The Rev. Dr. Victor Aloyo spoke during last month’s Stewardship Kaleidoscope
by Nancy Crowe for the Presbyterian Foundation | Special to Presbyterian News Service
Stewardship has many layers. The Rev. Dr. Victor Aloyo, the 11th president of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, began a recent talk by acknowledging some visible ones.
Such as: the grief and loss of the pandemic. The joy of “God creating a new thing.” His own story as a child of immigrants from Puerto Rico, as a husband and as a father of two adult daughters. The opportunities for ministry and service in his lifetime.
Amid all of that, and in a time when fear of scarcity abounds, Aloyo called for a reframing of stewardship. His plenary address was part of Stewardship Kaleidoscope, a conference about generosity and stewardship held Sept. 25-27 in Minneapolis. It is sponsored by the Presbyterian Foundation.
What gets in our way
In finding new pathways to abundance and grace, we confront three challenges, Aloyo said:
- We live as individuals, disconnected from and unaware of — even indifferent to — the needs of others.
- Our fear that there will not be enough creates that reality, usually that there is enough for the other person and not for us.
- We own nothing. Everything is a gift from God.
A biblical framework
Fortunately, there is precedent spanning centuries: a recurring biblical call to care for Creation, those who have little and those deemed undeserving.
Some of it flies in the face of what we think we know about the way things work, Aloyo added. “Stewardship ought to be countercultural.”
In Genesis 1:28, God told the first humans to be fruitful, increase in number and subdue and rule over the Earth and every living thing. All life is regarded as significant, Aloyo said, adding the word “subdue” did not carry the meaning of domination that it does today.
The relationship between the humans and the rest of Creation can be seen not as hierarchical but symbiotic, he said, and never as an excuse for exploitation. “The effects of irresponsible consumption of resources and effects on those with limited resources have been documented for centuries.”
Isaiah 55:1-9 exhorts all who are thirsty to come to the waters and for those with no money to “come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
“What is promised here is outrageous,” Aloyo said. “The economy of the promise here is built not upon the scarcity of exile but upon God’s abundance. … Buy even if one lacks money? How? What seller would allow that?”
The passage continues: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your earnings for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
This “outrageous abundance” opens the way for hearing a renewed covenant, Aloyo said. “Eating what is good” is conjoined with careful listening.
Divine fairness and sowing with abandon
World history has demonstrated the effects of abusing power, squandering resources and perpetuating injustice. So, we might have trouble with stories that seem to endorse injustice and waste.
One is Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The first ones hired, who had worked all day in the heat, expected to be paid more than those who had worked only one hour.
Aloyo asked: Is this about generosity, or exploitation? “We could all tell our own version of this parable.”
We’ve been taught that fairness matters, but too often our notions of fairness give a false assurance of order, he said. That’s not how grace works: “What happens when divine goodness trumps human fairness?”
We are all much more than how many hours we’ve put in or how we look or behave, Aloyo said. Those hired first saw themselves as different from and more deserving than those hired last, but neither group owned the vineyard.
Then in Matthew 13:1-9, Jesus talks about the farmer sowing seed. Some seed fell on the path and got eaten by birds, some fell on rocky ground and couldn’t take root, and some fell among thorns and got choked by them. Other seed fell on good soil and produced a yield many times what was sown.
Consider the seeds Jesus is sowing in you, Aloyo urged.
“The sower” — he threw his arms wide — “sows the seeds with such abandon, but with such abundance.”
We all have characteristics of those less-than-ideal growing environments, Aloyo said. We strive for efficiency and a return on our investment. The way of the sower, who isn’t worried about the harvest or how much it will yield, is not our way.
“But there is more than enough. You want to know why I understand that? I am looking at it right now,” he told the audience. “The seeds of your story, your talent, your gifts.
“When we sow in abundance, we will experience God’s blessings tenfold,” he said. “And the restoration of God’s Creation, which includes you and me, will continue to take place.”
Nancy Crowe is a writer, editor, and animal wellness practitioner based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She is a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Send comments on this article to Robyn Davis Sekula, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation, at email@example.com.
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