Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
Most of you have received a letter this
week, at least our members, that should have come in the mailbox this
week, from Jim Korth, our past President and Donna Rietz, our new
President, to introduce you to our Fall stewardship campaign and the
theme "Common Hope, Common Trust". If you didn't receive
that letter, be sure to let us know about that so we can make sure
you're on that contact list.
So here we are launching our annual
stewardship campaign, and I have announced, via my sermon title, the end
of stewardship! The shortest campaign ever in the history of the
church. One person responded and said "Yes!". I
don't know why they would have that kind of a response J.
But that's not the end I had in mind. Rather, by the 'end of
stewardship', I mean the purpose, the goal of stewardship. So I
hope that doesn't disappoint you.
And to reflect on that end, I want to
share with you two texts this morning. The first one comes from
Psalm 8, where we read:
1O Lord, our
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour.
6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
The second text comes from the 21st
chapter of Revelation, also a very familiar text, where we read:
Then I saw a new heaven
and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed
away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new
Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride
adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
Now why on earth would I select these
two particular passages for our reflections on stewardship?
There's nothing about money. Nothing about giving. Nothing
about tithing. Nothing about using the resources God has entrusted
to us. None of that, that we usually hear about and expect this
time of year. And that's precisely the point. Because
stewardship is not just about those things, stewardship begins with awe
and wonder. To lie beneath the stars, and to contemplate your
place in the universe. The meaning of our existence. What
are we, that God is mindful of us? Mere mortals -- God should care
That question about our place in the
cosmos as but one tiny part of creation is the beginning of
stewardship. To reflect on who and what we are called to be by
God, just a little below the angels, given dominion, that is, given
'lordship' of this earth.
Now I'm going to come back to that
topic in a couple of weeks on October 1st, because I think we have
grossly misunderstood that lordship and abused that dominion. And
I also will be talking about it -- if you just can't wait two weeks --
tomorrow morning on KOPT radio (1600 on your AM dial). A little
monthly segment I do with other pastors in town, usually Greg Flint at
First Congregational, that we call "Spirit Matters". And
the good folks there at that station have given us 45 minutes once a
month on a topic of our choosing. So tomorrow morning, John Pitney
at First United Methodist, and I, are going to talk about faith and
global warming. So if you're awake and around between 8:20 and
9:00, I invite you to tune into that.
So the beginning of stewardship is awe
and wonder, as expressed here in the Psalm. The end of
stewardship is God's vision for the world, as expressed in Revelation,
where as I have pointed out on countless times before, God comes to
dwell with humanity on earth, not where we go to dwell with God in
heaven. That divine ideal, the perfect world where pain and
suffering and death will be no more. Or, as the prophet Isaiah
expressed it, where swords are turned into plowshares and spears into
pruning hooks, and nations shall declare on nations no more, where the
wolf will dwell with the lamb and the leper will lie down with the
kid. Or, as Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue, "The spirit of
the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, release to
the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go
This, God's vision for this
world, is the goal of our stewardship. As Jim and Donna put it in
that letter, where they wrote:
"What is God's
purpose? Anything that seeks to do justice, love mercy, and walk
humbly with our God. Just a small thing -- equity, justice,
dignity, healing of the nations. The end of suffering, famine,
unjust imprisonment and death. All things that will lead to a
world of love and peace. Just a small thing".
I love that. It reminds me of the
musical Evita, where in that one climactic scene, Eva Peron's health is
failing, and Che (played by Antonio Banderas in the movie), who is an antagonist,
sings to her: "How can you be so short-sighted to look never
further than this week or next week, to have no impossible
dream?" And Eva responds (Madonna in the movie):
"Tell me, who'd be delighted if I said I'd take on the world's
greatest problems, from war to pollution, no hope of solution, even if I
lived 100 years?".
From the perspective of the realist,
there may be no hope of solution for the world's greatest
problems. But from the divine perspective, there is always
hope. When you're down by 13 points in the 4th quarter, there is
always hope! Never give up on your team! Especially if
they're the Ducks! Sorry Sooner fans J.
If I never had religion, I was getting it then, that last couple minutes
of that game. You can go a long ways with a little help from the
officials and divine help from God!
A heavenly messenger,
dressed as a Pac-10 official at Autzen stadium,
brings His will to earth!
So if the topic is global warming, or
nuclear war, or Duck football, failure is not an option. And just
about any great movement to create a world without war or poverty or
injustice or prejudice or hate, you will find there, at the core, people
of faith involved in the leadership. Driven by this vision of God
for a restored, peaceful world.
Stewardship, then, is what we do with
all of the stuff that God has given us to move us closer to that
vision. And so we hold these stewardship campaigns each year not
to support the church budget, we hold them to challenge the church
people. To put our finances in that larger context of God's
mission, to lay it all on the line (as the text we read from Mark
makes clear) -- we are called to give our whole lives to this.
Steven Covey taught us that one of the
7 habits of highly effective people is to begin with the end in
mind. And so we begin with that larger end in mind -- God's
purpose for our world, and secondly the destination that we seek as a
particular community of God's people here in this time and place.
It was just a year ago that I
articulated the vision that I have for our congregation for our next 5
years, leading up to our centennial celebration of the building of this
wonderful church home. And I'm always struck when people
ask: "What did this church used to be?" They think
it's an orthodox church, I had one person thing that it was some other
faith, that it obviously wasn't a Christian building, you know. Look
at the windows, for heaven's sake!
We built this in 1911, we have been in
existence for 140 years, and in this building for 95. So looking
forward to that celebration, here are the 6 goals that I think we should
1. First of all, spiritual
vitality. One of the resources for this particular theme --
Common Hope, Common Trust -- speaks of "spiritual
obesity". Well that's an interesting concept -- conjured up
all kinds of images of spiritual couch potatoes, who have a lazy faith
and avoid spiritual disciplines. To be a spiritually vital
congregation means a willingness to put more than a little effort into
our faith. To do the hard work. To be a fit and vibrant
congregation where faith comes alive in all that we do. And one of
my hopes is to help us deepen and strengthen that vitality by adding a
3rd worship service at a different time during the week, with a
different emphasis, perhaps on contemplation. Something more like
the Interfaith service that is held here. Those who were here
Monday night know that we absolutely packed the house here -- I think it
was probably a record. They had a record at Autzen Stadium
yesterday, and we had a record in this church Monday night. Well
over 500 people -- standing room only kind of thing. But that kind
of service, that helps us reflect in deep and meaningful ways, and to
listen to God's voice in our world.
2. Second, related to
that, as part of our spiritual vitality, will be the expansion of our
small-group ministry with more opportunities for study, prayer, and
reflection throughout the week, so there is something for
everyone. And to deepen our spiritual lives. And to that end
we'll be starting another spiritual formation group in the morning, on a
weekday morning (Tuesday or Wednesday morning) in just a couple of
weeks, and I'm collecting names of people who are interested in
that. If that strikes your interest or you want to know more about
it, let me know.
3. Third, that we will
practice the art of discernment on key issues that face us in our
society, so that we, as a community of God's people, may seriously
reflect on how our faith informs us on those issues. Discernment
is simply a practice of listening to one another as we also listen for
God's voice speaking to us.
4. Fourth, that our children,
youth, and young-adult ministries will continue to be among our top
priorities. That here, in this church, our young people will
not be short-changed as they so often are elsewhere in society.
Our Worship & Wonder is one such program, incredible program that we
launched this last year for our children. Our youth groups,
fellowship groups, special events, are another part of that. All
of these take a tremendous amount of adult involvement and leadership to
make it happen. And I'm very appreciative of that effort among
those who do just that.
5. Fifth, the continued
expansion of our public witness through community service and social
action. Last Sunday I set forth two challenges that we
face: first, the consideration of whether or not we want to take
on one or more nights of the soup kitchen operated by Food for Lane
County, only to do it here in our own building. I had 3 or 4
people who have already expressed some interest in that -- probably not
enough to do it, but perhaps a start. And the second challenge,
created by the death of Darey Burkhalter, that left such an enormous
hole in our Good Samaritan ministry. Our volunteers in that
ministry organized a meeting this week and had an additional 3 people
join them to talk about how to continue this incredible ministry and
even to expand it as we reach out to people on the street and those who
come to us seeking help. And those are just 2 of the things that
we are doing in that capacity.
6. Sixth, and last, financial
stability, with 3 full-time staff in ministry to better equip our
members to do all of the above. A building that is financially
self-sustaining so that 100% of our offerings goes to mission and
ministry, and a scholarship fund to cover up to 1/2 tuition of our youth
who seek to go on to college. As you all know, my daughter is a
senior next year, so I'm hoping that program really steps up J.
That, in a nutshell, is the direction
in which I hope to lead us over the next 5 years. And
complementing those 6 goals, our planning retreat this past June
identified as our single #1 priority by a large margin (among the 50 or
so who were in attendance) -- growing the church. Everything we
seek to do -- the Helping Hand ministry, our Good Samaritan ministry,
feeding the hungry, our youth ministry, Christian education, music
ministry -- requires people. And obviously, the more we have the
more we can do, the more impact we will have.
So there is no reason we should be shy
about seeking to add to our numbers -- not because numbers are
important, but because people are important. And one of the most
important things each of us can do, as a faithful steward, is to be a
Now I want to see if people really
understand the task that I'm talking about here, about being faithful
stewards. How many of you have ever ridden on a commercial
airline? Then you know the job of a steward. When you get on
that airplane and a steward greets you, do you reach for your
wallet? The moment on those airlines in mid-flight when the pilot
says "Ladies and gentlemen, we do not have enough fuel to reach our
destination, so our stewards will now move about the cabin to collect an
offering. . . . ". That's the time you know you need to pick
another airline! Maybe a little too late, but. . . .
You see, our first task as stewards is
to make people feel welcome. To make this flight not just pleasant
but enriching, rewarding. So that people want to travel with us on
this journey of faith.
One of our couples shared with me that
they visited a different church over the summer, and that no one spoke
to them, except for the pastor and he was paid to do that. They
did not have a feeling that they wanted to return. That does not
mean we should all gang up on visitors like a Sooner at Autzen Stadium,
but to create a warm, hospitable environment each and every week is
essential to our task.
Well, over the next four Sundays,
culminating on our commitment Sunday, October 15th, I would invite you
to reflect prayerfully on your role to this end of stewardship. To
ask yourself: is this a vision for our church and our world which
And if it is, if that is something you
can share, if you can see yourself being part of that team to make it
happen, find your place, find your way, find your faith, to do it.
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