Bishop Stokes’ Sermon for Stewardship Sunday

 

Bishop Stokes Preaches for “Stewardship Sunday”

The Diocese has designated Oct. 18 as “Stewardship Sunday.” Download the following resources:

 

The Diocese of New Jersey Online Sermon

Serm贸n en l铆nea de la Di贸cesis de Nueva Jersey

 

20 Pentecost 鈥 Proper 24 鈥 Year A 鈥 October 18, 2020 鈥 Stewardship Sunday

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15 鈥 22

Preacher:聽 The Right Reverend William H. Stokes, Bishop of New Jersey

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God鈥檚 mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy鈥 1 Cor. 4:1-2

These words apply to us all today.聽 God has entrusted us with much and called us to be 鈥渢rustworthy.鈥澛 Sunday, October 18 has been designated Stewardship Sunday for the Diocese of New Jersey.聽 Today, I want us all to pray and reflect upon our roles as 鈥渟tewards of God鈥檚 mysteries;鈥 to give thanks for all that God has entrusted to us.聽 I want us to consider how God is calling us to live more deeply into our role of being stewards in this strange, new COVID19 landscape in which we are still called to carry out God鈥檚 mission of reconciliation and love.聽

Today鈥檚 Gospel reading offers us a pointed opportunity in which to engage in this prayer and reflection about our role as God鈥檚 stewards, our role individually and corporately, as 鈥渢rustees鈥 of all that has been placed in our care by God. 聽Some want to make it just about money, but it鈥檚 about a lot more than that. 聽Let鈥檚 start by taking a look at the Gospel reading from Matthew 22.

If you鈥檝e been in church the past few weeks, or worshipped with one of our churches on-line, you know that in the gospel reading, Jesus has been engaging in a dispute with religious leaders on the Temple Mount, the most Sacred place in Judaism.聽 Jesus engages them in a battle of wits, tells a series of pointed parables directed against them.[i]聽 They are bested by him and appear to fade into the background.聽 In truth, they are enlarging the net with which they are trying to entrap Jesus.聽 They send others to do their dirty work 鈥 some Pharisees and Herodians.聽 These are strange bedfellows.

You see, the Pharisees were faithful Jews and strict observers of the Torah.聽 They despised the Roman occupation and everything to do with it.聽 The Herodians, on the other hand, were supporters of Herod and his family; puppet-rulers under the Roman thumb.聽 They were cooperators and collaborators with Caesar and the Empire.聽 Here, however, some Pharisees and Herodians unite with the other religious leaders to focus their attention on a common problem, Jesus of Nazareth. 聽Matthew makes it clear for us.聽 They are out to 鈥渆ntrap Jesus in what he says鈥 (Mt. 22:15).

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.鈥聽 Don鈥檛 be fooled by their flattering words.聽 It鈥檚 a set-up. They are smarmy, unctuous.聽 鈥淭ell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?鈥 (Matthew 22:15-17).聽 聽聽

Bang, the trap is sprung!聽 Biblical scholar N.T. Wright observes, 鈥淭he issue of paying tax to the Roman emperor was one of the hottest topics in the Middle East of Jesus鈥 day.鈥[ii] Why?聽

If Jesus says yes, it鈥檚 lawful to pay the taxes, the tribute to the emperor, meaning lawful under Jewish law, under the Torah, Jesus will lose credibility and popular standing with the people who are visceral in their opposition to Rome and its occupation of their country. If, on the other hand, Jesus says it is unlawful to pay the taxes, then he risks being charged with sedition and Rome was very hard on seditionists, as Jesus鈥 later crucifixion clearly illustrates.聽 The question posed by the Pharisees and the Herodians appears to offer him no good choice. 聽

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 But Jesus knows what they are up to.聽 “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?聽 Show me the coin used for the tax.” They brought him a denarius (Matthew 22:18 鈥 19).聽聽 The denarius was a silver Roman coin engraved with an image of the Emperors head.聽 On it were words that referred to the Emperor as the 鈥淪on of God鈥 and 鈥淧ontifex Maximums鈥 the 鈥淕reatest Priest鈥 of the Roman Religion.鈥澛 The fact that these religious authorities are in possession of this idolatrous coin on Judaism鈥檚 most sacred ground is the height of hypocrisy![iii]

In asking for the coin, Jesus has sprung his own trap. Biblical scholar N.T. Wright notes, 鈥溾sking them for a coin is really the beginning of his answer, the start of a strategic out-flanking move鈥.they are showing that that they themselves are handling the hated currency.鈥[iv]

To press the point home, Jesus asked them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”聽 They answered, “The emperor’s.”(Matthew 22:20)聽 Jesus said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God鈥檚鈥 (Matthew 22:21).聽

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 It is a brilliant, the perfect response.聽 As one source notes, 鈥淭hey are trapped by him.聽 Jesus鈥 words distance him from those who oppose supporting Rome.聽 At the same time, the inclusion of giving to God what is God鈥檚 relativizes the political obligation.鈥[v]聽 As Roman Catholic scholars Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri observe, 鈥淛esus implicitly subordinates the claims of Caesar to the claims of God.鈥[vi]

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 We should pause here to ask about the implications of this for our own times.聽 What are the demands God makes of us as disciples of Jesus Christ in our current political and economic climate?聽 Just as there was no coin, no person, or anything else in Caesar鈥檚 reign that did not first belong to God, so in our realm all belongs to God as well, and all matters concern God, including how each and every person is treated by our political and socio economic systems.聽

In Greek the words 鈥渟tewardship鈥 and 鈥渟teward鈥 are economia and economos.聽 It is, as author Bob Sitze writes, 鈥淕od鈥檚 ordering, God鈥檚 will鈥od鈥檚 plan to reconcile the world to God鈥檚 self, economia as 鈥淕od鈥檚 desire to save the world through Jesus Christ.鈥[vii] To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a steward, a trustee, of God鈥檚 economy, of God鈥檚 justice, of God鈥檚 mission and ministry of reconciliation.[viii] The common good is not merely a political value, it is a Christian imperative.聽

Occasionally, people use the biblical phrase 鈥渞ender to Caesar the things that are Caesars鈥 to try to suggest the nation鈥檚 politics are something outside of, or beyond God鈥檚 care and concern, that God and our faith should not intrude into our politics. The problem with this argument is that our politics, 聽defined as 鈥渢he total complex of relations between people living in a society,鈥[ix] address vitally important moral and societal issues, issues that the Bible makes clear are profoundly important to God, issues like justice, idolatry, care of the poor and the weak 鈥 again, God鈥檚 鈥渆conomy.鈥

In these matters, Caesar doesn鈥檛 take priority over God; God takes priority over Caesar.聽 Our pledge of allegiance makes this priority clear when we say 鈥渙ne nation under God.鈥 聽While as church, we must always be cautious about being overtly 鈥減artisan,鈥 we cannot avoid being concerned and engaged with politics as these affect us all in profoundly moral and ethical ways. 聽Nonetheless, our engagement must always be marked by love and respect for the dignity of all human beings and driven by biblical priorities.聽 Jesus鈥 Golden Rule applies, 鈥淚n everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.鈥 (Matthew 7:12).

As we continue to struggle with the questions that confront us in our society and around the world – questions about the biblical priorities of justice, fairness, human dignity – 聽it is important to ask, what belongs to Caesar and Caesar鈥檚 kingdom that does not first belong to God and God鈥檚 kingdom?聽 Which are we serving?聽 Which ought we to serve?聽

And this gets us back to St. Paul and his letter to the Church in Corinth: Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God鈥檚 mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy鈥 (1 Cor. 4:1-2).

As members of the body of Christ, baptized persons in Christ鈥檚 name and love, our first call is always to be stewards, 鈥渢rustees鈥 of God鈥檚 mysteries 鈥 all God鈥檚 mysteries 鈥 the mysteries of life, and love; the mysteries of the faith and its repository: the Church, to be stewards of this planet that God has entrusted to our care.

Mitch and Sri write, 鈥淲hat is it that belongs to God?聽 It is the human person that bears the image of the living God (Genesis 1:26-27).聽 So our highest obligation in life 鈥 and one that is imposed on every man, woman and child, regardless of nationality or citizenship 鈥 is to give ourselves back to God.鈥[x] 聽聽Our participation in the life of the church, and of our congregations, our 鈥済ifts鈥 of time, talent and treasure are really a return to God of what God has first given to us as grace and gift.聽

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 What is ours that does not first belong to God?聽 Nothing.聽 Literally nothing.聽 We are God鈥檚 stewards, God鈥檚 鈥渢rustees.鈥澛 Everything we have, everything we are, including our very selves, our own bodies, is given to us by God as an act of grace; we hold it all in trust for God.聽 God and God鈥檚 love calls us to use it all for God鈥檚 own purposes, the spreading of God鈥檚 love and the building of God鈥檚 reign. 聽

In our current COVID19 environment, stewardship questions and challenges will require particular focus, prayer and response from all of us. Our response to God鈥檚 call to us, God鈥檚 commissioning us a 鈥渟tewards鈥 and 鈥渢rustees鈥 of the divine economy should be our joy and sacred obligation.聽 God has called us into life with one another and into life with God鈥檚 very self through the church.聽 This too is part of God鈥檚 economy.

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 The First Letter of Peter expresses it perfectly: 鈥淟ike good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:10 鈥 11).

Thank you for being faithful stewards, trustees, of God鈥檚 sacred mysteries and of God鈥檚 whole economy.聽 May God strengthen you all in this role and in this trust, bless you and may you continue to give Christ honor and glory in all things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 Pentecost茅s – 24 propio – A帽o A – 18 de octubre de 2020 – Domingo de la corresponsabilidad

1 Tesalonicenses 1: 1-10; Mateo 22:15 – 22

Predicador: el reverendo William H. Stokes, obispo de Nueva Jersey

 

Piensa en nosotros as铆, como siervos de Cristo y guardianes de los misterios de Dios que tienen que ser fiables.

– Piensa en nosotros as铆, como servidores de Cristo y administradores de los misterios de Dios. Adem谩s, se requiere que a los administradores que se les considere dignos de confianza. En el nombre del Padre y del Hijo y del Esp铆ritu Santo.

Estas palabras de la primera carta de Pablo al cap铆tulo cuatro de Corintios, se aplican a todos nosotros hoy en d铆a. Dios nos ha confiado mucho y nos llam贸 a ser dignos de confianza. El domingo 18 de octubre se ha designado como el domingo de la administraci贸n para la di贸cesis de Nueva Jersey. Hoy, quiero que todos recemos y reflexionemos sobre nuestro papel como administradores de los misterios de Dios. Para dar gracias por todo lo que Dios nos ha confiado. Quiero que consideremos c贸mo Dios nos est谩 llamando para vivir m谩s profundamente en nuestro papel de ser administradores en este extra帽o y nuevo paisaje de la COVID-19 en el que todav铆a tenemos que llevar a cabo la misi贸n de Dios de reconciliaci贸n y amor.

La lectura del evangelio de hoy nos ofrece una oportunidad 煤nica de participar en esta oraci贸n y la reflexi贸n de nuestro papel como administradores de Dios. Nuestro papel individual y corporativo como fideicomisos de todo lo que ha Dios ha puesto a nuestro cuidado. Algunas personas quieren que la administraci贸n sea solo por dinero, pero es mucho m谩s que eso. Comencemos por echar un vistazo a la lectura del evangelio de Mateo 22.

Si has estado en la iglesia las 煤ltimas semanas o rezado en una de nuestras iglesias en l铆nea, sabes que en las lecturas del evangelio Jes煤s ha estado involucrado en una disputa con los l铆deres religiosos en el Monte del Templo, el lugar m谩s sagrado del juda铆smo. Jes煤s los involucra en una batalla de ingenio, cuenta una serie de par谩bolas dirigidas contra ellos. 脡l los supera y parecen desvanecerse en el fondo. En realidad est谩n ampliando la red con la que intentan atrapar a Jes煤s. Env铆an a otros a hacer el trabajo sucio, algunos fariseos y herodianos. Son extra帽os compa帽eros de cama.

Ver谩s, los fariseos eran jud铆os fieles y observadores estrictos de la Tor谩. Despreciaban la ocupaci贸n romana y todo lo que ten铆a que ver con ello. Los Herodianos, por otro lado, eran partidarios de Herodes y su familia, gobernantes t铆teres bajo el pulgar romano. Eran colaboradores de C茅sar y del imperio. Aqu铆, sin embargo, los fariseos y los herodianos se unen con los otros l铆deres religiosos para centrar su atenci贸n en un problema com煤n, Jes煤s de Nazaret. Mateo nos lo deja claro. Ellos quieren “atrapar a Jes煤s y lo que dice”.

Maestro, sabemos que es sincero y ense帽a el camino de Dios de acuerdo con la verdad y no muestra deferencia por nadie. Porque no consideras a la gente con parcialidad. No te dejes enga帽ar por sus palabras halagadoras. Es una trampa. Son unos aduladores untuosos. “Dinos entonces qu茅 piensas”. 驴Es legal pagar impuestos al emperador o no?”

Bang! La trampa se ha soltado. El erudito b铆blico, el NT Wright observa, el tema de pagar impuestos al emperador romano fue uno de los temas m谩s candentes en el Medio Oriente del d铆a de Jes煤s. 驴Por qu茅?

Bueno, si Jes煤s dice, s铆, es legal pagar los impuestos, el tributo al emperador, eso es legal bajo la ley jud铆a. Bajo la Tor谩 Jes煤s perder谩 credibilidad y la posici贸n popular con el pueblo que son comprensiblemente viscerales en su oposici贸n a Roma y su ocupaci贸n de su pa铆s. Si por el contrario Jes煤s dice que es ilegal pagar los impuestos, se arriesga a ser acusado de sedici贸n y Roma era muy dura con los sedicionistas como la posterior crucifixi贸n de Jes煤s ilustra claramente. La pregunta planteada por los fariseos y los herodianos parece no ofrecerle ninguna buena opci贸n.

Pero Jes煤s sabe lo que est谩n haciendo. Sabe lo que est谩n haciendo. “驴Por qu茅 me ponen a prueba, hip贸critas?” “Mu茅strenme la moneda usada para el impuesto.” Y le trajeron un denario. El denario era una moneda romana de plata grabada con la imagen de la cabeza del emperador. En ella hab铆a palabras que se refer铆an al Emperador como el “Hijo de Dios” o “Pontifex Maxiumus” el “Gran Sacerdote”. El hecho de que estas autoridades religiosas estuvieran en posesi贸n de esta moneda id贸latra en el terreno m谩s sagrado del juda铆smo es el colmo de la hipocres铆a.

Al pedir la moneda, Jes煤s ha tendido su propia trampa. El erudito b铆blico, Douglas Hare, se帽ala, “Pedirles una moneda es realmente el comienzo de su respuesta”. El comienzo de un movimiento estrat茅gico de flanqueo, est谩n mostrando que ellos mismos estaban manejando la odiosa moneda.

Para presionar el punto de partida, Jes煤s les pregunt贸: “驴De qui茅n es esta cabeza y de qui茅n es el t铆tulo?” Ellos respondieron, “Del emperador”. Jes煤s les dijo: “Dad, pues, al emperador, las cosas que son del emperador y a Dios, las cosas que son de Dios”.

Es brillante, la respuesta perfecta. Como se帽ala una fuente, est谩n atrapados por 茅l. Las palabras de Jes煤s lo alejan de aquellos que se oponen a apoyar a Roma. Al mismo tiempo la inclusi贸n de dar a Dios lo que es de Dios relativiza la obligaci贸n pol铆tica. Como los eruditos cat贸licos romanos, Curtis Mitch y Edward Sri observan, “Jes煤s impl铆citamente subordina las afirmaciones de C茅sar a las demandas de Dios”.

Deber铆amos detenernos aqu铆 para preguntar las implicaciones para nuestros propios tiempos. 驴Cu谩les son las demandas que Dios hace de nosotros como disc铆pulos de Jesucristo en nuestro actual clima pol铆tico y econ贸mico? As铆 como no ten铆a sentido, ninguna persona o cualquier otra cosa en las riendas de C茅sar que no pertenec铆a primero a Dios, as铆 que en nuestro reino todo pertenece a Dios. Y todos los asuntos conciernen a Dios, incluyendo la forma en que cada persona es tratada por nuestros sistemas pol铆ticos y econ贸micos.

En griego, las palabras para “administraci贸n” y “administrador” es economia y economos. Como el autor Bob Sight escribe, La orden de Dios, la voluntad de Dios, El plan de Dios para reconciliar el mundo con el yo de Dios. La econom铆a como el deseo de Dios de salvar el mundo a trav茅s de Jesucristo. Ser disc铆pulo de Jesucristo es ser administrador, fideicomisario de la econom铆a de la justicia de Dios, de la misi贸n de Dios y el ministerio de reconciliaci贸n. Ver谩s que el bien com煤n no es solo un valor pol铆tico. Es un imperativo cristiano.

Ocasionalmente la gente usa la frase b铆blica, “dar al C茅sar lo que es del C茅sar” para sugerir que la pol铆tica de la naci贸n es algo aparte del exterior, m谩s all谩 del cuidado y la preocupaci贸n de Dios y nuestra fe no deber铆a entrometerse en nuestra pol铆tica. El problema con este argumento es que nuestra pol铆tica se define como, “el complejo total de relaciones entre las personas viviendo en una sociedad”. abordan cuestiones morales y sociales de vital importancia. Cuestiones que la Biblia deja claras que son profundamente importantes para Dios, temas como la justicia, la idolatr铆a, el cuidado de los pobres y los d茅biles de nuevo, la “econom铆a” de Dios.

En estos asuntos, el C茅sar no tiene prioridad sobre Dios. Dios tiene prioridad sobre el C茅sar. Nuestro juramento de lealtad deja clara la prioridad. Cuando decimos “una naci贸n bajo Dios”. Mientras que su iglesia, siempre debemos ser cautelosos sobre ser abiertamente partidario. No podemos evitar preocuparnos y comprometernos con la pol铆tica, ya que nos afectan a todos de formas profundamente morales y 茅ticas. Pero nuestro compromiso debe estar marcado por el amor y el respeto por la dignidad de todos los seres humanos. La regla de oro de Jes煤s se aplica en todo: “Haz a los dem谩s lo que quieras que te hagan a ti, porque esta es la ley y los profetas”.

A medida que continuamos luchando con las preguntas a las que nos enfrentan en nuestra sociedad y en todo el mundo. Las preguntas sobre la justicia y la equidad y especialmente sobre la dignidad humana. Es importante preguntar, lo que pertenece a C茅sar y al reino de C茅sar 驴no pertenece primero a Dios y al reino de Dios? A los que servimos, a los que debemos servir. 驴Qui茅n o qu茅 ocupa nuestros corazones? Jes煤s dijo que donde est谩 tu tesoro all铆 estar谩 tambi茅n tu coraz贸n.

Y esto nos lleva de vuelta a San Pablo y a su carta a la iglesia de Corinto. “Piensa en nosotros de esta manera, escribi贸 como servidores de Cristo y administradores de los misterios de Dios. Se requiere de los administradores .que se les considere dignos de confianza”.

Como miembros del cuerpo de Cristo personas bautizadas en el nombre y el amor de Cristo, nuestra primera llamada es siempre ser administradores, los fideicomisarios de los misterios de Dios, de todos. Los misterios de la vida, los misterios del amor, los misterios de la fe que es el dep贸sito de la iglesia para ser los administradores de este planeta que Dios ha confiado a nuestro cuidado y de los que que tristemente hemos abusado.

Mitch y Sri lo afirmaron bien, “驴Qu茅 es lo que pertenece a Dios? Es la persona humana que lleva la imagen del Dios vivo. As铆 que nuestra mayor obligaci贸n en la vida es escribir y que se imponga a cada hombre, mujer y ni帽o, sin importar la nacionalidad o la ciudadan铆a, es devolvernos a Dios”. Nuestra participaci贸n en la vida de la iglesia y nuestras congregaciones son regalos de tiempo, el talento y el tesoro es realmente un retorno a Dios de lo que nos ha dado primero como gracia y regalo.

驴Qu茅 es lo nuestro que no pertenece primero a Dios? Nada, literalmente nada. Somos mayordomos de Dios, fideicomisarios de Dios, todo lo que tenemos, todo lo que somos, incluyendo nuestro propio ser, nuestros propios cuerpos nos son dados por Dios como un acto de gracia, lo mantenemos todo en fideicomiso para Dios. Dios y el amor de Dios nos llaman a usarlo todo para los propios prop贸sitos de Dios. La difusi贸n del amor de Dios y la construcci贸n del reino de Dios.

En nuestro actual entorno de la COVID-19, las preguntas y los desaf铆os requerir谩n una atenci贸n especial. Oraci贸n y respuesta de todos nosotros, nuestra respuesta al llamado de Dios a nosotros, Dios nos ha comisionado como administradores y fideicomisarios de la econom铆a divina, deber铆a ser nuestra alegr铆a y obligaci贸n sagrada. Dios nos ha llamado a la vida unos con otros y en la vida con el mismo Dios a trav茅s de la iglesia. Esto tambi茅n es parte de la econom铆a de Dios.

La primera carta de Pedro lo expresa perfectamente. “Como buenos administradores de la multiforme gracia de Dios, servirnos unos a otros con cualquier regalo que cada uno de ustedes haya recibido. Quienquiera que hable debe hacerlo como alguien que habla las mismas palabras de Dios, quienquiera que sirva debe hacerlo con la fuerza que Dios provee, para que Dios sea glorificado en todas las cosas a trav茅s de Jesucristo. A 茅l pertenecen la gloria y el poder por siempre y para siempre. Am茅n”.

Gracias por ser fieles administradores, fideicomisarios de los sagrados misterios de Dios y de la Santa econom铆a de Dios. Que Dios te fortalezca en este papel y en esta confianza y te bendiga mientras contin煤as dando honor a Cristo y la gloria en todas las cosas.

[i] As with many other churches, The Episcopal Church uses the Revised Common Lectionary for its Sunday morning readings.聽 We are currently using Lectionary Year 鈥淎鈥 in which there is focus on the Gospel of Matthew.聽 The appointed Gospel reading for Sunday, September 27, 2020 was Matthew 21:23-32; for Sunday, October 4, 2020 it was Matthew 21:33-46 and for Sunday, October 11, 2020 it was Matthew 22:1-14.

[ii] Wright, N.T. Matthew for Everyone 鈥 Part 2 (London:聽 SPCKPublishing Co., 2002) Kindle location 1453

[iii] See Hare, Douglas Interpretation 鈥 A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching:聽 Matthew 聽Hare, Douglas (Louisville:聽 Westminster 鈥 John Knox Press, 1993) 254.

[iv] Wright, 1459.

[v] The Oxford Bible Commentary ed. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001

[vi] Mitch, Curtis and Sri, Edward聽聽 Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture:聽 The Gospel of Matthew聽 (Grand Rapids, MI:聽 Baker Academic, 2010) Kindle location 5893

[vii] Sitze, Bob聽 鈥淓conomia:聽 A Short History of Stewardship Theology and Practice鈥 from Stewardshift:聽 An Economia for Congregational Change (New York:聽 Morehouse Publishing, 2016), 17

[viii] Sitze refers to the work of Leonard Sweet, suggesting that the Greek words would be better understood by post-modern minds if translated as 鈥渢rustee鈥 鈥 see Sitze, p. 17.

[ix] See 鈥減olitics鈥 Merriam Websters Collegiate Dictionary 鈥 10th Edition, p.901.

[x] Mitch and Sri, Kindle location 5900

 

 

20 Pentecost 鈥 Proper 24 鈥 Year A 鈥 October 18, 2020 鈥 Stewardship Sunday
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15 鈥 22
Preacher:聽 The Right Reverend William H. Stokes, Bishop of New Jersey

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God鈥檚 mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy鈥 1 Cor. 4:1-2

These words apply to us all today.聽 God has entrusted us with much and called us to be 鈥渢rustworthy.鈥澛 Sunday, October 18 has been designated Stewardship Sunday for the Diocese of New Jersey.聽 Today, I want us all to pray and reflect upon our roles as 鈥渟tewards of God鈥檚 mysteries;鈥 to give thanks for all that God has entrusted to us.聽 I want us to consider how God is calling us to live more deeply into our role of being stewards in this strange, new COVID19 landscape in which we are still called to carry out God鈥檚 mission of reconciliation and love.聽

Today鈥檚 Gospel reading offers us a pointed opportunity in which to engage in this prayer and reflection about our role as God鈥檚 stewards, our role individually and corporately, as 鈥渢rustees鈥 of all that has been placed in our care by God. 聽Some want to make it just about money, but it鈥檚 about a lot more than that. 聽Let鈥檚 start by taking a look at the Gospel reading from Matthew 22.

If you鈥檝e been in church the past few weeks, or worshipped with one of our churches on-line, you know that in the gospel reading, Jesus has been engaging in a dispute with religious leaders on the Temple Mount, the most Sacred place in Judaism.聽 Jesus engages them in a battle of wits, tells a series of pointed parables directed against them.[1]聽 They are bested by him and appear to fade into the background.聽 In truth, they are enlarging the net with which they are trying to entrap Jesus.聽 They send others to do their dirty work 鈥 some Pharisees and Herodians.聽 These are strange bedfellows.

You see, the Pharisees were faithful Jews and strict observers of the Torah.聽 They despised the Roman occupation and everything to do with it.聽 The Herodians, on the other hand, were supporters of Herod and his family; puppet-rulers under the Roman thumb.聽 They were cooperators and collaborators with Caesar and the Empire.聽 Here, however, some Pharisees and Herodians unite with the other religious leaders to focus their attention on a common problem, Jesus of Nazareth. 聽Matthew makes it clear for us.聽 They are out to 鈥渆ntrap Jesus in what he says鈥 (Mt. 22:15).

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.鈥聽 Don鈥檛 be fooled by their flattering words.聽 It鈥檚 a set-up. They are smarmy, unctuous.聽 鈥淭ell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?鈥 (Matthew 22:15-17).聽 聽聽聽聽聽聽聽

Bang, the trap is sprung!聽 Biblical scholar N.T. Wright observes, 鈥淭he issue of paying tax to the Roman emperor was one of the hottest topics in the Middle East of Jesus鈥 day.鈥[2] Why?聽

If Jesus says yes, it鈥檚 lawful to pay the taxes, the tribute to the emperor, meaning lawful under Jewish law, under the Torah, Jesus will lose credibility and popular standing with the people who are visceral in their opposition to Rome and its occupation of their country. If, on the other hand, Jesus says it is unlawful to pay the taxes, then he risks being charged with sedition and Rome was very hard on seditionists, as Jesus鈥 later crucifixion clearly illustrates.聽 The question posed by the Pharisees and the Herodians appears to offer him no good choice. 聽

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 But Jesus knows what they are up to.聽 “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?聽 Show me the coin used for the tax.” They brought him a denarius (Matthew 22:18 鈥 19).聽聽 The denarius was a silver Roman coin engraved with an image of the Emperors head.聽 On it were words that referred to the Emperor as the 鈥淪on of God鈥 and 鈥淧ontifex Maximums鈥 the 鈥淕reatest Priest鈥 of the Roman Religion.鈥澛 The fact that these religious authorities are in possession of this idolatrous coin on Judaism鈥檚 most sacred ground is the height of hypocrisy![3]

In asking for the coin, Jesus has sprung his own trap. Biblical scholar N.T. Wright notes, 鈥溾sking them for a coin is really the beginning of his answer, the start of a strategic out-flanking move鈥.they are showing that that they themselves are handling the hated currency.鈥[4]

To press the point home, Jesus asked them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”聽 They answered, “The emperor’s.”(Matthew 22:20)聽 Jesus said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God鈥檚鈥 (Matthew 22:21).聽

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 It is a brilliant, the perfect response.聽 As one source notes, 鈥淭hey are trapped by him.聽 Jesus鈥 words distance him from those who oppose supporting Rome.聽 At the same time, the inclusion of giving to God what is God鈥檚 relativizes the political obligation.鈥[5]聽 As Roman Catholic scholars Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri observe, 鈥淛esus implicitly subordinates the claims of Caesar to the claims of God.鈥[6]

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 We should pause here to ask about the implications of this for our own times.聽 What are the demands God makes of us as disciples of Jesus Christ in our current political and economic climate?聽 Just as there was no coin, no person, or anything else in Caesar鈥檚 reign that did not first belong to God, so in our realm all belongs to God as well, and all matters concern God, including how each and every person is treated by our political and socio economic systems.聽

In Greek the words 鈥渟tewardship鈥 and 鈥渟teward鈥 are economia and economos.聽 It is, as author Bob Sitze writes, 鈥淕od鈥檚 ordering, God鈥檚 will鈥od鈥檚 plan to reconcile the world to God鈥檚 self, economia as 鈥淕od鈥檚 desire to save the world through Jesus Christ.鈥[7] To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a steward, a trustee, of God鈥檚 economy, of God鈥檚 justice, of God鈥檚 mission and ministry of reconciliation.[8] The common good is not merely a political value, it is a Christian imperative.聽

Occasionally, people use the biblical phrase 鈥渞ender to Caesar the things that are Caesars鈥 to try to suggest the nation鈥檚 politics are something outside of, or beyond God鈥檚 care and concern, that God and our faith should not intrude into our politics. The problem with this argument is that our politics, 聽defined as 鈥渢he total complex of relations between people living in a society,鈥[9] address vitally important moral and societal issues, issues that the Bible makes clear are profoundly important to God, issues like justice, idolatry, care of the poor and the weak 鈥 again, God鈥檚 鈥渆conomy.鈥

In these matters, Caesar doesn鈥檛 take priority over God; God takes priority over Caesar.聽 Our pledge of allegiance makes this priority clear when we say 鈥渙ne nation under God.鈥 聽While as church, we must always be cautious about being overtly 鈥減artisan,鈥 we cannot avoid being concerned and engaged with politics as these affect us all in profoundly moral and ethical ways. 聽Nonetheless, our engagement must always be marked by love and respect for the dignity of all human beings and driven by biblical priorities.聽 Jesus鈥 Golden Rule applies, 鈥淚n everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.鈥 (Matthew 7:12).

As we continue to struggle with the questions that confront us in our society and around the world – questions about the biblical priorities of justice, fairness, human dignity – 聽it is important to ask, what belongs to Caesar and Caesar鈥檚 kingdom that does not first belong to God and God鈥檚 kingdom?聽 Which are we serving?聽 Which ought we to serve?聽

And this gets us back to St. Paul and his letter to the Church in Corinth: Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God鈥檚 mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy鈥 (1 Cor. 4:1-2).

As members of the body of Christ, baptized persons in Christ鈥檚 name and love, our first call is always to be stewards, 鈥渢rustees鈥 of God鈥檚 mysteries 鈥 all God鈥檚 mysteries 鈥 the mysteries of life, and love; the mysteries of the faith and its repository: the Church, to be stewards of this planet that God has entrusted to our care.

Mitch and Sri write, 鈥淲hat is it that belongs to God?聽 It is the human person that bears the image of the living God (Genesis 1:26-27).聽 So our highest obligation in life 鈥 and one that is imposed on every man, woman and child, regardless of nationality or citizenship 鈥 is to give ourselves back to God.鈥[10] 聽聽Our participation in the life of the church, and of our congregations, our 鈥済ifts鈥 of time, talent and treasure are really a return to God of what God has first given to us as grace and gift.聽

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 What is ours that does not first belong to God?聽 Nothing.聽 Literally nothing.聽 We are God鈥檚 stewards, God鈥檚 鈥渢rustees.鈥澛 Everything we have, everything we are, including our very selves, our own bodies, is given to us by God as an act of grace; we hold it all in trust for God.聽 God and God鈥檚 love calls us to use it all for God鈥檚 own purposes, the spreading of God鈥檚 love and the building of God鈥檚 reign. 聽

In our current COVID19 environment, stewardship questions and challenges will require particular focus, prayer and response from all of us. Our response to God鈥檚 call to us, God鈥檚 commissioning us a 鈥渟tewards鈥 and 鈥渢rustees鈥 of the divine economy should be our joy and sacred obligation.聽 God has called us into life with one another and into life with God鈥檚 very self through the church.聽 This too is part of God鈥檚 economy.

聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽聽 The First Letter of Peter expresses it perfectly: 鈥淟ike good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:10 鈥 11).

Thank you for being faithful stewards, trustees, of God鈥檚 sacred mysteries and of God鈥檚 whole economy.聽 May God strengthen you all in this role and in this trust, bless you and may you continue to give Christ honor and glory in all things.

 

[1] As with many other churches, The Episcopal Church uses the Revised Common Lectionary for its Sunday morning readings.聽 We are currently using Lectionary Year 鈥淎鈥 in which there is focus on the Gospel of Matthew.聽 The appointed Gospel reading for Sunday, September 27, 2020 was Matthew 21:23-32; for Sunday, October 4, 2020 it was Matthew 21:33-46 and for Sunday, October 11, 2020 it was Matthew 22:1-14.

[2] Wright, N.T. Matthew for Everyone 鈥 Part 2 (London:聽 SPCKPublishing Co., 2002) Kindle location 1453

[3] See Hare, Douglas Interpretation 鈥 A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching:聽 Matthew 聽Hare, Douglas (Louisville:聽 Westminster 鈥 John Knox Press, 1993) 254.

[4] Wright, 1459.

[5] The Oxford Bible Commentary ed. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001

[6] Mitch, Curtis and Sri, Edward聽聽 Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture:聽 The Gospel of Matthew聽 (Grand Rapids, MI:聽 Baker Academic, 2010) Kindle location 5893

[7] Sitze, Bob聽 鈥淓conomia:聽 A Short History of Stewardship Theology and Practice鈥 from Stewardshift:聽 An Economia for Congregational Change (New York:聽 Morehouse Publishing, 2016), 17

[8] Sitze refers to the work of Leonard Sweet, suggesting that the Greek words would be better understood by post-modern minds if translated as 鈥渢rustee鈥 鈥 see Sitze, p. 17.

[9] See 鈥減olitics鈥 Merriam Websters Collegiate Dictionary 鈥 10th Edition, p.901.

[10] Mitch and Sri, Kindle location 5900