Today is Stewardship ! Which means that it is the start of St. John's Stewardship Campaign! Yay! I know you are all absolutely thrilled! Lets talk about money! It has been a few years since St. John's had a stewardship campaign. The last few years, the financial focus has been on the lift project, hoping to install a lift in the Parish Hall to help people get from the top to the bottom floors and back up more easily. While we are still working on that project, and I hear good things about how it is progressing, this year we are going to have a Stewardship Campaign again. We are asking for pledges for next year, and this is an opportunity for all of us to think deeply about what we are giving back to God in our lives.
In Paul's letter to the Romans today, we hear him say that whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. We hear Paul say that we are accountable to God. In his letter, he was mostly addressing behavior, especially the behaviors which created factions in the early church. Today, we still need to hear his reminder that we are accountable to God for our actions and behaviors. What does it mean to be accountable in the church? Well, like anywhere else, when you say you are going to do something, you have to follow through on doing so. When we say we want to give back to God, we have to follow through on what that means. As part of that, we are accountable to God for what we do with the gifts which God has given to us, including our financial resources. God has given us so many gifts! God has given us life, faithful communities, supportive families, stable housing, healthy nourishing food, safe clean water, the ability to find fulfilling work, or at least work which allows us to pay the bills. God abundantly gives to us, even when we don't give back. God continues to give to us because God loves us. As St. Augustine said, "God loves each of us as if there was only one of us." God has been loving us since before Abraham left his father's house, and Moses led the Israelites to freedom, before Jesus came to save us, and Paul shared the good news with the Romans, God loves us and gives us abundant gifts.
All the way back from the time of Moses, people have been recognizing God's abundant gifts and giving back out of gratitude. Traditionally, this giving back looked like giving back a tenth of the harvests from the fields and vineyards and gardens. People brought their grain, olives, wine, and livestock to the temples and holy places to give them back to God in gratitude for what God had given them. Today, we don't tend to have extensive fields or vineyards or gardens, we earn our living, not from the ground, but by working for companies and businesses and our harvest is the money we earn. When we give back to God in the form of money or volunteer time, we continue this tradition of giving back to God.
Of course, there is another side of this idea. We also want to be good stewards of all the gifts God has given to us. If we are to be accountable to God, we have to use what we have with God in mind first. Stewardship is the idea of keeping, tending, safeguarding, and giving back of the gifts which God has given to us. When we are good stewards of what has been given to us, we take care of it and use it as it is intended to be used. Stewards on estates were tasked with the good management of the property so that it would make money for the estate. Stewards on airplanes are supposed to take care of and keep safe all those on the plane for the duration of the trip.
In the gospel passage today we hear of some people who have not been good stewards. They are in debt, greatly in debt. However, the one receives an abundant gift, the gift of mercy and grace, debt forgiveness. He does not have to pay back a huge debt that he owes. That is a wonderful gift! Yet, he is not a great steward of that gift. He gets forgiveness, and then turns around and refuses to share. Its doubly saddening that he refuses to share the gift of forgiveness given to him, because he got it for free and it would have cost him nothing to share.
However, God calls us to be good stewards of all the gifts given to us. Money, life, time, forgiveness, and love. God created us out of love and continues to give us abundant gifts. As God gives to us, God created us to be givers as well. God created us with the ability to give gifts to other people, and, well, I don't know about you, but doing so brings me joy and gratitude. When we are able to give to other people or to groups, we are able to share the abundant gifts we have received. I think of the last few weeks and the abundant generosity we have seen here at St. John's in order to send supplies to the people of Houston who lives have been completely altered by the Hurricane Harvey. We had collected enough for two trucks!
When it comes to sharing and giving, we at St. John's have done marvelously. I have high hopes for our Stewardship Campaign because I know how much we have to give. God has given to us abundantly and now we have an opportunity to share. Amen.