Stewardship, like much of ministry, quickly pushes congregations back to mission and vision. It causes us to ask questions like: What is the Spirit up to in this place? Where are hearts committed? What must we stop to make room to start a new ministry? And then, once a mission is discerned, how is that communicated to the congregation?
Today’s newsletter considers such discernment. It reminds me of Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus who asked, after seeing the risen Lord but not recognizing him, “Were not are hearts burning within us?” Jesus was there, opening the scriptures to them, but it took time for them to notice.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
Pastor Jeff Sackett
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” --Acts 1:8
“Hot! Hot! Hot!” --Buster Poindexter
On a recent wilderness canoe trip to the Quetico Provencial Park, I sat with my daughter, Hannah, in front of a lovely campfire as the sun fell on the water behind us. As we sat together I casually picked up a small pinecone that I saw lying at my feet and tossed it in the fire. Hannah said, “Dad, do you know what that is?” “No,” I said. She said, “That’s the cone of a jack pine. It opens when heated by fire. The seed can’t germinate until the cone burns.”
So I picked up another cone and tossed it into the flames, watching it spread open as it burned.
Fun insights like this are the byproduct of sharing a son or daughter with Christian camps. Hannah works as a guide at Wilderness Canoe Base where every day in the north country provides new faith illustrations.
The next day as we paddled along I reflected on the lesson of the jack pine cone. As it lay in our campsite, the cone itself was hard as a rock. You’d never know by looking at that little crescent-shaped pine nugget that there was any life inside it. Unless it were exposed to extreme heat!
How often, I thought, our lives can resemble that little cone. Our hearts get hard. We curve inward. Our potential for life, faith, and growth is held inside us, tightly guarded. Does your life ever look like that? Does your church? As the world becomes more anxious and out of control by the day, the temptation to hold onto what we have grows ever stronger.
But God has another idea: extreme heat.
The bible describes the Holy Spirit with images of uncontrollable power. The Spirit is fire. Wind. And Jesus calls that promised Spirit a “Helper” that will remind us of all that he has said and done. When we gather in worship, pray for one another, reach out to a neighbor or give generously, the holy heat of that Spirit is continually cracking our hearts open so that the “life that really is life” can be released.
In what ways is God heating up your life today? Is the Spirit applying some of its warmth to you or your church? When we invite others to take part in a vision for ministry through generosity, do we trust that the Holy Spirit is present to fire things up?
The good news is that, like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” (who wore her ruby slippers throughout and always held the key to her own freedom), we don’t have to look elsewhere to find that Spirit. From the day of baptism we have been given the gift of the Spirit so that God may heat us up and open us to the world for which Jesus died and rose. The Spirit has already found us and is ready to turn up the thermostat!
At summer’s end, Hannah will travel to Rwanda as part of the ELCA’s “Young Adults in Global Mission” program. Her mom and I will sure be sad to see her go! But I’ve got a little pine cone on my desk ready to slip into her suitcase before she departs -- a good reminder of the God who loves to open our lives to a world in need.
Jeff Sackett is Lead Pastor of Celebration Lutheran Church in Sartell, Minnesota. A graduate of St. Olaf College and Luther-Northwestern Seminary, he is a happily-married father of three who enjoys family life, reading history books, and outdoor adventures.
We invite you to attend, “Beyond Abundance: Faithful Stewardship Language to Fit Our Realities” a daylong stewardship conference at Luther Seminary, Aug. 23, 2017 (10 a.m. – 3 p.m.). For more information, and to register, visit this website.