Stewardship – October 19, 2008
As Pastor Anne mentioned, the theme of this year’s stewardship campaign is the story of “Stone Soup”. Many of you may be familiar with the story, but I thought I would take a few minutes to refresh your memory and explain why I thought the story was a good starting place for our efforts.
The Story begins….
“Three soldiers trudged down a road in a strange country. They were on their way home from the wars. Besides being tired, they were hungry. In fact, they had eaten nothing for two days. “How I would like a good dinner tonight,” said the first. “And a bed to sleep in,” said the second. “But all of that is impossible,” said the third. “We must march on.” When reading this introduction I am reminded of how I felt when I was in school and returned home after a particularly difficult test or how I felt after interviewing for a job I did not get, or frankly, now after a long day at work when I feel I have less at the end of the day than when I woke up. Comfort seems impossible and out of reach and I must march on…
The story continues… “On the soldiers marched. Suddenly, ahead of them they saw the lights of the village”….In the book, the page with this text includes a picture of a village and the most notable feature of the village is a church steeple. The artist must have felt that a church presented a welcoming view of the town for a stranger, someone who was hungry and tired and feeling that comfort for them might be impossible…
The story goes on…. “Now the peasants of that place feared strangers. When they heard three soldiers were coming down the road, they talked among themselves.” “Here come three soldiers. Soldiers are always hungry. But we have little enough for ourselves.” And they hurried to hide their food….They hid all they had to eat. Then – they waited.” One of the strongest instincts I have and I expect most other people have is the instinct to protect yourself and your family from strangers, but more importantly to protect your and your family from things that you believe are a threat. The villagers in the story acted like most of us might act if we were asked to stretch our resources beyond what we believed was possible…the villagers ‘battened down the hatches” and waited.
What happened next? When the villagers were asked for food by the soldiers and a place to stay, the villagers replied “We gave all we could spare to soldiers who came before you.” “It has been a poor harvest” And “Our beds are full.” “Not a villager had any food to give away.” The story tells us that “They all had good reasons.” “One family had used the grain for feed. Another had an old sick parent to take care of. All had too many mouths to fill.” The villagers were telling the truth. The story does not suggest that the villagers were acting in bad faith or that they meant to cause the soldiers harm. They were protecting their families they best way they knew how.
How did the soldiers react? They did not yell or complain or make the villagers feel bad, they “talked among themselves”. They then told the villagers that they had decided to make “stone soup.” I have always been impressed with the soldiers at this point in the story…they were hungry and tired…they must have felt despondent and yet they did not make the villagers feel guilty or threaten the village (they were after all soldiers), they quietly laid out a plan by which they and all of the villagers could be fed. The soldiers let their actions speak for them. The soldiers believed in the villagers and their generosity…the soldiers had faith in the villagers.
The story goes on to tell us… that much to the amazement of the villagers, the soldiers took a large pot, filled it with water and placed three stones into the pot. To quote the story “The villagers eyes grew round as they watched the soldiers drop the stones into the pot.” It might be said that unlike the soldiers, the villagers lacked faith in their own generosity – they did not believe soup would come from a pot which held only stones. I admit that sometimes I have difficulty believing good things can happen in the midst of all the negative news and events around us. Sometimes I feel like the villagers.
But….the villagers were curious…. “Stone Soup,” they said, “that would be something to know about.” As the story continues, the soldiers each express how a true soup really needs salt and pepper, and how it would be a much better soup with carrots and a bit of beef and potatoes. Next a cup of milk and a little barley seemed just the right thing to add to the soup. Upon hearing each of these comments from the soldiers, the villagers feel the urge to bring forth the ingredients mentioned by the soldiers they had earlier hidden away. No one villager provides all of the ingredients. No one questions that the mixture in the pot is actually soup. Everyone keeps repeating that the content of the pot is soup, and collectively, the villagers emerge with the ingredients of a true soup.
What happens? The villagers and the soldiers set tables in the town square and light torches. The soup smells great! Bread is added to the feast because (to quote the story) real soup requires bread. “Never had there been such a feast,” the villagers exclaim. “Never had the villagers tasted such soup.” This must have been the best meal they had ever had, better than any meal they had each made for themselves. After their meal, we learn that the villagers danced and sang far into the night. The villagers then offer up the best beds in town for the soldiers who now are referred to as “gentlemen” and not “strangers.” The sad looks and frowns on the faces of the villagers in the beginning pages of the story are now replaced with satisfied smiles and happy looks. In the end of the story, the soldiers leave and the villagers comment that “We shall never go hungry, now that we know how to make soup from stones.” The soldiers reply that “it is all in the knowing how.”
So what does this story have to do with stewardship? Why is a pot with stones in it and dancing villagers important in a time when we listen to our music on I-pods and we worry about our jobs, heating bills and our families?
Stewardship is sometimes defined as “taking care of something one does not own but something over which one watches.” A teacher is a steward of his or her students. A daughter or son might be considered a steward for a parent experiencing ill health. Employees of a company expect their employer to be a steward of the business from which they all receive their livelihood. I believe we are all stewards of this church and the legacy of the people who worshipped here before us and those who will worship here after we are gone. I also believe the church community is a steward of the welfare of all who participate in it.
Like the soldiers, when I see our church, I feel that there is an end to my marching, my hunger and my exhaustion. St Paul’s offers me a place of refuge at the end of a long day – I am not forced to march on without comfort. Each of us can see the church and know that we have a place to rest which offers us sustaining faith. Like the soldiers who believed in the villagers, God believes in us and we believe in each other. I believe that as a church community we have the faith to turn stones into soup. That like the villagers with their soup, we will find the generosity in ourselves that enables us all to come up with the ingredients for a strong church and church community. No one will be threatened or made to feel bad, but like the soldiers, I hope I can inspire each person to contribute. One of my favorite expressions in church is – “Not as we ought, but as we are able.” It seems like such a human statement. Like the makers of the soup, you are not being asked to come up with all things necessary for the continued stewardship of our church and the people in our church community on your own, but rather you are asked to consider the requirements of our church and consider what you can contribute from your skills, talents and gifts to make it the best church ever.
As we continue our stewardship efforts during the next few weeks and over the coming months, I hope that each of you will feel free to offer up suggestions for making the communications of the stewardship committee more effective (I am always available for feedback) and that you will set aside your own fears and help us realize our goals. A soup with just stones and water cannot sustain us.