Resume virtues are the skills and experiences that help us find jobs and then advance in them. Developing resume virtues is one of the main reasons people go to college. People get a degree in order to strengthen their resume and, hopefully(!), get a good job with a good salary.
This is relevant for my family right now. We have just received a hefty bill for our son’s next semester at college. When we pay it, we will be making a significant financial investment in his future. I really want our investment to pay off, and one way I want it to pay off is in the form of a successful career. Every parent of a college student surely agrees that cultivating the resume virtues is a good thing!
But my book pointed out that there is more to life than can be captured on a resume. The author called that more “the eulogy virtues,” by which he meant the kinds of things we say about people at eulogies.
This is relevant for the Saint David’s family right now. Last week we said goodbye to Virginia Lake, a long-time pillar of this Church.
My impression is that Virginia was a pretty good business woman. Virginia had the resume virtues. But at her funeral we did not talk about Virginia’s business savvy or the skills she had. We talked about the kind of person she was. We talked about her strength, her spirit, her sense of humor. Virginia had a LOT of the eulogy virtues.
Unfortunately, resume virtues and eulogy virtues do not always go together. Successful people are not always good, and good people are not always successful, at least not in worldly terms.
Our gospel reading is about that disconnect. Jesus warns his disciples about scribes who compete for positions of honor, but take advantage of poor and defenseless people. Jesus is not impressed with rich people just because they can contribute large sums to the temple. Those are people who have enough of the resume virtues to be successful without having the eulogy virtues to match.
But Jesus praises a poor widow. Apparently this woman did not have the kind of resume virtues that lead to great success. But this woman was rich in the eulogy virtues. She was generous with what she had, even if it was not much.
We can see the same disconnect in our culture. I think, for example, about the executives at Volkswagen who decided to cheat on emissions tests in their cars and then lied about it for as long as they could. Or about the executives at a pharmaceutical company that recently acquired the only anti-infection drug for a particular kind of infection that strikes pregnant woman, and then raised the price of the drug by more than 5000%.
It sounds a lot like those executives have more resume virtues than eulogy virtues. They may be good at business, but they are not good.
The Church is one of the relatively few places where we focus on the eulogy virtues. Church is one of the relatively few places where we are intentional about becoming better human beings. At Church, we talk about living into our baptism. We talk about growing in love of God and neighbor. We talk about becoming the people that God creates us to be.
And one way we describe the process of cultivating the eulogy virtues is stewardship.
In the broadest sense of the term, stewardship is using the gifts that God has given us to do the work that God calls us to do and to become the people that God calls us to be.
As you have heard from me many times before, stewardship starts with the recognition that everything we have and everything we are comes to us as a gift from God. Everything. Our lives. Our money. Our families. Our talents. Our virtues. Our loves. Our joys. Even our struggles, which call forth strength we may not know we have and which remind us of our dependence on God.
The question for us is, what do we plan to do with those gifts? How can we best use them as God intends?
I think particularly about the gifts of money and time. How we spend our money and our time says a lot about us. I have often heard people say that a checkbook is a theological document. I would say the same about a calendar.
For the last year or so, I have been tracking my time. My system is imperfect, and I do not try to track everything. But for any given week, I can see about how much time I have spent working, praying, driving, and a few other things. I do that so that I can be sure to spend adequate time on the things that are important to me.
In my house, we do not really budget, so I have a harder time tracking my money than my time. But I can make a rough guess about where my money goes. Most goes to fixed costs—things like rent or tuition.
Of our discretionary income, we spend a fair amount on restaurants. And that suits me. Carrie and I have a weekly date night that can be expensive. But the money is well-spent. It strengthens our relationship, and it is fun. I think God would be pleased.
And, of course, some of our money goes to Saint David’s. Now is the time to make financial pledges for next year, so now is the time for Carrie and me to think about how much of our money should go to Saint David’s in 2016.
I invite you to do the same.
As you do, what I want to emphasize as best I can, is that pledging is more than a financial decision. Pledging is a spiritual practice.
I say what is obvious: pledging is NOT a financial investment. At the end of the year, our pledge secretary sends every pledger a letter in which he states, “no material goods or services were provided in return for the contributions.” Pledging has nothing to do with the kind of calculation we associate with the resume virtues. Pledging is not about the total dollar value—that is the lesson of the widow’s mite.
What may not be quite as obvious is that pledging is NOT supposed to be a burdensome obligation that we assume out of guilt. The widow in our gospel reading did not have to give. She gave because she wanted to. Strange as it sounds, pledging should be a joy.
And pledging can be a joy as long as we approach it as a spiritual practice, as part of our effort to grow in the eulogy virtues, to become the people God calls us to be.
If you pledge this year, it should be a response to God the giver. Pledging should come from a grateful heart. Pledging should be an expression of the person you are and the person you want to become.
And so, as I approach my own pledge, and as I ask you to do the same, I give thanks to the God who has so richly blessed us with so many gifts. I thank God for allowing us to be faithful stewards of those gifts. And I thank God in the name of Christ who gave himself out of love for us. Amen.