Sermon 2 Pentecost Yr A
May 23, 2008 2 Comments
2 Pentecost Yr A, 25/05/2008
1 Cor 4:1-5
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Non-judgemental Servants and Stewards”
I rather like the “Peanuts” cartoon. In one cartoon there is a girl who came to Charlie Brown and said, “Yes sir, Charlie Brown, Abraham Lincoln was a great man. Charlie Brown, would you like to have been Abraham Lincoln?”
Well, now, I don’t think so,” Charlie answered thoughtfully; “I am having a hard enough time being just plain ole Charlie Brown!”
God never expects me to be a person other than who I am. However, God does expect you and me to make full use of our God-given talents and to live a life of integrity and faithfulness before God.
One faithful follower of Jesus said it like this: “When I die I will not be asked, ‘Why were you not the apostle Paul, why were you not Martin Luther, why were you not this or that famous leader in the Church?’ NO! You and I will be asked, ‘Why were you not you!’”
That is precisely what the apostle Paul is saying to the Corinthians in our second lesson today. There were some in the church at Corinth who were trying to compare and play off Apollos, Peter and Paul against one another. They were becoming overly arrogant, proud and judgemental of Apollos, Peter and Paul and dividing themselves up into different camps. Paul counsels them to look at the leaders and leadership of the Church in a different way.
He says: “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” Or as Eugene Peterson states it in The Message: “Don’t imagine us leaders to be something we aren’t. We are servants of Christ, not his masters. We are guides into God’s most sublime secrets, not security guards posted to protect them.”
According to Professor Wm. Barclay: The word (Paul) uses for a servant is interesting; it is huperetes and originally meant a rower on the lower bank of a trireme (i.e. an ancient Roman or Greek galley with three banks of oars), one of the slaves who pulled at the great sweeps which moved the triremes through the sea. Some commentators have wished to stress this and to make it a picture of Christ as the pilot who directs the course of the ship and Paul as the servant who accepts the pilot’s orders and labours only as his Master directs.
Then Paul uses another picture. He thinks of himself and his fellow preachers as stewards of the secrets which God desires to reveal to his own people. The steward (oikonomos) was the major domo….in charge of the whole administration of the house or the estate; (s)he controlled the staff; (s)he issued the supplies; but, however much (s)he controlled the household staff, (s)he (her)himself was still a slave where the master was concerned. Whatever be a (person’s) position in the Church, and whatever power (she or) he may yield there or whatever prestige (she or) he may enjoy, (s)he still remains the servant of Christ.1
Paul then goes on to say that his stewardship, along with that of other Church leaders is that “of God’s mysteries.” God’s mysteries are not meant to be the best-kept secret. God’s mysteries do not belong to a choice, privileged, elitist group of people. Rather, the word “mysteries” refers to the ministry of preaching the word and administering the sacraments. It also refers to the content of the word of God—i.e. the message of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world and through him we receive the forgiveness of sin and the promise of abundant life and grace now, and in the future, eternal life.
As stewards of God’s mysteries, Paul says the leaders, the preachers of the Church are required to “be found trustworthy.” Or as Eugene Peterson puts it: “The requirements for a good guide are reliability and accurate knowledge.”
Trustworthiness is not just a given, it is most often earned. What happens when people don’t trust God’s stewards? Well, I think we’ve seen quite clearly what happens through the media coverage of all the abuse and scandals that have occurred within Christendom. When God’s stewards are not trustworthy, people are abused sexually, emotionally, physically and spiritually. This is tragic, because lack of trust kills healthy relationships, and many of those who have been abused are wounded for life, sometimes their sufferings are so devastating that they become permanently ill and are robbed of life’s blessings.
Trustworthy stewardship of resources is also important. If stewards fail to manage and administer the resources given to them with care and wisdom that can result in the destruction, loss or extinction of such resources. We have already seen this in the natural world around us—several animal species have become extinct or are now regarded as endangered species. Moreover, the failing quality of our air we breathe, the soil we grow our food in, and the water we drink are a sober testimony to the poor stewardship of natural resources.
We speak of trust in God as if that action were one-sided. But there is another side. God also places trust in us to be the ones who express God’s love. It is an honour to be trusted in this way, but what are we doing with that trust? The other day on CBC radio, I heard that we Canadians are marketing food products in a very untrustworthy, misleading way. Two examples were given. Garlic that did not originate here in Canada was labelled “a product of Canada.” Why? Because someone in Canada cut it up and placed it in a plastic bag. Apple juice was also labelled “a product of Canada,” however, the only thing that was Canadian was the water added to the concentrate. Such are the deceitful practices of the marketplace these days here in our nation. In light of these two examples, I cannot help but ask if they are merely the tip of the iceberg. Contrary to these examples we followers of Jesus are exhorted to be faithful, trustworthy stewards of what God has given us.
We hold a treasure of possibilities, gifts from God to be shared with others in the world God loves. What kind of trust is shown if we give grudgingly, if we are afraid to give more than what we think is our fair share?
There is plenty of mistrust in our world that keeps people from friendship and community with others or with God. Trust in God calls for a different way of being in the world, including a different way of sharing gifts. Gifts from God are never just for us!2 Through our giving, hope becomes real for others. I think we here at Grace are particularly blessed in this way. Our deceased brother, Art Stenby, is an inspiration to us; he was a trustworthy steward. He gave generously, as Scripture teaches us to do. God had blessed Art and, in response, Art shared with his church the generosity of God’s blessings. Now, as trustworthy stewards we are privileged to manage wisely and generously share what has been given to us in such a way as to bear witness to God’s love in Christ for us.
After Paul emphasises the importance of trust as stewards of God, he addresses the issue of judgement. He tells the Corinthians that it is not up to them to judge Paul. In fact, Paul says, he doesn’t even judge himself. Rather he leaves the judging up to the Lord. He will judge us all on the appointed judgement day and reveal things that are now in darkness—bringing into the light even the most hidden motives of our thinking, speaking and acting.
As Eugene Peterson puts it: “So don’t get ahead of the Master and jump to conclusions with your judgments before all the evidence is in. When he comes, he will bring out in the open and place in evidence all kinds of things we never even dreamed of—inner motives and purposes and prayers. Only then will any one of us get to hear the “Well done!” of God.”
It is very tempting to judge others prematurely and unfairly. Yet when we do, in most cases we are wrong and called into judgement ourselves. Francis Gay tells the following story: I remember a minister telling about conducting a service in a church where he had not been before. Everyone was sitting towards the back of the church so before the sermon he suggested it might be better if they all moved forward.
Everyone did this except 3 people sitting together in a back pew. The minister proceeded with the sermon but couldn’t help feeling that the 3 might have followed the lead of the rest of the congregation.
However, after the service he went to the door, pausing to speak to the three as they passed. He discovered that one of them had a severe handicap who would have had a great difficulty getting to church at all but for the help of the other two.
How important it is to be sure of the facts before we make our judgements on others!3
Paul’s final emphasis concerning God’s judgement of us is an interesting one, he states with hope that after God’s judgement: “Then each one will receive commendation from God.” In other words the judgement of God will purify us like a refining fire and remove, purge us of all impurities, all sins and shortcomings, and make us right with God, worthy to receive God’s commendation, the “Well done!” declaration of God.
So, even God’s judgement is good, life-giving, and gives us hope; after we are confronted with our sins and God deals with them, we are forgiven and given God’s blessing. God in Christ has paid the price for humankind’s rebellion, sin, and evil. God wills that all be forgiven and blessed. Such judgement then is like the love and welcome of the prodigal son by his father when he returns. Praise God for his mercy and loving kindness. Amen.
1 Wm. Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians Burlington, ON: G.R. Welch Co., Ltd., 1975), p. 36.
2 Cited from “So Much Trust!” Ecumenical Center for Stewardship Studies, 1994 bulletin insert. Produced by and for churches in Canada and the U.S.A.
3 F. Gay, The Friendship Book 1986, meditation for June 26.