Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - October 1, 2006

         Today’s gospel is one of the passages that even those who like to take the Bible literally don’t take literally.  If we were expected to take this literally, I guess we’d all be walking around with multiple missing body parts; but I really don’t think that’s the intent.  What Bible commentators say is that this kind of graphic metaphorical language was common in Jesus’ day and those who heard him say these things would have understood it as such and would not have seen it as a call to self-mutilation and maiming.

What Jesus was doing here was challenging his audience to think about the things that were preventing them from hearing what he had to say.  There was a consistent lack of understanding on the part of Jesus’ disciples but I wonder if the biggest stumbling block was just that they didn’t want to hear it?  I think that they perhaps understood more than they let on, but just didn’t like the sound of it.  It was easier to claim lack of understanding than to change their ideas and ways of life that were familiar and comfortable.

I can only speculate about that though because what I am doing is projecting back on to the disciples the way I see myself and lots of other people.  I’m quite sure that we frequently do understand what Jesus says and what he calls us to do but that we don’t always like the sound of it and because of that we can’t quite figure out how to do what he says because to really do it involves too much change.  We want to follow, but there are stumbling blocks that are hard to get past and so cause us to struggle in our quest for discipleship.

The issue before us today is that of stewardship.  There are definitely stumbling blocks that get in the way of good stewardship, stewardship in our relationship to the church and in all the other areas of our lives.  I’m going to start with the belief though, that every one of you here today, every member of this church wants to be a good steward.  You believe in God; you trust in the promises of God concerning salvation, the gift of grace we receive through Jesus; you come to church and you want to support the ministry that is done through the work of this church as well as the wider church, the NGLS, the ELCA…

…I believe that all of you want to be good financial stewards.  You know you’ve been blessed and you want to respond, you want to give thanks.  The stumbling block though, is all those other things that pull on our financial resources.  A partial list would include food, rent or mortgage payments, car payments, the money it takes to maintain and repair home or car, heating bills, medical bills, insurance, saving for retirement, helping your kids, college…and I’m talking about what I would see as needs here.  All of this is pretty basic; it’s needs, not wants.

What then creeps into the equation is fear.  With all these demands, there’s fear that there’s not enough.  Now I understand that for some there really is not enough.  Doing what I do I know there are people who are trying, they’re working, they’re not blowing their resources on booze and drugs and cigarettes and gambling, yet their wages are so low that they really can’t cover basic needs very well even with whatever assistance is available.  I understand that.

But I would contend that for most of us, even with all these demands, our needs are pretty well covered, yet the same kind of fear creeps in, the fear that we don’t have enough, and that becomes another stumbling block.  The result is that we hang on even more tightly to what we have, because we’re afraid, we’re afraid there’s won’t be enough for me, and the gap between those who have and those who don’t gets even bigger.

What we do when we think this way is begin our reading of the Bible at chapter 41 of Genesis rather than at chapter 1.  It’s in chapter 41 that the fear of economic scarcity is introduced.  Many of you are familiar with the story…Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream and says there will be a famine in the land, and Pharaoh becomes afraid.  If there’s a famine there’s not going to be enough food for everyone but he will make sure there’s enough for him and recognizing the abilities of Joseph, Pharaoh hires him to manage things.

Joseph was right.  There was a famine; so when the crops failed and the peasants ran out of food they came to Joseph, and Joseph said what do you have for collateral?  The first year they give up their cattle, the second year they give up their land.  By the third year they have nothing left except themselves and they become slaves.  All the result of fear, Pharaoh’s fear that there wasn’t enough for me, the politics of economic scarcity.

But let’s go back to the beginning, chapter 1 of Genesis.  You’re familiar with that too.  It’s a liturgy of abundance, a song of praise for God’s creative generosity, with a steady refrain, it is good, it is good, it is good, it is very good!  It is a liturgy of blessing, with the creator saying be fruitful and multiply, all of creation multiplying and overflowing with the goodness that originates from the creator spirit of God.

This liturgy of abundance is celebrated throughout the Bible!  There are any number of psalms that are essentially commentaries on the first chapter of Genesis, words of awe and praise at the wonder and order of it all, more than one psalm including the phrase, “They eyes of all look to you.  You give them their food in due season.  You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”  That’s abundance!  Jesus feeding miracles pick up on the same theme.  Amid the fear that there wasn’t enough to feed the crowds, Jesus showed that there was enough.  All were fed and there’s always full baskets left over.  Who woulda thunk it?   In other words, don’t be afraid.  God is reliable.  There is enough!

I would suggest that the fear of not enough is the dominant stumbling block to following Jesus, the dominant stumbling block toward good stewardship, really the dominant issue of sin in our culture among everyone inside and outside the church.  The dominant issue of sin is not gay marriage or gay ordination or abortion, the usual hot button emotional issues.  I don’t mean to trivialize them because there are important theological arguments around these issues.  My point is, for most of us they’re really not our problem.  With those issues we’re pointing fingers, we’re talking about someone else instead of looking at our own stumbling blocks.

But all of us are effected by our consumer culture which helps to create a fear of not enough, which blurs the distinction between needs and wants, and which becomes focused on me because what I have is mine and I’ll decide what to do with it.  Consumerism starts as a marketing strategy but evolves into a demonic spiritual force and it is so much a part of all of our lives that we don’t even see it as something that clashes with God’s will for life.  We’re so enmeshed in this reality that another way is pretty much unthinkable.

Ownership is huge in our society and that can be a stumbling block to stewardship because stewardship says that we are not the owners of what we have but that we are stewards of what God has blessed us with.  It’s another one of those upside down alternatives of Jesus, one which is based on trusting the liturgy of abundance when just about everything else pulls us toward the fear of not enough.  Changing that mindset is not easy, but I believe it represents the challenge that each of us has to struggle with, because again, I believe that we really do want to follow Jesus and be good stewards not because the church needs the money but because we have a need to give.

This too goes back to Genesis 1.  That liturgy of abundance says that we were created in God’s image.  There are many ways to understand that image, but part of it has to include abundant generosity.  Abundant generosity is part of God’s nature and image, so it must be part of ours too.  We were created to give.  To be who God would have us be includes generous sharing of the resources with which we have been blessed.  A lot of you know about this need to give.  Many of us have reached the point in life where no one on our Christmas list needs anything, but we give gifts anyway, because it feel good to give.  That’s a clue that abundant generosity is part of who we are.

The stumbling blocks still trip us up; they’re still out there, especially the fear of not enough.  As you give though, as you understand yourself as a steward of God’s gifts and not an owner of what you’ve worked hard for, you find out there really is enough.  You can trust in God’s abundant generosity…and give thanks.

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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