What Stewardship Means to me…

Please Note: Longtime Loyal Stewards of St. John the Baptist, Brett and Ana Mourer, have provided a comprehensive Parishioner perspective of ‘What Stewardship Means to Me.’ We have included parts of this article in The Messenger. We sincerely thank Brett and Ana for their dedication to our church and their time to prepare this thoughtful message. 
Orthodoxy Capitalism and the WestOrthodoxy has produced many saints. A book titled, Beyond Wealth—Orthodoxy, Capitalism, and the Gospel of Wealth, on page 79, states: “It produced people who climbed to the highest level in human existence—to theosis: ‘God became man so that man could become God (St. Athanasios the Great).’ There is no greater goal.” God is love; therefore, everything we do should advance us towards love---yes, even stewardship. The priestly invitation at Divine Liturgy for the receiving of Holy Communion is “with the fear of God, faith and love draw near.” Every aspect of our life (our actions; our words; our thoughts; our morality; our prayers; our relationships with our families; our dealings with others, including our enemies; our performance at work; etc.) should follow the same upward progression. Yes, this includes stewardship and the giving away of our possessions such as money. When we first learn about God, we don’t lie, steal, cheat, etc., because of the fear of God. We are fearful of God’s wrath if we do those things. As we progress, we gain more faith. We soon strive to avoid negative choices because of the faith we are developing in Christ. We know that when we sin we separate ourselves from Christ. We also experience the pain that alienation from God causes us. Finally, we achieve the highest state of existence, pure love. 1 John 4:18 states, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” At this stage, we love God and all His creation so we wouldn’t think of lying, stealing or cheating. It’s not part of our make-up because love rules in our heart. The same is true of stewardship. We initially give out of fear; it’s an obligation, a duty and a responsibility, but eventually as we gain more faith we can ultimately give out of love, and not worry if we are going to have enough for ourselves. Matthew 6:25-33 states, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” It is not easy to achieve the “love” stage, but (hopefully and prayerfully) we are all progressing up the ladder of faith. We are striving to evolve from giving out of a duty or obligation to giving because of a Godly love within us that provokes us to share with others. If we truly had love, we would be able to truly give. The Scriptures say, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Therefore, if we keep striving towards love, and give out of love and truly practice almsgiving, we will not be focused on the accumulation of wealth, greed and covetousness. We will worry less about ourselves, such as whether we have enough, and be willing to give because God, as He Himself stated to us in Mathew 6:25-33, is able to provide for ALL of our needs. How is this possible? Matthew 19:26 states, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Part Two St. John Chrysostom stated, “Wealth is not evil—it is used properly when distributed to the poor. Rather, greed is evil and it provides for unending torments.” And is not our local Church among those that are poor? We do not have enough money for basic needs such as repairing the roof/air conditioning of our church in order to maintain our beautiful icon of the Pantokrator (Almighty or All-Powerful). But the question is--do we really believe that our Lord Jesus Christ is All-Powerful and able to supply all our needs, and that we do not need to worry about our needs, and also that if we give to Him and His Church FIRST out of love with faith in Him that He will supply for our physical needs? The following quote is from Beyond Wealth—Orthodoxy, Capitalism and the Gospel of Wealth, on page 28. “Christian ministry (diaconia) is motivated not by selfishness, but by selfless love. It is the self-emptying (kenosis) that Christ underwent when He became man: ‘[T]he Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).’ Regardless of one’s station in life, he considers himself first and foremost a servant. This constitutes true freedom, since the choice is determined by the person who, when healed from necessity, becomes open to infinite possibilities. In other words, the Christian knows that God will provide for his needs. Therefore, for such an individual, needs do not occupy the first place in his deliberations. It is a manner of living, since the person exists to contribute rather than to survive. He who serves does not do so for profit…” Romans 6:33 states, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Stewardship is meant to be a blessing. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We give for many reasons. First, we love the Lord and what He has given to us so we give back to Him out of love for Him (we are reminded of the elderly widow who gave only 2 mites, but it was everything she had). So, it’s not so much how much we give but what percentage of our income that we give. For where your heart is there your treasure shall be also. When the widow gave her two mites which was all of her net worth, this occurred at the same time as when Jesus was calling the leadership of Israel hypocrites. But even though they were hypocrites, he did not instruct the widow not to give, but rather he praised her for her willingness to give even though the leadership was hypocritical. Today, we also may at times feel that our leadership is not always sincere and somewhat hypocritical. Let’s face it--aren’t all of us insincere and hypocritical to a certain degree? Regardless, this does not excuse us from giving. God has not called us to be judges, but to give and to exhibit love. He occupies the position of Judge. Let us give without worrying about our leaders because we will not be judged based on what they did, but based on what we did while on this earth. It is our responsibility to give back to God and then it is up to those to whom we give to faithfully use the money for the glory of God. All of us will be held accountable for what we do in every aspect of our lives. This also means that deacons, priests and bishops will also be held accountable for how they shepherd the flock and for what purpose donated money is used. It is not our responsibility to judge them for that; that is the Lord’s role. However, to the extent that we have opportunity to positively influence how the Lord’s money is used in a church or in the Lord’s work, then we ought to do that. Part Three Page 33 of Beyond Wealth—Orthodoxy, Capitalism and the Gospel of Wealth states: “Material exchanges were meant to provide a means for mankind to transcend necessity (through almsgiving, poverty and ministry), they now become the means by which necessity continues to dominate mankind.” We also don’t give to receive; we need to live the “give” way not the “get” way of life. We know we cannot outgive God, but does not God want us to thank Him for the gifts He has given to us? The elements used for the Eucharist—does it not say these are your gifts from your own gifts? The wheat and the grapes are from God, and we give back to Him bread and wine which He then mysteriously transforms into His body and blood. So, no matter what we give back to God, He gives us something better in return. Our giving does not benefit God because He owns the whole universe; giving is designed to help us outgrow our selfishness and learn not to be dominated by necessity, but by LOVE. This is why we need to cease worrying if we are going to make it financially if we give to the Church. 10% sounds like so much to us. But God promises us that He will supply for our needs, but we must put Him first and His Church (as imperfect as it is) and what He promised, He will do. In Malachi 3:8-10, God accuses us of robbing Him. He states “‘Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and prove me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.’” Do you accept and have faith in the Lord’s proclamation? Are you willing to prove the Lord’s promise on this? You might say, “Oh well, this is a quote from the Old Testament, this does not apply to us now.” All right, then consider that everything we have He has given to us. So what is 10% (a tithe) or more to God? The Lord says that unless our righteousness exceeds the Pharisees, then we “will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:30). The Pharisees (of the Old Testament) gave 10% religiously. So, what does that mean for us? Does it not mean that we should be giving at least 10% of our income to the Lord if not more since “our righteousness needs to exceed the Pharisees?” In Christian thinking, it used to be considered virtuous to “sell all your goods and follow the Lord.” This is why many, if not most, saints gave away everything even all of their possessions. Christians used to have a “box for the poor” in their houses and would regularly put money there. Even the poor Christians, following the example of the woman with two mites, had a “box for the poor” in their home and they put whatever they could in their own boxes. But this idea is not too popular today. Unfortunately, being poor is looked down upon in today’s society. Striving for riches and being rich and possessing things is looked upon very positively. We brag about our children when they are very successful in this world and have obtained riches and/or a high education that secures them a good job. We actually see that as being “virtuous” and being poor is looked down upon and judged harshly. Being rich has become something to strive for, but the Lord says the opposite. He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The Lord is not against us having necessities in this world. He is against us not putting forth effort in overcoming greed that influences us to hoard things for ourselves, and not to give to His Church and His people. Proverbs 19:17 states, “He who gives alms to the poor, lends unto God.” Part Four Page 33 of Beyond Wealth - Orthodoxy, Capitalism and the Gospel of Wealth states: “Material exchanges were meant to provide a means for mankind to transcend necessity (through almsgiving, poverty and ministry), they now become the means by which necessity continues to domi- nate mankind.” We also don’t give to receive; we need to live the “give” way not the “get” way of life. We know we cannot outgive God, but does not God want us to thank Him for the gifts He has given to us? The elements used for the Eucharist—does it not say these are your gifts from your own gifts? The wheat and the grapes are from God, and we give back to Him bread and wine which He then mysteriously transforms into His body and blood. So, no matter what we give back to God, He gives us something better in return. Our giving does not benefit God because He owns the whole universe; giving is designed to help us outgrow our selfishness and learn not to be domi- nated by necessity, but by LOVE. This is why we need to cease worrying if we are going to make it financially if we give to the Church. 10% sounds like so much to us. But God promises us that He will supply for our needs, but we must put Him first and His Church (as im- perfect as it is) and what He promised, He will do. In Malachi 3:8-10, God accuses us of robbing Him. He states “‘Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and prove me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘If I will not open for you the win- dows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.’” Do you accept and have faith in the Lord’s proclamation? Are you willing to prove the Lord’s promise on this? You might say, “Oh well, this is a quote from the Old Testament, this does not apply to us now.” All right, then consider that everything we have He has given to us. So what is 10% (a tithe) or more to God? The Lord says that unless our right- eousness exceeds the Pharisees, then we “will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:30). The Pharisees (of the Old Testament) gave 10% religiously. So, what does that mean for us? Does it not mean that we should be giving at least 10% of our income to the Lord if not more since “our righteousness needs to exceed the Pharisees?” In Christian thinking, it used to be considered virtuous to “sell all your goods and follow the Lord.” This is why many, if not most, saints gave away everything even all of their posses- sions. Christians used to have a “box for the poor” in their houses and would regularly put money there. Even the poor Christians, following the example of the woman with two mites, had a “box for the poor” in their home and they put whatever they could in their own boxes. But this idea is not too popular today. Unfortunately, being poor is looked down upon in today’s society. Striving for riches and being rich and possessing things is looked upon very positively. We brag about our children when they are very successful in this world and have obtained riches and/or a high education that secures them a good job. We actually see that as being “virtuous” and being poor is looked down upon and judged harshly. Being rich has become something to strive for, but the Lord says the opposite. He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The Lord is not against us having necessities in this world. He is against us not putting forth effort in overcoming greed that influences us to hoard things for ourselves, and not to give to His Church and His people. Proverbs 19:17 states, “He who gives alms to the poor, lends unto God.”