Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stewardship: The Divine Economy: Make our Life the Vision of Thee

Summer is coming to an end. I have just returned from some time off. I fished, worked on some genealogy, listened, read, and listened some more. I also enjoyed listening to a lot of music while I was relaxing. As I prepared for this talk on stewardship I was reminded of a hymn that is somewhat like a summer prayer. The song is by Rascal Flatts and it is called, “Backwards.”

You get your house back

You get your dog back

You get your best friend Jack back

You get your truck back

You get your hair back

You get your first and second wives back

Your front porch swing

your pretty little thing

Your bling bling bling and a diamond ring

Your get your farm and the barn and the boat and the Harley

That old black cat named Charlie

You get your mind back

And your nerves back

Your achy breaky heart back

You get your pride back

You get your life back

You get your first real love back

ohh big screen TV, DVD and a washing machine

You get the pond and the lawn and the rake and the mower

You go back when life was slower

It sounds a little crazy, a little scattered and absurd

But that's what you get

When you play a country song backwards

The economic culture that we live in is economy based upon the loosing of things and the gaining of things; the selling and the purchasing of things.

Sometimes, our church economy is based upon the increase or the decrease of things as well: people, pledges, and plate.

So I thought we should begin at the beginning. We must begin with a sense of the “Divine Economy.”

The poet, author, and Dean of York beginning in 1941, Eric Milner-White, wrote a poem called Thy God, Thy Glory. Here is the last stanza:

O God, most glorious,
Make our life the vision of thee

To the praise of thy glory;

that we all as a mirror may reflect it,

and be transformed into the same image

from glory to glory,

world without end.

Excerpt from: Thy God, Thy Glory

Eric Milner-White, 1884-1963

So we begin as our ancient texts tell us, in the beginning was the Word and the word was with God. (John 1.1)

God looks upon God, and in this looking has a perfect image of God’s self, the perfect and beautiful idea of God’s self. God looks and sees God perfectly, wholly, and corporately. And, in this looking in this perfect beholding of God’s self God is both Father and Son. There is God and there is God’s perfect self the Son.

Our human language cannot incorporate or speak adequately of the eternal, whole, and incorruptible nature of God and God’s self; so we say in our Creed, “God is Father, almighty,” and we also say, “God is Lord, Christ, only Son of God, eternally begotten,” and we say: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father.”

God looks upon God and perfectly sees God’s self.

In seeing God, God perfectly loves God’s self. God perfectly is bound to God the son. So perfect, so unblemished is God’s love for God’s self that it, too, is actualized and repeats the perfect and beautiful and manifest glory which is God…This perfect love is that than which no greater can be thought.

Once again our human language fails to capture the movement and work of God or the perfection of God who we proclaim as love, so we say in our Creed that we believe in God who is “Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” And, we recognize this God of three and three in one as eternally present in community one to another.

So perfect is God’s love for God, the Father for the Son, that God’s beauty and perfection and glory overflows, spilling out in the action of creation. God is creator of heaven and earth, God creates through God’s self (the son), through him all things were made. And the creative power and force is itself the very spirit of God, the hands of God at work in the world about us, the Holy Spirit. So it is that all things come to be and are given shape and form. Out of nothing they were created, but for the pleasure of God they were created and God saw all of God’s creation and the reflection of God’s image in its watery forms and green canopies, and creatures and saw that it was “good.”

All of creation is formed out of the divine imagination reflecting to God the glory of God’s self eternally united in a Holy Community we call the Trinity.

This is our sacred Truth.

This community of mutual affection and perfected friendship and undivided unity by its very nature, its very being creates all that we see, all that we have, all that we are for the pleasure and enjoyment and reflection that it provides. It’s as if to say, God creates out of the love for the Son and offers it to God saying, you are my son, see the love I have for you and I give to you in this creation which I hold in the palm of my hand, and offer to you. See in this creation formed out of nothing and given life by me the reflection of our beauty.

This is what we are made for. This is the purpose of all creation. We are made, formed, and given the breath of life for the purpose of glorifying God.

This is what we are made for…this is the divine economy.

We are created out of nothing as a gift to the Son from God the Father so that we might as a whole creation, not just human beings, not just one individual, not just the human self – the whole of humanity in conjunction with all of creation, reflect the dignity of God.

The glory of God is the ultimate purpose of creation.

Our story of beginnings, our heritage of community tells us of our all-to-human and all-to-imperfect attempts to do this work, to make this our ultimate concern. In fact, not only is God’s glory not our ultimate concern or our primary undertaking, it is the opposite of our human willfulness. Through all of history we have perpetrated the primary work of self-glorification, self-preservation, and self-manifestation making us the Gods of creation. This is the lie we live.

So tragic, so pervasive, so broken is this understanding of creation that we – on our own – outside of community only see imperfectly the shape of the world intended by God. So it is God who comes into the world, to possess the world which is a gift, to participate, to undo the powers of this world, by reorienting, refocusing, and drawing our eyes to the greater work of God. They asked Jesus, “Why did you come into this world?” He answers us clearly, “To glorify God.” This is his answer and he is our teacher in the life of holiness – in the divine economy.

Jesus’ death on the cross purchases, redeems for us the freedom from the bonds of self-service that we may follow him along the way, imitating our teacher, and undertaking the glorification of God. We are given by the cross freedom from sin which is nothing less than freedom from avarice, the insatiable desire of a God like self-preservation above all else – the root of all sinful desires and actions.

God not only enters and claims creation as God’s own, but also redeems it, providing a missional map to the work of creation, and breathing, loosing on all creation the ever present Holy Spirit, God with us, to strengthen us for the work of glorifying and magnifying God. The lens is polished that we may see more clearly, with the help of the Holy Spirit, our work and the work of community.

The Holy Spirit, the empowering agent of Godly life, transforms and binds individual sinners into virtuous community. This is the family of God, the community called the Church, with the primary working outwardly, on a daily basis, the inner life of the Holy Trinity. The mission of true virtue, co-creating with God, the community of God, the reign of God, the kingdom of God, on earth and in this moment.

We are as the family of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, enlarging and actualizing God’s Holy vision in creation.

If these themes of “glorification of God” and “building virtuous community” are our work, what then? (And it is most certainly the orthodox view of creation and redemption rooted deeply in our Anglican theology and tradition.) If this glorification of God is our ultimate created purpose as community and our penultimate work is the perfecting of human relationships one to another in undivided unity – the building of the virtuous community at work in the world -- then stewardship is at the center of our life and our ministry. In fact, we might say, our life and our ministry is stewardship.

Virtuous life, a life lived to benefit God, is a life of stewardship the essential ingredient in the divine economy.

We are created for stewardship of the eternal.

We cannot look upon creation, our use or abuse of it, without the knowledge of its ultimate purpose and our fallen desire to manage it for our own benefit rather than for God’s glory.

We cannot look upon our communities, our towns our cities, without acknowledging the brokenness of human interrelations, and the collateral casualties of economy of wealth, power, and authority which benefit human aggrandizement and not the divine economy.

We cannot look upon our families, our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and children and not acknowledge how we live out our relationships into horizontal alignment along competing self-indulging sibling relationships. The cost of this economy is broken families, record divorces, bankruptcy, astronomical debt, and abuse. God rather intends the family of God to be one of caring and support with roles ordered out of virtuous care for the “other” in our midst.

We cannot look upon our church without recognizing the result of ego driven communities, with mob mentalities, conflicted loyalties, political maneuvering, and argument measured in electronic sound bytes, followers, and power rather than in discerned corporate stewardship of the divine economy.

When we stop, when we pause, when we take a moment to recalibrate and measure our journey along the way – we see clearly that our priorities may indeed be out of sync.

Our ultimate concern may not be God’s. Our primary interest may not be what has been intended all along.

All of this is to say that what we intend to do when we say we are engaged in stewardship is of the most radical transformative work before the church.

Christian stewardship, which is Anglican and uniquely Episcopalian, recognizes the radical work of creature-li-ness: to glorify God and co-create a virtuous community in mission.

And, when we speak of being stewards we are speaking of a radical faith in God who is Trinity, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is at work in the world as creator, redeemer, and prophetic missioner. We are saying that “we believe in God,” a particular kind of God -- a God who has brought into being creation for the purpose of his glory and his beauty.

We are saying that we care about the earth and its health in reflecting God’s glory.

We are saying we care about our farms, and communities, and towns, and cities and neighbors and how we are relating and care taking of the land, resources, and our relationships.

We are saying that we believe and so we act in our lives, private and public, for the good and in a way revealing and reflecting the goodness of the one who gives us form and breath.

We are saying we believe and as a community we give in accordance with our thanksgivings. We give not 10%, because we know God has given us all that we have, all that we are, our friends, our family, our neighbors, our gifts for ministry, our vocations, our work, our lives, our very lives God has given. We give out of the abundance of what we receive – God in Jesus yes, but moreover, out of the glorious generosity of beauty which is God’s creation all around us. We give, we make a difference, we restore, we co-create, and we design.

As Christian stewards, we understand that we are artists who are intimately engaged in the beautiful things, the beatitudes, in the blessings of neighbors and creatures and creation.

To be a Christian steward at work within the economy of God is a most life changing, and mission altering notion. To glorify God as our primary witness and concern in our lives, with one another, in our relationships, and in our affiliation to God and God’s community is life’s work of stewardship.  So we pray:

O God, most glorious,

Make our life the vision of thee

To the praise of thy glory;

that we all as a mirror may reflect it,

and be transformed into the same image

from glory to glory,

world without end. Amen.

Stewardship: The Divine Economy

Stewardship Conference
Episcopal Diocese of Texas 2010
by the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball