Dear People of Bethlehem,
What does it mean to be human? Why are we here? What is our vocation? These are basic questions of life that we don’t often ask ourselves as we go about the business of living day-to-day. But there is an answer to these questions that I think the Bible gives us right from the start: We are stewards called to stewardship of God’s creation. Right from Genesis 1 on, we are told that we are created in God’s image to care for one another and our earth home.
For several weeks at the end of September and the beginning of October, we are reflecting on our stewardship. How are we doing? Are there some basic principles to guide our stewardship? We’ve begun by singing together an Offertory that spells out at least one basic principle:
We give thee but thine own, whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.
The most basic point is that what we have really isn’t ours to do with selfishly as we please. Our time, treasure, and talents are gifts from God that we steward for God. The lion-share of those resources we steward for our families. But all that we have is a trust that we manage for God and especially in the furtherance of the coming of God’s kingdom, God’s reign in this world through Jesus Christ. So with what beyond our families are we called to share? What do we give to our church family towards a ministry seeking to participate in God’s reign? In what ways are we called to participate in our nation’s politics that might help to facilitate the coming of God’s reign, God’s way of caring for the earth and one another?
Through the puzzling Parable of the Unjust Steward in the first week of our stewardship theme (September 18; Proper 20C), we gleaned the principle that we are to use the wealth God gives us to “make friends,” to build community. We are to make sure that our time, treasure, and talents contribute to the common good – to working together with our neighbors to help one another to flourish. In the second week (September 25; Proper 21C), with the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we saw a doubling down on that principle, showing us the danger of wealth: if we use our wealth selfishly, it becomes isolating and self-destructive – the opposite of making friends. A similar ‘parable’ is that of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. We are all called to undergo conversions like Scrooge towards greater generosity and love.
In the final two weeks of our stewardship theme, we will first read the story of Zacchaeus (October 2; Proper 26C), a tax collector whose response to Jesus is to make reparations for all the unjust ways in which he previously used his wealth. It is a joyous thing to graciously find the freedom to correct past mistakes!
Finally, we will read the story of Jesus healing ten people with leprosy, but only one returns to give thanks (October 9; Proper 23C). A life lived in gratitude is perhaps the pillar of our call to stewardship. ‘We give thee but thine own’ because we are so grateful that, ‘All we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.’ In this time of political leaders trying to stoke so much fear and resentment, how important is it for us to live with a deep sense of gratitude and grace?
I’ve presented stewardship here in its widest possible frame as our human vocation – as what God made us for. I would be remiss as your pastor, however, if I didn’t close by focusing in our stewardship here at church. Bethlehem, like all congregations, is still wondering what the level of participation might be post-COVID. We are in the same boat with other churches with our numbers down. It is time to recommit to our stewardship of this ministry we share!
Here is my commitment to you as your pastor: I will work hard to preach and teach with the goal of revitalizing our ability to share the Gospel in fresh ways with our family and friends. Numbers are down after COVID. Numbers were already going down before COVID, and I firmly believe that this is largely due to our message missing the mark. It hasn’t been relevant enough to inspire folks to participate in the exciting mission of working in God’s kingdom. We can make a difference! We can help make this world a better place! I invite you to participate with your time, treasure, and talents in growing this ministry toward those aims.
Peace, Pastor Paul