“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Live Free! That is the theme of our stewardship emphasis this year. At first glance, it seems somewhat curious, given there are other texts that point more clearly to generosity and giving. But after a second look, it makes sense to consider Christ’s gracious gift of freedom as meaningful motivation for good stewardship. We don’t make a big push for supporting the life and work of the church each year. At least in part, I believe this is because we are a congregation with a deep understanding and commitment to stewardship. We come back to the importance of stewardship over and over in the course of our worship, learning and mission because we understand it as fundamental to our faith and practice.
Live Free! Take Hold of the Life that Really Is Life (1 Timothy 6:18-19). The stewardship material we received from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center suggests this theme and the additional text from First Timothy. They divide the overall theme into four considerations. The first is “Free – from the Money Trap.” I think we all must have some familiarity with this phenomenon. If we just had a little bit more, we could… You name it! Money becomes very much a “yoke of slavery.” What is it money can buy that we just HAVE to have? A bigger house, a better neighborhood, designer clothes, the latest gadget, the fastest car? Who is it we have to impress and why?
Jesus says “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!…Instead, strive for God’s Beloved Community, and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:22-23, 29). Again it takes a moment to grasp Jesus’ meaning, to see how this word really does offer freedom from the “money trap.” Part of our freedom is the recognition that there is so much more to life than accumulating wealth, making money, living for a fragile and faulty security.
The second consideration is that we are “Free – to Be Rich.” It almost sounds like a contradiction of point one. But there are ways to be rich that are a function of freedom. Remember the old song that sings “the best things in life are free”?
The moon belongs to everyone
The best things in life are free
The stars belong to everyone
They gleam there for you and me
The flowers in spring
The robins that sing
The sunbeams that shine
They’re yours, they’re mine
And love can come to everyone
The best things in life are free
In his letter to Timothy, Paul exhorts his young protégé, “…to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, thus storing up…the treasures of a good foundation for the future…take hold of the life that really is life.” This is wealth born of accepting what is so generously and freely given; then giving rather than getting. We are free to gather in and spread around riches like this because Christ has set us free.
In part three, they suggest that we are “Free – from the Uncertainty of Riches.” “It is easy to confuse our wants with our needs, especially in a culture that continually urges us to buy more.” Related to point one, we are asked to place our trust in the one who clothes the lilies of the field and numbers the hairs on our head (if we have any left!) We are encouraged to understand that “all belongs to God, there is no transfer of ownership. As God’s stewards, we don’t own anything.” This is difficult for us to wrap our minds around. We are conditioned to believe that somehow we are in charge of ourselves, our relationships, even our world. To have responsibility for these things does not put us in charge, though. “When we recognize that the entirety of life is a gift from God, we are less likely to hold on so tightly, as gifts are intended to be shared.” Can we buy into that freedom, that gifts are intended to be shared? It really can be liberating to share with grace and generosity.
Finally we are enjoined to be “Free – to Take Hold of Life.” We circle back to Paul’s invitation to “life that is truly life.” Christ sets us free to live this life that is truly life. This is the life of the Beloved Community that Christ came to proclaim, to demonstrate, to call us to. It is life in which we let go of the insecurity of all scarcity belief and recognize that there truly is enough to go around, especially if those of us who are so blessed, so privileged learn these lessons of stewardship. For freedom Christ has set us free – free to be the best and brightest, the most compassionate and generous, the happiest and loveliest of what God created us to be. Live free so that you may take hold of the life that really is life.
Yours on the journey, Rick