Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dirt and money…

The past few weeks, we’ve explored our church’s “core values” during worship. Freedom of belief. Unconditional hospitality. Joyful service. Friendly, intimate community. It’s part of our annual stewardship campaign, when we ask members to turn in pledge cards informing the Board how much money we can expect for fiscal 2012-13’s Operating Budget, which begins June 1 (please turn in pledges by this Sunday!). And the reason we explored core values is to remind ourselves Why We Give, since church donations are about so much more than keeping lights on or meeting payroll. At the same time, we’ve prepared to open the Plymouth Creek Community Garden for the second year in a row. That occurs this week- Tuesday, the 15th. Thus, we’ve had a busy month!

Now, these various projects may seem like different pursuits. Money and dirt often don’t go hand-in-hand, after all. I, however, think the two are different sides of the same spiritual coin. For they’re both about stewardship- one of God’s financial gifts to our family and church, the other of God’s material gifts of Creation to all people.

Remember the parable Jesus told about a rich man going on vacation? For whatever reason, this guy decided to travel to another land. And since Delta airlines had few routes out of Nazareth back then, it seems the rich man’s travel would take months. So he gathered his stewards- his property managers- and gave to each various sums of his wealth to look after. And when he returned, naturally, he called the three in for an accounting. To two he said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” Why? Well, they put his money to work during his absence and returned to him principal plus interest. But the last, who dug a hole and hid his portion, received a, “For shame!” Not because he lost the money, but because he took no risk.

Of course, it’d be unfair to read into this story a kind of proto-capitalism, God saying, “Let’s all invest God’s gifts aggressively in volatile financial markets.” Perhaps there’s something of that in the story, but hopefully, it goes deeper. I prefer to think it’s about the dynamic of courage and fear. One reason we (or at least I) don’t give as much as possible (of my money, time, or talents) to worthy causes is because we (I) get afraid about what’ll happen if it goes wrong. In other words, it takes courage to give. And that’s as true for simple gifts- like roses for a beloved, or advice to a child- as it is for a $30,000 pledge to pave the parking lot! Something folk rarely think about, though, is the loss of not giving, the unrealized new gains of love, of ministry, of new creations if we just let lands lay fallow.

The second Creation story in the Bible (and yes, there’re two – Genesis 1 & 2), speaks of Creation as a Garden that God expects humans “to till.” In other words, in the divine imagination, conservation of God’s gifts is as much about cultivation as protection. Sure, we can take this idea too far, cultivating so much for our own indulgence we knock the entire system out of balance. It seems to me the greatest challenge facing humanity in the future is restoring a healthy balance between our wants and the environment’s needs. But just as the master in Jesus’ story hoped his stewards would put his money to work, the master of Creation celebrates the creativity of human cultivation. Like when last year, our church decided to stop ignoring our western-most property, and opened it as gardens to our neighbors. It took a little work, but now that resource is returning investments. Of health for local families, of relief to their grocery budgets, of renewed vitality to the soil and land, organically cultivated and sustained.

So may you, this week, pray God’s guidance over the many resources entrusted to your care. Do some require greater cultivation? How can you do that for the common good?

Grace and Peace,


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