Why We Give
Before I came to Christ Church Cranbrook in 1978 I served a small parish in Taunton, Massachusetts. Like many New England parishes, St. John’s was locked in to several inflexible traditions, one of them singing the beloved English hymn, “Take My Life and Let It Be” at every single service. This hymn has been popular in the Episcopal Church for generations. The text speaks memorably of offering one’s life, one’s time, one’s hands and voice, one’s intellect, and one’s love to God for the furthering of God’s purposes in the world.
When Kathy and Oliver and I went to England in the early 1990s, I found myself sitting in a cathedral before the service began. I looked up “Take My Life and Let It Be” in Hymns Ancient and Modern and discovered to my surprise that the original English text is much longer and has a verse that did not make its way into the American hymnal:
Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold.
I remember thinking, as I sat in the English church, that the longer version of the hymn seemed much more grounded in the realities of human experience than the shortened American one. In our version, we sing boldly about the sacrifices we are willing to make for the Gospel only in the most general of terms. In the original English text, those general sacrifices are named. If I am really serious about offering myself and my life to God, that gift must include the full range of who I am and what I have. To say that I love God with all my heart and soul and mind doesn’t mean all that much unless I am willing to include the full range of my gifts and resources in that offering.
If you are like me, money occupies a large place in your consciousness. This is only natural. Money is the medium we have devised to symbolize value. The poet Wallace Stevens once said that “money is a kind of poetry”. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that money, “in its effects and laws is as beautiful as roses”. For some reason, many think that money is not “spiritual” and that churches shouldn’t need it and pastors shouldn’t talk about it. But think, for a moment, about the teachings of Jesus. A large number of Jesus’s teachings (the widow’s mite, rendering unto Caesar, the parables of the talents and the laborers in the vineyard to name only two) have to do with money and how we use it. Jesus talks about money because, like it or not, money signifies worth. “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.”
We are entering stewardship season, and the Christian understanding of stewardship essentially means “management”. As a Christian, I believe that everything I have—my life, my gifts, my relationships, my vocation, my resources—is a gift from God. As in the parables of Jesus, the point is that God has placed all these in my hands and asked me to manage them. I am accountable to God for how I live my life, how I use my gifts, how I attend to my relationships, how I answer God’s call in ministry, and how I use my money. Stewardship season is a time when the church asks us seriously to consider how we use and offer the fullness of who we are and what we have to God for God’s work in the world.
Much of our stewardship focus this season will be on Christ Church Cranbrook’s goals for 2012 and how your giving can help the parish realize its own vocation in our community and the world. Those goals are important and merit your consideration. But whatever you feel about parish priorities, the real stewardship question before each of us is: what am I doing with what I have?
My hope is that each of us can explore what God is doing in our lives in such a way as to answer that question with generosity and enthusiasm. God has blessed each and all of us in an infinite variety of ways. Our best response to God’s blessing is to be faithful stewards of all God’s gifts.