First Thoughts: Stewardship rooted in relationship
The Rev. Larry Hollon
During a session with a congregant when I was a local church pastor, the person said, "I feel like I don't matter to anyone. No one listens. No one would miss me if I were gone. I don't matter."
This person's son was in trouble with the law. He was caught in the chains of drug addiction. A daughter was struggling financially and was a single parent. The advice, admonitions and financial aid this mother had given were not enough. The problem behaviors continued despite her best efforts and the result for her was a feeling of uselessness.
As I listened, it was clear to me that she was de-valuing herself based on the uncontrollable behaviors of others, and by implication, their rejection of her best advice, actions and intentions.
It's a common assessment, perhaps one with which every parent can identify. But it's also an inaccurate assessment.
It's my belief that we were not brought into this world to live in chaos, nor to live a diminished life. That's also the teaching of the Scriptures:
"For thus says the LORD who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it; (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!)" (Isaiah 45:18 NRSV)
"I came that they might have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10).
The writers of the Bible tell us that we are to flourish. Life is a gift. We receive life and live by the grace of God.
A vibrant, flourishing life occurs when we are in a right relationship with God and with others. These relationships inform us of our own value and the value of the gift of life, and its meaning and purpose.
When we are in a right relationship with God we understand that we need not assess our value based on how well others receive our admonitions, useful or not, but on how well we perceive our own life as a person of value, how we live a life that respects our own dignity and that of others.
It finds expression in how we relate to others as we grow in knowledge of God's intent for us to flourish. Jesus called his disciples to a life of self-giving. Paul puts it most eloquently when he writes to the church in Philippi that we are to be as a servant, to follow the God who is revealed in Jesus. Jesus reveals God's love for us as self-emptying. (Philippians 2:1,11)
This love does not admonish us. It invites us by an almost incomprehensible act of love so profound it can change our lives when we comprehend it and and receive it.
This is one of the mysteries of faith: God is willing to empty God's own self to demonstrate love for us.
We can love others because God first loves us. When we understand life through this lens, we understand we are valued because we are blessed by the love of God, created to be in an intimate and growing relationship with God that leads us to understand ourselves and the life we live in ways that are more profound than the measures commonly used by the culture—self-gratification, wealth, status, influence, possessions.
In our Western culture of narcissism, consumption and materialism, this is an offering that cuts to the depths of our hopes and our fears. It calls us to be stewards of our own lives, and to steward creation, and more.
In this issue we focus on stewardship. The starting point for stewardship is our relationship to God, and our understanding of the gracious gift of life that is revealed in the act of God's loving intent. "For God so loved the world that God gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
Stewardship begins with this understanding: We belong to God, and to each other.
The Rev. Larry Hollon is publisher of Interpreter and general secretary of United Methodist Communications. Read his FAITH MEDIA+CULTURE blog at www.larryhollon.com.