As I write this blurb, I'm looking out my office window into beautiful late September sunshine. In my opinion, it could be colder and sharper, a bit more like fall. But it's so beautiful, and I'm sorely tempted to get in my car and drive to the Catskills for a hike. I am reminded of my school days, when I'd look outside the window and just want to be free. Of course, that freedom would have been an illusion. To really be free I needed an education. To really be free now I need a vocation, a way to give of myself to the world, to use the skills I acquired in my education for the work of God's reign. I also need to go hiking in the Catskills, of course, just as everyone needs fresh air and beauty in order to be free.
This Sunday Jesus speaks to us about gouging out eyes and hacking off limbs and I think he's talking about freedom. We talk about being in bondage to sin, unable to free ourselves. Jesus says it's better to lose parts of your body than to be in bondage to sin. In some ways he is speaking hyperbolically, but in other ways he's right--freedom can mean sacrifice, and so we sometimes need to give up things to find greater freedom.
One of the bonds we struggle against is the bond of wealth, and its brother, the bond of poverty. Both rule us in horrible ways, one through greed and the other through desperation. One of the Christian practices of dealing with this is by giving money away--giving away for God's use.
We're beginning our Fall Stewardship campaign on Sunday. This campaign helps us examine our lives and our relationship with God and with our money. We then pledge an amount to the congregation to sustain its ministry. This year, we're following, loosely, a book called Giving to God, by Bible scholar Mark Allen Powell. We will hear stories from members of our church about God's faithfulness in our lives. Powell writes, "Rather, a faithful steward is a person who a) views this world as God's good creation and is grateful to be a part of it; b) knows that God cares for those whom God has made and is ready and willing to rule their lives; and c) trusts God to provide him or her with whatever is needed to be content." We'll hear about how we become faithful stewards, or how we are trying to become them, or how we hope to someday become faithful stewards.
The key word there is faithful. In faithfulness we find freedom. Faithfulness gives us the sure knowledge that God loves this world and rules it in love, and that God cares for the wellbeing of God's creatures. Trusting God, not money or anything else, makes us free, since God wants us to thrive. Part of God's love is also pruning us of desire and sin. Stewardship helps us with this, because we give away wealth we might otherwise spend in service to desire, rather than provision and necessity.
I've always found stewardship to be the hardest part of my life. But I am glad I get to work on it with you. Your generosity and faithfulness inspire me, and I'm looking forward to hearing the stories of God's faithful people during our stewardship campaign.