We decided to go apple picking on Labor day. Work for someone, recreation for us.  The perfect ritual to engage in on a holiday weekend. On a day that we are invited to rest.  A wholesome family activity, says my best friend, Beth. With a little irony in her tone, knowing that taking two teenagers and a pre-teen apple picking is quite remarkable.  Grandparents are in tow, also.  We celebrate the season of harvest by harvesting apples, sharing the apples, and creating with the apples. 

This is also a season of stewardship for most mainline, congregational-type faith communities.  A time when all the people are invited to partner and aknowledge their ownership of the church. It's funny to think that we are "partners" in the businness of faith.  But, in fact, the people of a congregation are.  

Both the experience of harvest and the experience of stewardship are one in the same.  Pick the fruits of your labor and share it with your family, your neighbors, your friends and, of course, yourself.  The gifts of your labor will be balanced among the many.  

I preached a sermon on stewardship yesterday.  It was the beginning of a two month unfolding of finiancial giving.  I used the word stewardship more than finances and the word gifts more than money.  But, essentially the partners of our business (we call the faith community) must give their share.  That is what it means to be a partner in ministry.  

What was your point of the sermon, an older gentleman asked after worship? He then answered right away, "you want us to give money?" I replied with "my point was to consider balancing the intersections of stewardship: faith, money, responsiblity and gifts (meaning, your talents).  To begin to acknowledge stewardship as a spiritual practice which includes all of the intersections of those four words. It was the first attempt in this season to talk about money. Money being one of the intersections and also one of the most frowned upon issues in a church, like politics, religion and sex. We don't talk about these things in public-- according to societal norms.  

Another person asked during a "rap session" after church: how are we going to do a stewardship campaign without making others who cannot give feel welcome? The season of stewardship is a sacred time of discernment and prayer and balance of spirit.  It is a time to wonder about personal and communal values, a time to tell a story that reflects how spirit is leading.  Stewardship can also be a spiritual ritual. I replied to the question with this thought,  "Each week we can invite all to give as little as $1 as a spiritual practice.  

Bring the dollar,

bless the dollar 

and place the dollar before God on the altar."  

Sometimes concrete experiences are helpful in visualizing and feeling God in our midst. 

Jesus used gardens and crops and farms and seeds and water and garden tools like plows and farm tools like yokes all of the time to teach us a lesson or two. When I think of things like orchards or corn fields or pumpkin patches, I too, think of all the work it took to produce. I also think of all the work it will take to share and to sustain a people through the winter months.  

The kin-dom of is like a orchard.  We must plant seeds of vision. The vision(s) are gifts from the sharecroppers. The sharecroppers must organize areas with appropirate margin to grow and thrive.  We must feed and water and weed according to need and then we must pay attention. Continue to nurture.  Harvest at the right time.  Plant again something new when the climate shifts. It's a process of work and prayer engagement. Then we must harvest again and share with our friends and neighbors.  If we leave the plot of dirt alone, nothing will grow. Our ministry will be dead.  Stewardship is the garden of resources meant to be managed, used and shared, not just managed.  The church budget is our orchard. 

Eight of us, family members and one friend roamed the rows of trees looking for ripe apples to pick.  Most of the low hanging fruits had been damaged by rain, or chomped on by birds and bugs.   We had to work harder to pick good fruit.  Some of us got up in the trees. The shiny, large, red apples tended to be on the top.  The teenagers were delighted with the event. We helped each other.  We worked as a team.  We decided which ones were not appropriate for pies and which ones were a tasty snack.  The apples were stewarded according to need and vision. Some left for those that lived among nature and the animals in the surrounding farms while others for us to take home and divide amongst our people. 

The gifts of our labor were shared.