This lesson is the third of three prepared by Dr. Bliese for adult studies in a variety settings in congregations. Each lesson includes a presentation that may be reproduced and distributed among participants.
The Eucharist models stewardship! This lesson focuses not just on "the offering" as the stewardship rite in worship service, but the whole communion liturgy, including the offering, as a stewardship meal. An understanding of discipleship and stewardship can be taught, not once or twice a year, but every Sunday in the worship service. Stewardship is an every Sunday affair.
Download the Microsoft PowerPoint slide presentation here.
Session #3 Communion: The Great Stewardship Meal
Learning Stewardship through the Catechism
What's your favorite stewardship text in the Bible?
I asked my congregation this question at a stewardship banquet and got blank stares back in return. They had been caught by surprise and needed time to think. The silence was deafening.
Finally, one young man in the back of the room screamed out, "Money is the root of all evil!"
Another answered, "I don't have a favorite scriptural text, but I do have a great stewardship joke," which he shared with the whole group. He had been our stewardship chairman the previous year. He could tell jokes well, and he had collected a lot of funny material about congregational giving -- or the lack thereof.
Everyone laughed. The ice was broken. Nevertheless, the laughter had broken a silence that was quite revealing. The awkwardness of that moment haunted me for several weeks. What I discovered in that moment was that I hadn't done my job as their pastor in grounding our community's practice of stewardship within the rich biblical material. Our stewardship practices in the congregation had been getting stronger. That was a good development. Nevertheless, one thing was clear. We needed more education. We needed more bible insights, I thought, to build a better foundation under our giving practices or our progress would be short lived.
I began the next morning to make a list of all the pertinent bible texts on stewardship to teach my congregation. I would write a stewardship manual, I thought excitedly, with a complete list of relevant bible texts. I began with my favorite text on stewardship that was read at my ordination.
"Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mystery. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." (I Cor. 4: 1-2)
As I continued making my list, what I discovered surprised me. My list of bible passages, like the Energizer Bunny, kept on going and going and going. Stewardship texts dominate scripture! So many bible verses spoke directly to the motivation, content and nature of stewardship, that I didn't know where to end. The parables of Jesus were particularly striking!
Slide #2 What's Your Favorite Stewardship Story?
Trying to make a "little" list of helpful stewardship texts was like trying to drink water out of an open fire hydrant. Maybe our problem was having too many stewardship texts in the bible, not too few.
Which text was best to help focus our attention on God's grace to us in Jesus Christ? Which image might capture our imagination about giving? Stewardship is about living a life of discipleship as thanksgiving to God. How could I lift up the gospel message clearly while emphasizing thanksgiving and discipleship?
It was in the middle of the next Sunday morning's worship service when the answer hit me. I was leading the worship out of the Green Lutheran Book of Worship when these words, at the beginning of the Communion liturgy, pierced my consciousness:
We offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us -- our selves, our time, and our possessions, signs of your gracious love, Receive them for the sake of him who offered himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. (LBW, 87. Augsburg Fortress)
Eureka! I had found the focus for our stewardship drive -- the celebration of Communion. Instead of just talking about "the offering" as the stewardship rite in our worship service, we needed to approach the whole communion liturgy, including the offering, as a stewardship meal.
The Eucharist, in other words, models stewardship! The results were astounding! Slowly but surely, the congregation began to understand communion to be about a call to discipleship, stewardship and mission in response to God's grace.
A second result was that our congregation made the Communion liturgy the teaching focus of our stewardship drive. Stewardship increased because we started to teach and practice our understanding of discipleship and stewardship -- not once or twice a year -- but every Sunday in the worship service. Stewardship was an every Sunday affair.
He's what we discovered . . .
Slide #3 Thesis #1 The Catechism represents the theological "guts" for how stewardship works.
Let's review the catechism for a moment so that we can remember what's in it.
The Catechism has six parts:
The Apostles' Creed
The Lord's Prayer
Each part of the catechism is important to learn. Luther wrote about how important it was for him to repeat and practice the catechism each day -- even though he couldn't master it. As you review the six chief parts of the catechism above, what role might they play in defining or practicing stewardship? [Here's a hint: Stewardship can be tied to each section of the catechism.]
A further insight about our Lutheran catechism is that all the parts of the catechism are put together in an important way. It is important to grasp that there's an order and a flow to the catechism. What comes first? The Word of God comes first in our lives and is paramount. It always comes to us as law and gospel. The power of stewardship becomes real only when we first "hear" God's Word. And when the Word comes, it comes to us in three special ways: as law (commandments), as promise (the creed), and as prayer for the kingdom of God (Lord's Prayer). Stewardship, therefore, is grounded in God's Word bringing to us the law, the promise and the kingdom.
Slide #4 Stewardship is a response of faith to God's Word especially shaped by the church's two Sacraments.
We hear God's Word of grace. Now what? How should we respond? As we mentioned above, stewardship begins with grasping the gospel of Jesus Christ, the justification of the sinner by grace alone through faith alone. So how should we sinners respond to this grace once we "get it"? Our responses are taught through worship. Our liturgies and rituals should help us learn stewardship. Just like any athlete practices for the real game, liturgies teach us Christian practices for our real lives as disciples of Christ. This is particularly true about how we build the ongoing practices of baptism and communion into our weekly worship.
Slide #5 Thesis #2: Lutheran liturgy represents the shape of our catechism -- as a communal ritual.
Now that we're heard of God's amazing gift in Christ, how do I respond as a disciple? Here is a list of three responses from the catechism:
1. Prayer for the Kingdom of God in our lives (both individually and collectively). Prayer and praise are direct responses to hearing God's Word. Our prayers and praise, however, aren't scattered and lacking focus. The Word has focused our attention. Our focus is on Christ and his gifts to us. Our prayers are now directed to how the kingdom -- Jesus' presence in the world - is being manifested among us. (See all the stewardship texts related to the kingdom of God in, for example the Luke's gospel.)
2. Confessing one's identity with the life of the Triune God
in response to the Word of God, we reaffirm our faith through acts of verbal confessing. This confessing is always tied to the act of baptism. Confessing the faith as verbal witness is actually taught in our worship experience through:
a. confessing our sin
b. communal confession of the creeds of the church
c. personal testimonies (through personal sharing or hymn singing)
3. Participating in Communion (Eucharist -- the sharing of gifts)
One of the most illuminating stewardship rituals is the communion liturgy. It teaches us first how to hear God's word. Secondly it gives us the opportunity to respond with offering ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. Finally, it shows us how God accepts, purifies and returns our gifts as a blessing to the community and world.
Slide #6 Thesis #3 Worship, therefore, teaches the practices of stewardship.
Five patterns of stewardship emerge from the catechism. Each has their importance for the life of the disciple of Christ. These patterns are:
1. Prayer for the Kingdom
Stewardship is closely linked with Christ's teaching about the kingdom of God.
An important act of stewardship is to confess one's relationship to God. In addition, giving witness to God's riches to you in word and deed is at the very heart of stewardship. We confess that in baptism, God has called and sent us into mission as gifted people. This is our confession!
3. Praise & Worship
Stewardship is always an act of thanksgiving and praise. The worship service should model how praise and giving are linked to the complete life of a disciple that emerges from the gospel.
4. The Offering
All Christians are stewards of the God's mysteries. The Christian concept of stewardship involves time, talents, possessions, and self. The offering is where we are able to offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12)
5. Communion as an act of Proclamation and Thanksgiving.
The Communion liturgy models in brief form how Christians both receive Christ and how they live the life of giving and service. The communion liturgy models discipleship as gift exchange. God gives; we respond with gifts to God; God blesses the community and world by using our gifts for his glory.
Slide #7 Thesis #4: When we celebrate Communion, we teach stewardship
Let's repeat the last point again. In the communion liturgy, we are lifting up important stewardship practices. In thankfulness to God, we bring our gifts to the altar. What does God do with our gifts? Watch the actions of the pastor and what the pastor does with the bread and wine. God accepts our gifts, breaks them, blesses them, and gives them back to the community -- in fact, the whole world, as his body and blood. We give our gifts to God in response to faith. God blesses our gifts and uses them to do mission in the world. The Communion liturgy teaches how to exchange gifts with God and with one another EVANGELICALLY, that is, based on the gospel. (See session #2 on gift-exchange)
This is how Christian community works. In thankfulness to God, we give ourselves, our time and our gifts, signs of your gracious will.
Slide #8 Genuine Transformation
Review your congregation's worship practices. Ask yourselves two questions:
1. How does your worship service reflect the catechism?
2. How does your worship teach stewardship?
Slide #9 My favorite Communion Text about Stewardship
Read Luke 12: 35-48. Discuss how this text might inform your understanding of Christian stewardship and your grasp of communion.
God has richly blessed you and your congregation. In order to learn about how to be good stewards, go back to the basics. Read the catechism. Look at your worship service. There's a lot there to be learned about the Christian practices of stewardship.
----Richard Bliese, President of Luther Seminary, Professor of Missions, Luther Seminary
Permission granted by Centered Life Learning and Stewardship In the 21st Century, Luther Seminary, for use in congregations.
Download the Microsoft PowerPoint slide presentation here.
Click on the following for other presentations in this series by Dr. Bliese:
Session 1: Mission Starts with Stewardship & Five Small Stone
Session #2: Stewardship is About Exchanging Gifts . . .And about Relationships
Rev. Dr. Richard H. Bliese, President of Luther Seminary and Professor of Mission.