A sermon for Proper 24
Job 38:1-7, (34-41), Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45
Week before last Angie and I went to visit her 94-year-old aunt. It was a good trip. We visited with her aunt, We got to know cousins we had really never gotten to know. I took off on a one-day photography excursion, tromping all around a mountain stream, looking for light play in the watery rapids, and in the deep forest shadows. We meandered our way towards home via Boone, Blowing Rock, and the Smokey Mountains. We were hoping, expecting to see new fall colors. Alas the turning had yet to begin. There were some stretches of yellow, but very – very few vibrant reads. It was a bit disappointing; but at least I didn’t have to decide if the leaves were dog, hog, or wolf red.
Fall, colorful leaves and football also suggests it is Stewardship time for the Church. I have read plans for intricate programs to simple askings. Most of them, all of them, want church members to tithe towards the work of their church. As I was hoping to see brilliant fall colors, I was also expecting the scripture readings to just sort of make to case. Alas that is not so, at least not directly.
Although we don’t read the it, today’s Gospel really begins with Jesus’ third prediction of his betrayal, death and resurrection. It is the two verses preceding what we heard. After each prediction the disciples’ reactions are Peter rebuking Jesus’ for his prediction, all the disciples arguing about who was the greatest, and this morning James and John seeking to sit at Jesus right and left hand. Once more the disciples get it wrong; they continue to try to force Jesus into their vision of Jesus as Imperial Rome. Jesus asks if they can drink from the cup that he drinks. They respond with an exuberant “Yes we can!” It is just a bit of a surprise that Jesus says they will.
Jesus is completely justified in rolling his eyes wondering if these followers are ever going to actually hear that God, through him, is doing something, offering a life, completely different than anything they or the world has previously known. In a prophetic tradition of offering both doom and hope, Jesus acknowledges that the promise of divine transformation is not empty. In the near future the disciples will drink from Jesus’ cup, their lives will be transformed. It is a moment forever enshrined in our weekly remembrance “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” Scott Hoezee wonders how often “drinking of Jesus’ cup transforms our lives?” (Hoezee)
It is here that the Gospel informs the season of Stewardship. As I mentioned, the stewardship programs I know about all seek to get a church’s members to tithe. The most visible component is about money. For some, the only component is about money. But in my five years here you have heard, or at least I hope you’ve had the opportunity to hear, my belief than stewardship is not really about money. Let’s frame it Gospel terms.
Matthew ends his Gospel account with the great commission in which Jesus sends the disciples out to baptize all nations, and reminding them he is with them always. Mark shares Jesus sending the disciples out to proclaim the good news to all the world. Luke recounts Jesus proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed … to all nations and that the disciples are witnesses of these things. Finally, John recounts Jesus asking Peter three times if he loves him. Each time Peter says “yes” to which Jesus replies “feed my sheep,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep.” All four Gospels end with Jesus, one way or another, sending the disciples out into the world to continue Jesus’ ministry to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Jesus makes them stewards of his ministry.
Through our baptism, through our regular celebration of communion, Jesus also makes us stewards of his ministry. Stewardship is about proclaiming the Kingdom of God to all the world. A bit closer to home, stewardship is about letting folks know the Kingdom of God is right here, right now!
Even with Jesus’ promised continued presence, it is hard to be a steward of Jesus’ ministry. The disciples continually got confused. The temptation is to make Jesus look like the prevailing culture. The disciples are trying to envision Jesus as some sort of Imperial Rome, only they are in charge. We are always trying to envision Jesus as our secular selves, infusing our cause de jure with divine blessing, power and purpose. I believe the stewardship season is the time for each of us and our families to prayerfully discern how we are to participate in St. Stephen’s service in Christ’s ministry. How are we called to serve in the church? How are we called to be the church in the community? How are we called to support the work of the church with our time, our gifts and or our money?
As a congregation it is time for us to prayerfully discern: what we are called to continue, what we are called to let go of, what challenge we are called to take on, how we are to support the ministry of the broader church from the diocese, like our commitment to the Diocese and Camp Mitchell, and community ministries like the Great River Charitable Clinic and the Humane Society or the upcoming Thanksgiving Feast and or Ignite Christmas ministry.
In our listening prayers and discernment there are some keys: Are we in the role of a servant? Are our expectations defined with ourselves in mind or with the other in mind? Are we willing to let go of controlling where and how our gifts are put to use? How much of our hearts and hands are we able / willing to put towards continuing Jesus’ ministry?
All these are offered in the hope, that as today’s collect says:
… that the Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name
bearing in mind that confession is more about behavior than words; or as St. Francis said, “preach always ~ use words when necessary.”
Finally, are you open to be transformed? Through your life in the church are you willing to become a steward whose life reveals the Kingdom presence?
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 10:35-45. 18 10 2015.
Hoffman, Mark G. Vitalis. Commentary on Mark 10:35-45. 18 10 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.