Saturday, May 24, 2008

Stewards of the Mysteries of God

25 May 2008 – Pentecost 2: 1:Cor 4:1-5; Matt 6:24-34

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Servants of Christ and Stewards of God’s Mysteries

“Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.”

The most fundamental description of who we are and what we are meant to be is found, of course, in the first Chapter of Genesis when it says that we were created, all of us, male and female, imago Dei, in the image of God. Gen 1:27

Further, God says we are to exercise dominion over the earth. There has been considerable misunderstanding around this word, dominion. We tend to make it mean something like subdue, dominate, and exploit.

Whereas, the Bible means for us, men and women together, to share the task of being God’s stewards on earth – to share the task with one another, but more importantly to share the task with God, alongside God. Dominion is meant to suggest working with God as God’s representatives – stewards of God, of dominus, Latin for Lord. And as we learn from the ubiquitous John 3:16, God’s stewardship consists of loving and giving – “God so loved the world that God gave….” Which suggests further that our loving and our giving is for the world – the same world for which God gave – and we all know that God gave more than ten percent.

As the oldest Eucharistic Prayer in our Prayer Book, Prayer D, has it, “You formed us in your own image, giving the whole world into our care, so that, in obedience to you, our Creator, we might rule and serve all your creatures.” Eucharistic Prayer D, BCP 373Ruling comes easy to us – serving and stewardship do not.

Jesus understands this - which is why this significant portion of his Sermon on the Mount addresses the core issues surrounding our difficulties in becoming servants and stewards.

Jesus does not beat around the bush. He does not work his way up to it, he simply states the problem from the outset: You cannot serve God and Wealth, period. The word in the Greek text of course is Mammon – a personification of Wealth. So that the choice is between a commitment to serve God, or, a commitment to serve wealth.

And take note that the problem is not that wealth is evil or bad – it is just that it becomes a source of constant worry. Note how many times Jesus states the problem of wealth: “do not worry…” “why do you worry…” “Therefore do not worry….” And if we somehow missed the main theme here he concludes with, “So do not worry….”

Jesus also challenges what is perhaps the single most misunderstanding we have of the entire Bible: the assertion that Solomon was wise. We often speak of “the wisdom of Solomon.” And of course we do, for what Solomon represents in the Bible is the consolidation of conspicuous consumption – Solomon is the patron saint of greed driven consumption!

Just listen to what Solomon’s household consumed in just one day: “…thirty cors of flour, sixty cors of meal, ten fat oxen, twenty pasture-fed cattle, one hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebuck, fatted fowl…” and a partridge in a pear tree! “For he had dominion over all the region…” 1Kings 4:22-24

So what Jesus knows is that Solomon represents the consolidation of wealth, greed and consumption – that is a form of “dominion” that does not consider partnership with Dominus, the Lord, as a form of servanthood and stewardship at all. And Jesus knows that all such a consolidation of wealth, greed and consumption can bring is more and more worry.

To make his point perfectly clear, Jesus says that with all his consolidation of wealth, greed and consumption, Solomon is not as well off as a bird of the air or as a lily in a field. That is, Solomon is not wise at all since all wisdom is meant to reflect the heart and mind of God – a God who creates us to be servants of “all God’s creatures,” and “stewards of the mysteries of God.” And of course Jesus knows that Solomon’s kingdom of worry resulted in Israel becoming a carbon copy of the Empire of Pharaoh in which everyone becomes a conscripted laborer, slaves in hock to the empire and the central bank.

The core economic belief at the time of Jesus, and dating back to the wilderness sojourn, was that God has created enough. Remember, says Jesus, manna season – everyone had enough, no one had too much, and if you hoard the manna it sours, that is, it becomes worrisome. It is worrisome because if someone takes too much and hoards it, someone else is getting little or nothing, and this troubles God as much as it ought to trouble us. It is called robbery.

Now, says Jesus, consider the lilies of the field. Fortunately a friend of ours, Frances Howard, some years ago took this wisdom of Jesus to heart and considered the lilies of the field. During a period of shared silent meditation she sketched them in colored pencil – tiny bluebells wrapped in a fur coat and a stylish woman’s raincoat. The more one looks at them, the more one considers these lilies, the more one begins to get the playfulness and irony in our Lord’s dissertation on the choice we make between making a commitment to God and God’s priorities and God’s Kingdom, or to Mammon, Wealth and the priorities of the Kingdom of Solomon. We are all free to substitute modern day analogs for Solomon there being so many from which to choose!

Just this week, for instance, we had the representatives of Big Oil on Capitol Hill defending record breaking corporate profits – more than any in the history of the world – and, and, demanding more tax cuts if they are to drill for and refine more oil. Who are the representatives of the Kingdom of Solomon and Pharaoh today? Didn’t we used to call them “Robber Barons”?

This is why the Holy Habits of Daily Prayer and Bible Study, Sabbath Time, Weekly Corporate Worship and Tithing are so crucial to our own time. Bishop Bennett J. Sims once put it like this: “Of all the money I have spent on myself, I would love to get most of it back. Of all the money I have given away, I don’t care to see any of it ever again….When we ask people to give, to pledge, to tithe to the life of the Kingdom and the life of the church, the Body of Christ, we are doing them a favor. We are encouraging them to be the people God created them to be – imago Dei, created in the image of a loving and giving God….Finally, the only thing that can rebuke the rising tide of greed, violence and consumerism in our society will be an increase in Christian Giving.”

Be sure, the church does not need your money – the world does. The church just happens to be God’s economic strategy for collectively gathering resources for the love, care and stewardship of the world God created and continues to create.

Besides, how much cooler does it sound to be “a steward of the mysteries of God,” than to be a slave in the Kingdom of Solomon? Placed in those terms, how difficult can the choice really be? “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you as well.” Amen.

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