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“Stewardship as a Human Vocation”—Oct. 8

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Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,

“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him. Mark 12:17

Jesus’ famous rejoinder to a group of Pharisees and Herodians who were trying to trap him, “give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and give to God the things that are God’s,” intrigues me. It has since I first preached on the text in seminary more than 31 years ago. It is, I am confident, one of the most misinterpreted passages in the New Testament. There are those who have used Jesus’ statement as an argument for the “separation of Church and State.” This is a clear distortion and misreading.

When Jesus responds to those Pharisees and Herodians “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” we should recognize the irony in his words. What could possibly belong to Caesar that doesn’t first belong to God?

All things come of thee, O Lord, and I’ve thine own have we give thee, we often hear at the offertory on Sunday morning, as the people’s gifts are presented to God. First attributed to King David in 1 Chronicles 29.14, these words state an absolute truth: everything, everything that is the Emperor’s, Caesar’s, David’s, yours, or mine, is God’s first. What we “have” is, in truth, what has been entrusted to us by God who has asked us to be “stewards” of it all.

Too often, we segment “stewardship” to the narrow area of church finances. This is unfortunate. Stewardship concerns the totality of our lives and of our how we manage that which God has entrusted to us. This includes our life and participation in the community of faith that is the Church. It includes our care of ourselves and bodies, but also, our lives as citizens of this planet. As someone observed, “Stewardship is what I do with everything I have, after I say, ‘I believe.[1]

Our primary purpose as the Diocese of New Jersey is to “form people as disciples of Jesus Christ to carry out Christ’s mission of reconciliation in the world.” We believe our congregations are to be “Schools for Discipleship,” wherein disciple formation takes place. Inherent in the formation of a disciple is an understanding that as followers of Jesus Christ, called to carry out Christ’s mission of reconciliation in the world, we are serving as stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. The two—stewardship and discipleship—go hand in hand.

I am grateful to the people of the Diocese of New Jersey who have been strong in the financial support of their congregations throughout the COVID19 pandemic and celebrate this. This support has allowed the larger stewardship questions we face as followers of Jesus Christ to be addressed.

Across the Diocese, congregations have fed the hungry, tended the sick, addressed injustice, welcomed the stranger, responded to humanitarian crises. There are huge challenges in our world that demand a Christian response, that is the response of Christian stewards who understand we hold everything in trust for God.

I am delighted that our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, has appointed Canon Barbara Bach of St. Paul’s, Westfield, to be one of 24 delegates representing the presiding bishop’s office at the United Nations 26th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as “COP26.” It was an excellent appointment by our Presiding Bishop.

Canon Barbie Bach

Canon Bach has served for the past five years on the Conservancy Council science advisory board of the New Jersey Chapter of The Nature Conservancy with special attention to water quality, coastal storm hazards, and habitat restoration. She has been a strong advocate in support of social justice issues and resolutions to halt fossil fuel investments. An environmental scientist for the United States Environmental Protection Agency Headquarters and a Congressional Liaison, she has been active in upholding the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, and especially in response to releases of hazardous substances. She also completed a special environmental justice project that revealed risks to communities of color.

Canon Barbie Bach exemplifies Christian discipleship at work in the world and gives expression to a fuller sense of “stewardship” we should all embrace, especially in the face of unfettered consumption, the on-going destruction of our environment and human-caused climate change.

We live in challenging times. These challenging times require us to own the responsibility that God has placed upon us as stewards. Canadian-America Theologian John Douglas Hall stated it well in a thoughtful essay titled “Stewardship as a Human Vocation”:

We are stewards–servants; and often we are “unworthy servants” and presumptuous stewards. There is much to be said against us. But we are not superfluous, we are not only problematic, and we are not as dispensable as some of our fierce critics think… [T]he stewardship to which we are called is not an idle or merely idealistic vocation, it is a real possibility. God our Maker made us to be keepers of a garden; and when the garden became a wilderness God did not see fit to alter our vocation. No, we are to be stewards now in the wilderness. It’s a difficult calling, and none of us ever succeeds at it. At the end of the day we have to confess that we are . . . “unprofitable servants” And yet. . . it can be done!”[2]

I am also aware that Sunday, October 10, is National Coming Out Day which, as The Rev. Scott Russell, Chair of our LGBTQ+ Commission explains on our diocesan website is “an annual LGBTQ+ awareness day meant to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, non-binary, and transgender people in ‘coming out of the closet’ and publicly living their full identities. This, too, is about the meeting place of stewardship and discipleship. Fr. Dirk Reinken, Rector of St. Peter’s in Freehold, highlights this in a reflection he wrote about his experience of “coming out.” In part, he writes:

Coming out is both a challenge and a gift for everybody. The gift is that the person who reveals an important part of their life is inviting the other into sharing more fully in their life, into knowing them better and more authentically. The ability to affirm and embrace such a person is a huge gift, even if one does not fully understand or agree with the other person. When one comes out, one is saying “You matter to me and I need you to know this so that we can be in a more authentic relationship as friends (family, co-workers, neighbors etc.).”[3]

On this National Coming Out Day, we are invited to fully support people in being the people God created them to be.

As we look toward this weekend, I invite us all to celebrate and recognize that the creation and God’s gifts to us are boundless. All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee. Amen.

God bless you and keep you.

Faithfully in Christ,

Bishop Stokes's Signature

The Rt. Rev. William H. (Chip) Stokes
12th Bishop of the Diocese of New Jersey

 

Collect for Stewardship Sunday

Gracious and generous God, giver of all we have and hold as stewards; grant the people of this church a deep and abiding awareness that all that we have-our health, our incomes, our jobs, our talents –  are gifts received from your hand. Send your Holy Spirit to help us as we swim against the rising tides of materialism and greed in our culture. Send your Holy Spirit to teach us that we make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give! Send your Holy Spirit to remind us that when we give generously and joyfully, we grow in grace and our spiritual lives are transformed as our stewardship becomes a witness to the love of Jesus Christ in our lives.  We pray with grateful, thankful hearts, in the name of Jesus, the Christ…AMEN!

 

 

 

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Notes

[1] Original source unknown.

[2] Hall, John Douglas “Stewardship as a Human Vocation” – A lecture given at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg Seminary on Oct. 27, 2005 and sponsored by the Stewardship of Life Institute and the Arthur Larson Stewardship Council. Published by Professor Hall on the Stewardship of Life website September 7, 2010 and found at https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2010/09/stewardship-as-a-human-vocation/  For an outstanding consideration of “the Christian Steward” I also recommend Hall’s book The Steward: A Biblical Symbol Come of Age (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1990).

 

[3] Reinken, Dirk “Coming Out as a Way of Mission” – a reflection for “National Coming Out Day” written for the website of the Diocese of New Jersey, October, 2021