The church board of The Episcopal Church of the Blessed Sacrament and the Anglican Church of the Resurrection (two parishes who worship and fellowship as one) very kindly asked me to facilitate a discussion on stewardship during their board retreat. The following is the meditation with which we began our conversation.
As I was preparing for our time together, I spent a while staring into space, mulling over different passages that came to mind. I thought, of course, of Mark 12, wherein Christ notices and appreciates the gift of a widow who gives out of her poverty all she has. I though about us discussing the old covenant tithe, and how that could become the foundation for a very new covenant heart of giving. In fact, there were many passages I thought of that would help us talk about giving, but of all the topics related to money, giving is probably most talked about at church. And though I don’t know the details of your roll as a church board, I know you help determine what happens to church money once it’s been given.
What we do with money is a topic that occurs fairly frequently throughout scripture. Jesus, I think, is especially aware that money is a way of demonstrating what our hearts are focused on (for where your treasure is…).
With this in mind, I set out to find examples of people who use their money well. Though the widow of Mark 12 could certainly qualify, I was a little surprised by which passages stood out to me.
I couldn’t help but be drawn to a link between two very well known passages of Scripture, the first is Matthew 22:34-40:
But when the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And 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. This is the great and first commandment. And second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
In Luke 10, this same idea is expressed a little differently. We see our lawyer again, and this time he has a follow up question,
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
The Good Samaritan noticed the one who needed help, and he gave whatever money was necessary to help him. He did it not out of professional responsibility (as the priest or the Levite could have), nor out of a sense of the kinship that comes from shared race, custom, and home. He simply saw a person who needed him, and he decided to love him as a neighbor, thus proving himself to be this man’s neighbor, the one who gladly fulfills the second half of Jesus’ greatest commandment. And as we are reminded in Matthew 25:34-40, by fulfilling the second half of Jesus’ commandment, we fulfill the first.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
So that’s what I am hoping we can reflect on this afternoon. Given our resources, how can we prove to be neighbors to the congregants of Blessed Sacrament, to the community, to the children of the parish, and to those we are called to minister to around the world? How might you best guide the congregants to prove themselves neighbors to the people put in their path, and so, ultimately, love God through the giving away of themselves and their finances?
As we, like the lawyer, ask God who is our neighbor, he seems to say, “I don’t know. You tell me.”