Thursday, November 01, 2012

Spiritual Stewardship

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
The Messenger
Associate’s Message

Spiritual Stewardship

This month began with All Saints’ Day, when we recall and celebrate the holy women and men who strove to live faithfully and helped build the kingdom of God in their own times and places. Some of the saints are nearly anonymous, their exemplary lives and good works known to only a few people, or perhaps to God alone. Then there are the saints known by everyone – like St. Francis whose holy life we celebrate each October in a uniquely raucous service. And then there are the saints who fall somewhere in between. These are the people who were distinguished enough to be honored on our liturgical calendar but whose names are hardly well-known even in the most pious households. 

I remember one of my seminary professors suggesting that we should get to know the great Christian men and women of the past so well that we might come to think of them as our friends.  Although that seemed a little goofy to me at the time, over these past few years in the course of preparing homilies for weekday services I have made the acquaintance of some remarkable and inspiring saints. I’m not sure I think of them as friends, exactly, but some have definitely challenged me to live more faithfully and proclaim Christ more boldly.

One new acquaintance is Vida Dutton Scudder (1861-1954), whose feast day was last month. In preparing my little homily on her life I learned that this remarkable woman taught English at Wellesley for decades while at the same time putting her deep Christian faith into action by standing beside the oppressed, insisting on pacifism and asking uncomfortable questions about our economic system. She challenged Christians to do more than offer charity to the poor. She confronted the powerful forces that made charity needed in the first place.

I was most impressed with what she had to say about prayer:

“Let us examine our prayers. How languid they are, how perfunctory, and alas! How often selfish! Sometimes one feels that men’s prayers must sadden God even more than their sins. Prayer is the deepest and surest measure of personality. As men pray, so they really are…A force more penetrating and powerful than gravitation or electricity is entrusted to us, and we are responsible for the steady use of it and its direction to the noblest ends.”

God has entrusted so much to our care! At this time of year when the Church tries to turns our attention to stewardship, we often reflect on, and take stock of, the material resources that we possess. And as Christians we are called to – in fact, expected – to give back to God by generously supporting the Church financially and through offering our time and talent.

But, God has not just given us material riches. We may not often realize it, but we have also been blessed with bottomless spiritual riches. Of course, we have been given Grace Church itself – our remarkable community through which God feeds us and provides us with opportunities to serve others in ways big and small but always profound.

Maybe most important, we have been given the gift – the power – of prayer, “a force more penetrating and powerful than gravitation or electricity.” Yet, I wonder how well we use this awesome power. Do we pray? And if we do, are our prayers selfish, more along the lines of letters to Santa than communication with the Source of Life? Do our prayers sadden God more than our sins?

At this time of year when we focus on stewardship, I’d like to challenge us all to increase our spiritual stewardship through a small, easy yet profound exercise. Each week when we come to church we get a copy of Grace Notes that’s jam-packed with information about upcoming programs and events. But, that’s not all. Grace Notes also includes the names of all those on our parish prayer list. These people – fellow parishioners, friends and relatives, total strangers – are all for a wide variety of reasons in need of our prayers.

So, here’s the challenge: let’s all take Grace Notes home after church on Sunday and pray for each person on the list every day of the week. It will take just a few minutes, but however we choose to do this – with a morning cup of coffee, while sitting on the train, before going to bed – we will be taking responsibility for the power God has given and directing our prayers to the noblest ends.

It’s very important to fill out our pledge cards and be as generous as possible. And it is at least as important to be good spiritual stewards, sharing our prayers for those in need.