By Kevin Starcher
I came across the tale a long time ago, and have long lost the source of its origination. But its impact is strong, and I share it for the context of this brief essay.
Two brothers began a milling business. One was married with a family and one was single.
They determined right at the beginning of the establishment of their business that they would split the excess flour 50-50, half for me, half for my brother. They agreed to it, no problem.
A little time passed and business was prosperous. Things were going well and they kept their bargain, and finally one day the single brother said to himself, “My brother has a wife and children. He has much more demand on his resources. It’s not fair for me to have half and for him to have half. I know what I am going to do.”
He didn’t want to embarrass his brother so he figured out how he was going to do it. In the darkness of night, he was going to take from his extra store and shift it over into his brother’s. And that’s what he did.
About the same time, the married brother said, “You know what, I am just so blessed by wife and family and my poor brother over here, he is single and he doesn’t have all of those blessings. It’s not fair that I have as much as he does. I am going to give to him so he has an extra blessing.” And he did the same exact thing as his brother. He took from the storage that he had and he started secretly at night putting it in his brother’s extra.
Every day these guys woke up and looked at their storage bins and neither one of them saw them going down. They were equal all the time.
As you may guess, the inevitable happened. One night they ran in to each other, each holding their bag of flour, and they looked at each other and embraced.
The elders say that God reached down and touched that spot of their love and said, “This is where I will build my temple, because it must become a place of generosity.”
The powerful fable illustrates so much regarding what we know and believe about stewardship in the religious world. The power of caring for one’s brother/neighbor; the joy of sacrificial giving, the reassurance of abundance, and a reflection of divine love dwelling in the midst of caring human relationships.
Praying, dreaming, discerning, planning, and implementing creative ways to nurture human relationships during COVID-19 has been a very real task of ministry throughout this past year. How does the church nurture “human embrace” all the while enforcing physical distancing?
Thankfully, leaders at Lake Institute on Faith & Giving found ways to reach out and care for community builders as we lived through the beginning chapters of the pandemic. Throughout the summer, these leaders offered an opportunity for community formation to a diversity of faith-based leaders to drop in via Zoom. During a time when maintaining relationships was difficult, Lake Institute provided leadership, example, and a platform to bring people into a nurturing community.
It was during one of these sessions where God’s Spirit came alive to me amid conversation, with a woman who lives 1,500 miles away. The question was asked if any leaders were looking to embark on major expenses throughout the coming months. My linear mind blurted out loud to the virtual group my ponderings over whether an investment of $30,000 to create comfortable outdoor space would be a wise investment given two major factors: 1) $30,000 is a lot of money for our congregation, and 2) the unknown timeline of the pandemic should be influencing our decision making, but how could we guess the timeline?
A colleague from New Jersey, known to me only through the virtual community, responded by saying, “Should not every investment of our resources be used to nurture the community of believers?” The wisdom of her words embraced my naivety and the Holy Spirit said, “Yes, even here in this virtual world, I will build my temple.”
The forum was a reminder that our ministries are not about dollars or programs or outdoor pavilions. Our ministry is always about nurturing relationships that foster God’s generous and loving Spirit; creating spaces and opportunities for people to embrace one another in care and generosity, with the reassurance that God is very close.
The Zoom meetings didn’t turn the world upside-down that day. But I’d like to think that God smiled upon the community that gathered virtually to share and care.
In the midst of supportive, generous relationships, God says, “yes, this is where I will build my temple!” How are you allowing God to build a Holy Temple of Love in the midst of your community?
Kevin Starcher is the pastor/head of staff at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Boise, ID. More importantly, Kevin is grateful to be a Beloved Child of the Most High God and blessed with an incredible spouse (Chrissy) and two wonderful children.