Retired Archbishop Douglas Hambidge (New Westminster) often speaks about stewardship in parish life. Recently he said: “There is a danger in talking about stewardship – we have so much to unlearn. All too often the mention of stewardship is a prelude to a budget presentation – a deficit – a campaign for pledges.”
“All too often the message that is heard is:
• Your church is dying; please come to a service.
• Will you help your church survive?
• Your church is at death’s door, will you help pull it through?
“For the most part the failure to understand stewardship arises from the failure to understand the real meaning of money. We handle it every day; it governs where we live, what we eat and drink, what we wear, what we do with our time, what skills we develop and how we treat people. You could say it governs our lives. It also declares who we are. It announces our priorities and concerns. It discloses our identity in an alarming way, and we cannot hide from what it reveals.
“Our misunderstanding comes because we’ve failed to wrestle with the implications of what Jesus says about whom and what we are. Jesus says that we are servants – he uses the word “slaves.” Not incidentally, but essentially we are servants. We know the parable well. In Luke 19: 12-26 it says:
• We have been entrusted with the Master’s goods.
• They still belong to the Master.
• We are accountable for what we do with what is entrusted.
• We are not expected to perform miracles.
• We are expected to do what we can with the Master’s goods for the Master’s benefit.
• We may not always be successful, but we are called to be faithful.
This raises three questions:
• What has been entrusted?
• What are we doing with it?
• In what way does the “Master” benefit?
“A powerful image presents itself at every Eucharist. At the heart of our most sacred act of worship, we pause and collect all the money we can to pay the Church’s bills. Then we carry on where we left off. No? Well that’s the message that is often presented. We cover the act of collecting by singing a loud hymn, and after collecting we put the plate on a table in the corner, or hand it back to the collectors so that they start counting the take, right then and there, and not miss the coffee hour!
Sometimes we sing:
“All things come of thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”
“What we are really doing is something far more significant; far more powerful than collecting money to pay the bills. We are taking Money – this mysterious thing that has such a central place in our lives, and we are putting it alongside the bread and the wine – those mysterious elements that come from the very centre of God’s being.
What’s happening here?
• Right there on the altar, in the bread and the wine God says to me:
• Now do you see how much you mean to me?
• And right there on the altar, in the offering plate we are saying to God:
• Now do you see how much you mean to us?
“In the offering we are giving an account of what we’ve been doing with what was entrusted to us. In the offering we are saying something about the way we have been spending out time; how we have been using our skills and abilities, and what our priorities in life really are. In the Eucharist, in the offering, we are offering a token of our lives – all that we have and all that we are.
“And it is only then that the faith community can talk about using of what is given and that is when we say:
• This is what we believe God is calling us to be and do;
• This is what we believe God’s agenda is;
• This is how what is entrusted will be used for the benefit of God.
“Here at St. X you have already travelled along this road together. You share the journey; you share what has been entrusted; you accept your accountability, and you share the vision of what you believe God is calling you as a faith community to be and do.
The journey is not an easy one; it never has been for those who take it seriously. But there comes a moment on the journey, when we pause to be refreshed and renewed at the Lord’s Table; when we offer a token of who we are and what we have been doing with all that has been entrusted, and we hear his voice:
Well done, good and faithful servant; you have done what I expected of you. Come, celebrate with me!”