Fourth Stone: Stewardship

Partnership, naming, caring
Integrity, responsibility

"Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)

"Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it." (Genesis 1:28)

"So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them." (Genesis 2:19)

"I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and cities which you had not built, and you dwell therein; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards which you did not plant. Now, therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness;" (Joshua 23:13-14)

In the ancient world, to name something was to define its characteristics and to assume responsibility for it. The Genesis story reflects the understanding that God has called humans into a partnership in caring for creation as stewards or guardians. One who is a steward of the Owner's property has the responsibility of enhancing its value and protecting the Owner's interests. It never is a role of exploitation. Stewardship is a creative role. We not only are given the means to be creative ourselves, but creativity is required of us and we will be held accountable for our actions. Stewardship is an activity of both "preserving and enhancing".

First we are called to be stewards of time. A few years ago I saw a sign in front of a church that read, "Finding God in the Fast Lane." I don't think we can find God in the fast lane. Being in too big of a hurry is one of the big demons of modern life. Even our religious institutions are guilty of inventing endless rounds of activities that consume large amounts of people's time that have very little spiritual value. Materialism, consumerism and the desire to get ahead have robbed us of the ability to enjoy the gifts of creation that alone bring happiness and satisfaction. It takes time to raise a child, grow a garden, write a book, solve a mathematical equation, form relationships, learn a sport or musical instrument. Speed is the enemy of spirituality.

Making choices about how we spend our time and resources is part of the discipline of the spiritual journey; learning to get by with less, learning to say "no" to frivolous demands on our time, making time on our calender for the things that are important. We also are reminded that everything we have is a gift. Certainly, we work for what we have, but even our ability to work is a gift. We are given far more than we earn. Therefore, we not only have the responsibility of caring for the world God made; even more importantly, we have the responsibility of caring for God's people.

Mission is grounded in a correct understanding of stewardship. It is God's will that all people get on and live well and walk in the Way. Stewardship is about justice, both social and economic. The Hebrew prophets understood that it is not possible to walk in the Way of righteousness if one is deprived of the basic necessities of life. The rulers have a special responsibility of guardianship of the wellbeing of all the people. God calls us to respond in obedience and service to God's love and to be responsible and care for others.

The most important advance in human wisdom in the 20th century is not in the area of science and technology, but in the gradual awakening of many people to the importance and necessity of caring for not only our natural world, but also for its people. We have seen, especially in the closing decades of our century, that many groups of people truly are endangered species. Our stubborn inability to find solutions to many perplexing social problems has put whole populations at risk, and many of our young people who are our future hope perish for lack of a vision to sustain them.

The Hebrew prophets reminded the people over and over again that we are held accountable for our deeds, and our failure to care for one another results in devastation to the community. There is no escape for anyone when there is social breakdown. Our accountability does not begin in a foreign land, but on our very doorsteps. It is only when we begin to see every living person as a member of our family for whom we must account that we will be fulfilling God's purpose in our lives.

Fifth Stone: Compassion