We westerners think of ourselves as owners – what we bought, built, and own. We forget that everything we have ultimately came from someone else. We’re a temporary manager. Being a “steward” isn’t the same as being a renter – where we might use something but someone else takes care of it. No, a steward has power and responsibility, freedom with choice, but the steward is responsible for managing the master’s resources to get what the master wants in return. God is the master creator – everything and everyone belongs to God.
So, we may look at it, as Alice Lou did, in her 2014 stewardship parable, The Investment, as being faithful managers getting sweet dividends.
So what does God want?
Matthew 22:36-40 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
So what does God want? Love. Love for God. Love for Neighbor as yourself. So how can we use God’s gifts to create Love? At First Presbyterian, we see the formula as:
Be in Christ + Be Loved + Be of Use
Be in Christ
Reflection 1: Formation under the Master Artist
“But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” – Isaiah 64:8
Watch this video. Questions: If God is a potter, and you are clay, what process do you think might be happening in your life?
Are you being…
- Shaped from your core?
- Emptied out so you might hold something more precious?
- Pounded on the outside as a foundation for your basic design?
- Amended with another piece to become more functional?
- Decorated with fine lines and impressions so others will see and glorify the artist?
- Carved that light may shine through the pieces being removed?
- Something else?
- When you look at the eyes of the master craftsman in the video, what do you see?
- What might the potter image of God tell you about the characteristics of God?
- How does that relate to what God wants in return?
Reflection 2: Sabbath – The Commandment to Love God and Self
Is your calendar full? Does everyone have a claim to your time? Or is your calendar empty and you long for meaningful activities? Either way, do you and God get Daddy-daughter/Mother-son time? When is God’s time? In our production-oriented world, the practice of Sabbath – intentional time away from productive activity, can be both difficult and highly rewarding.
See this 2 minute video by Barbara Brown Taylor:
- How is the practice of Sabbath related to stewardship?
- How might an intentional Sabbath practice enable you to return to Love itself, Love of God, Love of self, and Love of Neighbor?
- In what way does Sabbath require dying to priorities of this world?
- In what way is it life-giving?
- In what do you delight or find pleasure that is not productive? How might this be an entrance into a Sabbath practice?
Be in Christ
Clearly, recognizing your continuous formation and setting aside time for your relationship with God is a healthy start to being in Christ. Christ is also a body of many members and we join together in worship – various forms of worship in order to be in Christ. We confess our weaknesses and longings as the body of Christ, we hear a message for the body of Christ, we sing together as the body of Christ. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” You access this strength, and humility, and the human longing now when your fellow members of the body get together. A hand, a foot, a thumb – together, we are the body.
Reflection 3: The Spirit – God’s Presence in Christ’s Body
1. At close of service we ask at the invitation of the bell “Where have you sensed God’s presence?”
- Where has that been? Is there a pattern? The time with children? Music? Sermon? A quiet moment? Confession? A reading? A touch of hand or smile? A tear or gesture? A story?
- Is it predictable? Unexpected? Does it happen even if you weren’t feeling particularly inclined to attend church?
2. What practices or activities outside of worship make it more likely for you to experience God’s presence? 3. How might you make space or time or mindset to experience the presence of God more deeply, more regularly, or in fresh growing ways? 4. Are you being nurtured as a member of the body? What do you need to give or receive to be your most healthy vibrant member?
Reflection 4: Renewal and Connecting in Love.
So what are you doing to be connected to the body and to its head? Are you:
- Reminding yourself of your God-created precious uniqueness (see Reflection 1 above)?
- Resting and resting in a Sabbath practice of self-love and opening to the love of God.
- Connecting in membership? One member spoke of how pledging, even $2, as a young person made the difference between being a participant and being a member with a commitment. This is about connection, not cash. Joining in solidarity with others can be a powerful connection. Also joining groups or activities.
- Connecting in Service? Some members renew their connections in Circles, others in the group in which they serve – choir, food closet, the office, working on the grounds.
- Connecting in Prayer? Some people find it easy to ask for prayer. Others need encouragement. Some enjoy exchanging words, some silence, and some music. First Presbyterian has avenues for a full spectrum of personality types.
- Not Competing? Even this is not another to-do list! Are you experiencing some of the abundant love that is available to you? God wants love for you. When God asks us to love our neighbor as ourselves, God is saying clearly that everyone is to be loved!
Be of Use
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, Yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
-Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
Reflection 5: Be of Use, not Used Up.
Our participation page lists a number of activities that are possible to bring the love of God to our community – from our members, to our local San Bernardino neighbors, to our world. Not only are we Christ’s hands and feet, the active presence of God’s healing in this broken world, but we ourselves meet the living God when we serve others.
‘…as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’ (Matt 25:40)
As far as your activities that are of service:
- What activities of service are you doing now?
- Which of the activities and tasks bring you joy?
- What makes them joyous?
- Is there anything you are doing out of pure obligation but which has lost its joy?
- Do you need to say no to something that is not the best use of your time considering all of your needs?
- How do you decide what you will do in service? Can you say “no” as well as “yes” and feel equally good about it?
- Do you need or want to expand your horizons and try something new? Has something entered your mind or heart? Who could you ask to find out more about that?
- Do you have gifts or talents that you have not yet explored in service? Have you identified anyone else in our community with these same gifts? Have you talked about how they might be put into service?
Living as God’s Steward – Being God’s beloved, giving and receiving love can be a life of joy when we live it together with all the members of the body freely, excitedly, and wholly contributing their gifts and receiving the abundant life God has provided in Christ Jesus.
Be in Christ + Be Loved + Be of Use