It is that most wonderful time of the church year: stewardship season! If your congregation is like most, fall is the time of the annual stewardship campaign. The committee has been meeting, deciding a theme, putting together a narrative budget, considering whether or not to revise the pledge card. “Minutes for missions” will be given, sermons will be preached, bulletin boards will be festooned with thermometers, pie charts and bar graphs. And through it all, we will be very careful not to talk too much about money.
We will talk broadly about stewardship. We will emphasis it is about more than money or not only about money. We will be intentional about our language, using words like time and talent every time we say treasure. It is the holy trinity of this liturgical season; “Time, Talent and Treasure.” One in three, three in one. We are to give generously of our Time, Talent and Treasure.
But here’s the rub: we often hide behind that trifecta. We talk about the stewardship of our lives and of creation and of our time and talent because, really, we don’t want to be honest about God’s claim on our treasure.
I am guilty of this. I preached passionately about how we spend our time and what we do with the particular gifts God has given us, but I was (am) exceedingly reluctant to say plainly: Stewardship is about money. I am reluctant, in part, because I know I am not as generous with my treasure as God commands me to be. I know I spend money on things of little or no lasting value while ignoring the urgent needs of the world. I am inclined to rationalize the amount I give and the way I live by looking at the small picture — I don’t have a fancy car, I do have original laminate on my kitchen counters — and ignoring the big one: A record number of American children on food stamps, 2.8 billion people live on less than $2 a day.
I justify a lot through the use of that stewardship trinity of Time, Talent and Treasure. I give of my time. I use my talents for good. Oh, and I give away some treasure, too. It is about more than money, after all.
In all honestly, though, it is only those of us with money who have the luxury of espousing that it isn’t about the money. If you can’t buy diapers for your baby, it is about the money. If you go to bed hungry, it is about the money. If you are working three jobs to pay your rent and keep the lights on, it is about the money.
Jesus, too, says it is about the money.
Mary gets the theme kicked off early in Luke with the Magnificant, praising the Lord for filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty. John the Baptist carries it forward telling those wishing to repent that if they have two coats they are to give one away. Same goes for food. Jesus brings it home, literally, with his first sermon based on Isaiah 61, preaching a stewardship sermon that almost gets him killed. The “Sermon on the Plain” proclaims blessing on the poor and hungry. The Samaritan is good because he takes time to help the man on the side of the road and he gives the innkeeper two denarii adding, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever you spend.” It is about the money.
Keep page turning in Luke and find the parable of the rich fool, the bit about selling your possessions and giving alms, the declaration that we can’t serve both God and wealth, the example of the rich man and Lazarus, the story of the rich young ruler that has something about a camel and the eye of a needle, Zacchaeus moved to give back what he’s swindled and the widow’s offering. It seems to me a lot of this is about the money.
The stewardship trinity of Time, Talent and Treasure needs to be revisited. We need to be honest: It is about the money. If we get that right, the other two will follow.
Grace and peace,