Stewardship Is An Expression of Hospitality

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 13:1-2

This week Tuskawilla’s Stewardship Chairperson will be sharing a message entitled “Angels Among Us” based on Hebrews 13:1-2.  When I read this text the word that instantly grabs my attention is hospitality and when I reminisce on hospitality the image that immediately comes to mind is my grandparents’ dining room table.

Like many families – when the extended family was all gathered at my Nonnie and Gramps’ house there was a kids table and an adults table.  The kids either ate on the porch or in the nook while the adults gathered around the dining room table.  At first I thought this was because adults deserved a fancier dining venue…and while that is true…it is also true that my grandparents’ dining room table was surrounded by countless priceless breakables.  Breakables and young feisty grandchildren do.not.mix.  So to the nook or the porch the grandchildren went.

Like many families – the kids ate first.  Our parents fixed our plates so they could ration out the mashed potatoes.  Once we were sitting at the table gobbling away our dinner they would fix their plates and retreat to the dining room.

A consequence of the kids eating first…is that we were always done eating first…and our parents were no where near done eating.  Who wanted to stay at a table when all of the food was gone?  I sure didn’t and neither did my cousins.  So one by one we would devise ways to enter the dining room.  “Mom, I have a question.”  “Dad, can you tie my shoe?”  “Hey, what are you eating?  I didn’t get any of that.”  And one by one each grandchild would find a seat at the dining room table – sharing a chair, sitting on a lap, leaning against a shoulder.  We never had to squeeze.  We never had to struggle for a place. There was always room at the table.

This image of my grandparents’ dining room table is one of the reasons Andrew and I built our dining room table to seat up 16 people.  I wanted this cherished memory to be my lived reality each time our family gathers around the table.

Showing hospitality – extending the table in whatever form the table takes – is a way of “letting mutual love continue.”  How we extend the table is a matter of our stewardship.  The table could be a handshake, a hot meal, a conversation, a letter, an errand, a commitment.  Extending the table places the needs of a neighbor before the needs of self.  How and at what rate we extend the table is an expression of our stewardship.

Our attitude towards hospitality and stewardship may change depending on who we are serving.  If we are serving a regular Joe on the street…ehhh…no big deal.  If we are serving an angel, well then we are putting on the Ritz!  This should not be!  We should serve everyone as if we are serving an angel.  This does not mean the service needs to be ostentatious; rather, the service should be intentional, and compassionate, and contextual to the person being served, and in the name of our Lord. Jesus takes stewardship one further.  Serve others not as if you are serving angels; serve others as if you are serving Christ himself.  “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25:37-40).

In another parable Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of God being like a table where everyone – everyone – will find room and be a guest.  Jesus stewarded hospitality to one and all – to the angels and most especially to the average Joes.  Jesus stewarded for us.  How, when, and what will we steward for others?

Prayer: “Christ, from whom all blessings flow, perfecting the saints below, hear us, who thy nature share, who thy mystic body are.  Move and actuate and guide, diverse gifts to each divide; placed according to thy will, let us all our work fulfill; never from thy service move, needful to each other prove; use the grace on each bestowed, tempered by the art of God.”* Amen.

*”Christ, from Whom All Blessings Flow,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 550.

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Stewardship Is Gifting The Next Generation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 71:18

When I think about “gifting the next generation” I think about legacy.  What does it mean to be a legacy?  What does it mean to leave a legacy?

When it was time to apply to college I was surrounded by friends sending in scores of applications – in town, in state, out of state, out of the country even!  So many essays to write and recommendations to secure and transcripts to request.  Me?  I only filled out one college application.  It was to my mother’s collegiate alma mater, which is now my alma mater as well,  Florida Southern College.

Now some may say that I put all of my eggs in one basket.  Why on earth, Sarah, would you do such a thing?  Well, in my sophomore year of high school I received a letter from the Florida Southern Director of Admissions.  It was a letter that named me as a Florida Southern Legacy.  My mother attended and based on my preliminary information they had received about me, my academic career, and my academic aspirations, I would be most welcome to continue my education as part of the Florida Southern Family and keep the Florida Southern attendance tradition alive and well within my family.

That letter really impressed me.  And in turn, I felt impressive.  I felt proud.  I knew my accomplishments and my potential.  So did my parents.  But now, an “outsider” saw what we saw.  I was honored and humbled.  And two years later when all my classmates were scrambling to complete applications I knew exactly where I was headed.

Go Mocs!

As I reflect on receiving this letter, I am really amazed at what an impact a letter had on my decision to be a member of a certain organization.  How much mail do we receive and just set aside without even opening?  I’m talking post office mail and inbox mail!  I know I do it!  But this letter – still steps removed from personal interaction either through a phone call or face to face – made such an impact on me that I made the decision to only apply to one school and then attend that school!  That letter recognized who I was and joined me in dreaming about who I could become.  That letter said I was someone of worth, someone of character, someone of interest, and because of those attributes, this institution wanted to make an investment in me.  Florida Southern wanted me as part of their legacy.

There are lots of letters that are sent out to church members during Stewardship season.  Letters that share with folks the vision for the church in the next year.  Letters that ask people to give.  Letters that thank people for giving.  Some of these letters, like other posted and electronic mail, remain unopened.  Or if they are opened they have little impact.  I wonder if this is a casualty of churches focusing on the giving rather than the giver?  Yes, as a pastor I want people to give, but I want the people first.  As a minister of the gospel my first and foremost task is to edify the people I serve that they (that you!) are a person of worth, a person of character, a person of interest, and because of your attributes coupled with my understanding of faith, I and the church want to make an investment in you!  Then, together we can make an investment in others and this beautiful cycle of recognizing worth, investment, and creating legacies starts all over again.

Each person in the church is part of God’s legacy.  Each person on earth is part of God’s legacy!  As a part of God’s legacy, I want to do something that matters.  To me what matters is “proclaiming God’s might to all the generations to come.”  I want to proclaim to all God’s children that they are of worth, character, and interest.  How do I know?  Because God told me so.  How will I share what I have been told?  In any way I can – in letters, in emails, in handwritten notes, in sermons, in visits, in chats over coffee, and definitely at potlucks, in worship, in prayer, at bedsides and gravesides.   Long ago, people in the church – pastors, Sunday School teachers, choir directors, church ladies and more – recognized that I was part of God’s legacy and that my presence and participation was vital to the church.  Little did I know then that sharing this same message would be one of my greatest joys in life.  And sharing that message is part of my legacy of stewardship.

What legacy are you leaving?  What legacy would you like to leave?  How are you participating in God’s legacy?

Prayer: “O how sweet a walk in this pilgrim way, leaning on the everlasting arms; O how bright the path grows from day to day, leaning on the everlasting arms.  Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms; leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.”*  Amen.

*”Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 133.

Stewardship Is More Than Money

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 9:6-15

This Sunday the Tuskawilla community begins our Stewardship series in preparation for and anticipation of the 2015 ministry year. It will be a partnered series including (1) a collection of sermons on “Stewardship Is” that will explore the many facets of stewardship and (2) a collection of letters entitled “Known” that will connect what we know of our personal experiences with growing understandings and experiences of stewardship. I am very excited to begin this series because stewardship is so incredibly vital to our participation in the Body of Christ and helping build God’s kingdom on earth.

“God loves a cheerful giver” our Scripture text says this week. A person who gives is a person who has received.  I have vivid memories as a child and youth of my father saying, “You take care of what belongs (is given) to you more than what belongs to someone else.” I am sure this statement was made in reference to me tearing something up that was not mine. Regardless of the context, there is great truth in these words – I take care of what belongs to me because it is mine.

As I have engaged in this practice of care a greater truth has been revealed.  I take care of what belongs to me.  And now that degree of care influences the care I give to what has been entrusted to me for a season and influences the care I give in giving to others.

As a pastor I am entrusted with the spiritual nurturing and challenging of Christ’s body in a specific context. I am entrusted to care for a home in which the church invites my family to live. I am entrusted with the call to live faithfully and lead ethically.  All of this is for a season as I am in an itinerant appointive clergy system and my dedication of care will continue throughout all the years of my vocation. I believe that I have to lead by example. I cannot speak with integrity about others ascribing to this level and sensitivity of care if I do not live it in my own life.

As I live it in my own life I experience great joy. Yes, I am joyful every week when I clean my parsonage because it is a gift from the congregation to me. Yes, I am joyful to steward the church I serve – from baptizing babies to plunging toilets. Both involve water in different ways and both are important in their own ways!  Yes, I am joyful to be held accountable to how I lead and how I learn. And yes, I am joyful – and so incredibly thankful – how the lesson from my father continues to teach me and influence my care for entities that belong to others and my care for others.

“God loves a cheerful giver.”  I have cheerfully received – from God, from others, from God through others.  It is my pleasure to give and care in response and extension of how I have cared for what I have received. In giving as I have received I believe I incarnate the obedience our God desires to see. I do not always succeed in this obedience, which serves as another opportunity for growth in spiritual maturity in my relationship with God and greater accountability with my peers as we walk the journey of faith together.

That we travel together – that is one of the greatest gifts God has given and continues to give.

How do you care for what you have received?  What connection exists between how you care for your belongings and how you care for others?  If there is not a connection, how could you begin establishing a connection?

I invite you to prayerfully consider these questions and, as God leads you, live out your response.

Prayer: “But we never can prove the delights of his love until all on the altar we lay; for the favor he shows, for the joy he bestows, are for them who will trust and obey. Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at his feet or we’ll walk by his side in the way; what he says we will do, where he sends we will go; never fear, only trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”* Amen.

*”Trust and Obey,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 467.

Collect Moments With God: Through

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 1:8, 2:42-47

I remember it like it was yesterday…the sweaty palms, the clammy brow, the unsettled stomach.  I was seated at my desk.  A blank sheet of paper before me and a pen in my hand.  The task: write out the prepositions used in highest frequency in the English language.  I believe there are 63.

Did I mention this was 8th grade?  This was a life or death situation!

Then again I also remember the day before my first exam in my Old Testament seminary course, where Dr. Petersen and his fabulous mutton chops said, “I will not test you on something you can look up in a book…”

Geez…I wish Mrs. Anderson would have had the same sentiment…all that sweat for nothing!

Through was one of those high frequency prepositions.  I understand through as a conduit.  Like if you were traveling through a tunnel – you begin on one side and end up on the other.  Movement, momentum, and progress occur in the through.

In honor of today being the kick-off to the 2014 NFL Season (Go Packers!), there are no “delay of game” penalties when you get to the through. You walk up to the line of scrimmage and you initiate the play.  Or in our case of the collect prayer, you state your do – the petition of the prayer – and then proceed to the through so you begin working on it.

To continue the football analogy, saying the prayer is not the end of the play.  Walking up to the line of the scrimmage and saying “hut hut hut” is not all that is required.  You have to surround yourself with a team.  You have to have a strategy.  You have to actively move the prayer forward.  If you are going to run the prayer, then you need people around you that are going to secure a safe passage.  If you are going to launch your faith into a new area, you need to make sure you communicate with others so they can catch you or meet you on the other side.

There are allowances for time-outs, for pauses, for discernment, for consultation with coaches, mentors, family, and friends.  But those need to be regulated as well.  Not rushed, but regulated, because we cannot stay in time-outs forever.  God does not want us in between plays or in between pursuing the words of our prayers indefinitely.  God wants us active and serving and, in the words of John Wesley, “spreading Scriptural holiness over (or perhaps through-out!) the lands!”

In a football game the clock is always running.  If it is stopped, it is only for a brief period.  That players and coaches make such discerned and calculated and timely decisions is evidence of their preparatory work.  God calls us to the same sort of preparatory work, and we engage that work through prayer.  In prayer we offer our requests, we hear God’s will, we feel God’s strength, and we are sent out through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  Every day we are stepping onto the “playing field” – are we going to move forward or move backward?

The through of the collect prayer moves us from start to finish, from beginning to end.  And through God’s Holy Spirit, I believe we are transformed into holy conduits to move forward God’s new and renewing acts of grace, from one side to the other, from start to finish, from beginning to end.

Prayer: “Holy Spirit, wind and flame, move within our mortal frame; make our hearts an altar pyre; kindle them with your own fire.  Breathe and blow upon that blaze till our lives, our deeds, and ways, speak that tongue which every land by your grace shall understand.”* Amen.

*”Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 538.