Friday night some of us joined 15,000 plus youth in the Tacoma Dome for a stewardship conference.
Well, it wasn’t called that, but that’s what it was. It was called “Be the Spark”.
We enjoyed two hours of performance and inspirational speech, highlighted by the appearance of a small man dressed in a dark suit, a purple shirt and a clerical collar. This man spoke with humor and great warmth, and that Dome grew silent as a church as Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave a stewardship talk.
Well, it wasn't billed as a stewardship talk, but that's what it was.
Bishop Tutu lovingly gave us a picture of our God, who without our help brought all things into being; but who now waits on us to join in partnership to bring about the kind of world God had in mind.
Bishop Tutu described himself to the press in Tacoma as a “prisoner of hope”. And he is clear with all who hear him the source of his hope. His hope lies in his trust in the revelation of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
When you’re with a leader like Desmond Tutu you find yourself in the presence of someone who gives flesh and bone to the idea of the abundant life spoken of by Jesus in today’s Gospel. “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” The crowd of mostly youth responded warmly to him. Well, that's putting it way too mildly. They greeted him like a rockstar!
Desmond Tutu walks a life of faith that God is good, and that God calls each of us to live for the good of one another. This faith sustained him as he supported his countrymen in the long resistance that overcame the evil of apartheid. Faith in this God sustained him as he led his nation to reject violence and vengeance in favor of truth-telling and costly reconciliation. Tutu is one of those people who make a good apology for God, and for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The point of his stewardship talk was that God is waiting for us to be like that, too. We are called to that same abundant life of stewardship.
“I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly”, says Jesus.
We read from Acts today about a community experiencing a new work of the Holy Spirit. In the fresh experience of the resurrection a new vision of the common good comes quickly into focus. The community begins pooling resources, taking care of those in any need. Meals eaten together now have a sacramental quality. Everyone seems to take responsibility for stewardship of God’s abundance. A quality of rejoicing imbues the community of faith, because in the midst of the proclamation of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead they’ve seized hold of the truth that God is endlessly good and forgiving and is always providing all we need, provided we open our hands and share.
It’s true that such radical experiments in stewardship didn’t last permanently. But the church is continuously renewed in a sense of abundance by the Holy Spirit. And the picture painted in the book of Acts gets us to thinking. To what can we aspire to in our time? How is God calling us to a stewardship of the goodness of God in our time and place? Is God any less giving and forgiving and reconciling now than back then? Of course not!
When a congregation of God’s people starts wanting refreshment and blessing, we start asking God for it. When we wait for it and long for it and look for it, we start seeing it around us.
In the time I’ve been in Bellingham I’ve learned from other communities of Christians in town who are also looking for and finding signs that God is good, and calls us to be stewards of goodness for each other.
I met a young man at a coffeeshop in Fairhaven who pastors a community of young Christians who meet in rented spaces and in homes. They call themselves The Table.
On their website they write of their approach to stewardship:
“In a culture that markets primarily to the desires of individuals, ‘Community’ stands in contrast. Despite our differences, The Table is becoming a family, where we laugh and share challenges together. We are sharing a life defined by the alternative values of Christ."
“The rhythms of The Table (hospitality, discipleship, and blessing) are our mission, our values, and the vision of how we see Christ calling us to live.”
Before my first Sunday at St. Paul’s back in 2008 I attended worship with Roosevelt Community Church on Alabama Street. I was struck by their motto, which is a stewardship statement:
"Roosevelt Community Church exists to be In, With, and For the Community."
They write on their website:
"We are not interested in merely being a Church that sits on Sunday and listens to music and a sermon. We are a Church that is committed to loving God above all else and seeking to love our neighbors with all that we are; both Christians and non-Christians alike."
Very close by here is Lettered Streets Covenant Church. Some of us heard from their pastor a week ago Wednesday. Here’s part of their stewardship message on their website:
"Imagine a community where Gods love is the tie that binds us, where young and old, rich and poor, women and men, people of all cultures and ethnicities partner together to love the people in our neighborhood, city and state, country and world...."
"…We at Lettered Streets Covenant Church believe that God is actively working to make lives whole and restore creation. We believe that Jesus is in the process of making all things new and that he has called all of humanity to participate with him in http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifthis incredibly challenging and satisfying adventure.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
"Do you hear him calling?"
A Presbyterian pastor friend of mine who works with a unique ministry in Skagit County passed on to me from Mark Scandrette of San Francisco the stewardship practice of walking prayerfully through his neighborhood with this as the focus of his prayer:
1. "God, help me to see where Your glory and beauty are being displayed."
2. "God, help me to think Your thoughts and feel Your feelings for this place and people. We want to see Your kingdom come and will be done on earth as in heaven. I cry out for Your dream for this place and people to be realized; and I am part of Your answer."
3. "What is the deeper risk You have for me/us here? How does this neighborhood teach me what Good News is? How do we take practical steps of action to do the way of Jesus in our neighborhood?"
Jesus said: “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”
This is some good theology, some good spirituality. We have it all in our Book of Common Prayer.
Here's an example. There is a prayer on page 832 that is a stewardship prayer. Well, it isn't labeled a stewardship prayer, but that's what it is.
Let us pray it for us, the people of St. Paul’s:
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray you, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Photo: Desmond Tutu at the podium at "Be the Spark" in Tacoma, May 9, 2011. Reuters photo.