Saturday, November 24, 2012

entrusted with a stewardship


May God bless us today as we consider his handiworks, the glory of creation, and the reign of his peace.

Jesus is Lord. Christ is King. Our God reigns. We say it in various ways.

What are we saying? What are we doing? How are we showing – the reign of Christ?

Let’s imagine this church as a big old friendly house, dedicated to holy purpose.

What is it like to arrive here? Can we imagine it – coming here for the first time, perhaps the only time, to hear God’s word, to rest for awhile, to find community – or a little peace.

Walking from the bus stop on the corner, or parking on the grass, gravel, or asphalt of the parking lot, we come in through a low narrow veranda under a big brown roof. In the door we find:

A welcome. We hope. A greeting. A brochure. Perhaps a few people gathered in the doorway, talking together. We get through. Where is the sanctuary? Where do I hang my coat? Where are the restrooms? Where is the nursery? Will there be coffee hour?

This is Christ’s home. It is the house of God. He is welcome here and he is the host.

We see him – in the familiar faces and the strangers. We see him in the sacraments. Perhaps, too, we see him in the candle burning by the altar-side. We see him in the Cross.

Walking in the door of the sanctuary, we are confronted by – a font, a basin on a stand.

It is water – water for baptism, water for renewal of baptism, water for taking a blessing. In the name of Christ, who is our guide, we walk further in.

There are people here, spread about. We look for a place to sit.

About us are other people. Why are they here? Is this their first time too?

Up front there is a table raised on a couple of steps. Over and behind it hangs a symbol of a cross. Behind and to the sides, we see shelves on one hand, and a small cabinet on the other. In front of it and between the table and us there is a railing and a place to kneel.

Music begins. We sing, or search for a hymnal, or a song sheet. Or we stay silent.

Then we are standing. With others we sing a song of praise. 
And we pray. And we hear the word of God. And we confess our sins, receive reconciliation and share the peace of Christ.

Offering of our gifts – money, bread, wine, perhaps a prayer card – we gather for celebration. There is a meal, a symbolic meal, and together with all those who came in the door and past the baptismal font, we share in the community of the saints of God.

In all humility, who are we to do this? Who are we to say we are the people of God? We are sinners! But – we are baptized! We are baptized into the life of Christ, by his grace. And we believe that through his grace we, and all the people of the world, are saved.

The world.

But there is an objection. It comes from Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea.

The world that Pilate serves, that he wields power in, is not the world from which Christ comes. He holds his power from a worldly system that does not even recognize God’s reign.

The world – the ‘cosmos’ – the system – the order of all things and all ages: whose is it?

Whose world is this? Whose church is this? Is it yours? Is it his? Or does it belong to someone else?

Our Lord proclaims:

My kingdom is not from the system of this world. I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. And all those who belonging to the truth hear my voice come unto me.

I am their shepherd. I am their king.

Not you, Pilate. Not Caesar. Not anyone else.

What kind of king is this? One who says he has nothing of his own, but what his father gives him. One who gives all of himself, that we may share in the abundance of his reign.

One who, giving all of himself, asks also of us that we give our all to him, that we, with nothing of our own, as he has nothing of his own, may receive all things through him.

And return them, into his hands, at his feet, in praise.

All that we have is thine, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.

You know who said that first? David. King of Judah. As he dedicated the site of the Temple at the end of his reign. He was king of the Jews – and he knew his Master.

He knew his Maker. He knew his Lord.

Do we know ours?

All that we have, all that we are, possessions, personality, prayer; we receive from God and give to God again. We are entrusted with a stewardship. (1 Corinthians 9:7, ASV)

We belong to God; therefore we should do God’s work.

(Cf. Ralph S. Cushman, I Have a Stewardship, Abingdon, 1939)

Every one is wholly God’s own by title of creation – so all our labors and all our powers and faculties must be wholly employed in the service of God, and even all the days of our life, that this life being ended we may live with him forever.

(Cf. Jeremy Taylor)

As we leave this temple, this place of salvation proclaimed and blessing received, as we venture out into the world – with its own system, pulling on us, to make us one of its own again – do we remember who our Lord is?

Do we show it? Do we live it? Do we make it real?

As we go back to the car, or the bus stop, or the pathway home, how shall we carry that kingdom within us that is the true kingdom after all? How shall we live our lives, in line at the grocery store? At the traffic light (C’mon, buddy! Get moving!)? At the office? At home? The channel changer – when we surf the system, whose system are we serving?

When we come to the end of our day, when we say goodnight and our prayers, whom have we been serving? What gospel have we proclaimed, what good news have we shared?

Think of it. Count your blessings. Think of the moments you have experienced grace. Or given it – and so received it again. And again, given it away, as blessed gift and offering.

In those small ways, in these days, we have seen God at work … in our world, in our lives, in our hearts.

Make our hearts your home, O Lord. Make our lives bear witness to your Truth. Make our souls show that Christ is king: that our God reigns. That Jesus is Lord. In this world – as in heaven – may his kingdom come. Amen.

The Sunday before Advent:  The Kingship of Christ

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord,
the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may of thee be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
Keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that plenteously bearing  the fruit of good works
they may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Book of Common Prayer, Church of Ireland, 2004)

Paul Mitchell, pastor of Snoqualmie United Methodist Church, pointed out that the word in the Greek text commonly translated into English as "world" is cosmos - or system.

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