Sunday, September 13, 2015

25th anniversary of stewardship

24th Sunday of OT Year B:
            This year we are marking an exciting anniversary for St. Jude Parish.  This is the 25th year of Stewardship here at St. Jude.  As you know, Stewardship is an important part of our parish identity.  Stewardship affects just about every aspect of our parish life.  When I first came here to St. Jude so many people commented to me about the fact that we are a stewardship parish, these people felt stewardship was one of the things that made our parish unique.  But, over the last couple years I have also had many parishioners approach me to ask me just what it means to be a stewardship parish.  Many of us were not a part of the parish 25 years ago when all of this started.  So, I thought that this 25th anniversary would be a great way for us to reflect on stewardship and prepare for the next 25 years of Stewardship here at St. Jude.
            Stewardship had an interesting beginning here at St. Jude.  It began during the time of Fr. Bill Schooler, who is a great friend of mine.  I was asking him about Stewardship and he told me that during the first month of his time here as pastor he got a call from the diocese.  The finance department informed him that the parish didn’t have enough money in the bank to cover the upcoming payroll checks.  What a great way to start as a new pastor.  So, the diocese told him that they would loan the parish the money they needed, but that Fr. Bill needed to increase the collections.  So he started searching for programs.  He found this couple from Florida who would travel to parishes and talk about Stewardship.  So, Fr. Bill decided to invite them into the parish.  He told me: I was looking for a program, but what I got was a conversion.
            You see, Stewardship is not a program.  And Stewardship is not really about money.  Rather, stewardship is a way of looking at absolutely everything in our lives.  Stewardship is not a program but a philosophy of life.  I know that for many people, when we hear the word stewardship, we hear “asking for money.”  So, I’m sure that many people are probably a little bit leery about this year for Stewardship here at St. Jude.  You might be thinking “great, Fr. Jake is going to be asking us for money for a whole year.”  Don’t worry.  We will talk about stewardship of treasure and tithing during the course of the year, but that is only because treasure is a part of our lives.  Stewardship affects every aspect of our lives, not just our finances.  This year for stewardship is not a fundraiser or a capital campaign.  Rather, this year for stewardship is a chance for everyone here at St. Jude to experience the life-changing effects of a conversion experience in our lives.
            So, today I thought I would present the basic outline of what stewardship is all about.  Then, during the course of the next year, once a month we will have a stewardship Sunday where we reflect on some aspect of stewardship, especially the way that stewardship has benefited our parish over these last 25 years.  Also, during this year for stewardship we will have a banner hanging up here by the tabernacle, and we will also say a prayer for stewardship at all the masses.  If you think this sounds like a program, I would ask you to be open to the experience of conversion.  Embracing the stewardship way of life is a life-changing experience, but it is a conversion.
            Stewardship begins with discipleship.  Stewardship only makes sense if we are followers of Christ and if we believe in the message of the Bible.  By no means, however, is this easy.  Listen to what Jesus says in the gospel: you must pick up your cross and follow after me.  The pathway to Christian discipleship often leads through the cross.  Self-denial and self-sacrifice is the path that Jesus sets before us.  But, the life-giving message of Jesus continues to resound even in our day: whoever wishes to save his life must lose it.  The more we give of ourselves, the more we receive from God.  This is the basic message of the gospel.  But, Jesus doesn’t simply ask us to give of ourselves, he begins by giving himself for us.  On the cross, Jesus gave himself for us, he continues to give himself for us in the Eucharist. 
            The first principle of stewardship is recognizing the generosity of God.  The Bible begins with the story of creation.  God created the heavens and the earth, the sea, the dry land, the plants, the animals, and human beings.  God created everything.  Without God there would be nothing.  Without God we wouldn’t exist.  Because of God’s generosity, we have air to breathe, water to drink.  The generosity of God is responsible for everything we have.  But, also, responsible for everything we are.  Our gifts, our accomplishments, our families, our resources, all these things are gifts from God.  This is why stewardship is life-changing, because even in the midst of difficulty or suffering, we recognize that without God we would have absolutely nothing. 
            Once we recognize that everything comes from the goodness of God, the natural response is thanksgiving.  One of the best things we can do to grow in our spiritual life is to take 5 minutes a day and to thank God for the gifts he has given us.  Giving thanks really changes our perspective.  It reminds us of God’s goodness.  All too often it is easy to get bogged down by the difficulties of life, but if we take 5 minutes a day to give thanks, it really changes our perspective.  This is the second principle of Stewardship, we give God thanks for everything.
            So, first we recognize God’s generosity, then we give thanks for his blessings.  After that, comes the word Steward.  If God gave us everything because of his generosity, then we no longer see our time, talent, and treasure as belonging to us.  Rather, these things belong to God.  A steward is a person who manages the things of another person.  Everything we have and everything we are belong to God, yet he asks us to manage them for him.  Remember parable of the talents.  The master entrusted his possession to these stewards, but on his return he expected the stewards to use those talents to make an increase. 
            This is the final stage of Stewardship.  First, we recognize God’s generosity, second we give him thanks, third we recognize that we are stewards of God’s gifts, finally, we seek ways to use these gifts to advance God’s kingdom here on earth.  This is why stewardship is not a program, it’s a conversion.  It’s picking up our cross, it’s giving away our lives.  It’s a way of putting our faith into action.  For 25 years, this has been our commitment here at St. Jude.  For 25 years, this parish has tried to live in response to the generosity of God.  The results speak for themselves.  St. Jude parish has touched the lives of thousands of people not only here in Fort Wayne, but across the whole world. 

            Today in the gospel Jesus asks his disciples to pick up their crosses and follow after him.  That is what Stewardship is all about.  It’s giving our lives to Christ, because Christ gave his life for all of us. 

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