Reflections on stewardship

asset_upload_file996_144710By Rev. Frieda Gillespie

Note: Reverend Frieda delivered this sermon on February 17.

I frequently hear that people don’t understand the word Stewardship. It’s really a simple concept. It means taking care of what you care about. It implies a feeling of responsibility, common trust, and obligation to pass along what you have to future generations, to leave it for others in better shape than you found it. All of that is stewardship. Every year we do a pledge drive. We ask you to give from your heart to NSUU. We ask you to be good stewards of what you love here. All of this begs the question “Why is it important that NSUU exists?”

A colleague who is one of the ministers of the UU church in Rochester, New York, gave his answer to this question. He said that we are all wounded by the world and how we are in the world. We are wounded by materialism, by the greed we see among those who run our economy. We can’t buy anything without contributing to someone’s mistreatment. We can’t eat anything without wondering if there are poisons in our food or water. We hear daily about disasters both human-caused and natural, about poverty, about violence, about injustices around the world and in our communities. We carry around the burden of pain for all of these things consciously or unconsciously. The great liberal religious imperative is that we bear witness to and care about all of these things.

My colleague believes that first and foremost our work as a liberal religious faith is to provide the time, place, and tools for healing these wounds. I think that he is right. If we are fearful, overburdened, sad, and despairing, there isn’t much chance that we will be useful in any meaningful way to anyone else.

We have good news to share — that living joyfully is possible even though our hearts may be breaking, for there is much to be joyful about. We can rejoice in the good that is around us everywhere. We can rejoice that we have a place to come to make meaning of our lives, to reflect on the wisdom of our own and many others’ faiths and experiences. We are not limited by dogma or doctrine but are guided by reason and intuition. We are not judged by how well we know the doxology or follow the rules. We are not judged. Our spiritual journeys are valued and respected no matter where they have taken us. The fact that we are all here in a place that leaves us free to think and explore speaks well of those journeys.

Marion Franklin Ham wrote these words, which you have sung many times before:

As tranquil streams that meet and merge 
and flow as one to seek the sea,
 our kindred hearts and minds unite
 to build a church that shall be free.

Free from the bonds that bind the mind 
to narrow thought and lifeless creed;
 free from a social code that fails 
to serve the cause of human need.

A freedom that reveres the past,
 but trusts the dawning future more; 
and bids the soul, in search of truth,
 adventure boldly and explore.

Part of the healing that occurs when we are together in worship or in action somewhere is that we re-affirm for ourselves a way of thinking and being that is not corrupted by the usual obsessive desires in life for things, for money, for fame, for pleasures that are not necessarily healthy. For a time our minds and hearts turn from what our world affirms, to experience the joy that comes from being true to a better way.

In her book The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist shares the metaphor of the caterpillar and the butterfly. The world we live in is likened to the voracious, gluttenous, all-consuming caterpillar. Humans striving all over the world to take as much as they can get, using, devouring whatever serves their purpose. But within the caterpillar are some specialized cells called “imaginal” cells. These cells are in the minority. But when they find each other, they become the genetic directors of the whole creature. They are the ones that cause the caterpillar to transform itself into the butterfly. The overstuffed body of the caterpillar becomes the nutrient soup the imaginal cells use to create the next stage of life. Twist writes:

When I look at the inspired, devoted and brilliant people at work in so many ways to repair and nourish the world, in families, in communities, and sustainable enterprises everywhere on Earth, I see the imaginal cells of our own transformation.

What we do and who we are is part of this healing, transformational work. If money is the conduit from which all things flow between human beings, Twist challenges her readers to “use your money, every dollar, every penny, every purchase, every stock and every bond, to voice this transformation.” She says, “I challenge you to move the resources that flow through your life toward your highest commitments and ideals, those things you stand for. I challenge you to hold money as a common trust that we’re all responsible for using in ways that nurture and empower us, and all life, our planet, and all future generations.”

What if we considered all of the money that flows into our lives to be held in trust for transformational, nurturing, life-giving work? How carefully we would spend it, making sure that it flows in the direction that we really want it to go — toward justice, toward spiritual growth, toward growing harmony between and among people and the environment we live within.

So, if we return to NSUU and see that our purpose is healing each other from the ravages of devouring forces in our world, we can see that we are part of a larger enterprise that seeks to create a sustainable way of life out of the resources that have been gobbled up by the majority of people.

Kendyl Gibbons wrote these words for the hymn “From the Crush of Wealth and Power”:

From the crush of wealth and power something broken in us all waits the spirit’s silent hour pleading with a poignant call, bind all my wounds again.

Even now our hearts are wary of the friend we need so much. When I see the pain you carry, shall I, with a gentle touch, bind all your wounds again?

We are reluctant to open our hearts to the healing that is possible, which is why we need each other and why we need this intentional experience on Sundays to make it possible. And so we gather and sometimes you find here what you need to get through the week with a little less damage and much more light.

Let us never take this community for granted. It must always be created by each and every one of us who cares for it and know its value. When you are deciding what to give, give until it feels good. In other words, until you feel that your pledge reflects your part in taking good care of the church and providing for its future. Of the resources that flow through your life, are you giving in proportion to what NSUU means to you, to the larger community and ultimately to the world? If so, then it will be enough.

Just as money is a currency for transformation, so is our time. Our time and effort, our attention are the very essence of our lives. What gifts can you bring to this enterprise? How can you help? Do you have ideas for good work we can be doing? Do you have ideas for improving what we have already? Do you have a skill that you could bring to us all? We’d love to know about it.

In this way we build community. In building community we learn how to relate in ways that are not violent, not toxic, not unjust. Communities like this draw more and more people who long to be free. Communities like this recognize each other and form a network of communities that draw more and more people who want a better way. Because we start with our own healing our community can be a source of life for the world around us.

It is up to each and every one of us to make it so.