The story is told that some farmers once were plowing the earth behind their oxen, when they saw a king pass by, majestically clad in purple and resplendent in his shining crown, and surrounded by an enormous crowd of body guards. Since there was nothing at hand for them to present to their ruler, one of them immediately scooped up some water in this hands – for there was abundant water flowing nearby – and brought it to the king as a gift. The king said to him, “What is this you bring me, my son?” And the peasant boldly replied, “I bring what I have, since I thought it best not to let my poverty hide my eagerness to give. You have no need of our possessions, nor do you desire anything from us but good will. But for us, giving you a gift is both a duty and a praiseworthy gesture; for glory has a way of coming to those who show themselves grateful.” The king was filled with wonder, and praised the man’s wisdom; he received the farmer’s act of kindness graciously, and bestowed on him many generous gifts in return. (From a homily of St. John of Damascus on the Dormition of the Mother of God)

This above story doesn’t offer any practical solutions to meeting our church budget when we anticipate that expenses will exceed income for the year. It gives no reason why you should sign a pledge card to be a parish member, or why you should tithe 10% of your income to the Church, or why you should give your time to supporting the cooking workshops and our fundraisers throughout the year. I mention these things because when it comes to supporting the church, we are a parish in transition. This parish used to rely mostly upon proceeds from bingo to operate. Now we are renting out our hall for weddings and doing several fundraisers to supplement our income. Within the last four years, a stewardship ministry of pledging a portion of our personal income to support the church was introduced to help us understand our own responsibility we have in supporting the church instead of being dependent on non-members for the parish’s well being.  Personally I believe the proper way for the church to support itself is from the tithes and offerings of its members. I believe one of the best decisions, this parish ever made was to start the stewardship program of member giving to support the work of St. George parish here in Rossford.  If this church is going to have a future of spiritual and numerical growth it is important that we continue to grow in our understanding and practice of proper stewardship in the Church.  This is what led me to start this note with the above story of the peasant’s giving of water to the king.
The story itself gives some insight into the proper mindset and heart we need to have as the basis for our giving. The giving of the peasant in the story proceeds from a mind and heart, that:
1) Is aware of its poverty but gives what it has.
2) Is grateful in its giving
3) Is joyful in its giving
4) Is full of love and adoration for the King in its giving

The spiritual poverty of giving
The peasant understood that he had nothing that he could call his own that the king had need of. What he did give to the king was a handful of water that didn’t belong to him to begin with.  He gave what he was able to give and he held nothing back! When Jesus spoke to the young rich man about inheriting eternal life he told him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have, distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me.” (Luke 18:22). This reminds me of what we pray at every service “let us commend (entrust, offer) ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.” Our Lord beckons us to rid ourselves of all things that interfere with offering ourselves to Him. A heart and mind that gives understands the nature of all things as being a gift from God. To be a steward of God’s creation is to be entrusted with what we have been given and to use it in a manner that is pleasing to God. This thought is most beautifully expressed in the words we pronounce as we offer the gifts at the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy, “Thine of Thine own, we offer Thee on behalf of all and for all. “ (or on behalf of everyone and everything.) At each liturgy we offer to the Lord what we have and we are not to hold anything back. On a parish level this always challenges to ask the question, “Are we being good stewards of the gifts God has given us to oversee the life the local parish community?” Are we using these gifts for the up building and growth of the vineyard Christ has established in Rossford or are we merely surviving?

One obstacle to healthy stewardship is the word “mine”. The word mine runs contrary to the idea of giving what we have. The word mine always means withholding something that doesn’t belong to the other. The word mine is possessive and selfish. The word mine separates and divides. The word mine means we keep something in our possession apart from God’s approval and blessing. The word “mine” is not just an individual problem; parish communities can also adopt a “mine” mindset that threatens healthy stewardship.

The gratitude of one’s giving
“Oh that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! Let them sacrifice the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and declare His works with rejoicing.” (Psalm 107:21-22). The peasant in the above story offered the water to the king with gratitude and thanksgiving. Why was the peasant grateful? The story really doesn’t say. It does say that the king was their ruler; meaning he was responsible for the well being of his subjects and providing for them. Perhaps this is what motivated the peasant in giving what he did to the king. The gift we give to the Lord needs to be given with thanksgiving for who the Lord is; the source of life, the source of all that is good, the source of all that we have. We are to give to the Lord out of gratitude for what He did for us when humankind chose to reject the Lord as the source of all that is good and sought that source of goodness in the false idols of this world. His ultimate act of self-sacrificial love is His life saving Death and Resurrection. He did this to reconcile us to Him. This we celebrate and remember at every Divine Liturgy when we receive the Holy Eucharist. Eucharist is derived from the Greek work “eucharistia” which means to give thanks. 

Another obstacle to healthy stewardship is pride and arrogance. Instead of being grateful for what the Lord has done for us, we want to be acknowledged for what we have done for the Lord. This can lead to resentment on our part if our efforts aren’t noticed and acknowledged.  Instead of being indebted to the Lord, we feel God owes us something and we are entitled to it. No matter how long someone has been a “member” of the Church, no one is ever entitled to it. We are members of Christ Body, because of what He did for us, not because of what we did for Him! He is the Vine we are the branches.
 
The joy of giving
The peasant brought what he had to the king because he didn’t want his poverty to hide his eagerness to give! In his second letter for Corinth, Paul writes about a collection churches are taking up for the church in Jerusalem due to a famine there. He writes, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”(2 Corinthians 9:6-7) Why was this peasant in the story so eager to give? The story seems to indicate that the peasant didn’t hesitate at all in his giving. We know the story of Zacchaeus in Luke. Here was a man who defrauded poor people by over-taxing them. He committed many sins. Yet he went out of his way to get Jesus’ attention and joyfully received Christ into his house. In his repentance, he vowed to restore those he defrauded four fold. I think true Christian joy in giving is not possible until someone has entered into and experienced the mystery of repentance in one’s life.

Another obstacle to stewardship is when giving gets reduced to an obligation, something we do to justify ourselves. There is also something wrong if we experience giving as a burden; or something legislated that we feel forced to do. It is really important that when a church plans a stewardship program for the year that people are not guilt tripped into giving.

Giving out of love and adoration for the Lord
The peasant gave what he did to the king simply because he loved and adored him. At every Vespers service we begin with a short hymn from the Psalms singing, “Come let us worship, and fall down before Christ.” To worship Christ is to adore Him. We need to understand that our giving to Christ and His Church is an act of worship.  It is based on a love and trust for the Lord.  We offer to Him what He asks us to offer out of loving obedience to Him even if sometimes we don’t fully get it. Do we have such a trusting relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ? Do we adore and worship our Lord Jesus and Him only? These questions are critical questions to ask of ourselves and who we are as parish. This church was built in Rossford with the hope that more people would join us as time would go by. Why do we want new people in our church? What is it that we have to offer them? We want new people to value what they experience here so they will hopefully join us. But do we value what we experience here as its members? How we answer this last question I think has a lot to do with how we understand and practice our stewardship in the Church.

In upcoming reflections, I will address how modern day living affects the way we practice our stewardship. Take care, Fr. Paul