Sunday, September 20, 2015

Being a Good Steward

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they should be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
 I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, ‘Nothing beyond what is written’, so that none of you will be puffed up in favour of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?  - 1 Cor. 4:1-7

Fall is one of the nicest times of year, especially in Arizona. There is general rejoicing when the thermometer hovers on the area below 100° and early in the morning one can walk outside and not feel like they stepped into a furnace. Fall in Arizona can start anywhere from mid-September until the day before Christmas. I usually judge it by when the leaves fall off my tree in the front yard. They have just begun falling, the temperature has gone down a bit, and I'm declaring it Fall.

Fall is also the time of year when churches go into stewardship campaign mode. For about a month whether in the fall or at various points throughout the year, there is usually a presentation every week about stewardship and its importance as well as blurbs in the bulletin and parish newsletter. The campaign is designed to encourage people to contribute to the upkeep and growth of the church and its ministries, salaries for paid workers like priests and musicians, and such mundane things as payment of taxes,electric and water bills. The stewardship campaign is an important thing since it gives the finance committee a figure upon which to base the financial picture for the coming twelve months.

Paul didn't have a stewardship campaign, so to speak. They did not take one month out of the year and focus on giving to support the church. Paul had been known to ask groups to take up a collection to help support another group, the church in Jerusalem which was the main base for Christianity at that time. From what we read, it was successful. In our modern day, however, we have made it a part of the church year and emphasize the need and the importance of giving.

In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul is not necessarily talking only about gifts of money. Stewards were caretakers, responsible to the owner or master for all things that went on in the household and properties belonging to the master. It included proper use of the land, upkeep of the household, other buildings on the property like sheds and barns, and even the land itself and anything that grew on it. The steward was responsible for this day in and day out. A good steward was one who kept everything going and who could be trusted to do a good job even when the master was not directly overseeing his work. The workers judged the steward by his fairness to them and concern for their well-being. Such a steward would be in high demand and, if he chose to leave his master, his reputation would probably get him another job very quickly.

We are all stewards of what we have been given, not just our treasure (money) but also our time and our talent. We are stewards of what we earn and what we return to God, but we are also charged to give our time and our talents for the work of the kingdom. The Sunday school teacher who faithfully performs his or her duty teaching our children and teens (and adults too) is giving of their time and also their talent for a good purpose. The farmer who practices water conservation and wise crop decisions uses his time and talent to grow food for others. The list could go on forever, but I think the point has been made that all of us have talents to give the world and need to find the time to give those talents with open hands.

Giving from one's treasure, a tithe or declared amount of one's income, is a private decision between the person and God. It doesn't all need to go to the church, it can also support charities and other activities that benefit others. Still, the church should be a good steward of what they receive by making good and wise decisions as to how much of those gifts will stay in the church itself, will support the ministries within the church and also the ministries outside the church and in other areas.

The result of good stewardship on an individual, congregational, diocesan, or national level will be a testimony to the world as to how well each steward performs. It doesn't have to be a large amount; the woman at the Temple gave two coins, all that she had, not just a part of it. Jesus commended her for that and used her as a lesson for those around him. It's a lesson we should learn, but we should also remember that God only asks us to do our very best, not necessarily the impossible

The crisp air of fall reminds me it's time to think again about my stewardship and what I can pledge this year for the work of the kingdom, both in and out of church. I also have to consider what gifts God has given me that maybe I am not using to the fullest extent I could be and, also, am I using those gifts or flaunting them? The judgment of God will be made partially on that difference.

Thank goodness I have time to work on that because I know I can do better and not depend on the judgment of others for praise or condemnation. Time to get busy.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 19, 2015.

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