7.24.2006

A Pot, Some Water, and a Small Round Stone

Sermon Preached on July 23, 2006
at Church of the Transfiguration
Palos Park, Illinois
Proper 11B



An old folktale tells of a man who has been traveling through the forest for a week without any food to eat. He is tired and hungry and all but ready to give up hope when he sees a dim light off in the distance. As he approaches the light, it grows brighter and brighter and soon he can make out the small cottage from which it is shining.

The man knocks on the door and says to the woman that answers, “I have been traveling alone in the woods for many days without any food to eat and I am wondering if you might have a little something for me.”

The woman tries to close the door in the man’s face, saying, “I have nothing here.”

But the man is persistent and he tries again and says, “Do not be so hardhearted, for we are both human begins, and should help one another.”

The woman replies, “I have no food in the house! Now, go somewhere else.”

But the traveler, it turns out, is as clever as he is hungry, and so he says, “Poor woman, you must be starving. Let me make some soup for you to eat.”

The woman’s curiosity is raised and so she opens the door a bit and says, “You will make soup for me? What kind of soup will you make . . . you have been traveling a week in the woods with nothing to eat for yourself?”

Rather cryptically, the man replies, “If you’ll just lend me a pot, I will show you.”The woman opens the door the rest of the way, the man walks in and begins to prepare his soup. He filled the pot with water and put it on the stove. Then he took a small round stone from his pocket, turned it three times in his hand and put it into the pot.

“What’s this going to be?” asks the woman.

The man replies “Stone Soup.”

As he stirs the pot of Stone Soup, the man comments, “this generally makes good broth, but this time it will very likely be rather thin, for I have been making broth the whole week with the same stone. If I only had a handful of flour to put in, that would make it all right. But there’s no use thinking about that” and he continued stirring the pot.

“Well, I think I have a scrap of flour somewhere,” says the woman, and she went to the cupboard to get it. The man began putting the flour into the broth, and went on stirring, while the woman sat staring at him and then at the pot until her eyes nearly burst their sockets!

“This broth would be good enough for company,” says the man, “if only I had a bit of salted beef and a few potatoes to put in. But there’s no use thinking about that” and he continued stirring the pot.

When the woman really began to think it over, she thought she had some potatoes, and perhaps a bit of beef as well, and she gave these to the man, who went on stirring, while she sat and stared as hard as ever.

“This will be grand enough for the best in the land,” he said.

Well, the story continues in this manner for some time and soon the woman finds a little barley and some milk for a very fine soup; and even remembers she has bread, cheese, and smoked veal for sandwiches. The two sit down to a grand feast and the woman is delighted that such a wonderful meal can be prepared with only a pot, some water, and a small round stone.[i]

I like to solve problems. A number of you probably enjoy solving crossword puzzles or, the newest craze, Sudoku. I have to confess that my discovery of websudoku.com was nearly my undoing during my last quarter in seminary. That sense of satisfaction when the last number drops neatly into the grid or the final word fits into the crossword – what else is like it!? Problem solved, no lingering worries. I am guessing that my enjoyment of problem-solving is universal. Most of us like problems – especially ones that that have easy solutions – and most of us have come to believe that our world is made up of a series of problems of varying degrees of difficulty that can be solved.

So, we go to the doctor with a list of symptoms and we expect the doctor to say, “Your problem is that you have Disease X” and “the solution is to take Drug Y.” Then, we imagine we’ll go home, take Drug Y and Disease X will be gone with no lingering worries. But, instead we discover upon taking Drug Y, that it makes our stomach upset, or it causes nausea or a rash. Or, we can take Drug Y for our headache, but it might cause an ulcer. And this is a day of ‘good news’ medically speaking. Because the other news that we all know of is the doctor who says, “you have Disease X and there is no cure” or “you have a group of symptoms, but I cannot identify the cause.”

We like problems that have solutions and we’ve come to expect that the world is made up of problems that can be solved. So we ask questions like, “how do we solve the crisis in the Middle East?” “How do we solve the problem of unemployment?” “How do we solve the problem of hunger and extreme poverty in the world?” But here’s the catch: life does not come in a problem-solution format. It is not a crossword puzzle to be solved. There is no one answer that will allow us to set the problem down and say, “There, that takes care of that.” Many of us are tempted to stay the course – we won’t give up because we know that a solution is out there – we just haven’t found it yet. But, if we keep trying, the answer will come to us and ultimately we will be able to go to bed without worrying about the hungry people, the unemployed people, the sick people, the tired people, and ourselves.

That this problem-solution dyad is firmly ensconced in our collective worldview became apparent this week as I searched online newspaper headlines for information about the conflict in the Middle East: The L.A. Times, “Israelis See No Quick Solution to Crisis in Lebanon”[ii] suggests that they do, however, envision a solution exists somewhere. The headline in the Hindustan Times reads, “UNSC wants sustainable solution, not quickfix for Mideast.”[iii] Likewise, the Toronto Star, “’More Permanent’ Solution Sought;”[iv] and CNN International, “Arabs Look to U.S. for Diplomatic Solution.”[v] This is a small sampling from the dozens and dozens of headlines reporting on proposed solutions or hoped for solutions to the problem in the Middle East.

But, my friends, here is where it all begins to break down for me because I have to ask myself, “What precisely is the problem for which a solution is being sought?” To be sure, the most recent “problem” is that Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers ending six years of tenuous peace between Lebanon and Israel. But, I doubt that many of us believe that this is the problem we are ultimately hoping to solve here. Perhaps the problem was the election of Ismail Haniya in the Palestinian General election last January. Or maybe the problem is Israel’s refusal to withdraw to its 1967 borders. Or perhaps the problem is actually Syria or Iran, two countries who some suggest are behind the Hezbollah attacks on Israel. Maybe the problem goes back to the Biblical question of which people are, in fact, part of “the covenants of promise.” I am no expert on Middle East politics (in fact, I am barely a novice).[vi] But here is what I see. We are so wound up in a worldview that insists on finding solutions that when we are presented with a situation for which no single clear-cut problem can be identified, we still look for or at least hope for the one solution that will magically solve the crisis.

According to L. P. Jacks, a British Unitarian minister and prolific writer of the first half of the 20th century, the Bible contains neither the word “problem” nor the word “solution” suggesting that maybe there is another way to view world events.[vii] This small bit of Biblical trivia appears in Dorothy Sayers' 1941 classic, The Mind of the Maker in which she builds on the notion that humans are created in the image of a creating God proposing that it is the very act of creating which is most God-like in our being.

According to Sayers, “the creator does not set out from a set of data, and proceed, like a crossword solver, . . . to deduce from them a result which shall be final, predictable, complete and the only one possible.”[viii] Now if the creator doesn’t work in this manner and if we are, by our very nature, created in the image of this creator, then why is it we insist on treating the world as if it were made up of a series of problems to be solved, one by one, once and for all.

In the beginning, God looked out upon the void and darkness which covered the face of the deep and saw in it “a medium for creation.”[ix] And, as we look out at our world and all of its messiness – as we look at the Middle East, or at hunger and extreme poverty, or any other of the so-called ‘problems’ in our world – as we cry out, as Sayers does, “‘Here is a mess, a crying evil, a need! What can you do about it?’ We are asked not to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ or ‘I will’ or ‘I will not,’ but to be inventive, to create, to discover something new.”[x] The answer to most of the ‘problems’ of our world will not come in the form of a simple solution; in fact, many of the ‘problems’ may turn out to be unsolvable. But we are to meet this, not with despair and frustration, but with creativity. To do otherwise, according to Sayers is to do “violence to the very structure of our being.”[xi]

In today’s gospel, the apostles presented Jesus with a problem, “there are too many people and they are hungry.” This is a problem our world continues to recognize and struggle with. But Jesus, rather than providing a solution, simply says, “feed them.” The apostles, like most of us, assume there is only one solution – or, in this case, no solution because the cost is more than they can afford: “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” In today’s terms, they might have said, “Jesus, what are you thinking!? It would cost a billion dollars to feed all these people.” But Jesus, thank God, is a very patient man and Jesus’ actions point the apostles in a new direction. His actions say, “Create” don’t “solve” for life is much more complicated than a crossword puzzle. Jesus points out that among them they have five loaves of bread and two fish. And out of this material stuff – this medium for creation - he tells the apostles to feed the people. And what are we told? Not only did all five thousand people eat, but twelve baskets full of broken pieces and fish were left over after all had been fed.

Just imagine, all that with only a pot, some water, and a small round stone.



[i] There are a number of variations on this simple story. Several are available at “Stone Soup: Folktales of Aarne-Thompson type 1548,” translated and/or edited by D. L. Ashliman, 1998-2004, accessed online. A children’s story by Marcia Blake, Stone Soup, written in 1947 is still published by Atheneum. My own version is a combination of Ashliman’s “The Old Woman and the Tramp” and my recollection of a childhood album in which Danny Kaye narrated the story of “Stone Soup.”
[ii] Laura King and Megan K. Stack, “Israelis See No Quick Solution to Crisis in Lebanon,” Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2006, online edition accessed on July 18, 2006.
[iii] “UNSC wants sustainable solution, not quickfix for Mideast,” Hindustan Times, July 18, 2006 accessed online on July 18, 2006.
[iv] Olivia Ward, “’More Permanent Solution’ Sought,” The Toronto Star, July 17, 2006 accessed online on July 18, 2006.
[v] Elise Labbott, “Arabs Look to U.S. for Diplomatic Solution,” CNN International, July 18, 2006 accessed online on July 18, 2006.
[vi] I am such a novice in this arena that even my list of potential problems come from this week’s Time: Lisa Meyer, “Hate Thy Neighbor: Understanding the New and Lethal Logic of Violence in the Middle East – and What the World Can Do to Find Peace,” Time From the Magazine, July 16, 2006 accessed online on July 17, 2006.
[vii] L. P. Jacks, Stevenson Lectures, 1926-7 quoted in Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, New York: Harper, 1941, p. 179.
[viii] Sayers, p. 186.
[ix] Genesis 1.1; Sayers, p. 188.
[x] Sayers, p. 192.
[xi] Sayers, p. 185.

7.20.2006

Robert Bly

I pulled my Norton Anthology off the shelf after reading, "For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God . . . " (Wisdom of Solomon 7:24-25a). The motion reminded me of Robert Bly's "Driving toward the Lac Qui Parle River". Here is the second stanza:

The small world of the car
Plunges through the deep fields of the night,
On the road from Willmar to Milan.
This solitude covered with iron
Moves through the fields of night
Penetrated by the noise of crickets.

Reading Bly . . . The vast area and mystery of the "deep fields of the night" coupled with the close sound "of crickets". . . peaceful and warm, alone, but not lonely.

7.18.2006

Uganda and the Gay Games

This photo by Matt Buguy appeared on Planetout.com's website in an article about the opening ceremonies at Gay Games VII in Chicago. I was really touched by the photo. On a very deep level I connected to the isolation of being gay even in a country which, compared to Uganda, embraces homosexuality.

7.17.2006

On Speaking the Truth

Pre-Post-Script*: Speaking about "Truth" in a post-modern age is always risque. I had an interesting discussion about this with one of my mentors (Ryan, you might prefer the term "boss-man") last week. Because "truth" has become enmeshed with the notion of my embodied/experienced truth, can we speak about Truth in any meaningful way? What are your thoughts?

*which is to say it is written pre-the post, but it is post-the sermon which follows (below):



Sermon Preached at
Church of the Transfiguration
Palos Park, IL
July 16, 2006
Proper 10B

Truth-telling is a painful business. We try to hide the truth, confuse the truth, and cover up the truth. Sometimes we don’t even think about the fact that we are not telling the truth. For example, when I ask you, “how are you?” Most of you will respond, “Fine thanks and you?” It’s a social custom – just a courteous greeting – a formality, void of any real meaning. But, if you are like me, then at least some of the time, the answer is a lie. A fairly benign lie to be sure – but a lie nonetheless. What might it be like if we were to actually pause when someone asks, “how are you?” and then respond with the truth. What might it be like for us to speak the truth? To tell someone that you are having a bad day, that you are feeling lonely and cut-off, that you wish family and friends would visit more often – or at least call, that you are feeling a bit under the weather, that your arthritis is acting up again. Why is it, that even for such a simple question, telling the truth seems so challenging?

For Amos, speaking the truth to the priest of Bethel was not easy either. In fact, when he does speak the truth, Amaziah tells King Jeroboam, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words.” The words Amos spoke were so threatening to the King of Israel that Amaziah tells Amos to leave the land – “flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” In short, Amos is told, we don’t want to hear your words here. We don’t want to hear about all our troubles. We don’t want you to give us this bad news. So go home!

Just to provide you with a little background, Amos was, in fact, from the Southern Kingdom of Judah and was delivering his prophecy to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Early in the book, Amos has told the Israelites that they had better shape up. The Israelites were enjoying a period of relative prosperity and they surmised that this prosperity was proof that God was with them. Because of this, they became complacent about the covenant with God – they abused the privilege of being God’s chosen people and were just going through the motions of worshiping God without any care or understanding for the nature of that covenant – a covenant that demanded the Israelite’s responsible actions toward their neighbors.

Because of the Israelite’s empty worship, Amos, through a series of visions, warns that God will destroy Israel. Today’s reading is the third such vision. The image of a plumb line is a bit obscure to us today – not because we don’t know what a plumb line is but because here it appears to be related to destruction as opposed to the hanging of wallpaper. But despite the obscurity of the image, the message is clear: “the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” It’s really no wonder that the priest of Bethel and King Jeroboam himself were pretty adamant that Amos should return to his home in Judah. This was a truth that was too hard to bear.

As hard as it is for us to speak the truth, it is just as hard – or maybe harder – to hear the truth being spoken. We don’t want to hear the truth. We don’t want to hear that someone else is having a bad day. We don’t want to hear that something we’ve done or said has offended someone else. Because hearing this sort of message compels us to respond, pushes us to step out of our own world for a moment, stand in the shoes of the other, and respond. Perhaps the required response is only a word of comfort or a quick apology. But, it is possible that the required response will be much more and this, I think, is why we don’t want to hear the truth in the first place. Hearing the truth – really hearing it – may require a commitment from us – a commitment to do something.

In the case of Israel, choosing to hear the words of Amos would have required a radical response. No mere apology was going to do the trick. Old Testament scholar Bernard Anderson writes, “Israel’s special calling . . . does not entitle it to special privilege, but only to greater responsibility”[1] and Amos’ truth-telling was a reminder of this responsibility. But this reminder was threatening to the Israelites because if they chose to hear this truth, they would have to change their ways. Rather than choosing to reform and reorient their lives, the Israelites chose to ignore Amos and attempt to send him back to his homeland. Being willing to hear hard truths – especially when things are going well - requires hard work.

Amos had no choice about the truth he was to speak. When Amaziah tells him to leave, Amos says, “the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” Amos understands that he cannot do other than follow God’s will for him. As challenging as that is, as frustrating as that is, Amos can only speak God’s truth to the Israelites. In much the same way, the disciples are sent out by Jesus to proclaim that all should repent. And, like Amos before them, they are to understand that even when they are ignored or pushed away, they should continue on with their message and their ministry.

Jesus calls the twelve and begins to send them out two by two to proclaim the good news. And Jesus knew how difficult this journey could be. Just last week, we heard how Jesus himself was rejected by his home town – do you remember the jeers from the crowd, “isn’t this the son of the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son?” Who does he think he is to come here all high and mighty? So, Jesus tells the disciples, “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” “Shake off the dust that is on your feet” – let it go and move on to the next place. It is as if Jesus is saying, don’t take it personally and, more importantly, don’t give up. Just move on . . . continue on your way doing that which I have called you to do. And so, we heard this morning, the disciples do go on and “they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

In the same way, we are called to respond to God’s will for our life. We are not to be discouraged by those around us who will not hear us. No, you and I are to dust off our feet and continue proclaiming the Good News and continue witnessing by the way we live our lives to the reign of God that is continually breaking into our world. So, the next time someone asks you, “how are you?” I challenge you to answer truthfully. And the next time you ask someone how they are, I challenge you to stop and hear the answer – even at the risk of needing to respond.

[1] Bernhard W. Anderson. Understanding the Old Testament. 4th edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 1986. p. 295.

Rahab

Last night I had the opportunity to meet a young woman (27 years old?) who is HIV+. She told me that she had been a prostitute from the time she was 13 until she was 24. She gave thanks to God for being HIV+ because it got her out from under her life of prostitution and gave her the courage to face life without alcohol. Today she feels better than she has ever felt before and takes care of her body and gives thanks to God each day. To give thanks for being HIV+! What an amazing testimony to the power of God even in and even through the adversities of our lives.

This morning's Daily Office reading was Joshua 2:1-14, the story of the prostitute Rahab who saves the lives of the two men sent by Joshua "to search out the land" in and around Jericho. We are told that Rahab hid the men and protected them from the King of Jericho. In return she asked that they spare her life and the life of her family when they ultimately occupied the land.

Some might say that Rahab was selfish in protecting Joshua's men; and yet, I think it is important to realize that she chose to protect them before she had received their promise of future protection. In fact, in her plea to the men, she proclaims, "The LORD your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below." This prostitute understands the miraculous power of the Israelite's God.

I have always been disappointed in Joshua's men for their reply to her request for safety: "If you do not tell this business of ours, then we will deal kindly and faithfully with you when the LORD gives us the land." Rahab protected two men without exacting a promise. But the men agree to protect her and her family only after exacting a promise.

I wish I could offer a brief "moral of the story" at the end of this post, but instead, I will sit with the discomfort and wonder, "what are the bargaining chips I insist upon for my good deeds in life?"

7.03.2006

The Privilege of Giving

Sermon Preached on July 2, 2006 at
Church of the Transfiguration
Proper 8 - Year B




On Monday night, the Stewardship Committee met to discuss plans for the annual Stewardship campaign. The next morning – Tuesday - I began my review of the texts for this morning and thought, “stewardship.” From Deuteronomy we heard, “open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land” and from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we heard Paul extolling the virtues of the church in Macedonia who, despite “a severe ordeal of affliction” and “their extreme poverty,” was, in fact, overflowing with generosity. Paul writes, “they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means.” On Tuesday evening, I picked up my copy of TIME magazine and read a brief interview with Imelda Marcos in which, when asked how rich she is, she replied, “If you know how rich you are, my dear, then you’re not really rich.”

By Wednesday morning, I’d been hearing about, talking about, and dreaming about stewardship and money so I went into Lane’s office and said, “what the heck! It’s barely July and all I have are stewardship texts. That’s for October. . .” And, Lane’s response was, “well, preach stewardship.” You might think I’m a little slow in the head, but I went back to my office and thought, I’ve got to be able to find something in those texts to preach about other than stewardship!

There’s an old joke that goes like this, A man is stranded on the roof of his home after heavy rains flooded his hometown. A stranger swims up with a life jacket and said, “Put this on, I’ll take you to safety.” The stranded man replies, “no, God will save me.” A few minutes later, a woman in a boat comes by and says, “Get in, I’ll take you to safety.” Again, the stranded man refuses saying, “God will save me.” Hours pass and the man waits faithfully on his roof. Finally, a helicopter flies overhead and a voice from a loudspeaker says, “Grab the rope, we’ll take you to safety.” The stranded man waves them off shouting, “God will save me!” Meanwhile, the rain continues to fall and covers the house, drowning the stranded man. Arriving at the pearly gates, he demands to see God. After gaining an audience with God, he says, “Why didn’t you save me?” and God answers, “I sent a swimmer, a boat, and a helicopter . . . what more did you want?”

So, this week, I got stewardship meeting, texts about being generous, an interview with Imelda Marcos, and Lane telling me “preach stewardship” and I still want to ask God, “so what should I preach about on Sunday?!” Why am I so uncomfortable talking about money? Why are most of us so uncomfortable about talking about money? As I thought about these questions this week, here’s what I came up with:

  • First, when people ask me for money, I feel obligated and duty-bound. If I DO give money, I get angry that I was manipulated by the telemarketer and if I DON’T give money, I feel guilty. Dare I say it, “damned if I do, damned if I don’t.” That’s not exactly the stuff of spiritual enlightenment. Even this morning’s reading from Deuteronomy warned us about this sort of giving saying, “do not entertain a mean thought . . . and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing.”
  • But, the second reason I become uncomfortable about money – and, I think the more powerful of the two - is that I am a product of the American culture of excess. If some is good, more is better and better still if it is mine! Quite frankly, like the first reason, this one also boils down to feeling guilty. I have more than I need, I know I have more than I need, and I can’t seem to divest myself of enough stuff to ever satisfy myself that I am living a life of moderation.

So, maybe it is not money that makes us uncomfortable but rather the feelings that we associate with discussions of money and excess. Walter Brueggemann writes, “We have a love affair with ‘more’ -- and we will never have enough. Consumerism . . . has become a demonic spiritual force among us." Most of us don’t take part in this societal web of excess because we are selfish and greedy. On the contrary, I think we look to material things for solace – we find solace in the hope that surrounding our selves with beautiful things, the latest technological gadgets, and other stuff will mask a deep-seated feeling of emptiness. A longing deep within us – a longing for fulfillment - a longing for community - a longing for wholeness. And, things will, temporarily fill that empty place. But then our new car gets its first dent or the designer clothes aren’t the date-magnet that the marketers promised and we are left once again with our disillusionment. Knowing no other way, we repeat the cycle – we buy more, we desire more, and on and on and on. Brueggemann’s statement is right on the mark: “Consumerism has become a demonic spiritual force among us.”

If that seems a bit strong to you, consider these numbers (Hames).

  • Children aged six to twelve spent more than two and a half hours a week shopping. They spend as much time shopping as they spend reading or going to church; and five times as much time as they spend playing outside.
  • Consumer product companies spend over $230 billion annually on marketing(that’s more than $2000 per household) and much of this is directed at children and teens.
  • In fact, children and youth aged 8-21 spend $172 billion dollars a year. They spend approximately 17 hours a week online and spend $22 billion online.

In the spirit of our upcoming 4th of July holiday, George Tarusuk sent me an essay from The Economist in which the writer criticized our country for not living up to one of the unalienable rights listed in the Declaration of Independence: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” According to the author, “Americans have confused happiness with material possessions.” Isn’t it ironic that the very phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was borrowed from Adam Smith, noted for his political economic writings at the time of the Industrial Revolution. Smith’s original phrasing was “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.” So, from our very beginnings as a nation, we had a confused understanding of happiness and wealth.

Consumerism has become a demonic force among us tempting us to believe that material possessions can fulfill our deepest longings and we are all vulnerable to this powerful trap! But, my friends, our longing is not a longing for stuff. It is a longing for fulfillment, for community and for wholeness – it is, at its core, a spiritual longing. And no spiritual need has ever been filled by material stuff – no matter what the television, radio, and magazine ads tell us to the contrary. Consumerism is indeed a powerful demon and the way of this demon is death.

But the good news lies in the power of God and our vision of God’s reign on earth – a new reign that has already broken into our world in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Remember the church at Macedonia that Paul wrote about in his second letter to the Corinthians? He writes, “We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints.” The privilege of sharing in this ministry of generous giving.

Here is what I think the Macedonian churches understood. They understood that God is a generous and grace-filled God. And, they understood that they were created in the image of that God (Callahan, 111). And they were so grateful for their God and their creation – even amidst the severe ordeal of affliction, even amidst their extreme poverty – they were so grateful that they could do nothing else but act out their gratefulness through generosity. Paul tells the church in Corinth, it is great that you “excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in love” but “we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.” He wants them to give generously not because they are duty-bound and obligated, not because there is a village half way across the world that has been washed away by a tsunami or an area of their own country devastated by a season of hurricanes. No, he wants them to give generously because it is a privilege to be able to give generously out of love and thanksgiving for a loving and generous God. Stewardship is not giving money because you ought to. Kennon Callahan writes, “Stewardship is growing the gifts of life, generosity, mission and hope” out of the “confidence that

  • the love of God is renewing,
  • the power of God is astonishing,
  • the grace of God is amazing,
  • the purpose of God is moving,
  • [and] the hope of God overcomes all” (117).

Let us not invest our hopes in material things. Let us not allow the demonic power of consumerism to mask our deep longing for spiritual wholeness. Let us look instead for hope and power in the God who transforms our very lives and who is transforming our world. Let us open our hands willingly to meet the needs, whatever they may be. Let us give liberally and be ungrudging when we do so, for on this account the LORD our God will bless us in all our work and in all that we undertake.



References

Walter Brueggemann. “The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity.” Christian Century. March 24-31, 1999 accessed online on June 27, 2006.

Kennon L. Callahan. Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church: A Guide for Every Member. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992.

Charles L. Campbell. The Word Before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002.

Jerry Hames. “Will Our Children Be Stewards? A Report on the Conference.” The Office of Stewardship of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. 2005.

“Pursuing Happiness.” From The Economist Print Edition, June 29, 2006. Viewed online on June 29, 2006.