrote, “If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy” (Romans 11:16). So when we give God the first portion of what God has given to us, it has a way of establishing a holy perspective on all our treasure.
Stewardship is different from fund raising. Fund raising is giving to some cause that we approve of with the expectation that we will get something out of it. Stewardship, on the other hand, emphasizes giving to God because we’ve already received. Fund raising will always be necessary, but Christian communities are built upon the generous stewardship of their members.
We need to give and we give to God in response to God’s generosity toward us.
In this and thousands of churches, people are asked not only to practice tithing but also to make a written pledge of financial support. Why is a pledge necessary? Perhaps it should not be necessary. But the fellow parishioners you have entrusted with the governance of the parish do a better job of planning if they have a reliable estimate of the giving of all the members. So, after the pledges are in, they develop a mission plan that seeks to balance the spending with the projected contributions toward God’s ongoing mission.
After all, God has made countless pledges to us. Have you ever thought about the origin of the word “Sacrament?” It is derived from the Latin word sacramentum, which means a sacred pledge or oath. Christian Sacraments are God’s pledge to us. In Holy Baptism, God pledges to love us for ever. In the Holy Eucharist, God pledges ongoing provisions for the living of the Christian life. We pledge to God in response to God’s pledges to us.
We are a covenant community. A covenant consists of unbreakable pledges made between two or more parties. Christianity is meant to be lived in such a community. Theologian George Rupp once said, “There is no life without community and there is no community without commitment.” A written pledge to share one’s treasure is an expression of participation in and commitment to the covenant community.
We make a pledge to God and one another each year as a way of saying, “You can count on me.”
We are called to put our heart into it.
Jesus had much to say about the relationship between our treasure and our true priorities in life. For example, he said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Isn’t that the truth? Just look at how spend money on things we really love.
The spiritual discipline of Christian stewardship helps to prevent us from loving anything so much that God is squeezed out of our lives. Jesus spent so much time preaching and teaching about our relationship with possessions because he wanted to prevent us from a form of slavery in which we are possessed by our possessions. He wanted to help us avoid putting any idol in the place of our Creator. He wanted us to give God our heart and we just can’t do that if our treasure is in the way. When our giving to God is sacrificial enough, we know if our hearts are being drawn from the love of God.
Some say the heart in the St. John’s insignia symbolizes that St. John’s is the heart of Jackson Hole. That may be true, but other churches and institutions also believe they are the heart of this valley. Some say that the heart signifies St. John’s love for our neighbors. That also may be true. I invite you to consider that it represents the divine call to put our heart into St. John’s and, as the cross inside it suggests, to do it sacrificially. The offering of our treasure will be one of the signs that we mean it.
“For, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I’ll see you in Church!
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. - Acts 2:46,47