Material matters

Conference looks at new ways of doing stewardship, putting joy into giving

April 1, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS

God’s generosity is like a seed — it should yield fruit. It’s up to believers to plant the gospel of God’s grace.

That was the message of the second plenary session by the Rev. Brian Blount at the Stewardship Kaleidoscope conference here March 15-17. Blount is president and professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education.

He spoke of Paul’s work with the Macedonians and Corinthians. The Macedonians gave when they couldn’t afford to and ended up being better givers. Corinthians, on the other hand, were often more concerned with being spiritual instead of material.

“Why not let the grace we feel materialize into the kind of concrete grace we can share?” Blount said.

He spoke of a tree full of grace-fruit. Our job is to shake the tree so the fruit falls to those who need it. Those who do have the fruit can’t be content to just have it and celebrate it — they have to give it back.

“We are here so that we can feed the hunger of God’s people in need,” Blount said.

Giving benefits the giver, and with gifts like grace and love, the more you give, the more you get. Giving also remakes us into God’s image and is a form of worship.

“We share materially with others because God shared materially with us,” Blount said.

While God loves a cheerful giver, God also loves other kinds of givers. Blount listed some of these other kinds that might be seen in churches:

  • The “I only get so much allowance” giver — Blount spoke of his children, who used their allowance money for themselves first, then used the leftovers to give to others
  • The “I’m gonna make you pay” giver — These givers will give, but will whine and complain that they helped themselves and others should do the same
  • The “quid pro quo” giver — These givers give so they can get something in return. They give not out of joy, but out of cool, calculating self-concern.
  • The “I will give until it starts to hurt” giver — These givers set a spending limit and don’t pass it.
  • The “give something that isn’t really important” giver — These givers might give kind words, but they don’t share their material resources.
  • The “if you make me give, I will” giver — These givers are scared into giving. They feel trapped and are afraid something bad will happen to them if they don’t give.
  • The “give until I get mad” giver — These givers will stop giving or leave if they disagree with others.

It’s important to realize that we give to glorify God, not to get in God’s good graces, Blount said. We can never repay God for the gift of Jesus.

“We can pay it forward,” he said. “We cannot pay it back.

“We give because we are so overjoyed with what has been given to us that we cannot contain ourselves. We cannot hold back,” Blount said.

By realizing what we’ve been given and then giving back, we can be a gift in ourselves.

“Be material,” he said.

Christians don’t have to be asked to be spiritual, he said. The Corinthians were content to let their minds float around outside their bodies, not touching anything. They were like ghosts, escaping reality.

“Being spiritual means ‘I am content with what I have and I am content with what you do not have,’” Blount said.

But the body is material — it involves helping others, sharing and living ethically.

Paul wanted the Corinthians to get out of being so spiritual and get down on the level of the people in trouble. He wanted them to make changes. Today, Christians are often too much like the Corinthians, Blount said. They don’t get political and they don’t get dirty.

Spiritual Christians lament about disasters. Material Christians get in the mud and rebuild. Spiritual Christians drop off volunteers, but material Christians are the volunteers. Spiritual Christians hear about budget problems and hope the pastor can find a solution, while material Christians pull out their checkbooks.

“Stewardship is not about money. Stewardship is about moving from saying grace to doing grace,” Blount said. “We are material grace-fruit. Feed God’s people.”

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