Stewardship in Times of Turmoil
Text: Malachi 4:1-2a; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
This sermon draws its strength, in large measure, from Pastor Carlson's linking of Jesus' time of turmoil with our own. This is not usually considered a "stewardship" text. However, here, it clearly is.
Stewardship in Times of Turmoil
November 11, 2010
Malachi 4:1-2a; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
Pastor Kristine Carlson
This sermon was preached on Stewardship Sunday, at the beginning of the congregation's 100th year. The Hymn of the Day was, "When the Poor Ones," ELW 725--the sermon ends with a reference to the refrain of that hymn.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We're talking about Stewardship this morning. Stewardship is a subject that pastors and church leaders wonder and worry about these days, especially financial stewardship. Giving to the church-wide body of our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is down dramatically--prompting a thorough restructuring of our national church and the loss last month of over 60 positions at our church-wide offices in Chicago. Good things can come out of this, but it's a time of much transition for our church body.
These economic times have contributed to this decrease in giving. In our Second Reading from Second Thessalonians, Paul encourages people not to be idle, but to work. Today, you likely know people who are out of a job and desperately wish they had work to do! Maybe you are one of them. Money is tight!
Also, the vote a year-and-a-half ago by our church-wide assembly--to extend ordination to gay and lesbian people in committed relationships--has affected giving to the church. And congregations are tending to keep more of what's put in the offering plate, and sending less on to the larger church.
So how do you talk about Stewardship--about following Jesus--in times of economic and political turmoil? When people are afraid? And the future seems very uncertain?
These are not new questions, of course. The gospel writer Luke faced them. He was writing at a time of much turmoil and uncertainty. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. Followers of Jesus were suffering. The resurrected and ascended Jesus had not yet returned. And the future was very uncertain. What does Luke do? It's very interesting.
Our gospel reading is from the 21st chapter of Luke's gospel. We're heading toward the end of the story. Jesus is about to be handed over to his enemies and crucified. Before this happens, Jesus has some hard things to say to his disciples, things gathered up in this chapter that is called Luke's "apocalypse." Standing by the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus talks to his disciples about things that will come: family members will betray them; like the one they follow, they will be hated and handed over and killed; there will be wars, there will be frightening natural events; even the great and beautiful Temple will be destroyed. You can hardly bear to hear all that will happen! But, Jesus says that day to his disciples, ". . . not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance, you will gain your souls." How can the followers of Jesus believe his assurance?
The gospel, the assuring good news, is--in part--in Luke's setting of his "apocalypse." Luke sets his apocalypse between certain events. Some of the things Jesus predicts in this 21st chapter have already happened. For instance, by the time Luke is writing, the great and beautiful Temple has been destroyed--just as Jesus prophesied.
The hearers of Luke's gospel have experienced that. They have lived through it. And this is so important as we hear about all the things that are yet to come. Because, Jesus is telling his disciples that day--and us this day--just as I was with you through the destruction of the Temple, so I will be with you in all that is yet to come. Indeed, no matter what you face, no matter what comes, "not a hair of your head will perish." Because, whether you live or whether you die, you are mine. You are mine.
So how do you follow Jesus, how do you be a faithful steward, in a time when there is political and economic turmoil, and the future is uncertain? Jesus tells his disciples, "Don't go running after whatever comes along. And don't be afraid. By your endurance you will gain your souls."
"By your endurance . . ." Our First and Second Readings contain a similar word for people in troubled times. Paul writes to the Thessalonians--suffering through a time of struggles in their community--"Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right." And the prophet Malachi--speaking to a people tempted by manipulative worship in the Temple and oppression of hired workers, widows, orphans, and aliens--encourages his hearers to keep revering God's name. The word from Malachi, from Paul, from our Jesus, is, Persist, keep on going in your faithful stewardship, trust. They say, You can even be bold disciples in hard time, you can even celebrate in hard times! Because God is faithful. God is with us.
Just as God has seen God's people through turmoil and uncertainty before, so God will see you through now. You can count on it. So do not lose heart.
The other evening, I went to a lutefisk dinner at my husband's church, Advent Lutheran, in Maple Grove. I know. Holy food! And it is for me. I really love lutefisk. But I don't want to talk about lutefisk. I want to talk about this: As people waited to be seated for dinner, we sat in the sanctuary watching a gorgeous and informative video about Norway. It took us through all the different regions, from the south to the north. My ancestors come from the most northern region--north of the Arctic Circle. I was in the last seating for dinner, so I was there when the video screen was suddenly filled with a picture of the island in the North Sea that my grandfather came from, and the town my grandmother came from. And I was flooded with memories of the great storm at sea that my grandfather barely survived when he was a teenage boy out fishing; and the hard life of my grandmother, on a farm that never produced much of anything. Norway looked so prosperous and beautiful on that video. But it wasn't for my grandparents and so they left as teenagers, and, God saw them through to this country. And God watched over them as they learned English and got an education. And God watched over them as they left to be missionaries on the other side of the world, in Madagascar. And God watched over them even as my grandfather died there. And God watched over them as my grandmother--a widow with six children-- returned to this country and eventually I was born and she would tell me these things when I was a little girl.
This was my grandmother's testimony to me. This is the word of Jesus to his disciples that day. It's the testimony of the gospel writer Luke to us, the testimony of Paul to the Thessalonians and of Malachi to the people. And as we stand now on the brink of our 100th year as a congregation, beginning next week, this is the testimony that comes to us from those who have gone before us here. God proved faithful through 99 years in this place, and God will be faithful in all that is to come.
So on this Sunday of our financial commitments, let us persist, let us keep on going in our faithful stewardship, let us trust. Let us even be bold in our work for the sake of the world, and celebrative in our life together. Because God is faithful, God is with us, by our side, walking our way.
Thanks be to God.