We continue our Fall preaching series on DISCIPLESHIP, the tenth part entitled: DISCIPLES live as stewards.
Disciples who live as stewards care for God’s creation and all the resources entrusted to them. The call to stewardship means receiving gifts gracefully, nurturing their growth, and sharing them with others. The call to stewardship is the call to take care – of people, places, talents, and skills we have been given to share.
Like the stewards in the parables of Jesus, we have been entrusted with God’s gifts in the expectation that we will allow them to thrive and multiply to the benefit of all. We are called to be stewards with our whole lives – stewards of our work and of our world around us. In fact, our preaching series this coming Lent will focus on being better stewards of creation!
The Old Testament reading today is from the book of Malachi. The Hebrew word mal’ak means messenger— very similar to the Greek word angelos (“angel”) in the New Testament. We cannot know whether mal’ak is intended as a proper name, Malachi—or it simply means messenger. Scholars are divided on that matter.
We do know that this book was written after the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian Exile and rebuilt the temple, but probably prior to the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah. The book of Malachi was placed at the end of the Old Testament so that it would appear right before the book of Matthew.
This book is composed of six dialogues or verbal controversies, bracketed by an opening verse at the beginning and a Godly challenge at the end. The snippet that constitutes our lectionary reading is part of a larger section that constitutes the sixth controversy. That section begins with a reminder by the Lord that the people said:
It is vain to serve God;
What profit is it that we have followed his instructions?
Now we call the proud happy; yes, those who work wickedness are built up;
Yes, they tempt God, and escape.
In other words, they are wondering out loud, why follow the Lord? What’s the point? It seems as if the wicked get away with all the bad that they do, why shouldn’t we act like that too? In other words, they are really questioning why they should be good stewards! Why not just take and use everything as if it’s all theirs without considering the consequences?
Today’s Gospel from Luke prods us to focus on the big things, on predictions that seem to be apocalyptic in nature. But when you read Jesus’ words correctly in Luke 21, you realize that it was not the distant horizon of history that was supposed to occupy our minds, but times and events much, much closer to hand—in Jesus’ case, the events in question were quite literally within the reach of his arm to the spot where Judas stood.
For Jesus, his words would have almost immediate resonance when one of his own friends would betray him to the authorities. But the rest of the disciples would not exactly have to wait until the roll was called in order to experience moments of truth and terror when they, too, would have the choice to stand firm for their Lord or not.
Too often we think that passages like this one are meant to make us starry-eyed surveyors of distant horizons. Actually, they were meant to inspire discipleship and faithfulness over the long haul and in all the tough circumstances we’d face long before The End would come.
As someone once put it, Jesus was not training short distance sprinters but long-distance marathon runners who could carry his message far and wide for a long while to come. What’s more, in and through it all we are being reassured: God will be faithful. Jesus by his Spirit will give us the words to say.
How ironic that a passage that makes some people unsettled—even as the disciples were initially unsettled to hear Jesus predict the destruction of the Temple—is actually meant to settle us in our faith and re-assure us. It’s also instructive that we may need the power of that reassurance sooner rather than later in our lives. That may not be an easy message to hear, but it is one we may need to hear anyway.
That’s really the message of stewardship. While we surely need to be concerned for the future, we also need to be attentive to being better disciples here and now. In my tenure as you pastor, I have spoken many times of our responsibility for each of us to do our part … Some respond well, unfortunately others do not – the numbers speak for themselves. I underline again, that our good stewardship not only helps us to prepare a better future, a better parish, a better Church, a better world for our children, but helps us build up the kingdom of God here today.
In that spirit, I’m happy to invite XX, a member of our Finance Council, to share with you the highlights of our annual report. Please listen carefully because as disciples, as disciples who are called to be good stewards, and as we enter this season of giving, we are all called to respond fully and generously.