October 5, 2014

Rector’s Reflection

Rabbi Marc Gellman wrote a book back in 1989 that I think is one of the most theologically sound books ever. It’s called Does God Have A Big Toe?. (You have to admit it sounds more user-friendly than Summa Theologica or Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.)

The book begins with the chapter entitled Partners:

Before there was anything, there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling glob of rocks and water with no place to go. The angels asked God, “Why don’t you clean up this mess?”

So God collected rocks from the huge swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said, “Some of these clumps of rocks will be planets, and some will be stars, and some of these rocks will be … just rocks.”

Then God collected water from the huge swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said, “Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will become clouds, and some of this water will be … just water.”

Then the angels said, “Well God, it’s neater now, but is it finished?” And God answered:

“NOPE!”

On some of the rocks God placed growing things, and creeping things, and things that only God knows what they are, and when God had done all this, the angels asked God, “Is the world finished now?” And God answered:

“NOPE!”

God made a man and a woman from some of the water and dust and said to them, “I am tired now. Please finish up the world for me … really it’s almost done.” But the man and woman said, “We can’t finish the world alone ! You have the plans and we are too little.”

“You are big enough,” God answered them. “But I agree to this. If you keep trying to finish the world, I will be your partner.”

The man and the woman asked, “What’s a partner?” and God answered, “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on those days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.” And they all agreed to that deal.

Then the angels asked God, “Is the world finished yet?” and God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.”

I share this because today we begin our Stewardship Campaign for 2015. (Feel free to high-five your neighbor, fist-bump the person behind you, and pop the champagne corks.)

Yup. Stewardship. Some folks have called it the annual beg-a-thon.

I had a friend whose answering machine message was, simply, “You know what this is. You know what to do.” Terse, perhaps, yet efficient. There are times I have wanted to use that methodology for stewardship.

But that flies in the face of the serious undertaking that is stewardship. Stewardship is not about fund-raising. Stewardship is about a partnership. It is about the responsibility that Christians have in maintaining and using wisely the gifts that God has bestowed. God wants us to be his collaborators in the work of creation, redemption and sanctification.

The oldest and most influential source for the idea that humans are meant to be partners or stewards of the earth is the Bible, and in particular the opening chapter of the book of Genesis. One biblical scholar and theologian has suggested that Genesis 1:26-28 is “the basis on which the whole discussion of stewardship ultimately rests”:

26 Then 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.” 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Interestingly enough, the words for steward and stewardship do not actually appear. In fact, nowhere is humanity explicitly depicted as the steward of creation. But humanity is granted dominion.

So what is the stewardship/dominion link? Dominion is a word that comes from the Latin dominus, meaning ruler, master, or lord. Early on in the church, Dominus became an appellation for God. In a partnership, God has shared responsibility for creation with those created in his image. His Lordship defines our lordship. Scripture is clear that the nature of God is to take care of what he has made; it is, therefore, in our nature to exercise care for what we have been given.

Arguments rage throughout theological circles about whether dominion and subdue give human beings the right to exploit the earth, but for me the image of God in which we are made gives us not the right to exploit but the responsibility to nurture and serve. If God does not exploit his creation, neither do we. And how we exercise nurture and service is… stewardship.

Of course stewardship is almost always couched in terms of the Three T’s: time, talent, and tithe, but I don’t want to do that this stewardship season, because it locates (erroneously, in my humble opinion) tithe strictly in the realm of money. I want to talk about the Three C’s: craft, cash, and clock. And I want to talk about each of them in terms of the tithe.

I had already decided to use talent/craft as my first stewardship area, which is why I was so excited to learn that the ARC Choir would be joining us this morning. These wonderful people are sharing their voice-craft and their joy in the Lord with us. They are being stewards of the gifts they have been given; they are our partners in our praise of God.

EVERY person has talents and abilities… craftiness, if you will. These are God-given and provide all of us with opportunities for service. Think of Paul’s words to the Romans:

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us… (Romans 12:4-6)

or to the church in Ephesus:

“But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’” (Ephesians 4:7-8)

I firmly believe that it is our Christian responsibility to take stock of our talents. This involves our natural and mental aptitudes, our physical strength and abilities, our creativity, and even our ability to think outside the box. Each Christian should ask himself or herself, what are my abilities? Do I have any unused ones? Do I have any undeveloped abilities? How can what I use my gifts to nurture others?

And what would tithing those talents… those abilities… those crafts… look like? This stewardship season, I ask you to prayerfully consider the gifts you have been given and how you can give back a part of those gifts to the church. Can you sing? Choir! Can you cook? Breakfast! Simon! Gumbo! Are you a guy? AMEN’s group! A woman? DOK! Can you teach? Sunday School! Love to worship? Read, acolyte, bear a chalice, tend to the altar, arrange flowers! And these are just a few of the things Ascension has going on.

There will be more information forthcoming about the many service opportunities here. And you might have a gift for doing something we don’t yet do… but need to!