By- Glen Mitchell, Diocesan director of Stewardship and Planned Giving
When I was preparing this talk, I needed some inspiration. I realized that inspiration, inspiring, to be inspired, is one way that God draws near to us. When we inhale, yes we draw in air, but we also draw in the Holy Spirit. In that instant, God is so near to us to actually be inside us. + As I speak, may God bless the meditations of my heart and mind, and inspire you to draw closer to God in the way you live and give.
Last week at the national stewardship gathering hosted by General Synod, I was glad to hear our national indigenous Bishop, Mark MacDonald’s talk about what prevents us from being drawn to God. Bishop Mark believes that scientism, materialism and commodification discolour our world view, and our theology, and keep us from drawing closer to God.
Rather than being wise, we measure everything scientifically and reduce our understanding of reality to only the facts. Many believe that if it cannot be measured, it isn’t worthy. In this long federal election campaign, it seems almost every day there is a poll – the real result on October 19th is too far away for us to wait – we want the facts now in the form of polls even though they are largely meaningless.
In the church we do this too. Our budgets are often thought of as the most important measure of our parish life however we know that growing relationships with each other and the communities we serve are equally important measures. Some stories we tell are based only on facts; but, who likes that kind of story? Most of us are drawn to stories that have an edge; or that creates a passionate response; or that are life-giving or transformational; then our stories are much more compelling.
Often we hear stories that no scientific facts can support but we know they are true because of the experience, wisdom and understanding we have. In July we were in Moncton New Brunswick and we visited Magnetic Hill – where the local topographic surroundings create an optical illusion. When you drive down the hill and put your car in neutral, it rolls back up the hill all by itself! And the water nearby also appears to run up hill. This phenomenon continues to puzzle the best engineers but our car did what thousands of cars do every year, they roll up Magnetic Hill.
The First Peoples of this land believe that the very core of human beings is their inner fire – akin to the burning bush that was not consumed. To be able to perceive the true nature of someone is a great gift. As many say, it does not compute, but we know it to be true.
Materialism, or the possession of things, is a cause of conflict and dispute caused by the cravings that are within us. The risks we take to possess more stuff, whether it’s the many pairs of shoes or the suits we own or the size of our personal libraries, are sources of disputes and conflicts the world over.
And each of us faces these challenges personally. I have been confronted by this very recently. We are selling our home and the real estate agent wanted us to declutter the place. Well, we have done this very hard work. And while I understand the facts – the need to declutter my extensive library – it is still surprising to me how emotionally attached I am to some of these books!
Our consumer society encourages us all to be this way. Getting more, wanting more, is the mantra James wants us to reject, saying “Submit yourselves therefore to God”. Bishop Mark says that indigenous people feel closest to God when, like God, they are generous, giving their things and money to those in greater need. The indigenous practice of the Potlach is their ceremonial way of doing this.
Related to all this is Bishop Mark’s third category – commodification. We place a value on virtually everything including ourselves. Too often the measure for this valuation is money. The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. If our humanness means we have to value things, then I think these measures are a much better yardstick.
At the same gathering, Bishop John Chapman of the Diocese of Ottawa told the story about the river that dried up. People had been living beside the river for a long time, depending on it to nurture them. But it dried up; or, so they thought. In truth, the river had moved – cutting a new channel away from the villages. To find the water, the people had to move to where the water was – to find the trees planted by streams of water, yielding their fruit in its season.
As Anglicans, we have lived beside the river for a long time – our decades of stability -but it has now moved. Bishop John says we need to move too, finding the new river. Our faith communities are called to a new story – a new obedience of drawing nearer to God – offering the hospitality of justice to the stranger, welcoming them into our midst. The new stewardship story is that we have shifted to the servanthood of welcome; we are called back into the public square where we welcome the stranger and care about issues of justice. This is where the river has gone; where we can offer hospitality, programs that are life changing, welcoming and supportive, focusing on issues of justice while we live out our baptismal promises.
We DRAW NEAR TO GOD, and God draws near to us through our wisdom and understanding. Proverbs teaches us that we will be happiest when we find wisdom; and ,understanding her is to know that nothing can compare with her. If we live in her protection as the tree of life we will be a joyful people. With wisdom we can know what a good life, in close relationship with God, looks like.
So, what has all this got to do with stewardship and gift planning – my areas of responsibility as your servant? Jesus says whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. I believe that as we share, we are alive. In sharing, you will discover who you really are as a human being and a child of God.
What must we do? First of all, we need to shift our paradigm away from dependency on facts and measurement. Yes, we must hone the new story based in some facts, because they are necessary to the head; but, we must also, significantly, frame the new story in the passion of the heart, in our love for God. With a new yardstick, these stories, so framed, will be drawn near to God and God will be drawn near to us as we welcome the little child, Jesus and God to our midst.
Second, we must move to where God is – where the water and the blessings and the love are flowing. Our story cannot be framed in disputes or conflicts but it should be one that invites the stranger through the path of peace. As God’s disciples we offer our welcome and hospitality; seeking to find justice in the public square. Recently the General Synod has produced a resource to help you effectively do that in the public square.
Entitled Compassion, Justice and Reason: An Anglican Approach to Election 2015, the kit includes a letter to all party leaders from our Primate. Fred Hiltz says that Canada is a country of abundance, yet not all of its people benefit from that wealth. He calls all political leaders to guide Canadians towards a more prosperous future, considering all voices while protecting the most vulnerable among us and elevating the relationship with the First Peoples of this land. There are example questions for you to use when you enter the public square on issues of child poverty, peace in the Middle East, refugees, caring for creation, reconciliation, homelessness and more. You can download the entire resource at www.anglican.ca.
The third thing we need to do is shift our asking and sharing; we’re not to spend what we get exclusively on our own pleasures; rather, we are to live in servanthood of those in need. In this way, we will be more generous because we have resources freed up from the avarice of materialism that we can share with so many who have so little. As we give more, we draw even closer to God, and God is drawn closer to us.
Being generous is not about maintaining the church – that river has moved on. The new story of generosity is about welcoming the stranger and refugee, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, educating the children. The new story of generosity is that God’s mission in the world is the work we are called to do. When I talk to individuals about how generous they can be, I first try to discover what their passion is, and what makes them so passionate about a particular issue. When I tell the story of the church, I keep their passion in mind, and I encourage you to do the same.
You see, this passion or concern is what draws them to give generously. People that care about issues and needs in the world are generous, sharing their abundant resources with the community. When you frame the story to show how the needs of people are being addressed and the givers passion is being served, God will be nearby and the gifts will flow in a climate of trust and peace.
An example of this is the LIVING THE MISSION giving program in the Diocese of Qu’Appelle. In southern Saskatchewan this community of Anglicans has launched a significant program, asking for gifts of money for missional work in the diocese. Each parish has a financial target but they make the decisions about local mission and ministry while supporting some common missional goals of the diocese. People in the diocese are engaged, energized and have elected to significantly support it. The stories they tell are filled with passion and describe the joy of giving.
My hope and goal in my work is to help each of you understand the generous nature of creation around us. God is generous, every day, every moment, with all of us. As the Holy One shares with us, we need to try and draw near to God in our behaviours. In learning to share, you will be alive; indeed, in sharing you will have discovered who you are as a child of God.
I close with a prayer of Teresa of Avila to call people to service:
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
READINGS: Proverbs 3: 3-18; Psalm 1; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8; Mark 9: 30-37
Glen Mitchell, Diocesan director of Stewardship and Planned Giving