by Bishop Wayne Smith

The title of this article, above, is not the pious and churchly word for fundraising, although, frankly, that is a common though debased usage. The stewardship of money is just one facet of a much broader concern, namely, the exercise of responsibility for that which is fundamentally not our own. Contrary to the American cultural norms, which tell us that we either earn or deserve whatever we have, Christianity teaches that everything we have comes as a gift. Everything. Everything we have is fundamentally not our own—the gift of creation itself, life, love, work, possessions, relationships, and money, to name a few examples. One way to engage spiritual development lies in a deepening awareness that all we have in life comes from God, and comes as sheer gift. As stewards, we have responsibility for all these things, fundamentally not our own.

This being the customary season for parishes and people to consider their stewardship of money, I think it worthwhile to focus on this narrow but important strand. It is crucial to the spiritual well-being of believers in developed Western nations like ours, but it needs attention elsewhere, also. In December 2009, Dan Handschy and I had the challenge of teaching about the stewardship of money to a group of pastors in Lui Diocese, in South Sudan. It is daunting, to say the least, even to talk about money and sacrificial giving in a culture where there is precious little cash, and where most of the clergy make their living as subsistence farmers.

The need for sacrifice, however, is hard-wired into human life, or so the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments would have us understand. Rich or poor, we all have that spiritual need to give up, to give away, and to give over. The details and demands of sacrifice weave an important thread in the Bible, the cross of Jesus bringing these details and demands together. Jesus himself says to anyone who would believe in him: Take up your cross and follow me.

For the good of our souls, as persons and as communities, we must sacrifice from the good and beautiful gifts in our lives, those things over which we have responsibility as stewards. And for the good of our souls, again, as persons and as communities of faith, we must engage in God’s mission. You will notice here that even that which we “do,” in the work of mission is fundamentally not our own. Even this belongs to God.

The stewardship of money is that place where the need for sacrifice and the work of mission connect. For our life together in the presence of God, I can think of no more crucial spiritual, and practical, connection than this one.

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