Scripture - Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Deuteronomy 6:1-9, The Message
6 1-2 This is the commandment, the rules and regulations, that God, your God, commanded me to teach you to live out in the land you’re about to cross into to possess. This is so that you’ll live in deep reverence before God lifelong, observing all his rules and regulations that I’m commanding you, you and your children and your grandchildren, living good long lives.
3 Listen obediently, Israel. Do what you’re told so that you’ll have a good life, a life of abundance and bounty, just as God promised, in a land abounding in milk and honey.
4 Attention, Israel!
God, our God! God the one and only!
5 Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!
6-9 Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.
We’re in the beginning of our stewardship season here at the Chebeague Community Church - like many congregations do during this time of year. We set aside a few weeks at the end of the year to pause and give thanks for God’s faithfulness, to consider what God might be inviting us or challenging us to give to the church in the coming year, and to celebrate generosity. Many churches do it at this time of year because it lines up with the fiscal calendar, and receiving pledges or estimates of giving for 2022 helps with making budgetary decisions. It connects up with the themes of gratitude and thanksgiving - which are on everyone’s minds as so many people make gratitude an intentional practice for each day in November and as we celebrate Thanksgiving Day here in the United States.
But why do churches and congregations call it “Stewardship?” Why not call it a pledge campaign? Or a future giving campaign?
If you look the word stewardship up in the dictionary - I used Webster’s - you’ll find this definition: stewardship is the “conducting, supervising, or managing of something, especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.”
In a Stewardship campaign in a church, we’re taking the time to consider how we as people of faith, manage resources. Money, to be sure, but also time and energy and talents. But the key thing to remember in the word stewardship is not just the word “manage” - but the ownership of the things we are managing. To whom do our resources ultimately belong?
As part of a life of faith, we understand that all of who we are, all that we are giving, everything that makes us has its source and beginning in God. Our money? Not really ours, but God’s. Time and energy? God’s. Talents? God’s. We have been entrusted with these things, to manage and supervise as God invites and directs.
And so in this Stewardship season we do talk about money and resources and stuff so that we can come into a greater alignment with God’s purposes for us and for our relationship with the world around us, including the resources we have at our fingertips.
We see this kind of relationship pointed to in our passage from this morning, a portion of the Hebrew Bible that begins with the “Shema” - a commandment that is translated into English as “hear”. The Shema is “4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” or as we heard it this morning, “4 Attention, Israel! God, our God! God the one and only! 5 Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!”
The command stated that the people should inscribe these words on their hearts, put them on their doorposts, teach them to their children, talk about them all the time - first thing in the morning and last thing at bedtime, out in the streets, in the home, on your hands and foreheads - that this was the one most central thing - that they are to love God with all of who they are because this God made them who they are - this God who brought them out of Egypt, who fashioned them into a people, who was about to give them a Promised Land long hoped for and dreamed for - this God who was the source of their being and the grounding for everything, whose name YHWH - spelled in the Hebrew as Y H W H - is literally like the sound of breath. Normally the name Y H W H is not pronounced; over time, people have added vowels so we hear it as Yahweh or Jehovah - but Rabbi Arthur Waskow invites to experiment to pronounce the word YHWH as it is with no vowels - and what you get is the sound of breath moving out - the movement of air.
Rabbi Waskow writes, “For me, YHWH as Breath of Life is not just a neat understanding of the four-letter Name, but a profound metaphor and theology of God. God as the Breath of Life, in-and-out breath, that which unites all life, that which is beyond us and within us. Words are physical breathing shaped by our intellectual consciousness into emotional communication...What we do when we pray or study Torah or share words of compassion is breathe our selves into the Breath of Life….Prayer is aimed at what unites each separate breath into a unity of breathing, a con-spiracy of life. The process by which what we breathe out the trees breathe in; what the trees breathe out we breathe in.”
He goes on to share an interpretive translation, that says [read from commentary]
What the Shema does for the Israelites - as well as the command to literally surround themselves with its words -- and what it invites for us today, is to consider that place that we have in the grand scheme of things, where we are part of God’s great economy in such a way as what we exhale becomes part of another beings inhale - that the crunch of leaves beneath our feet helps turn them into soil - that our every action ripples out into the world to be received by others - plant, animal, down to the smallest phytoplankton. God suffuses our being, suffuses creation - all that we have has its origin and source in God - and praise God that we are brought into that beautiful cycle of life and death and life again, and that out of that wonderful dance we can love the Lord of God with all our heart, our mind, our soul, our strength, with every fiber of our being down to the very mitochondria within our cells.
Since we are God’s down to the very depths of our being...all that we have has its source in God...and we lift up our selves, our resources, our energies, our talents, our gifts for God’s use in the world. We love God with all of who we are and all that is at our disposal.
That’s not just a personal or emotional or abstract or emotional love - something that we experience individually - but one that is embodied and collective. The Hebrew word that gets translated as soul is “nefesh” - breath...life-breath...throat...something that lives in the body - something that is the passage for nourishment and life...something that calls out and cries out...something that inhales and exhales. It’s a commandment that isn’t just about our own personal connection with the divine, but how that gets lived out in all of what we do - our thoughts, our emotions, our responses, our actions - the decisions we make about how to prioritize our lives, the consequences of how we interact with our neighbors, how we choose to move and carry ourselves in the world, and how we relate to our possessions, our gifts, our talents, our treasure.
So the question as we think about stewardship isn’t just about how much we give to God. It’s not about reaching a benchmark and dusting our hands off because we’ve made it. It’s not about obligation or checking a box. Because it’s all God’s to begin with. The question is - how much do we keep for ourselves?
We are part of God’s economy - one of abundance - that there is more than enough for every living creature - what one gives as unneeded waste becomes necessary sustenance for life for another. What gets decomposed one season is fertile ground for next year’s seed. What we receive in our wealth - not just money, but giftedness, worthiness, belovedness - we pass on in hope to bless and grow goodness, kindness, peace, justice, love -- God’s kindom -- all around us.
We do so at God’s invitation -- in a reflection of the rhythm of creation all around us.
I’ve been using resources from enfleshed lately to prepare our worship gatherings, and these words were from the Invitation to the Offering, and I find them to work well as the conclusion for this sermon:
“Today we can be like the trees, we can be like the phytoplankton, we can be like the mushrooms on the forest floor: we can take what we have been given and offer abundance back to the community of living things….for in our interdependence, we have life.”
As we enter this Stewardship Season let us remember that YHWH - the Breath of Life - gives us life...and that life flows through us and through all that we have to bless the world. Let us be attentive to the ways that we are invited to breathe in harmony with all of creation - to be stewards of all that God has charged us with - using them to be Christ’s body for this island and for the worth - through this congregation at the Holy Spirit’s leading. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.