A sermon for Proper 23: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, Psalm 66:1-11, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19
Last week we explored how we are consecrated or set aside for God’s service, in our baptism. The first story in the bible of being set aside is in Genesis 1. Actually, there are two versions of the same event; the other begins in Genesis 2. You recognize that they are the creation stories, prior to the encounter with the “most crafty” of all the wild animals God made.
In the first creation story after God has made human, in God’s image, God gives human
dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth (NRSV Genesis 1:28)
In the second account, God made human and then “put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (NRSV Genesis 2:15). Some have used our dominion over creation as rational to use creation however we see fit. Only, we don’t have dominion over creation, just fish, birds and the living things that move. Secondly, while dominion does mean rule, it does not imply how; one can rule benevolently, and since we are created in God’s image, we are expected to rule in God’s image (Harrelson Gen 1:26). In the second story, we are to tend or cultivate which literally means to serve (Harrelson Gen 2:15). So we can see from the very beginning we are created to be stewards of creation. That calling continues after the fall.
In the Old Testament, a steward manages the household for someone. The same is true in the New Testament, with an additional word meaning guardian. Paul refers to himself as “servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries” (NRSV 1 Corinthians 4:1). In the letters we read that stewardship includes time, talents, possessions, and self (Eph. 3:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet 4:10). Alms specifically refers to benevolence, compassionate support for the poor and needy (Sakenfeld).
This rather broad brush approach leads us to understand stewardship as the calling to tend to the household of God, including the divine mysteries, through the sensible use of our time, our possessions, our talents, and ourselves, including care for those who live on the margins of life. But what that might look like?
In Jeremiah’s day, it is a rather unexpected calling. Israel is in exile in Babylon. Hananiah, a rival prophet, is proclaiming God will return them to Israel in a couple of years (Bratt). Jeremiah says no! If they submit to their captivity, they can live. In fact, God wants them to bloom where they are; do all those things you have been doing: building, planting, living usual family life cycles. God doesn’t want them to live in secluded corners, but be public about your lives, and while they are at it, look after the welfare of their captors. They are to live life as their ancestors did in Egypt and flourish (Bratt; Nysse).
At times being a good steward requires that you are aware of what God has given you (Ellingsen). On his way through Samaria Jesus encounter ten lepers, who are as excluded from the Samaritan community as are they are in Israel, and pretty much everywhere. They are not considered really human; they are treated as if they don’t exist. Lepers are supposed to cry out a warning if the encounter anyone on the road. When they see Jesus, they cry to him “Have mercy on us!” Jesus tells them to go show themselves to a priest, which is what the law requires before a leper can be declared clean. And they do. That is all we know, except that on the way, one, the Samaritan, an outsider among outcast, notices he is clean and turns around to go tell Jesus “thank you.”
A couple of commentators wrote about the gratitude of the Samaritan Leper. However, for this morning I’d like us to explore how his turning around is an act of stewardship. First, he notices he has been cured. His first act of returning and thanking Jesus demonstrates how he intends to be a steward of this gift of renewed life. Also, Jesus crosses multiple social boundaries to heal the lepers; the Samaritan crosses social boundaries to approach a Jew and to recognize the relationship between them (Pagano). He cultivates his cure, and the harvest is a healing that blossoms as shalom between himself and Jesus (Epperly). And let’s not forget to notice, it is the Samaritan’s choice, to return to Jesus. Part of being a steward is being aware of what God has given into our care. Part of being a good steward is saying thank you, as a first step in cultivating what is your responsibility to manage for the glory of God.
The stewardship gleaning from 2nd Timothy is just a little subtler. Paul does not separate Jesus from the Gospel. To preach to Gospel is to preach Christ. To preach Christ is to preach the Gospel.
There is a unity here we should pay attention to. Over the millennia, the centuries, the decades and the years we have separated God and creation. It may be the result of the development our cosmology, which is a whole new way of understanding how creation developed. However, it happened, we tend to think there is God; God acts; and now there is God plus something else, creation. First, there was one, now there are two. Only creation is not autonomous from God any more than Jesus is separate from the Gospel. So when we are stewards of creation we are stewards of creations and God.
An easier way to think of this is not to think of what portion of my stuff do I tithe from, but how am I going to cultivate God’s stuff? And since money is meaningless to God, we begin to seek what is meaningful to God. It doesn’t take long to see it is the relationships between ourselves; between ourselves and others; and between ourselves, others and God.
I have mentioned before how quarks, the most basic particles of creation, exist only in relationship. Creation is fundamentally a web where everything is connected to, related to everything else. As stewards of creation, our calling is to cultivate all those relationships. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationship between ourselves. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationships between ourselves and our neighbors. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationship between ourselves and strangers. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationship between ourselves and the foreigners, the aliens in the land. We are to cultivate and nurture the relationship between ourselves our neighbors, strangers, and aliens in the land. And all it takes is awareness, gratitude, and benevolence. All that takes is the grace of God that precedes and follows us in our work through Jesus.
Bratt, Doug. Proper 23 3C | Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7. 9 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.
Doyle, C. Andrew. “The Future of Stewardship.” n.d. 7 10 2016.
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 9 10 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 9 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Frederick, John. Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:815. 9 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. Proper 23 3C | Luke 17:11-19. 9 10 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel>.
—. Proper 23 C 2 Timothy 2:8-15. 9 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.
Lewis, Karoline. The Rhythms of Faith. 9 10 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
Lose, David. Pentecost 21 C: Gratitude and Grace. 15 11 2015.
Nysse, Richard W. Commentary on Jeremiah 29:1, 47. 10 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Pagano, Joseph S. “The Test of all Happiness is Gratitude, Proper 23(C).” 9 10 2016. Sermons that Work.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
West, Audrey. Commentary on Luke 17:1119. 9 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.