October 17, 1999
The Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost
Hidden Powers of Stewardship
Rev. Margaret B. Gunness
it's my turn to speak with you about stewardship, and I'm glad. For, you
see, I believe that stewardship is a journey, that invites us, that draws
us forward, into the very heart of God. So this morning I'd like to talk
about stewardship from three interrelated perspectives: first, stewardship
as the foundation of commitment; then what I would call the soul significance
of the pledge; and finally stewardship and the power of community.
So first, stewardship as the foundation of commitment, and I begin with
a story. It's a story about the German author Heinrich Heine who was visiting
some of the great cathedrals of Europe with a friend. At this point in
their tour, the two of them had just spent the better part of a day in
the magnificent cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, where they marveled
at its majestic buttresses, and the massive intricate symmetry of its
facade, and the hushed grandeur and sanctuary of the spaces inside. They
spent the whole day there, and when it was finally drawing to a close,
they went to the far end of the plaza in front of the cathedral and then
turned around for one last, long, hushed gaze at this extraordinary house
of God -- a hymn, a prayer, an alleluia of stone and leaded glass. They
stood there in silence for a long time, and then Heinrich's friend asked
him, almost wistfully, "Why don't people build cathedrals like it
anymore?" And after a few moments, Heinrich answered, "In those
days people had convictions, but today, they seem only to have opinions."
In those days people had convictions, but today they only have opinions.
I think there's an important truth for us in this little story. It does
indeed take the power of conviction, of deep-seated conviction in order
to accomplish any great piece of work. While opinions are somewhat like
fireflies, brilliant and illuminating for a moment, but quickly spent
and soon swallowed up by the darkness.
So I ask you - and I ask myself - where are you on that spectrum between
opinion and commitment? Where do you stand on the great urgent issues
that confront human society today, issues such as the struggle for world
peace, or the places of entrenched poverty throughout the world, or the
depletion of natural species and resources. Where do you stand on these
issues, and why do you stand there? Do you know? And do you stand in one
place rather than another because of an opinion you have about these things?
Or because of the power of a conviction you have concerning them? It's
hard to determine sometimes, isn't it? I often think that, in order to
determine, we need somehow to sneak up on ourselves, to catch ourselves
unawares and snap an interior photograph of our minds and hearts that
could reveal to us those truths which are otherwise so hard for us to
bring into focus.
And perhaps one way to take just such an interior photograph is to notice
what our instantaneous reaction is to the word and to the season of stewardship.
I don't believe that it was ever intended that stewardship be thought
of as the careful, studied response of the people to the stated needs
of the parish church. And I don't believe that it was ever intended that
we ascertain what we will give to the church by determining the extent
of our support for the ministry that the church is or is not doing. That's
all opinion work. And Christian stewardship is conviction work, deep,
bedrock conviction work. Year after year the season of stewardship calls
us to examine our convictions, to wrestle with them, to deepen them, to
re-commit ourselves to them. For the work of Christian stewardship is
and must be built on the foundation of a self-dedication which is the
sacramental expression, an outward and visible sign of our inward and
spiritual convictions. I pray that you will examine your convictions during
this stewardship season at Calvary Church.
Then second is what I have called the soul significance of the pledge,
or phrased differently, the significance of the pledge to our soul. For
you see, a pledge is not just a promise to do this or to do that. It's
a statement of loyalty, a commitment of our whole selves, our entire being.
We pledge allegiance to our country. A man and a woman pledge themselves
to each other in the sacrament of marriage. In baptism we make a pledge
to follow Christ. And each pledge re-directs and re-forms our life. A
stewardship pledge can do that too. It can do that because it calls us
to shift our focus, to reorder our priorities. A stewardship pledge calls
us to remember that we are the visible, palpable presence of Christ on
And it's the fact of the pledge that counts, not the size. I know of a
young woman who lived primarily on medical disability income. She tried
very hard to give to the church through her time, her volunteer work and
such. But that didn't seem to satisfy her. Then one Pledge Sunday she
came up to me and said, "I finally get it. I finally understand what's
different about a pledge, and I want to make that kind of commitment."
Then she went on to explain that the one luxury she allowed herself was
a cup of Starbuck's cappuccino coffee one or maybe two times a week. And
the first pledge in her life that year was the equivalent of one week's
cappuccino. And later she told me that it had changed her life, that for
the first time she felt that she was a member, a valid part of that parish
community, but even more, a vital member of the Body of Christ. The soul
significance of a pledge was life giving and evident in her.
Then third - and finally - stewardship and the power of commitment, for,
you see, I believe that both the commitment and the action of stewardship
create community and invite us into community, and in so doing they empower
the community itself and each individual part of it. Now that may sound
complex, but let me give you an illustration with one of my favorite stories,
told by a man named Parker Palmer, who is a seeker, a Christian, and a
person of great conviction.
He tells of going up to Anchorage, Alaska, at one point, as I recall,
to speak before a group of church representatives gathered there for a
meeting or convention of some sort. And when the convention was over,
he was taking a very early morning flight back to the lower 48. Well,
that morning, when he and the other passengers had just gotten to the
airport, an announcement came over the loudspeaker system asking them
to board their flight right away, because a turbulent weather system was
coming towards the area and they wanted to try to get out before it arrived.
So they loaded up very quickly, got on the plane and soon were airborne.
But then, not long afterwards, the stewardess spoke to them over the PA
system, apologizing for their inconvenience, thanking them for their cooperation,
but then apologizing, saying that unfortunately, since they'd had to leave
in such a rush there hadn't been time for the catering service to put
any coffee or breakfast supplies on board. So she was terribly sorry to
have to tell them that there would be nothing to serve them until a complimentary
meal in the airport upon arrival in Portland some several hours later.
know how people can be without breakfast or coffee. And Parker said you
could just feel the collective bad mood on the whole airplane. Well the
stewardess was doing everything she could to calm people down, and finally
she spoke over the loud speaker again and said, "Could I please have
your attention, ladies and gentleman. I can hear that you are very upset,
and I'm truly terribly sorry. But I want you to help me help you get beyond
it. Now, I recognize quite a few of you who were with me on the flight
yesterday afternoon coming up to Anchorage. And I saw several of you then
put the apples and snacks I passed out into your travel bags. And then
in the airport I saw some of you buying gifts to take back with you, dried
fish and crackers and such. So I'm going to go down the aisle with an
empty cart, and I want you to put on it any edibles you might be able
to share -- and then we'll ..... redistribute them. Immediately the mood
changed. People reached into their bags to share -- fruit, cheeses, biscuits,
coffee, tea bags & honey. Soon there was laughter, there were stories,
there was generosity -- and plenty. In fact, there was a sweet, sweet
spirit in the place. People had done together what people can't do alone.
They had discovered the power of community.
about it: Stewardship as the foundation of commitment, stewardship and
the significance of the pledge for our soul, and the power of community.
I wonder, how will our stewardship affect each of us this year? And then,
how will it affect this wonderful community we call Calvary Church and
our ministry with those we are called to serve? Let us pray:
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds,
so fill our imagination, so control our will, that we may be wholly yours,
utterly dedicated unto you; and then use us we pray, as you will, and
always to your glory and to the welfare of your people; through our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ.
1999 Calvary Episcopal Church
Reading: Isaiah 45:1-7
says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped
to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors
before him-- and the gates shall not be closed: I will go before you and
level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut
through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and
riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the
LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my
servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname
you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, so that
they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there
is no one besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light
and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the LORD do all these
sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to
the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare
his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered
above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD
made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty
are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory
due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts. Worship the
LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they
sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher,
we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with
truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with
partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to
the emperor, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why
are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used
for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them,
"Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered him, "The
emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor
the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."
When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.