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Posts Tagged ‘stewardship’

numbersWhat is it with human beings and counting? How many kids do you have? How many dogs and cats? How many people came to church on Sunday? How many books were checked out of the library? I mean, what does it really mean anyway, these sum totals?

 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. [Luke 2:1, NIV]

Apparently, the main reason that censuses were taken in the past was for tax purposes. According to the article in Wikipedia, the census around the time of Jesus birth was actually the Census of Quirinius, based on the history written by Josephus (however, there are historical problems with this date and the generally accepted date of Jesus’s birth–a challenge for the scholars I suppose, but that relevant to me. However, for more about this conflict, read the article). And apparently, the Jews resented the taking of the census anyway because of its implications for the domination of Rome over their country and their livelihoods. The prevailing opinion was that the taxation would be too high (sound familiar?). The zealots began their rebellion during these times.

In modern times, the census (supposedly) ensures that all people will be adequately represented in our government through representatives and senators and the like. However, that system is currently very broken and no census will fix it.

So, let’s go back to the more general idea of counting. Why do we count the number of people or things in a place at a certain time? Why do we believe that the higher the number, the more successful we are or the more plenteous our booty? When it comes to money, the rich get richer and the poor wish harder.

By the way, there’s no census in heaven.

In fact, all of this counting and measuring is human in origin. As is time. How much and how little? How many and how few? How long and how short? We compare to one another and we compare to history (as though the circumstances in the past could actually compare to whatever is now). Sort of silly really.

There is another biblical story about the census that has completely different aspect [I Chronicles 21], in which David declares thatcounting days a census would be taken, without the blessing and/or direction of God. According to one scholar, “. . . God was angry at David, in those times, [because] a man only had the right to count or number what belonged to him.” And I find that concept fascinating. Perhaps we need to consider if we are counting too many things that are not ours to count?

This then begs for the challenge, does God own everything? Have I given over that “ownership” or not?

Read Psalm 50:10-12: ” . . . for every animal of the forest is mine,
    and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
    and the insects in the fields are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,

    for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

For if everything I own is God’s, then I don’t need to really count or worry about that number being large or small. If I could just stay focused on the quality of my relationships, the quality of my service, the quality of my work and lifestyle, then the numbers game could fall away and into the very hands of the Christ who lives within me: teacher, guide, savior, CEO.

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Laying down cloakAs he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  [Luke 19:36-38]

Was this a little thing? Laying down one’s cloak on the road for Jesus to be trampled underfoot, not only by Jesus on a donkey but also the disciples and who knows how many more were in the entourage. And then, if my imagination is anywhere close to accurate, usually a crowd swells in behind the leader in the parade. By the time someone might return to the road, after the crowds have dissipated, poor cloak might be in quite the disarray. In fact, it might be good for nothing, only a rag.

I wonder, did their hope feel the same way when they realized that Jesus was not going to manifest as the Messiah in the way they thought he would? Did they look at those rags and begin to feel less enthusiastic, less sure. Perhaps the cloak was a gift from a friend or purchased with hard earned money. Would there be second thoughts? So often people get caught up in the crowd’s enthusiasm, only to find the aftermath less glorious.

I’m just saying.

I can’t help but think of other more contemporary masses: remember Woodstock? In the wonder of all that freedom, people did all kinds of crazy things, like take off their clothes, roll in the mud, get blind stoned, and so forth. I wonder how that felt when the pictures came out. Or what about soccer stadiums where anger and fury drive fans onto the field and sometimes trampling people? Or New Years celebrations with fireworks and guns shooting off but unknowingly striking a child who dies? It happens all the time. The crowd.

Our laying down cannot be driven by the crowd. If I am going to give up my coat (or anything else of value), then I have to give it so freely that it won’t matter if it comes back to me. I have to let go with intent, with consciousness, with understanding. I have to lay my stuff down with trust. Only in this way, will I avoid standing outside of Pilate’s palace yelling “crucify him.”

So often, in a kind of self-possessive way, I hear people say they don’t give money to the homeless because of what that person might do with it. After all, their money is what? Precious? Or, even worse, people who don’t give to the local church because they disagree with the use of the funds (like the color of the carpet or the size of the flowers on the altar). It’s kept back in the name of “stewardship.” But I am beginning to believe that attitude is like trying to retrieve the cloak laid down on the road on Palm Sunday.

If we give, we give freely and trust God to use the gift. If I lay down my stuff, I am not to pick it up again. If I am acknowledging that Jesus is truly the Messiah, the King of Kings, the Lord of my life, then what is the cloak in comparison to that? Who is asking? Who is this Jesus?

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