October 18, 2018
Francisco-fact: I know that this was asked last year, but what is Stewardship? And how does Stewardship relate to how the Church funds itself.
Stewardship is an ancient term found in countries with Kings, or other sovereigns of that kind, and it is found in countries where slavery was part of the cultural background. Slavery for most of humankind has been the rule not the exception, though it took many different forms, and the Bible does not so much preach against it as it assumes its presence and works to constrain its abuses.
In such a cultural milieu the Steward was either the most important subject or the most important slave of the sovereign or the householder. Think of Joseph (yes, the Joseph of the Technicolor Dream Coat) who is sold into his slavery by his brothers, is redeemed and becomes the Steward of Potiphar's household, is accused of adultery with his master's wife, is imprisoned, and finally by interpreting Pharaoh's dreams properly, is put in charge of the food growth and distribution for all of Egypt during the famine that brings Joseph's brothers and father into Egypt where they are saved for further work by and for their God.
Joseph, both as a slave Steward in Potiphar's household and as Pharaoh's number two, is honored because he treats his responsibilities for the care of his master's and sovereign's wealth as if they were his own, or possibly even better. That is the essence of Stewardship. What we handle is not our own. The steward most return it to the rightful owner in better shape than he received it. Therefore, Stewardship is the act of performing the functions of a Steward.
This is a high standard and one that in various times of the church has been honored in the breach, only. But it fair to say that in a full reading of the Bible, humankind has been given the place of the Steward in God's creation (see Genesis 1:28-31). We also rehearse this status in Eucharistic Prayer C: "You made us the rulers of creation (BCP p. 370) and in Eucharistic Prayer D: Your formed us in your own image, giving the whole world into our care, so that we might rule and serve all your creatures (BCP p. 373). But both of those prayers go on to talk about how we misused our status, and that God brought us back into right relationship through the saving action of Jesus, an event for which we, 'the people of God," should be eternally and extravagantly grateful.
All of which brings me to a line we repeat every Sunday when we present our offerings on the altar at the 8:00 AM Eucharist: "All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee." This action helps us to remember that when we pledge to the church, we offer not what is our own, but what God has given in us through our wills, talents, resources, and successes. That is a religious premise that religious-kind struggles with as much as the non-religious. The reality remains the same, we support our church as the primary source of our personal giving projects, and when we get down to it, to have something to give is a blessing from God.