July 9, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
Here are some thought-provoking questions from Chick Lane, author of Ask, Thank, Tell. The questions are great for self-reflection, but could also be used in class/study group.
How would my life be different if I believed and acted like the claims of consumerism are wrong?
What if I rejected the notions that what I have defines who I am, that all the stuff around me is really mine and that how much people have becomes a means by which I value them and myself?
What if I quit imagining that scarcity defines the world around me, and that I'd better grab all I can because there isn't enough to go around?
What if I didn't act like whenever I give something away it means that I'm depriving myself of something else that I would really like to have?
How would my life be different if I believed and acted like the claims of the Bible are correct? How would things change if I understood that all I have really belongs to God, and is entrusted by God to me to manage? What if I grounded my sense of self in my baptism, and recognized that in God's eyes what I have doesn't have any relationship to who I am?
What if my relationship with myself and other people began with the assumption that those who have the same parent are by definition brothers and sisters? How would life be different if I didn't see it as a zero-sum game, and instead grasped the fact that the abundance around me means I'm not in competition with others for my piece of the pie? What if there really is such a thing as enough? What if I could give stuff away first and generously not in order to get something I want but simply to do good?
What if I refused to compartmentalize my life into one box labeled "faith" and another box labeled "finances"? What if I believed and acted like there are infinite connections between my faith in Jesus Christ and my financial life, and these connections go both ways? What would it look like if my faith informed my financial life, not just in terms of what I give away, but also in terms of how I spend that which I "keep" for myself? How is it that what I do with my finances really does profoundly impact my faith in Jesus?
I pray that you are enjoying these beautiful summer days.
Grace and Peace,
Ken Sloane is offering the next in his free series of Stewardship webinars, “Are you Raising Funds or Raising Generous Disciples?” on July 12 at 5:30 pm MDT/ 4:30 pm PDT. You can register here.
Living in God’s Grace
Did you know that the words ecumenical, economics, and ecology all share the same root word? "Ecu" and "eco" comes from the Greek word oikos (pronounced "oy'-kos") -- a word that translates as "house" or "household." Oikos is used throughout the New Testament to talk about the church community, a family, a family's house, an animals' dwelling place, and "the whole inhabited world." Economics (oikonomia) refers to "plan/rules for the household," ecology deals with the "knowledge of the household," and ecumenical (oikoumene) has to do with everyone/thing that lives in the household. Now, if you're not tired of seeing all of these homey Greek words, here's one more: oikonomos -- a word that translates as "keeper of the household" or as the English word "steward."
When we start looking at "household" on a community or even planetary scale, the notion of being a household-keeper can be daunting. When we add to this the fact that as Christians we believe that this creation-encompassing household belongs solely to God (see this week's reading from Psalm 24), then the call to be stewards can be extremely daunting.
While stewardship is a huge responsibility, this week's reading from Ephesians reminds us that our work is part of God's larger "economy" (Eph. 1:10), God's "plan for the household": to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. We're not called to invent this economy or even run it. We're simply, lovingly invited to contribute our God-given talents -- those places of embodied Grace within ours lives -- to help unveil God's economy of Grace for all.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
When some people realize the fact that stewardship has to do with caring for God's "house" (on a planetary scale), they don't like the images that this evokes. One friend commented, "This house imagery makes me think about our ratty old sofa, the pile of laundry I have to do, and our out-of-control garden." When viewed this way, rather than a call to something exciting and life-giving, stewardship can seem just plain ordinary. From this point of view, stewardship may seem like a fitting subject for "Ordinary Time."
But, just in the same way that Ordinary Time* isn't synonymous with "boring/unexciting time," stewardship calls us to notice, delight in, care for, and help redeem every single gift of Grace that God puts in our lives -- every moment, material gift, choice, relationship, interaction with God's creation, talent, breath... . Stewardship actually invites us to notice and unveil God's emerging Kingdom/Kin-dom in every single moment of our lives. This is a most exciting invitation!
*As mentioned in previous weeks, the term Ordinary Time refers to the "ordinals" or numbering of Sundays following Pentecost.
UMC Bishop Kenneth L. Carder*:
"The anchor of a Wesleyan perspective on stewardship is grace, God's grace, which is defined as gift. Everything is owned by One whose very character is expressed in giving and who desires that we share in God's generosity by giving ourselves. The Psalmist expresses the foundation for stewardship in the Wesleyan tradition: 'The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it (Psalm 24:1).'"
UMC Social Principle, "The Natural World"**:
"All creation is the Lord's, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. ...God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect."
How do you feel about the idea of God as the sole "owner" of everything in creation? How do you feel about the idea that we -- as individuals and as church -- are entrusted with gifts that belong exclusively to God?
*From Bishop Carder's presentation, " A Wesleyan Perspective on Christian Stewardship."
**The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2008, para. 160.
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Revised Common Lectionary texts for July 15, 2012: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b -19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
This week's reflection will focus on the readings from the Psalm and from Ephesians; it comes directly from the PNW Stewardship Emphasis "Theological Statement."
The Bible gives us the image of God as Creator of a "house" that includes all of creation. Within the hollow of God's own hand (Job 12:10), God sustains and holds together everything in the "household" (oikos, in the Greek New Testament) -- every person, every creature, everything in heaven, and everything on earth.
God is the sole "Possessor" (John Wesley's term) and Sustainer of the household, all of its inhabitants and gifts. Psalm 24:1 reads, "The earth is the LORD'S, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." (KJV) God's open, giving hand "satisfies the desire of every living thing." (Ps. 145:15-16) And, in God's household, residents "shall not want" because when God's gifts are appropriately shared they "multiply and are as inexhaustible as the grace of God who is their source."*
God, the household "Possessor" and Sustainer, is also the Redeemer of the household -- the one who restores access to abundant life and grace where it has been denied. Time and again, God enters into the sufferings (most radically in Jesus Christ) of the enslaved, marginalized, broken, and crushed members of creation in order to restore all members to their God-given place within the household of life abundant. Indeed, for the sake of gathering everything back into this household, God is preoccupied persistently with the enslaved, vulnerable, and broken. God's ultimate "plan for the household" (which translates as "economy"/oikonomia) is to "gather up" everything in heaven and on earth. Ephesians 1:10 offers a vision of this fulfilled plan: "according to [God's] good pleasure he set forth in Christ, as a plan [oikonomia] for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." In "the fullness of time," John Wesley anticipates, "...[there will be] no oppression to 'make (even) the wise man mad'; no extortion to 'grind the face of the poor.' ...for all are 'content with such things as they possess.'"
God fervently desires that all members of creation have access to God's household and to the pleasures of God's boundless grace. To help bring about this reality, God created humankind -- those within the household who would consciously reflect God's image in "serving" all and "preserving"** the abundance of life for all. Specifically, God calls humans to follow Jesus' example and become "household keepers" and "stewards [oikonomos] of the mysteries of God." (1 Cor. 4:1) God calls us to be stewards within the context of our individual lives, our family households, our church households, and the global household.
*From Bishop Kenneth L. Carder's presentation, " A Wesleyan Perspective on Christian Stewardship."
**Genesis 2:15. While we often translate the Hebrew words 'abad and shamar as "to till and to keep," these words translate just as readily as "to serve" ('abad) another or God and "to preserve or protect" (shamar) the life of another.
Telling the Story
Over the years I've encouraged pastors to follow a practice I learned from one of my mentors early in ministry. It's the practice of using the time of the offering to "tell the story." Here's a suggestion to introduce the offering this Sunday:
One of the four areas of focus for The United Methodist Church is Church Growth and Development. The denomination set a goal of planting 1,000 new churches in the United States during the current quadrennium (which ends this December). By April, 610 new churches had been planted. Not yet at the goal, but a vast improvement over the 278 we started in the previous quadrennium. This is one way we are reaching out as a denomination to create new places for new people.
Today, as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let’s celebrate our participation is starting new churches across the country.
Awareness and Action
Many of us cringe when we hear the word "stewardship." Because churches within our culture often find it hard to resist making "stewardship" synonymous with "fundraising" - and because many of us are not called to fundraising per se - it's easy to understand the discomfort that accompanies this word. While fundraising is important, it is not the sole or even primary focus of Christian stewardship.
While our culture defines stewardship as merely fundraising (and churches as merely "vendors of religious services," church-goers as "consumers"), Christian Scripture and our Wesleyan tradition offer an infinitely more life-giving alternative. As members of Christ's body we are all called to the vocation of Christian stewardship - that active partnership with God and others in caring for all that God creates and generously entrusts to us. As an ongoing expression of our gratitude to our extravagantly generous God, this vocation permeates every aspect of our lives - not only our financial offerings.
If your church is looking for a way to explore and discuss stewardship in broader, "whole-life" ways, please consider using "Stewards of God's Household" in an adult study forum. This resource, produced by the Pacific Northwest Conference's Stewardship Emphasis, comes with a study format and questions, ideas for worship services, a "stewarding community checklist," and bibliography. To obtain this resource, please go to the "Stewardship Emphasis Theological Statement" page.
“First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent:
Announce God's kingdom! . . . No procrastination. No backward looks.
You can't put God's kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day."
--Luke 9:61-62, The Message
Evangelism is one of those uncomfortable subjects many Christians do not actively address. Yet Jesus gave it utmost urgency. A disciple’s life is not to be about things past, but things present and future. Focusing on God’s reign is a core value.
Rethink Church provides a means to disrupt the stereotypical image of church as a place to go on Sunday morning. Instead, a vision is offered of 24/7 people who live their faith in personal devotion, corporate worship, acts of compassion and advocacy for justice.
The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
“I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people. . . . I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. . . . I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!”
Had it not been for Paul’s strident dedication to sharing the good news, you and I might not have the faith that saves our lives. Heed the call to “seize the day.” Interact with those whose lifestyles differ from yours and lead others into a “God-saved life” so they may know God’s mercy, grace and love.
Your gifts to the World Service Fund support United Methodist Communications as it leads congregations to Rethink Church. Thank you!
--The Rev. N. Neelley Hicks, special projects manager, Rethink Church, United Methodist Communications
Every 60 seconds, a family in Africa loses a son or daughter to malaria. With the new hope each day offers, it also brings an ever-present threat of suffering and death. Malaria is a disease that claims 1 million lives annually - and yet it’s completely preventable. In many of the world’s developing countries, especially in Africa, there is limited access to healthcare, medicine and resources to provide simple measures to fight malaria.
Each new mosquito bite is a potential death sentence. Parents fear for the safety of their children. Vitoria Armando, mother of three, explained, “When my children have malaria I’m very worried because all the time that we take children to hospital, while you are still waiting to see the doctor, you will see someone die of it.”
Imagine No Malaria is a United Methodist effort to end malaria deaths, by raising $75 million to empower the people of Africa to achieve a sustainable victory over this terrible, but treatable disease.
--Rob Naylor, communications coordinator, Imagine No Malaria
God of endless Grace,
We live within the hollow of Your hand: our only home.
In this place, we remember our true identity.
We remember that our lives, bodies, gifts are not "commodities"
nor are we merely desperate "consumers."
We remember that our lives --
and the lives of all other members of Your household of creation --
are sacred gifts.
We remember that we are Your blessed household stewards --
those called to lovingly "serve" all and "preserve" every gift that You entrust to us.
In our remembrance, may we live like Jesus:
the One who breaks open the barriers that prevent any
member of creation from sharing in Your table of abundance.
May we know of Your preoccupation for the vulnerable.
May we devote ourselves to searching "the streets and lanes . . .
and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame . . .
and compel all to come in, so that [Your] house may be filled."
In breaking open and giving our full lives to Your
preoccupations, we pray that we may help
to unveil Your Grace to all whom You love.
We pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.
from Radical Gratitude
Healing God, often we wonder how our little, “insignificant” gifts can solve big problems. But on Golden Cross Sunday, we know our contributions are crucial to ensuring health, wholeness and happiness for your children. Help us to share. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
Almighty and Sovereign God, through your word, you remind us that we are your children, chosen by you through adoption, claimed by you as fully worthy of the inheritance that you have planned for us. In this act, we have been adopted into great wealth, not the wealth that the world prizes, but a treasure that is valued by your heavenly measure. As we offer these gifts to you, we pray that they might be more than support for a budget of the church -- a symbol of our understanding that the wealth worth pursuing is found in a relationship with your Son. With the confidence of your children claimed by you, we pray in his Holy name. Amen. (Ephesians 1:3-14)
from General Board of Discipleship
"The nourishment that comes from Jesus strengthens us in our faith and enables us to be released from our dependence on that which does not give life."
-- Rev. Beth Warpmaeker