JOHN THE APOSTLE REFLECTION ON ULTIMATE STEWARDSHIP: 2016-01-17

The Creator calls us all to be good stewards throughout our lifetime – both in the beginning, the middle and the end. As we read in 1 Corinthians this morning, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” There is no reference to “when” or “how much I have”. Paul talks about the varieties of gifts; some are services to do; some are activities to be done. The Holy One “allots to each one individually” so much abundance. All of us, are expected to share God’s gifts that we receive, at the beginning, the middle and the end of our lives.

Each of us receives what we need; and it is different for you, and for me. The “varieties of gifts” are all framed in the same Spirit which we are to use for the common good.

What exactly is the common good? In contemporary parlance, it might be “we”, not “me”.  It might be the common good of our family but it is also the common good of our community, our society – both religious and secular. Some think of this as our commonwealth – the sharing of resources of every type for the benefit of all the members of a community.

As Christians, we learn early on that we are to love God and love our neighbour. Our goal is to be like the perfect community we worship as God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This Holy Trinity, as a divine community, is what we aspire to as we strive to be fully human. In Galatians, Paul writes that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As we seek this perfection, unless you choose to live alone on a mountain top, we all live in several communities: family, neighbourhood, work, school, church, etc. A fundamental part of living in community is the Holy Spirit’s expectation that we are seeking and contributing to the common good.

The common good is a complex subject.  John Rawls, a contemporary ethicist defines it as “certain general conditions that are … equally to everyone’s advantage.”  It is really about having social systems, institutions, and environments on which we all depend, work in a manner that benefits all people. For example, public safety and security, a just legal and political system, an affordable public health care system, an unpolluted natural environment, and so on. Achieving the common weal requires that we all sacrifice some of our wealth and contribute through our Holy Spirit given services and actions.

Yesterday many attended a Requiem Mass for our friend, Bishop Jim. He loved to talk about the Book of Ephesians, a book that dwells in the Holy Spirit. It talks about our struggle against the powers of darkness and spiritual forces of evil. Some of those dark forces have nearly 36 million people in slavery today. The Global Slavery Index estimates that 26% of that number is children. Striving for our common good here in Metro Vancouver is one thing; but it is very different struggle for the needs of the commonweal in other parts of the world.

For example, in Madaya Syria there is extreme hunger; in El Salvador, there is extreme violence; in Indonesia, the ethnic Chinese face extreme oppression; in China, the Muslim population faces extreme religious persecution; in Turkey, the Kurdish people face extreme repression; in Nigeria, Boko Haram continues to attack both Christians and Muslims who oppose the terror they perpetrate. The list is much longer still, of those who search for some of the common good.

For example, as I began this paragraph, my phone reminded of my participation in the Indigenous Justice Circle gathering at the diocesan office at that hour. Our colleague, Brander MacDonald, had 50 people turn out for a very powerful experience of community building, stories about indigenous injustice, a study and discussion of the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, drums and songs and cultural awareness creation. I came away thinking we have much to do to rebuild relationships for the common good in our country with Indigenous peoples.

So I wonder what Spirit God has activated in you? If you are young, what part of the common good are you supporting? If you are middle aged, have you settled in to a comfortable relationship with your various communities and how are you supporting the needs and growth of their commonweal? If you are in the last stages of life, have you decided how your estate, your legacy will be distributed for the common good?

We often don’t realize that death is the time of greatest generosity for all of us.  You really can’t take it with you; in fact, your executor’s primary duty is to give all your assets away. Your ultimate stewardship responsibility is to decide what and where you want your assets to go. The question is, will some of it go to foster the common good?

All this inspiration is followed by asking. I believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was inspired by the Holy Spirit to say to Jesus: “They have no wine.” He protests that his hour has not yet come but this doesn’t stop Mary. She tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. Jesus gets the message from his mother – yes, this is the time! She realizes that it is time for Jesus to start connecting with people – it is time for him to act.

In doing so, Jesus is really creating a powerful giving lesson for the community – the family. They are celebrating a new beginning with this marriage. Think about it a little. Here is a wedding in Cana of Galilee which, like all weddings, brings two families together in a new community. There is now a new commonweal among both these families.

And what does Jesus do? Here we read about his first miracle – the miracle of giving. There is a kind of vulnerability in Jesus, just as there is in all the asking we do. He has to ask the servants to fill the jars with water. When He tells them to draw it out and take it to the chief steward, he discovers there is more wine.

And it isn’t just inferior wine. The steward calls the bridegroom and says to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus does his best for the common good, creating and sharing a fine wine.

In asking you to be ultimate stewards – to plan your legacy or estate gift to the church – I am being vulnerable, just as Jesus is in today’s Gospel reading. But I’m not as vulnerable as the Rockstar Amanda Palmer has dared to be.

In a recent TED Talk I learned about this amazing performer. She started out her career as an actress who was a living statue in the street. She learned much about giving and being vulnerable as she posed as a fully decked out bride-to-be, day after day.

Later she formed a rock band and had trouble with her record company because their albums didn’t sell well enough. So she started giving the music away and took to the internet as a crowd-funding pioneer to raise money for her music. Thousands of people have contributed well over $1 million because she has connected with them – and they wanted to help.

So, if the church has a connection with you, inspires you in your faith and your support of the common good, I have little doubt – read vulnerable here – that when I ask you to be an ultimate steward, to leave a legacy of your Christian life in community, many of you will say yes.

My presentation following the service will focus on helping you say yes. All of us, no matter what our age or assets, should have a will. It is the main way that we decide about our post-death generosity plan. But there are some things you need to know beforehand, and we’ll cover the most important ones.

Many of us are worried about living longer, we feel vulnerable and wonder: will there be anything left to give away after we die? And with incomes dependent on low interest rates, just making ends meet is a challenge for many.  What if I told you about gift planning tools that will help with increased income for you and allow you to be generous at the same time? It is possible.

I’ll show you a new edition of Legacy Planner that discusses many gift planning topics and provides a structure for recording your important wishes and information at the end of your life.

In a posture of helping, just as Jesus helped the family wedding celebrations, I invite you to come and listen and participate. I think it will be inspirational for many as I ask you to consider the possibilities for ultimate stewardship – a helping spirit I am sure God has activated in you. Thank you.

I will close with a repeat after me prayer,

Holy Trinity,

as a community of perfection,

Inspire us to be ultimate stewards,

Teach us to share your abundant gifts,

Increasing the common good now,

And when you call us home.  Amen.