July 1, 2018/Sixth Sunday After Pentecost/Richard E. Holmer
First Lesson: Lamentations 3:22-33/Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15/Gospel: Mark 5:21-24, 35b-43
Stewards of the Church
I’ve been going to Campfirmation since 1983. I’ve spent 35 weeks of my life working long days (7 – midnight), sleeping in a dorm room, hanging with a bunch of 14 year olds. Why? It touches hearts, and changes lives, strengthens faith, demonstrates the real value of church and Christian community.
EXCERPTS FROM KIDS’ THANK YOU LETTERS
In our Second Reading today, Paul is talking about stewardship. He encourages the Christians at Corinth to be generous in giving. He encourages them to find “fair balance between your present abundance and their need.” He reminds them that we give proportionately “according to what one has – not according to what one does not have.” He urges them to “excel in this generous undertaking.” These are good words for us today. They are a helpful reminder in all seasons – not just in the fall when we make our offering commitments.
Today, however, I invite you to consider another aspect of stewardship. You and I are stewards of the Church of Jesus Christ; Paul said, “Stewards of the mysteries of God.” It is for all of us to care for the church; maintain the church; grow the church, the Body of Christ. It’s no secret that in recent years the church has been declining in active membership. The ELCA is losing a synod each year. Many/most congregations are experiencing less worship attendance. There are many reasons for this change – a change that affects us all.
It occurred to me at Campfirmation this past week that this is why we take the time to do this. And why we need to do more, with adults as well as youth. Financial support of the church is essential for mission – yet stewardship of the church itself is even more vital. We need to preserve and extend the gift given to us in the community of the church. For our own good – and for the good of those who come after us – we need to be serious about the promises we made when we brought our children to be baptized – and the promises we made when we were confirmed, when we joined the congregation. We heard this reminder today. As parents, we promised to faithfully bring our children to worship (faithfully is not occasionally), to teach them the essentials of the faith and to engage them in all the opportunities for learning about the God who loves them. Without this kind of consistent experience, how can our kids learn what it means to belong to and participate in the Body of Christ? At our confirmation, or when we were welcomed as members of the church, we made some additional promises: to live among God’s people (show up!); to hear God’s word and share in his supper (worship); to serve all people, following Christ’s example (be an active servant); to live the gospel each day. Nobody else is going to do this for us. The world is busy pursuing its own agenda. The world doesn’t care if the church survives. It’s on you and me to see that it does.
Stewardship begins with the recognition that we have been given a rich and unique blessing. What we experience together as God’s people doesn’t happen anywhere else. We need to live with the conviction that the church as a whole – and this congregation in particular – is worth our time and energy and talent. I assure you that it is!
The church won’t simply continue automatically. It won’t always be there when we need it, like the fire department or public library. The church depends on us to be the living, active Body of Christ. If we don’t do this – who will? We cannot afford to take this great blessing for granted. We must not become complacent and presume the church will thrive without our active participation. This past week I saw with new eyes what a rich tradition we have received. The good news is very good. The gifts of faith and hope and love make a huge difference – and they are not available in stores. We learn to live as Christians, as children of God, by spending time with fellow believers. There is no replacement for what we share together as a church. Together we are stewards, caretakers, nurturers and preservers of a great treasure. We are stewards of the mysteries of God; that is, stewards of the Grace of God, the Word of God, the Sacraments of God, the Promises of God. It’s hard to overstate the value of the treasure we have received from God. Likewise, we must not overlook the responsibilities you and I share to nurture this gift – and to keep passing it on. God has made great promises to us – and God is faithful. We need to be faithful to the promises we have made as people of God: to follow Christ, make disciples, live the Gospel.