Orientation and Sharing: A Reflection on Stewardship in Preparation for our Good Soil In-Gathering
I think one of the challenges for me during this Good Soil Campaign has been that it has required for us to focus, even more than typical each fall, on the particular role that money plays in our shared life at St. Julian’s. On the one hand, we have tried to be clear that the purpose of our Good Soil Annual and Capital Campaign is about so much more than money…it is about becoming over time the very spiritual heart of the larger community in which we have been planted…or said another way to both become good soil people in which God’s love can be planted and bear good fruit, and prepare literal good soil for a future mission oriented campus…that is a catalyst for life-giving, transformative, outwardly focused ministry. And on the other hand, we have tried to be transparent that in order to realize this robust vision, Good Soil is in large measure, not only, but in large measure a money raising campaign that hopes to achieve commitments representing over $750,000…about $270,000 in the coming year to support our 2018 operating budget and $500,000 over three years to begin pre-construction work on land that the diocese has committed to purchasing for us. And, we hope to accomplish all of this, more or less, by next Sunday at or In-Gathering services...piece of cake…we got it. Now, I hope you know this is not exactly accurate, as again we are just in the commitment phase. So, what we really hope is that by next Sunday, just as we have at our In-Gathering services in each of the 8 years we have existed, that next Sunday the 19###sup/sup### we will gather in, together, the majority of the commitments, not dollars but commitments, that those of us already here, already a part of this family of faith, are planning to make to our 2018 operating budget and, as you can, over and above, gather in pledges to our capital campaign…funds that will help us just begin our journey to the next home to which God is calling us.
Now I think it important for me to say that, despite any hesitancy I may feel within myself, I think it is good, healthy, and even Godly for us to talk openly about money in church. Just as I hope we do in our own homes. Jesus surely did. It is clear in the gospels that Jesus’ own ministry team, what we call the disciples, gathered funds to support their livelihoods and ministry endeavors. It seems they even had a treasurer of sorts, Judas of all people, who shared on their behalf money with the poor and suffering and bought food for them to eat and space for this to sleep and even pray and worship. Moreover, the subject of money was also addressed by Jesus often in his teachings and parables. In the gospels, one in every ten verses deals directly with money, which is 288 verses in all, and the bible in its entirety offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2000 verses on money and possessions. Thus, our own attention given to money in church and beyond seems well founded and even prudent…dare I say even faithful. There are myriad reasons for this, but I think two, in particular, are that…one…money is, simply said, the means, for good or ill, that our world pays for and acquires the resources required to literally live. We need and pay for food, for housing, for health care, and whether through taxes or tuition, or both, education. The basic building blocks of life if you will. And two, how we share, save, and spend the money in our lives is a moral matter…it is a matter of faith…it reflects our deepest held values…which, again, I hope are primarily informed by the faith we live and the God of love we believe in.
I have said before that the two documents that reflect our values most clearly, and that we refer to quite often, if not daily, are our budgets and our calendars. For they determine how we use our time and money. This is true of our church’s budget and calendar…and our family’s budget and calendar…which, at least in regard to our own budget and calendar, we typically carry around with us, everywhere we go, in our purses or pockets. I am referring to the calendar and banking apps on our phones. And, it seems that long before the smart phone was invented, Jesus was well aware of the head space that money would take up for each of us…both the complications it creates and the good it can accomplish. So, he takes the topic head on and often…he will not allow his followers to hide from it…ignore it…side step it…no matter how much we would like to or how uncomfortable it makes us feel. For how we live with the money that moves in and out of our lives, effects our souls…it is a matter of the heart. The ways we intentionally choose to share, save and spend the money we have control over…must be thought full…flowing from our deeply held beliefs and values…or it will indeed control us…and, as Jesus reminds us, we cannot serve God and money…we must choose which we serve first…and this takes disciplined, mature faith to resolve for our own lives…and we each have to resolve it for ourselves.
The whole project of Christian stewardship, which is rooted in generations of deep reflection on scripture and the life and teachings of Jesus by theologians and bible scholars, is to give us practical tools and spiritual resources to be absolutely certain, or as certain as we ever can be, that we, as follower of Jesus, are rightly oriented. That we first find our sense of wellbeing, that we find our sense of self-worth, that we find as the source of the values we most deeply hold, the God of love who made us, loves us…and all people…for forever and forever. For people do not live on bread alone…but on God’s eternal word that births us into this world, provides meaning and direction for a life worth living right now, and gives us our eternal life…our Easter life that has no end but everlasting love alone. This orientation, first toward the God of love, then informs everything that follows…how we live with one another…how we care for one another…how we schedule our limited time…how we even share, save and spend our money. And of these three words…share, save and spend…I think the one that is most theological is share. For if love is our orientation, for God is love, then sharing ourselves, the love within us, all of ourselves, all that makes up our lives, becomes the principle way of living as Jesus followers. For our ultimate flourishing and the flourishing of all those around us is discovered in the ways we generously share ourselves with one another. This includes sharing ourselves, all we have, with our families and loved ones, with our church, with those in need all around us, and sometimes even with ourselves. I believe if sharing, sharing the love in our lives, were to really become the first ordering principle in our economy and our world…there would and will always be enough…for everyone, everywhere…to be satisfied and filled. I tell our kids often, not just my own, but all of our kids…food taste better when we share it.
Which brings me back to the place I began this reflection. I began by saying that one of the challenges for me, as we have moved through this Good Soil Annual and Capital Campaign, is that it has required us to think and talk a whole lot about money…but I think my thinking about this has evolved. Because for me, and I speak only for myself, as I have leaned in and pushed beyond dollars and cents, this has been an opportunity for me and my family to think about how we are actually oriented…ask hard questions about who and what we serve…take a hard look at our calendar and budget…to think about how each reflect the values we hold and that our faith affirms. Ashley and I have spent hours, literally hours, over the past few months deep in the weeds of our finances, which has led to many rich and challenging conversations, that are not really about money, but about how we want to live and who God is calling us to be. This has been life giving…and actually grown us closer to God, to one another, to being healthier financially, and to make a commitment to this church, in our budget, that will represent over the next three years, the most significant financial gift we have ever given to God’s work in this world…through this church…through St. Julian’s. And it feels more rightly oriented than any budget choice we have ever made. We feel more deeply rooted in God and less beholden to the almighty dollar than ever in my adult life.
And so I conclude with a simple invitation…which is to reflect on these two ideas, deeply rooted in Christian stewardship, the two theological anchors of orientation and sharing…and not in regard to our bank accounts…or only our bank accounts…for being oriented first and foremost toward the God of love transcends all worldly things…and we all have so much more to share, so many things that are so much more valuable that money, to share with each other, with this church, and with a sorely divided and deeply hurting world. For all of our individual responses to the invitation to present gifts at our In-Gathering services next Sunday, to live further into our Good Soil Vision, will indeed be different…and each and every is a blessing…from a commitment to keep our shared life in your prayers…to a commitment to go deeper into one of our life-giving ministries…to any sort of financial commitment, beginning with a commitment to our 2018 operating budget…all of these will be different for each of us and we should and will celebrate and be grateful for each expression of generosity and sacrifice. We have said over and over in this Good Soil campaign that its success will not be found through equal gifts, all of us committing the exact same time, talent and treasure to our church, but through an equal sacrifice. Sacrifice is indeed about giving up something that is good, that has value, for something that is even greater. So, no guilt, only gratitude for each of you and your own unique offerings that makes St. Julian’s a place where God in Christ’s salvation, God’s love, is known and experienced.
My sincere hope, my first goal for Good Soil, is simply that we all choose to participate, and that however we choose to participate…it flows from…it is rooted in…a life oriented first toward the God of love and a desire to share from the unique abundance that makes up your own life…whatever that looks like…whatever that is for you. If Good Soil helps us accomplish this, to be a parish of folk more and more oriented toward the God of love and always willing to share generously from that which makes up our unique lives…then indeed it will have been all we have hoped for it…good…so very good…even Godly.
-The Rev. Miles Brandon