a stewardship reflection by Paula Jefferson
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? –Matthew 6:26
When we are born into physical life, we are as close to spiritual unity with our Creator as we will be until we return to Him. We are totally dependent on others for food, clothing, and shelter. From milk bottle to milk bottle, babies have no fret that there may not be milk in the fridge or clean bottles in the dishwasher. When it’s time to eat, they let us know…and they continue to let us know until the need is met. Babies dwell in a kind of unwitting trust. They dwell in a paradigm of abundance.
And then we begin to age.
Soon enough, we leave our sheltered world of abundance and learn a new word: MINE. With the understanding of “mine” we move from God’s abundance paradigm into the world view of scarcity. And for the rest of our lives, we experience tension between scarcity and abundance.
Stewardship is a spiritual discipline that simply doesn’t work in a scarcity model. To grow in stewardship, we must live in faith—acting on our belief that our Creator will provide. We have to abandon our scarcity paradigm and shift to an abundance paradigm. Self-preservation is so ingrained in our human experience that this transition requires some serious energy on our part.
To be fair, self-preservation is not a real concern for most of us. We are not working from week to week to ensure that we do not starve or freeze. We are working from week to week so that we can drive the car we like, live in the neighborhood we choose, set aside enough money to retire at an age we choose, and travel where we want to travel.
We are using our scarcity model thinking to fulfill our wants—not our needs.
Developing our stewardship muscle is a way that we can grow spiritually and become closer to God. Jesus was quite keen on each of us moving toward deeper spiritual awareness. I think this is why He spoke to us so frequently about stewardship. But, as His parables demonstrate, our human scarcity lens gets in the way.
How can we, as a congregation, move away from the scarcity model and move toward God’s abundance model? I have a parable for you….
At coffee hour today, let’s assume that you select the very last brownie as your snack. I approach you and say “Gosh, that brownie looks good!”. Some of you would say “yup!” and take a big bite. Some of you would ask “would you like half?” A few would ask, “would you like the brownie?”
Let’s change it up a bit. Let’s assume you’re holding your brownie. I approach you and say, “David and I lost our jobs two month ago. We’re so far behind in our bills that we haven’t been able to buy groceries for two weeks. Gosh, that brownie looks good”. Now what portion of the brownie would you give me?
What changed in that scenario? You became aware that my need was greater than your want. Your compassion kicked into gear and trumped your scarcity model. You responded to actual knowledge of my need. This feels like stewardship….but it is not. We didn’t respond in faith; we responded to a known need.
Stewardship–giving to God—is challenging because we are giving to God without actual knowledge of how God will use our gifts. In giving to God purely in faith, we depart from scarcity thinking and enter into abundance thinking. Now we’re on the same page as our Creator.
This year, as we consider our gift to God through SMITF, how will we answer these questions: are we giving God the leftover brownie crumbs? Or, are we giving God the whole brownie and trusting in Him to care for us? Are we growing and flourishing in control? Or, are we growing and flourishing in Faith?
The path of scarcity (control) and the path of abundance lead to very different outcomes. One of these paths leads us to experience greater depth and growth as a faith community. The other path does not.
Paraphrasing Frost, when we gather to talk about stewardship next year, will we be able to say:
Two roads diverged in a field, and we, St. Martin-in-the-Fields—
We took the path of abundance,
And that has made all the difference.