This essay was written a couple of years ago and originally published in the St. David's Episcopal Church Messenger. It is re-printed here as an invitation to consider and explore our roles as stewards of God's creation.
CONFESSIONS OF A DISTRACTED STEWARD
I am on your stewardship committee which is simultaneously amazing and appalling because I am certain that I only get stewardship right for about eight minutes a month. Please be assured that the other members of the stewardship committee are far better stewards than I, and probably have consecutive hours, days, and even months of good stewardship. But when they asked me to join the committee, I actually had to think about the times when I am a good steward. After much thoughtful consideration, I could only come up with eight minutes a month. Even when you multiply that by twelve months it's is only 96 minutes per year, an amount which is best described as paltry. Here's where my eight minutes of certain stewardship occur. Susan and I usher about once a month, and one of our duties after the Peace and before the Great Thanksgiving, is to pass the collection plate. You, the members of the congregation, fill the plates with money and envelopes. Our job at that point is to take gifts that you have freely given us and walk them to the altar where thanks will be given. The whole thing takes about eight minutes. During collection, you, the members of the congregation, are like God. You smile as I hand you the plate, give the gifts freely, and don't ask any questions like: “Where are you going with the money?” Like God, you just give. And although you technically have given the gifts and money to me, and I am the possessor of your offerings for a short while, I am never confused about whose gifts they are: As I look at the collection plate, I never think, “Hey, they gave the money to me, it's mine.” It's very clear. For those eight minutes, I am not a possessor or owner of the gifts and money, but a steward. After the service ends, there are approximately 43,192 other minutes per month, each of which is an opportunity for more good stewardship. But when money, gifts, time or talent come to me then, obscurity descends and my first thought is – it's mine! No, it's not. As the other members of the stewardship committee remind me, we are not owners or possessors of creation, but part of the whole. It's easy to get confused and distracted. Some of us exchange time for the money that our jobs pay. When we get a paycheck, we think, I earned it -it's mine! But we forget that God gave us the time. Others of us use our minds and hands to create beauty, and we think, I made this- it's mine! But we forget that God gave us the talent. Sometimes, for no reason at all, a gift of money, or material wealth comes to us, and we think, Whoopee - it's mine! But we forget that all gifts come from God. And while we try to be good stewards, the world provides us with so many distractions. Rising gas and milk prices, home foreclosures, and a tumultuous economy distract us with the fear of not having enough. We forget that God's abundance is eternal and exceeds our comprehension. I suspect that God looks at us and says, “These people are so easily confused and distracted I am going to let them keep 90% of my gifts and only ask that they tithe10%- even then, they're probably going to have issues.” Obviously, I needed guidance as to how to become a better steward, so I turned to the Episcopal Church website. There, they define stewardship: “Christian stewardship is grateful and responsible use of God's gifts in the light of God's purpose as revealed in Jesus Christ. Christian stewards, empowered by the Holy Spirit, commit themselves to conscious, purposeful decisions.” Contained within this definition were some steps that I realized could help me with my approach to stewardship. First, “Christian stewardship is grateful . . .” so I knew I needed to give thanks for the gifts God has given. Secondly, I realized that “[R]esponsible use of God's gifts in the light of God's purpose as revealed in Jesus Christ, ” was really just another way of asking what would Jesus do with the gifts I have been given. Lastly, “Christian stewards, empowered by the Holy Spirit . . .” alerted me to the fact that I need help from the Holy Spirit “to commit . . . to conscious, purposeful decisions.” Clearly, prayer was a necessary step to becoming a good steward. So this month, I am going to give thanks for God's gifts, ask what Jesus would do with the gifts, and pray that the Holy Spirit helps me get it right. As a member of your stewardship committee, I am going to encourage you to also think about your own stewardship, and then act in a manner consistent with God's stewardship plans for you. Don't worry about it, just try it. Frankly, there's no way you can do worse than eight minutes a month.