Presented on November 14, 2021
Good morning. My name is Tom Fairchild. Years ago, I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church. Months ago, I moved from St. Thomas’s Parish in Newark to Immanuel Highlands [and I usually go to the 8:00 service]. Days ago, I was the name at the bottom of the stewardship letter that you didn’t recognize.
We heard Elaine Simpson’s lovely thoughts about stewardship last Sunday and next Sunday we’ll hear from Bonnie Swan. Today I’d like to share some thoughts, as a cradle Episcopalian, about the journey of stewardship and the joy it gives those who contribute to the church. We heard that Elaine’s stewardship journey started when she was about 15 and asked her father about it.
Stewardship is a journey of growth. From the commanding heights of our adult maturity, we’re amused by the main vocabulary of two-year olds: “mine” and “no.” We work hard to teach kids to think about others. But here’s a test: you’re traveling down the freeway when suddenly lots of brake lights appear. You slow down, get crowded, stop and start, and hardly move. And what do we say? “Oh man, how long is this going to take?” But what should we say? We should say, “If this is an accident, I hope everyone is ok.” Our first thoughts are about our misfortune, not the much greater misfortune of those in the accident.
The ideas of sharing and thinking about others don’t always come to us easily or automatically. Stewardship is a journey that tests us over and over. And God doesn’t make it easy. He gives us our whole income and asks that we give some back. Think how easy it would be if he gave us only 90% of our income and kept the rest.
Raise your hand if you think you’re wealthy. Ooh, that’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? Let’s try this. [Show of hands.] Who here has ever given money to this church? Who here has ever given money to a school? To family or friends? Look at all the hands. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that marvelous? We have all given money away and survived it financially.
Better yet, we not only survived it, we felt the joy of giving. We learned that the measure of love is the willingness to give. We learned that we are all so fortunate that we can afford to give some of our wealth or income to others. Think of that: much of the world is worried about its next meal and we can give money away. You’re wealthy if you can afford to give away some of your money.
The journey of stewardship involves the transformation from “mine” and “no” to the celebration of giving; the joy of offering. It is a journey of spiritual growth and it involves a central part of our lives: money. But money is something we often get wrong in the Episcopal Church. We just don’t like to talk about money. It’s simply not done. Which is weird, because Jesus talked about money a lot.
Another thing we get wrong is that we wait until death – ashes to ashes, dust to dust – to point out that we come into this world with nothing and that we leave it with nothing. During our short time here, we are simply stewards of the gifts given to us during life. And our lives are full of God-given gifts.
All the important things in life are gifts, but we have to work to see them. In the Rite One prayers of the people, we even ask for help: “Open, O Lord, the eyes of all people to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works, that rejoicing in thy whole creation we may honor thee with their substance and be faithful stewards of thy bounty.”
The journey of stewardship involves the painful ability of letting go. We don’t like to let go; of our children, of our youth, of our money, of our lives even. And letting go is backwards, isn’t it. It’s the reverse of all that we learn and it’s hard. It takes a certain confidence, a certain courage. But we have to let go to find the joy of giving. Think of a little kid who is giving her mom a gift that she’s made in school. She just can’t contain her excitement and her joy is incandescent!
You can know what’s important to a person by looking at his or her calendar and checkbook. Forget what people say – see where they spend their time and money. Then you’ll know where their hearts are. Is Immanuel on your calendar and in your checkbook?
We learned from the forced separation of the pandemic that “Nothing will separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.” Let’s also learn how fortunate we are. Let’s reclaim the childhood joy of giving by giving away resources that aren’t ours in any meaningful, spiritual, or eternal way. Let’s stop hiding from discussions about money. Let’s celebrate that we are so wealthy that we can give away some of our money and not risk our financial health. Let’s remember that “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” Amen