Like the Macedonian church described in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 8:1-5), we are called to be “extravagant beggars,” said a speaker at the Stewardship Kaleidoscope conference, held here March 12-14.
The conference, hosted by several presbyteries, synods and agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), focused on several angles of stewardship — its theological and spiritual basis, new ideas for campaigns and ways to encourage giving in a time of economic worry.
The Rev. Susan Andrews, moderator of the 215th General Assembly (2003), spoke of a mission trip she and her husband took to Ecuador, where they witnessed the “pain and power of poverty.” One worship service featured an earnest and humbled young farmer delivering a sermon, a 20-minute prayer of praise and an offering collected on an open Bible passed up and down the rows.
“That day, the poorest of the poor taught the richest of the rich what it is to beg to give generously,” Andrews said.
Since then, she’s never hesitated to mention money from the pulpit. Jesus mentions money or possessions five times more often than prayer in the Bible — what Andrews called the “sacred squandering of stuff, all to the glory of God.”
Citing theologian and author Brian McLaren, Andrews said the Ecuadorian church was grounded in the discipline of daily dependence and daily gratitude.
But in the United States, our culture tells us that more is always better and that we should never be satisfied. Counter to that “culture story” is the “faith story”: that all of life is a gift and that we’re created in the image of God.
According to that story, we should see ourselves as “extravagant beggars who plead for the privilege of giving abundantly out of their poverty” instead of accumulating abundance out of anxiety, Andrews said. The gospel mantra tells us that what we have is enough.
Such a mantra sounds foolish when set within our cultural values, but it carries the only sense of abiding joy and comfort in our world. In the church, anxiety about survival abounds, with conflicts often centered on money or property. But such worries miss the whole point of the church.
“The church is not and has never been a financial institution,” Andrews said. “The church at its best is a mission outpost for God’s vision and grace.”
Andrews told a story about a small, aging Presbyterian congregation in New York that, faced with the prospect of closing, instead gave its building and property to a growing Latino, evangelical congregation. The Presbyterian congregation will be nested within the immigrant congregation, which will hold its first worship service in its new building on Easter Sunday.
Andrews encouraged the conference to rewrite the culture story with the scripture story.
“All my favorite stories in scripture are about the extravagant generosity of our God,” she said. “With such excessive, foolish generosity woven throughout the texture of scripture, how can we possible deny what we have from God?
“May we offer ourselves generously, not until it hurts, but until it feels very, very good — all to the glory of God.”