Back in 2004, I was asked me to give one of the stewardship talks – so I did. I talked about my how my concept of and participation in stewardship had evolved from a little kid putting a quarter my dad had handed me for that express purpose into the offering plate to where I was then – a pledging member of this church. Writing that talk in 2004 caused me to really think about stewardship for the first time. Not about whether or how much to give but about the bigger picture: both the idea of giving back to God’s use some of what He has given me – and just what it is that I need to give back. A few weeks ago, I was asked if I would speak again this year. Obviously I said “yes.”
And then the trouble began. While I do think about stewardship more than just in October, needing to talk about it again made me think through where I am now. Mark reminded me to think deeply about giving back to God. Thinking through this “in this now” wasn’t as easy as it was eight years ago.
The two formulas we regularly hear are “All things come of Thee O Lord and of Thine own have we given Thee.” and “Time, Talent, and Treasure.” The first we say every Sunday and the other we hear so many times every October. I hear them so much that they sometimes become part of the “noise” I filter out. And yet … I need to remember where “all I have” comes from – and that I have varying amounts of these three things to give back.
To help me think through all of this, I looked at some of what others have written and said about stewardship. Most of it is stuff I’ve read or heard before but three unrelated quotes caught my attention. Each offers a different view of stewardship. Maybe these three angles together give a more complete view than any one of them alone.
The first quote is from Amy Carmichael, an Irish Presbyterian missionary who served 55 years in India. She wrote:
“You can give without loving but you cannot love without giving.”
Yes. And I would add a corollary: If you give, you will begin to love. As I begin to better understand what loving God and loving my neighbor means, I feel compelled to give more. That giving happens both at and away from church. But I feel that my primary obligation is giving back to God. Giving to this church seems to be the most direct path. So what do I give? The formula is “time, talent, and treasure,” all of which come from God.
So we give back some of what he gave us. For me, that means serving and giving financial support – time and treasure – but it also means using what connections and abilities – talent – that I have to help in the church’s mission, in God’s mission. For me, using my talent means working with wine and food and writing. For others, talent may mean working with landscaping and gardening or maintenance or music or youth or finances or ECHOS or a multitude of other things. It took me a while to find a way to bring my talents to church but if I can, probably anyone can.
As to how much to give, my guide must be my favorite author, C.S. Lewis, who in one of his letters wrote:
“I do not believe we can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid that the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”
What Lewis wrote reminds me of Father David Tarbet saying that “If you can keep your Lenten discipline, it isn’t strict enough.” I don’t want to hear it but I know it is true. I don’t want to taste the medicine but I know I need it. I know that Lewis gave sacrificially. I know there are members of Epiphany who give sacrificially. He and they are courageous beyond measure. I’m not quoting Lewis to them. I quote Lewis to myself in the hope that I will listen and because I know who it is – me – that needs the medicine. Each year, I try to swallow a bit more of it.
Which brings me to the anonymous third quote:
The purpose of tithing is to secure not the tithe but the tither, not the gift but the giver, not the possession but the possessor, not your money but you for God.
I have long known that I need God more than God needs me. What the last few years have taught me is that I need Epiphany a lot more than Epiphany needs me. By giving to Epiphany, to this church – not this building or place but to this part of the Body of Christ that owns and maintains this building and this place … by giving to Epiphany, I am giving my actual self to God. It turns out that this is the medicine I need.
Probably a lot of you have already figured this out. I hadn’t until recently. Without the help of this church, if not for the support that this church gives to me and each of us if only we accept it, I might not have the courage to take the medicine I so need to take.
Before I began thinking about any of this, I’d heard Mark stand here and speak about his stewardship journey toward tithing as in reaching the goal of giving back ten percent. I am on that same path. Subsequently, I heard Iffie speak about stewardship from the perspective of what Epiphany is to her and her family. I understand her – this church has a great deal to do with who and what my sons and I are today. Last week, I heard Louis talk about the financial aspects of stewardship from the perspective of the most informed parishioner, the church treasurer. Even after attending numerous parish annual meetings and three years of vestry meetings, I am amazed at what it takes in giving and sacrifice to keep Epiphany going. Speaking of sacrificial giving, Louis has served as this church’s treasurer for many years.
We – the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany – are the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven. We are the medicine for each other just as we are the ill who need the medicine. In giving our time, talent, and treasure to the church, we give our selves and get back our better selves. The more we give, the more we get back, the more we live, the more we give. It is an eternal loop. It is part of the loop that leads to eternity, to heaven, to God.
– Charles M. Bear Dalton