A Sermon about Stewardship, Preached by Ms. Leslie Spatt
I would much rather have preached about the Gospel this morning, but when Simon organised the rota for the time he would be away, he asked if I could do a sermon looking at ‘stewardship’. And this is the morning allocated.
Now, before some of you might want to get up and leave, or plan to take a small snooze during the sermon slot – especially those of you who have heard endless sermons and talks about ‘stewardship’ – can I just say that it most certainly isn’t going to be all about ‘give us your money’ or even worse ‘give us more of your money.’ Although money is indeed part of it, stewardship is so much more than money. It’s a very ancient biblical and community principle which really should be at the center of almost everything we do. Stewards are found in the households of the kings of Israel, in the parables of the New Testament, and – more within our experience – cathedrals, rock concerts and political conferences, those sorts of things. They take care of stuff.
The connection with this morning’s scripture which has the most relevant idea to the notion of stewardship, however tenuous it might be, is this bit of Jeremiah: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Even in their terrible exile from the land of Israel, the children of Israel are told to be good stewards, forget about their own misery and do their best to look after the city they’ve been dumped in, however much they might hate it.
I was trying to think of a definition of good stewardship, and the best one I could come up with is ‘being entrusted with something, to take care of it; protect, and perhaps enrich it, contribute to its well-being and hand it on to the future in better shape than it was received.’ We’re reminded of things like bringing up children, a huge responsibility which should, ideally, be one of making sure that the children get nutritious food, human love, a decent education, and learn right from wrong so that they can become good citizens. And in turn, go on to help make sure that following generations do the same. It’s about looking after the places where we live, our houses and our environment. We come across questions such as how we use – and protect – natural resources, what we do with our money, how we use our time and talents. There’s lots of ways of doing this – we can be bad or good stewards. Act only in our self-centered best interests or think about the consequences of our choices and forget about only satisfying ourselves.
Stewardship also involves gratitude, thanks. We give thanks for the good things we receive and should never be complacent about them – we often hold these things in trust for others we might not ever know, so we have to take care of them. This building – for example – we don’t own it. We’re given the responsibility of looking after it so that the hundreds or even thousands of people who arrive here in the years to come will still have a place to worship, or pray, cry, sort out something in their lives; or stop in on their way along the Thames Path and wonder about what goes on here. Maybe even find God.
When it comes to a bit more spiritual stuff, there’s the concept of the Kingdom of God, where we’re all called to play our part in making the world a better place, so that those who come after us can in turn add their layers to the good things, we’ve done to help build it. We’re all stewards for the Kingdom. A society where all the members look out for each other and nobody is left in the dark, or hungry or cold, or indeed loveless and forgotten.
And stewardship is also about the use of time and talents. Too often the institutional Church sidelines the many gifts people have to offer if they aren’t financial. How many times are we asked by officialdom to concentrate on the money we give but are rarely valued or even thanked for our many other gifts. It’s too easy to focus narrowly on keeping the show on the road, paying for building repairs, heating, maintenance, clergy stipends and church worker salaries, all of which need large financial resources to maintain. Yes, money is very important. But personal contributions should be equally important. The vast amount of voluntary, often unseen and unacknowledged time and talents poured into parishes does just as much to show the love of God as a large amount of dosh put in the collection plate or through planned giving schemes. Every single one of us has something valuable to add to the life of our parish, community, the world and the Kingdom.
And now here’s the hard sell about stewardship. Yes – it’s about ‘give us your money.’ Even about ‘give us more of your money if you can.’ Our congregational giving needs bumping up. In the current financial climate, this is a difficult thing to ask and possibly insensitive and distasteful to many. But it’s a harsh reality. Among many other things, we’re faced with paying for essential repairs to the fabric and our contribution to the support fund for the poorer parishes in the diocese. Huge future increases in the cost of heating our building, and developing the much frustrated, irritatingly prolonged development of the river moorings. As good stewards, we have the responsibility and privilege of looking after this place, keeping it well maintained and trying to improve it. To make St Mary’s as accessible as possible in both the physical and spiritual sense by being open and welcoming. To take St Mary’s into the wider world in generous outreach and spreading the Good News by living it out in everyday life.
And, as we know, too much of it costs money. Our money – what we give individually and by what we hope to get by being good stewards of our church investments and activities. But this is also important: nobody should be judged or embarrassed by what money they can or can’t give. It’s up to us to decide what we value, and how we balance our personal and corporate stewardship choices.
Ultimately, in the wider picture, our stewardship is about using all of us, the people of God, in the best way possible with our time and talents, our personal and financial resources, our visions and hopes for what we are, and could become, for the Kingdom of God. We can all take part, being entrusted with something, to take care of it; protect, and perhaps enrich it, contribute to its well-being and hand it on to the future in better shape than it was received. We are the human hands working for God.
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