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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Re-think Stewardship

During the Season of Re-thinking (Repentance/Lent): Re-think Stewardship

By Drew Rindfleisch, Intern Pastor at First Trinity, LSTC Class of 2015

I will be honest:  I loathe talking about stewardship drives because it’s almost always about money .  Money is a difficult subject for our families, for our churches, and for many of us living in the dominant culture that sees money as an “inappropriate subject” (especially for dinner conversations).   We don’t have to look very far as the money battles waged in city of Chicago over the last few years have affected our lives—cuts to publics schools and cuts to infrastructure investment in buses and roads; the state legislature’s decisions to cut state worker pensions and mental health clinics rather than raise revenue on publicly traded corporations (2/3 of whom don’t pay any income tax).  And of course, Congress’ recent budget showdown shut down our government and vital human services for our people, and the compromise yielded safety net cuts for the poor and most vulnerable among us.
Treasurer, Marge Fashing, dusts the alter to prepare for Advent

Money is difficult to talk about because it is so personal.  Some of us don’t have very much, while others seem to have limitless funds.  But how we spend our money is important because they reflect our priorities as people of faith, as communities, and as citizens.  As we come to grips with emotional and economic hardships, many of us are left asking, “What do we prioritize, and who do we prioritize?”

For me, priorities comes down to investment and relationship.  On different sides of the aisles, folks want to prioritize different things—investment in infrastructure and job training initiatives to sustain families and communities.  And then there are those who want to prioritize subsidies for oil companies and large corporations, lower tax rates and tax credits that only benefit the few, and deficit reduction that cuts education and public services for veterans, seniors, and the poor and disabled who are hit hardest during these harsh economic times.  With Bridgeport Alliance and IIRON, we are working to make those public investments a reality because these priorities make up a moral document called a budget. And the only way to make a budget work is to cut services by cutting spending, or increase revenues to support the initiatives for public investment.  A church is no different.

But during this time of Lent, it is important to remember and to rethink (“repentance” in its greek roots) that stewardship is more than money.   Stewardship is about prioritizing our investment and cultivating our relationships: our gifts and talents whether they be musical or monetary, , our personal free time and personal stories of freedom in God’s love which we can share freely, and the sustainability of our neighborhood and God’s creation on the streets and in the parks.  We are all called to be a part of the stewardship of money, ministries, and space at First Trinity.

When we invest in our sanctuary and community center, we are investing in one another, in our community, and in our own values rooted in faith.    We are saying that God is calling us to continue the work of building a beautiful, warm, hospitable sanctuary where all of God’s Children, and we mean all people, are welcome.

When we hold each other accountable to financial and volunteer commitments we make, AND give gentle grace to those hurting from financial or emotional hardships, we are saying that words and actions matter—that we value and believe that every Child of God, including ourselves, are important and can make an impact.  No matter how small you may feel or how small your bank account may be; your contribution in time, energy, money, and voice matters.

When we show up to invest or volunteer at God’s Closet, and we make donations or grab some new gear; we affirm that clothes, shelter in the winter (housing), and food are human needs which come must be met with our partners in the neighborhood.  We affirm these basic human rights come from God and are not privileged goods for the few who can afford them.  When we seek to create a safe and hazard-free clothing pantry for children and families, and all of our neighbors; we must question and examine our own stewardship of space in the community center, support initiatives with our own dollars, and find partners in the community to help move God’s Closet into our basement.  When we decide to move into the chapel to lower heating costs after Christmas so that we can keep the lights on and keep paying a part-time pastor, we affirm that our mission at Trinity still matters, and that we believe in honoring the work of those who pastor and accompany us through life’s joys and struggles with a dignified wage, health care benefits, and time off.  
So whatever your situation or your background, re-think stewardship this Lent.  Re-think what you can give: to your relationships, to your community, and to your fellow human beings.  Re-think your investments because they do matter, and they make an impact.  Re-think what you can do, and what you can make possible in this church and in this neighborhood, in our city and in our world.  For with God, all things are possible.

Footnotes and what the Bible say about money and stewardship after the jump.

17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" 20He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" 27Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."

28Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." 29Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mark 10:17-31).

What does the Bible say about money and stewardship?

Mark 12:38-44
38As he taught (in the temple), he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

Luke 21:1-6
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on."
5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6"As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."

Acts 4:32-37
32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means "son of encouragement"). 37He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.

Deuteronomy 15:4-5, 7-11
4There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, 5if only you will obey the LORD your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today.
7If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. 8You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. 9Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, "The seventh year, the year of remission, is near," and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the LORD against you, and you would incur guilt. 10Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land."

Genesis 1:26-31
26Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."
27So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God the Creator created them; male and female God created them.
28God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and cultivate it; and have stewardship over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." 29God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

1 Peter 4: 8-11
8Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves [or acts for justice] must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

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