Pentecost XXII – November 9, 2014
Elizabeth Bindschadler, Stewardship Committee
Last week, I heard a radio interview with singer Yusuf Islam, who has just released a new album. In 2006, Yusuf returned to the popular music industry after a 27-year absence. Before that, he was a very successful artist with 11 albums to his credit; at that time, he was known as Cat Stevens. Some of us here are old enough to remember him by that name.
Stevens’ departure from the popular music scene followed nearly a decade of introspection and spiritual searching that ultimately led him to convert to Islam and change his name. In 1978, he abandoned his music career to devote himself to his family life and to philanthropy.
When the radio interviewer asked him whether he had missed music and performing during those 27 years, he said:
“Not really. Look at what I got to do instead. I mean, I built a school with a great big playground! How cool is that?” [He paused.] “And I didn’t do it because someone was watching me.”
That last statement struck me so much that I don’t even remember the rest of the interview. I thought: Wow! That’s what stewardship is. Stewardship is what we do when nobody is watching us. It is how we conduct our affairs every day. How we choose to spend our time, talent, and treasure in small ways as well as large ones, just because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s enormously satisfying in its own right. It’s not about admiration or fanfare, and it’s not just a once-a-year event.
Yes, I know we are in the midst of the annual financial campaign that we also call “stewardship.” We have all been asked to prayerfully consider our contributions to St. Paul’s operating budget and to help retire the debt on the Judy House. And in a couple of weeks, we will celebrate the results of that asking by blessing our pledges right here in church. And that is worthy of celebration.
But, of course, stewardship is more than that. Yusuf’s statement reminded me that we are called to practice stewardship on a continual basis, both individually and as a community. This is often expressed largely in contributions of time and talent, but may include treasure as well. It is how we shepherd all our resources—how we acknowledge God’s abundant gifts to us and, in our gratitude, strive to use them according to God’s will.
Though the actions we take may be small, and though we don’t do them because someone is watching us, the results are visible. They may be tangible and permanent, like building the labyrinth or the putting the fence around the Judy House yard, or noticeable in scale, like feeding the community at Just Soup on Wednesdays. Or they may be more subtle and ephemeral—things that need to be done over and over again–like the Altar Guild washing the linens and polishing the brass and silver every week for our services, or the counters duly recording the pledge and plate offerings and making sure the money gets deposited in the bank, or the Lay Weeders growing vegetables that “disappear” into the soup. And these are just a few examples of what happens here at St. Paul’s.
These continual expressions of stewardship are just as important and worthy of celebration throughout the year as our annual financial campaign each fall. It’s not a question of “either/or,” but of “both/and.” Time, talent, and treasure, each in the measure that God calls us to give.
This may sound like a lot to ask of us. But when continual stewardship becomes ingrained in us as a holy habit, it usually doesn’t feel like a sacrifice; it becomes a source of joy.
How do we establish such a habit? Like anything that we want to learn, we have to practice it repeatedly until it becomes almost a reflex.
When I was young, my mother gave me this “beginner’s” book of etiquette. Its title is “White Gloves and Party Manners.” It has many specific pointers about how to behave in various social situations, some of which sound rather quaint now. But the enduring heart of its message is this: We should not treat good manners like white gloves that we put on only when we are going to a party. If we use good manners every day, they will become second nature. They will feel comfortable and effortless, and we will enjoy ourselves all the more for it on those special occasions.
Continual stewardship is like that, too.
In today’s Gospel[i], the wise and foolish bridesmaids alike were invited to the wedding celebration. Both took their lamps and hurried out to meet the groom. But the wise ones also took along some extra lamp oil. They apparently didn’t have to think twice about it—it was as natural to them as breathing. And they must have managed their resources well all along, because it seems they had a ready supply of oil on hand to take with them on the spur of the moment. They practiced this stewardship faithfully and quietly, when nobody was watching them, but the results were clear when it mattered. When the groom arrived at midnight, their light made the party shine.
Like the wise bridesmaids, we too can practice continual stewardship, individually and together, until we wear it comfortably and effortlessly like our favorite sweater. The things that we do faithfully, when nobody is watching us, will ultimately shine in our church, our community, and in the world.
How cool is that?
[i] Matthew 25:1-13