Several years ago a friend from college spoke at Riverside Church in Manhattan. He was 30-years-old at the time, a struggling musician with a day job, sharing a house with friends in Harlem. I had heard him sing several times in and around New York, but on that Sunday morning he was not in the choir or offering a solo. Tom had been asked to be co-chair of the church stewardship campaign, which both surprised and pleased him, and he called his dad in Memphis for advice. “I hope you will accept the challenge,” his father said. “It will be an opportunity for you to remember that we never own anything in this life. Do you have the courage to stand up and say that?”
I don’t know if Tom would call himself courageous, but I think he was. He looked small as he stepped to the microphone and described life in the city on a budget, pinched by limited resources and the number of hours in a day. “I caught myself recently saying to friends that I ‘needed more, deserved more, wanted more,’” he said, “and something clicked inside me: why am I focusing on what I don’t have? What will change if I concentrate on what I can do instead of what I can’t?”
The service that morning concluded with the final verse of Hymn 112, spoken as a prayer: What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him—give my heart.
That’s the essence of stewardship: to give ourselves. If we have eyes to see it, everything in our lives is a gift—even our hard earned money and our time—and those gifts are ours to offer, for the good of the whole, to help and heal the world.
You know what a steward is by analogy: she is the person who manages the wine for the owner of the restaurant. She tends the bottles, chills some, and turns others. She receives new supply, takes care of the empties, and keeps the place looking clean and bright. She cares a whole lot about the wine, and wants to make sure that people have access to it and enjoy it, but none of it is really hers. It’s the person who owns the restaurant who really owns the wine, and the steward is acting as an agent for the host.
Or…he is the person who presents the airline to you when you fly. He takes you to your seat, offers you something to eat or drink, and directs you to safety in the event of an emergency. He manages your experience as you travel. But he doesn’t own the airline; he represents it. He offers it to you for the owner, whom you probably haven’t met directly.
A steward is one who manages another’s property or finances or affairs. In the stories Jesus likes to tell, it is the person left in charge of a large estate or vineyard. It’s a person who serves others on behalf of someone else, and that’s why we talk about stewardship in the church. The world is the vineyard, and Jesus calls us to share what we have, to be God’s hands and heart to heal it.
Everything changes when we concentrate on what’s possible.