Monday, November 7, 2016

Everything I Have I Was Given

Stewardship is not about money. It's not even about figuring how much of our time and talent we can generously give to church and charities. It's about realizing that everything, even the things we feel are most ours—our minds, our talents, our work ethic—are gifts. There is no "self-made man", no "pulling myself up by my bootstraps". Stewardship starts with realizing we are blessed.

First reading today: famous passage from book of Maccabees: Mother and her seven sons are tortured; opponents are trying to get them so give up their Jewish faith.

The Church has always seen in them precursors to the early Christian martyrs, some two centuries before them.

We read: After him the third [son] suffered their cruel sport. He put out his tongue at once when told to do so, and bravely held out his hands, as he spoke these noble words: “It was from heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again.”

“It was from Heaven that I received these; from him I hope to receive them again ”

At other times in the Church Year, we get to hear what the mother of the seven brothers said to them. She exhorted them in their own ancestral Hebrew tongue:

I do not know how you came to be in my womb; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements you are made of.

We might be tempted to write that off her remarks as mere ignorance, since she was speaking in 170 B.C.

"I don't know how you came to be in my womb…"

Yes, in terms of general biology and chromosomes and DNA, it is true that we know more about how her sons came to be in her womb.

But even then, there are huge mysteries of reproduction and gestation we still don’t fully understand,

And certainly when it comes to the lines "it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements you are made of…" we modern people are no further along than her.

We can't explain the very first question of philosophy which the German Heidegger says is "Why is the anything and not just nothing?" let alone can we answerer “Why is the life here and not just minerals and chemicals?”

“Or what is life?” or “Where does life come from?”

We have covered a lot of ground since this poor mother spoke to her son, and yet there is still so much we can't account for, let alone are we able to bring about in any way.

No. We recognize—or we should recognize—like she said next in Maccabees: “since it is the Creator of the universe who shaped the beginning of mankind and brought about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life…”

Why do I bring this up?

What's the point of this all?

It's because this realization—especially when every once in awhile it hits us out of the blue—is a huge step to understanding life and our faith.

We usually think that the Christian Faith is about knowing a bunch of stuff about the Bible and Jesus.

And that’s part of it. But the first thing a Christian needs to know is: "I am not a sufficient explanation for myself.”

I cannot account for my own being.

I am not the source of my faculties, abilities, or talents.

There is no pulling myself up by my own bootstraps.

Even if I trained myself into an Olympic athlete or I built a business from scratch with just my bare hands...

Where did those hands come from?

Where did the sweat and muscles I used?

Where the mind to create and the will to work hard?

Whence came all the natural talent I use?

Not from me.

No, I am a human.

I am radically dependent.

I was made from dust, and I was given the breath of life and a soul.

I was given a mind to understand and a heart to choose.

Once I had those things; yeah, I did a lot.

But all that I started with, all the talents I applied, and all the desire to make something of myself—came from outside.

I am a creature.

I am utterly dependent on a Creator.

We don't like to think of that a lot. We're Americans. We're independent and self-starters.

Until we stop for a moment and see that we're not.

Not at the root, at least.

You’re still wondering, what is this about.

It's because Spider-Man is right: with great power comes great…

And Jesus right before him: to whom much is given much will be...

And we need to be reminded of that—that we have been given much and have great power—so we can have the right kind of grateful heart.

This week you will be receiving your annual stewardship renewal card

Often when we hear "stewardship" and we think first of Sunday monetary contributions.

Well, I don't care about your Sunday contributions.

Ok well, I don't care about your Sunday contributions that much.

What I care about is did you hear and understand the stuff I've been saying the last 5 minutes?

Because if you do, if I do, then the rest takes care of itself.

If I realize that I can't account for my life and breath and days and years and abilities, then it's not that hard to look at our yearly renewal cards and think about how awesome it is to be alive.

To have breath and health, and a mind and skills.

Then looking at this card and thinking about how I can give my talents, that’s not a challenge at all.

Because we realize: those talents aren’t mine—I was given them.

My time is not mine. I don’t know how long I will have, and I don’t even know why I got this much to begin with.

And I start to realize that it’s not crazy to want to give back by maybe… signing up for a retreat, or doing a holy hour.

Not crazy to think: My voice isn’t bad. Maybe I should join a choir.
Look and think: You know, somebody did right by me and was my CCD teacher and taught me the faith. Maybe I can do that for someone else.

Those things become easy when we remind ourselves that I am not my own cause of being.

That everything I am, and everything I possess, and even my personal abilities, really doesn’t come from me. Even with my talents, those didn’t start with me.

When I look at it that way, this becomes an easy thing to fill out.

It actually becomes a bit of a challenge to think: “Huh, what can’t I give? What can’t I return back to God? What can’t I give to my parish?”

Becomes exciting to think how lucky we are and ponder the great things we can do.

So this week when you get this, look at this as a thank you card.

God is giving you the chance to be truly thankful for the awesome opportunities you’ve been given in this life.

That fact that you made it to adulthood—think of how many people don’t do that—that’s an awesome gift.

The fact that you have a mind to understand what I’m saying right now; the fact that you have talents that apply in your daily life; those are huge.

When you think about those, then you say: “I would love to fill out some of these things of time and talent and treasure.”

You will receive you Stewardship card…

Great quote from St. Catherine of Siena!

(Same as past years, except greeters and gift bearers combined.)

Go through it—prayerfully—with your family—looking at to see if there is something new we should do? Something to challenge ourselves with? Make a holy hour once a week?

Tear off your commitments. Stick it with a magnet to your fridge!

Take the rest and bring it next week and put it in the collection basket when we have our Stewardship Renewal Sunday or you can drop it off at the parish office.

And then when we get it, we divide it further. We remove the third panel with the financial stewardship part and keep that confidential.

And then we pass the remainder—the time and talents part—on to the committees that get ahold of people and sign them up for activities.

And those people get excited. They say, “I was always hoping that so-and-so would sign up to be a reader! I wonder what happened?”

You know what probably happened? They were sitting here on November 6, at 7:30 AM, trying to not think of the blow-out we experienced last night, and they realized that the very fact we have Huskers that are good enough to play Division 1 football, the very fact that we have pews to sit in, the very fact we have backsides to sit on, that all of those things are gifts from God—

—and at that moment it struck you at 7:55 that you have awesome gifts, that you’ve been given so much, and you realized “Yeah I want to give back”

I want to give my time and my talent and my treasures back to the Lord.

I’m so thankful for what he has given me, that he has entrusted to me in stewardship, that I just can’t wait to give it back in stewardship to him.