Many congregations are in the midst of stewardship campaigns to raise pledges or faith promises for the mission and ministry of their churches during the coming year.
My pastor, Anne Rosebrock, followed example recently at Meridian Street United Methodist with a Stewardship Sunday sermon based on the story of Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector "small in stature and in spirit." However, this story is far beyond parish fund raising and securing next year's budget. In it Jesus captured the essence of giving.
Jesus chooses Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus accepts his invitation. Jesus chooses Zacchaeus, and in that moment, in my pastor's words, "Zacchaeus is moved from what he has been to what he will be."
Even though the story punctuates that Zacchaeus was very rich monetarily, the story is about acceptance, surrender and reconciliation. He accepts Jesus' call - "Zacchaeus, hurry down!" He surrenders to Jesus' will - "Zacchaeus hurried down and gladly welcomed Jesus." He reconciled what he had done wrong - "I will give half of my property to the poor. And I will now pay back four times as much to everyone I have ever cheated" (Luke 19:1-10). Is it about money?
With his change of attitude, Zacchaeus and his family received God's gift of salvation.
We give out of the reality of our abundance.
Minutes before I heard the Gospel boldly preached, I heard another version of giving out of the reality of abundance from a National Public Radio interview with Chuck Feeney, a little known, quiet philanthropist who has given hundreds of millions of dollars during his lifetime. His foundation has an estimated worth of $4 billion. Feeney made his fortune as founder of Duty Free Shoppers, the world's largest duty-free retail chain. You've probably seen one of his shops at an international airport. At 76, Feeney says the time felt right to share his story.
Feeney doesn't consider himself cheap, just frugal. He says he respects money and hates to see it wasted - values that he instilled in his five children early on.
When asked, "What drives you?" Feeney responded, "It's about caring for your neighbors. There are some people who like to have their money, but I wonder why because all you can do is count it, unless you do something with it. I was determined to use money in helping others."
What's next? He says, "We are going to continue spending money because it is my belief by giving while living it doesn't prolong your life, but you can do good things and make good things happen and be part and parcel of that."
Why did he turn out the way he did? He says, "The impact of your parents on your later life is undeniable. My parents raised me to think about other people and instructed me often that the things that can be done with money to help other people are good investment."
Feeney is no modern-day Zacchaeus. His values were learned in childhood and he held them as the values to live his entire life.
Stewardship is not about wealth, it's about generosity - wisely giving away what we have and sustaining our own existence in a frugal manner.
In terms of Hoosier United Methodists, stewardship is about making a difference in Indiana and around the world. It's not just about what we pledge and supporting next year's church budget. Stewardship reflects what we give with the abundance that God so freely gives to us.
As Americans, even financially struggling Americans, we are some of the richest people in the world monetarily, but how are we doing spiritually? Do we need Jesus to make us anew so that we can be moved from what we have been monetarily to what we will be spiritually? That's generosity!
Jesus did not teach a biblical tithe or ten percent of earnings. Jesus taught us to give 100 percent. In this form of giving, we can then understand our salvation as a gift from God but at great cost.
Pledge boldly. Give until the experience feels good.
- Daniel R. Gangler