By Ven. Graham Bland
I seem to be accumulating specialists these days; they each look after different bits of me… But my family doctor sees me whole, and asks me, “How’re things in general?” With health, she knows, our whole life matters.
Health is not something to be taken piecemeal. Our culture encourages us to compartmentalize our lives: work / play / spirituality / culture / finances / nutrition / hobbies. But we are one whole – person, community, earth. ‘Salvation’ means ‘wholeness’. The Earth is one whole system. God wants us to be whole. This is about the Stewardship of our lives.
Stewardship is about our life as part of created nature. For our Church to thrive, it must engage with the big questions of human stewardship. The Church must know what it is for as part of this whole.
We humans receive many gifts. The land and our bodies are two of the most powerful examples of the generosity of the Creator. Since we receive all that we have as a generous gift, it is fitting for us to respond to life in the same way, with a readiness to let go rather than to possess, with deep generosity of spirit. This is what God and God’s Kingdom are like.
What’s the Church for? It is to show the world what the Kingdom of God is like; and, to give Glory to God. David Fitch has said that to give Glory to God is: “to enhance God’s reputation in the world”.
St. Paul calls the Church the body of Christ (I Cor 12). We belong not to ourselves but to one another. And the Church thrives on Love (I Cor 13). Inspired speech, or great deeds, or sacrificial acts without love are of no use.
The opposite of ‘without’ is ‘within’, or ‘in’. Love is something you’re in, like an atmosphere, or an ocean. We cannot possess Love. We can only step into Love and let it change us. To give Love, we first receive it, and embrace it; then, loving becomes like breathing, like being fully alive.
In the Gospel, Jesus sends his disciples to invite people into Love: “The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.” Was Jesus talking about harvesting human ‘souls’, as if God needed them? No. The idea of serving a needy God is as difficult for me as herding people like ‘sheep’ or catching them like ‘fish’. But think about this: a ‘harvest’ is about bread. It’s to satisfy our need, not God’s. Jesus is “Bread of Life”, broken and shared for our nourishment. The ‘harvest’ is Jesus himself, who is everything people need to satisfy the soul’s deep hunger. He is the embodiment of Love, to show us the Kingdom… all things made whole in God.
All that we have and all that we are is the fruit of the abundant and overflowing love of God, in which we are invited to participate. We are called to step into Love, so that the world can know more and more about Love.
This is what the Church is for and when we know it, we thrive… It’s not that the Church will thrive if people give more. It’s that Love and generosity are our natural way of being. When we remember who we are, made in the image and likeness of God, we naturally overflow with love and generosity.
Stewardship in our parishes is not a campaign to raise money to keep churches open. It is inviting people into the abundant, never-to-be-depleted love of God, into Life, into the Gospel. Stewardship is about what our Church is for, which is to love the world into wholeness.
We’re not talking about “doing a Stewardship campaign” so that we can pay off that $25,000 deficit. We are talking about being “in Love”, “in God’s Love”, immersed in it like an Ocean. Because, to paraphrase St. Paul, if we pay off all our debts, fix the roof, have enough for our apportionment, replace the furnace, start a Sunday School … but without love … it will be of no use. We will find ourselves in the same predicament again before too long.
If it’s just about keeping the doors open, without you knowing why … if it’s just about fixing the roof … and so on and so on … and if you don’t have in the corner of your eye that waterfall of God’s Love showering you and wanting to shower the world with blessings, then it is time to reconsider the whole project.
Have you heard people respond to financial campaigns like this: “Oh, I suppose I can give you $1,000”? This is a grudging and reluctant response to an episodic approach to giving based only on the needs of the present situation. If we just do fundraising, that’s the response we will get.
We need a clear vision … not about what a particular campaign is for, or what we need money for this time, but what the Church is for.
For example, our church boiler sprang a leak in October. Did we fix it just to keep us warm on Sunday? Well, yes, but we also fixed it to keep warm our vision of who we are and what we’re about.
Please ponder, not whether you need a stewardship campaign this year but, why we’re here, and what purpose we serve. Then, be sure to embody that purpose in all you say and do.
When Stewardship is our year-round celebration of the abundant Love of God, our Church will thrive. When we do not celebrate God’s generosity through our own generous response, we are simply staving off the inevitable.
It is time for our Church to live again, and to thrive. We are resurrection people. But something has to die for us to find this new life. Old attitudes about giving need to be left behind, allowing room for generosity of spirit to grow in our communities.
Baptism is dying to the old self so as to be reborn in the Spirit and Love of God. It is time for our Church to thrive again, in God’s strength, in the power of the Spirit, and for the sake of the Kingdom.
Ven. Graham Bland is the Chair of the Diocese of Huron Stewardship Committee.
This article is edited from a talk given in Windsor on November 4th 2017. To request the full text, e-mail [email protected]
Photo: Dawid Zawilla, Unsplash