Sunday Worship Service, Jan 11, 2009

The Attitude of Stewardship

SCRIPTURE READINGS:Mark 12:41-44 and John 12:1-3

I’d like to set the stage a little before I read the Scripture. When the following event takes place, Jesus is in Jerusalem, the religious center of His time, and this occurrence takes place inside the temple.

“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury.  And many who were rich put in much.  Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites (two coins of the day).  So Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, `Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

MESSAGE

The Attitude of Stewardship

As our treasurer has so aptly pointed out in the past, stewardship is actually a subject that is EXTREMELY positive———-but it may not always perceived that way. Traditionally, people often think that stewardship is ONLY about giving or tithing money to the church. That is NOT what it’s fundamentally about.

A newsletter put the big frame around it rather well:

“stewardship, in the largest sense, is our TOTAL response to God.  It is the way we live as stewards in relation to all of life, as caretakers of all creation.  It includes the way we relate to our environment, both physical and spiritual, to animals, plants, people; and the way we earn, spend and give money.  It addresses the way we invest our time and use our talents.  It is central to our spiritual journey.”

So it’s really a lot bigger than just money. Seen spiritually, stewardship is really about a major “life-attitude”——a heartfelt acknowledgment that we are all given to, with mercy, from the very soul and substance of God’s very life and being.

So stewardship essentially, then, is our response to that eternal self-giving of the Lord’s———our desire to give back in an attitude of quality, loving service in all we do,,,,,,,a kind of taking care of things, being respectful to all aspects of our life——-INLCUDING ourself.

It’s kind of like being God’s loving “general managers” 24/7! Can you imagine a world full of people like this? It would be like heaven. Indeed, heaven is FULL of great stewardship!!!

Because it’s so very telling, I’d like to revisit a true life story——–just one example of how the Lord gives to each of us in so many ways———-because IF we truly get it that so much of our life is freely given, then stewardship becomes a more natural, joyful RESPONSE, rather than just a duty, or something forced or dreary!

This is a true story about a man who died totally unexpectedly a while back——-I personally knew this man, and it’s a story about how the Lord gives wisely and uniquely to each one of us, even in the midst of our pain and suffering!
This man’s life reads like a bad dream, but he is not unique in this world of ours!   First of all, his mother died when he was a baby!  Do you have any idea what kind of pain that causes a baby?  It is ENORMOUS—-and, unless healed, it is a recipe for long term troubled living for the adult who survives it!

Then his father died when he was 5 years old.  Ohhhhhh——can you just feel the loneliness exponentially deepen and expand?
Indeed, this man would often comment about how lonely he felt inside all through his life! For years then, after losing both parents, this man was passed around from relative to relative, each family never fully connecting with him as a young boy.

At one point, however, in his childhood, Ray was walking down the street one day and, suddenly and quite audibly, inside his ears, he heard the Lord say to him: “Your parents were as I intended them to be for you.  I am your father now.”

Wow!  What a communication!!
Now , his inner pain and loss remained the same. But his sense of inner direction and peace increased dramatically. Then when he was 13 years old, in the year 1949, the relative he was then living with, took him for a ride into downtown Detroit.  He stopped the car, opened the door and said to him:  ”get out!  From now on you are on your own.”

And there he was, a young child completely alone, and left to fend for himself!  How much can a human heart take?

Two years later, being more physically mature than most boys his age, he lied and joined the marine core.  A while back, he confided to his pastor that he enlisted in the marines in order to die, and as he fought in the Korean war, he would do things to try and get killed——–but it just would not happen that way! Instead, in time, he found a deepening spiritual life!  He was a searcher, and tried out many different religions, including the one that was to become his spiritual home——the Swedenborgian church!

He married and had two daughters, but his marriage was not a good one.  He was continuously unhappy.  His wife was not soft and warm with him, and he suffered for many, many years that way. Then his wife died of cancer and he met what he soon found to be his soul mate.  Now this man was a bit loud and sometimes a dominating presence……..a carryover, at least in part, from the Marines. But with his new wife, whenever he’d get upset, all she’d have to do was stroke his face with her hand and the Marine would melt.

Touch was the key!  The love and tenderness he needed so deeply his whole life took the sword out of his hand, and he finally felt like he had come home!

Everyone saw the change in him!  He was a different man.  Affable!  Easy to get along with.  And ohhhhhhhhh so happy. He had always been generaous, but now his generosity shined with beauty in it!!  One time at Almont he totally suddenly………out of the blue handed me a $100 dollar bill!  I asked him what this was for.  He said: “just cuz!”

He’d almost skip sometimes as he walked around!   He spent 8 wonderful months with Mary Joe, and then suddenly he died in his sleep.  His lip was bloodied where he had evidently bit it hard in his sleep, indicating an embolism or heart attack—-

—but notice: Ray, in spite of all his horrendous pain and suffering, was a man who clearly knew and loved the Lord and was kept in that trajectory his whole life, the clincher coming at the end of his life with a woman who knew how to love and knew how to love him!

I have no doubt Ray is in heaven now—–none at all.

So look, now, at how the Lord freely and uniquely took care of him————–without grand mal magic, but instead working skillfully and gracefully within the framework of the events of his life!

My, how the Lord can save!!

This is a God who loves wisely, leading us in freedom, caring only that we end up where true life and happiness will be ours FOREVER—————-HEAVEN!

And each one of us is being cared for in this way right now——–no charge; no extra tax; no bill to pay for it all; each of us led according to our circumstances and according to WHO we are!

Stewardship is our loving, heart-felt response to all that is given to us!!

Now, in a more focused sense, this whole attitude of stewardship, can also be applied to the church———-taking care of the church——-which belongs to God and is the kingdom of heaven on earth——-a place where God is more likely to be sensed, acknowledged and loved openly.

But the key here is our WANTING to take care of the church, rather than doing so only from a sense of duty or other ulterior motives that corrupt and lead us astray.

This means caring for the spiritual, which is the heart of the church, and doing so with motivation and passion————

like the widow in the Scripture story. Caring for the church in this way means valuing the spiritual and the beautiful within it———to safeguard and protect it, both within US and around us.

At this level, the church is a place where we can feel safe enough to be who we truly are at deeper, more vulnerable places. Places where we can FEEL more deeply.  Where we can explore and embrace new ways of looking at things, or embrace new and different kinds of attitudes.

These are the spiritual guts of the church——and to take care of this more interior meaning of what it’s all about,

THIS IS THE FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS of stewardship.

And if we can move this way, keep this all-important order, everything else we do in the church,

o from nuts and bolts,
o to programming and visioning

will be touched and affected by it—–beautified, the way the odor of the ointment filled the room when Mary put it on the Lord’s feet.

And so, in caring for the internal life of the church first, with some detachment because we don’t possess it, we become the most truly alive and defined as persons——and the best stewards of all.

May it be so, for all of us.

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