Perception: Stewardship Reflections from Luther's Catechism
This article focuses on the centrality of the relationship a steward has with God and others.
The Lords Prayer as Relationship Builder
In real estate the key is "location, location, location;" in stewardship it's "relationship, relationship, relationship." Stewardship is all about our relationships--with money, self, the neighbor, God, and the rest of creation.
A steward is someone entrusted with responsibility for someone else's "stuff." Thinking in stewardship mode reminds me that all I have and am does not ultimately belong to me, but to Another. For a time, I'm given responsibility to wisely manage what belongs to Someone Else.
The Lord's Prayer is a steward's prayer when I see it through the lens of "relationship, relationship, relationship," and I use the prayer as a 'scaffold' or 'skeleton' upon which the Spirit is allowed to creatively shape my relational attitudes and actions.
Martin Luther wrote a letter to his barber who had asked how he prays. Luther carefully lays out his own prayer life so that his barber may share in the same life-transforming insights that he has gained from his simple, yet profound exercise (A Simple Way to Pray, Luther's Works, vol. 43, p. 187ff).
Luther's process involves a "garland of four twisted strands." Using the Catechism, he listens to the Holy Spirit lead him to the treasures of God's Word in each commandment, petition, or article. The four strands are--
1. A teaching about how to live
2. A reason for thanksgiving
3. A confession, and
4. A prayer petition.
The following thoughts and questions are meant to stimulate your own 'garlands' as you steward the relationships brought out in the prayer Jesus taught us. May your praying be fruitful and bring blessing to the network of relationships you live in.
Our Father in heaven...
Do I pray to my God, your God, or our God? Who is included when I pray? Is there a brother or sister I ignore? Which 'collar' do I have a hard time hugging--blue, white, green...or clerical?
Faulty fathers make it hard for some to relate to God as a male parent. What image best describes the Almighty for me? In poetry and metaphor, God, in whose image we are created, is glimpsed--as a father, a mother giving birth, a hen guarding her chicks, a shepherd, and a rock (to name a few)--but not fully seen. "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known." --John 1:18. What image brings God close to me?
Hallowed be your name...
"Hallowed" is a hard word to grasp. Do I know what 'holy' really means? "Holier than thou" is its caricature, but how do I 'hallow' (not 'hollow') the name (character, honor, reputation, emotion-attached-to-the-name) of God?
"Branding" is what companies do to create an image, even a feeling, in the mind of the consumer about the company and their product(s).
What kind of "branding" is my life creating for you, Lord, in the minds and hearts of those who experience my witness?
Your kingdom come...
What's a kingdom?
A network of relationships...family and neighborhood, school and workplace, political and economic, social and religious? Some kingdoms are more desirous to live in than others. What is the essence of God's kingdom...loving the neighbor in all the various relationships just mentioned? How does my stewardship of these relationships help "bring in the kingdom?"
Which "kingdom" am I working for today?
Your will be done, on earth as in heaven...
Jesus lived his life and found his focus by doing what his Father told him to do. In some circles this would be classified as a spineless man. Do I 'worship' the image of the independent, self-made wo/man who overcomes all her/his foes by their own power and wits? We spend a lot of time and money watching movies that glorify this very thing. Was Jesus' life "his own" or did it belong to Another? What about yours and mine?
Give us today our daily bread...
Our relationship to the earth is a growing subject of analysis, debate, and (hopefully) positive action towards sustainable stewardship of the resources that bring us "our daily bread." How does developing this stewardship of the earth honor (hallow) the Creator? How does it honor my neighbor--next door and around the globe? What must I confess? What is the Spirit telling me is my part in sustainable stewardship?
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us...
Immediately after our daily physical needs we are to pray for forgiveness. The stewardship of our relationships--family, friend, or foe--centers around forgiveness! We have only to listen to the news--and our own hearts--to know that forgiveness is a great need in our homes, churches, schools, workplaces, local and global communities. Attending to forgiveness takes time, energy, and a great deal of humility. It takes listening to the Spirit and those I've hurt, as well as speaking gently, yet honestly, to those who have hurt me. Thanks be to God for the healing power and new creation that comes out of forgiveness! I confess that forgiving myself is one of the most difficult tasks I face. Pride (not wanting to admit I do dumb things at times) stands tall and unrepentant. Only when it yields am I free.
Lord, who do I need to engage in the process of forgiveness today?
Save us from the time of trial...
Temptation and trial...we face them every day. We have, we do, and we will...fail...and be overcome by temptations and trials. Maybe that's why Jesus put forgiveness first.
James teaches that when we pull up a chair and let temptations 'entertain' us we get sucked into sin (1:12-16). My wife's wisdom with her special needs students comes in handy here. She knows that saying, "Don't do that" will not work. She has to give them a positive alternative. In our prayer can we ask for--and pursue--the Spirit's positive alternative to "lead us not into 'entertaining' temptation"?
Jesus offers an alternative: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens...Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me...." --Matthew 11:28-29 (NRSV)
And deliver us from evil...
Terrorism, natural disasters and the scam artists who take advantage of those reaching out to help; deceptions--political, commercial, and personal; violence that comes from an unwillingness to walk the path of forgiveness; those who use personal or political power to oppress the poor and vulnerable--these and many other evils beset the world in which we live.
Deliver us, O Lord! Lead me to confess my participation--actively or passively--in the evils that cling so closely. Show me, show us, the ways we can begin, renew, or continue to face and foil the evil that lies within and around us.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours...now and forever.
As Martin Luther explains in his Small Catechism, all the things we are told to pray for come into the world whether we pray for them or not...but we pray that they may come to us and be part of our lives. Indeed, may we be the stewards to whom the Master says, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master." --Matthew 25:21 (NRSV)
The Series - Stewardship Reflections on Luther's Small Catechism
A Steward's Confession; God's Absolution by Cathy Malotky
Living in the Tension of a Stewards Baptism by Kevin Bergeson
Stewardship of the Lord's Prayer y Tom Struck
Tom Struck is pastor of Joyful Servant Lutheran Church, Newberg, OR.