I’m going to fess up right off the bat: I was asked to preach on stewardship today. The good news is that I am indeed going to preach about stewardship. The better news is that I’m not going to talk about money.
So, I got to thinking about this whole life of faith thing we spend so much time and energy on, and have actually heard about in our readings this morning. Which, in turn, got me to thinking about something Mother Sara said in her sermon last week. She spoke to us about faith and works, and that they need not be segregated. And, in fact, should not be, as they go hand in hand. And, I would add, are vital to our lives as stewards of God’s creation.
When you take a look at the definition of steward, nothing unusual or surprising pops out. For me, it was actually the usual that interested me so much. A steward is someone who manages something for someone else, an employee who supervises the affairs of a group, who is given charge over something for another.
Leaving any and all assessments of our job performance aside for now, let’s take a look at this job of being a steward.
We have a Boss. We have a job title. We even have a job description. Generally speaking, we manage, supervise and oversee God’s creation. God basically said love me with all that I’m creating you to be and with all that I give you. Okay. Sure. We can do that. So, we set about the work God has given us to do and we think we’ve got a pretty good handle on this loving God thing. Then, Jesus comes along. The Boss’ Son, wouldn’t you know. Now, WE have a steward, someone to supervise us. This Jesus; he’s actually got some skills. And, he says to us, not only are we to love God, we’re supposed to love each other? Seriously?! Like we don’t have enough to do already. Grumble. Grumble.
And, Jesus says Yeah and, oh by the way, here’s how you do that. And, he shows us. He also suggests we might have missed a thing or two on that job description. He points to the bottom of the list. The very last item. Most of you know what I’m talking about. It goes something like ‘And any other task assigned by the supervisor.’
We hang our head and think What now? What more can he possibly expect us to do? And, as if he could read our minds, he shows us that, too. We go along, a little rocky at first, but we get to a point we think we got this loving each other thing down pretty good. So much so, we ask for a bonus.
Jesus hangs his head and sighs. He’s getting a little put out with us. We can tell. We’ve gone from all the on-the-job training to having weekly staff meetings; he’s memoing us right and left. And, he’s starting to use visual aids, for God’s sake.
He decides that it’s time to get down to brass tacks and clears a few things up for us. No bonus. At least not the kind we think we deserve. He informs us this steward job we have was never meant to be a management level position. He tells us this job of being a steward was always, and still is, meant to be a hands on, roll up your sleeves and get into the thick of it sort of job. And then he lowers the boom and tells us You are servants of the Lord. You’re meant to serve. Can you do that? Yeah. Sure. Of course, we can. What do you want us to do?
Finally, and definitively, Jesus says to us Let me flesh all of this out for you. And, he does. Eventually, it all starts to sink in. By this time, our steward is gone. He’s climbed the ladder, so to speak. We have a new steward. She’s pretty good, too. Granted, she’s not much for the face to face, but she’s really good at helping us make sense of things. And she does… over and over and over and over and over again.
Whether we call ourselves stewards or servants of the Lord, this is about our life of faith. More specifically, it really is about what the life of Jesus means for our life of faith.
The author of Hebrews takes us right into the life of Jesus as a person of faith; one called by God and willing to obediently fulfill that calling. The author reminds us that the whole of the gospel is as much about Jesus’ life as it is about his death and resurrection.
You know how you can know something but someone can put a twist on that something and make it new for you.
Some of you might know that I’m a chaplain. A couple of years ago, I was asked to preach at a patient’s funeral. Her pastor, mostly retired, presided. After my homily, he had some things to say as well. That twist I mentioned was this: he held up the remembrance card, which had on the front of it a photo of my patient and the dates of her birth and death. He suggested that we weren’t gathered together to celebrate her birth or her death. And, as he pointed to the hyphen in between the two dates, he said we were there to celebrate this. He continued by saying there was a whole lot of living in this little space; and that was who she was, not just a birth date and a death date.
Friends, we are living our hyphen right now. What do we want that to mean?
You know, Jesus lived one heck of a hyphen, himself. One, I suggest, is worthy of celebrating as much as we celebrate his birth and death.
Just as a note of interest: When we proclaim our faith in the Nicene Creed, coming up in a few minutes, just be aware that in our statement of what we believe about Jesus, we eventually get to a statement of belief about his birth, immediately followed by a statement of belief about his death. I wonder what statement of belief about his life we might care to make.
Jesus is certainly an exemplar for us. But, that’s not the point, is it? If we reduce Jesus to being a model and his life to being an example for us, isn’t the meaning lost? The Jesus the author of Hebrews writes about is the Jesus who prayed with tears, who taught patiently, who counseled sympathetically, who passionately acted against injustice, and who learned obedience through suffering. We find meaning in Jesus’ life because that meaning is simply there.
If we know nothing else about the meaning of our life of faith, we know this: it is inextricably comingled with the meaning of Jesus’ life. And, Jesus wants us to find and know that meaning. And, God graciously illuminates that meaning through Jesus.
I would like to beg your indulgence and your help. If you would, please grab a Prayer Book and open it to page 235. You’ll find our Collect of the Day there. Proper 24. Would you please pray this collect aloud with me?
Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I’m particularly drawn to the verbs preserve and persevere. We’re asking God to do the preserving so we can do the persevering. What we’re asking God to preserve is vital to the question: What does the life of Jesus mean for our life of faith?
Let’s hear the words again. Preserve the works of your mercy… that we may persevere with steadfast faith.
This will likely come as no surprise to you that the Church long ago defined works of mercy, and defined these works as two types: corporal works and spiritual works. These works of mercy have to do with tending to the physical needs of one another – to feed, to clothe, to shelter, to visit and to bury our dead. These works of mercy have to do with tending to the spiritual needs of one another – to teach, to counsel, to forgive, to comfort and to pray. These works, given and received, are the life of Jesus. These works, given and received, and illuminated by God through Jesus’ life, are our life of faith.
Jesus made it clear that a life of faith is not an easy one. It’s the life of a servant, a slave. It’s a life that requires sacrifices. Perhaps, even the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus asks us, ‘Are you able to drink the cup I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’
That cup is going to show up on this altar in a few minutes. The sweetness of the Port appeals to our palate but it cannot mask the bitterness of the sacrifices this cup holds. It will be filled with Jesus’ blood, shed for us, for the forgiveness of our sins. And, what Jesus asks is that when we drink it, we remember him. All of him. His life as well as his death and his resurrection.
I encourage you to boldly take hold of this cup with unabashed passion. The same passion Jesus boldly shares with us in his life, death and resurrection. The passion through which Jesus is making all things new. The passion into which Jesus invites us, so that we can partner with God in God’s reconciling work in this world. So that we can be the passionate, bold, persevering Body of Christ this world needs us to be.
Friends, I want to close with a benediction, saving the actual blessing itself, of course, for Mother Sara. It’s a Pauline benediction based on the last few verses of Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians.
The Episcopal Church just missed having it included as the benediction at the end of the Order for Confirmation service in the 1928 Prayer Book. So, understandably, it’s not a common benediction for us Episcopalians.
It’s my pleasure to share it with you today:
Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honor everyone; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. [1 Thessalonians 5:13-22]