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Stewardship – Canon Victoria Johnson

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Sermon on the theme of Stewardship

Canon Victoria Johnson, Sunday 7th March 2021
Readings Exodus 20:1-17, John 2:13-22

In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

In this the third of our Lent Sermon series, we consider Stewardship– as an expression of our Christian faith- how we steward our time, our talents, our money. We do that following on from St John’s account of- Jesus cleansing the Temple– The very reading that provokes angry letters about Cathedral gift shops or charging for entry, a reading that incites people to argue that the church shouldn’t talk about money, or ask for money, or steward money, whilst themselves failing to support the work of the church adequately. An attitude that gives nothing but wants everything. Anyone who has ever been an active member of a Christian community, knows that you cannot run a church on air – bills to pay, roofs to fix, organs to rebuild, staff to salary, ministry to pay for.

I am going to come back to that reading and its very real challenge to us, but I want to start our reflections on stewardship today somewhere else- I want to start by reflecting on a Christian understanding of the word legacy, in the sense of something being passed on from generation to generation. Beyond the merely financial, we could think of legacies in a much broader sense, how we pass on our values and attitudes, how we pass on knowledge and understanding, how we pass on traditions which we cherish, how we pass on the world we currently inhabit. We could also think of this in terms of how we pass on our faith, and how we live out Christ’s story.

To pass on a legacy, to share something of what we have with the future, we have to have a care for how we steward what we have now. One of the most pressing questions about stewardship, growing more urgent by the day, is how we exercise stewardship of our planet, and own up to our human propensity, shall we just call it a sin– to simply trash and exploit everything around us for our own ends, until it’s almost beyond use. Our collective efforts as a human race have so altered our planets eco-systems and climates that we are in danger of causing irreversible damage- the house is on fire now- how are we responding? Individually, nationally, globally? Will there be anything left to pass on?

Let’s bring this thinking into our life of our faith- how do we pass on the faith of the church and the faith that is within us and proclaim that faith anew in every generation? The church, like the world it serves, is not just for us now, it doesn’t exist to see us out– it’s a gift for the future both spiritually and materially, how do we steward this heritage for those who come after us? This is a daily question for us here- we believe this place is a treasure, and we treasure it because it speaks of our faith, but we do have to carefully steward our resources to care for it, and yes- a gift shop, paid staff and careful use of money is part of that stewardship.

Today, we have offered a little blessing for our Grand Organ, which we know will be shared with at least three generations beyond us. It has taken profound generosity, three years of hard work and years longer to plan. Like the Great East Window, restored over the past fifteen years, these are signs of our faith in there actually being a worshipping community here in a hundred years-time: and through our mission we will work hard to ensure there is.

Everything about this wonderful building, of which we are stewards, makes us consider the long game- and what we are passing on from generation to generation. Music, stones, stained glass, mean little unless the faith that inspired their creation is passed on as well. I suppose, we could steward our faith by keeping it private, digging a hole in the ground and hiding it away where it cannot grow or diversify, ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified in our words and actions. But that is no way to steward this gift as the parable of the talents reminds us. The concept of stewardship extends to how we live out our faith in the world today, so that there will be something to pass on.

In our old-testament reading, the Ten Commandments are given by God as a means of living out the faith and then passing it on. In response, God promises to show steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who keep the commandments. They were essentially a rule of life which exploited no-one, cared for the earth, and encouraged the people to be content with what they had, they gave a right perspective, they showed the way, they helped the people of Israel understand who they were. They were both private and public, personal and political. Stewardship in these terms was about walking in the way of God and thinking of the long-game, the legacy of faith that would be passed on.

Over 600years after the Book of Exodus was written, Jesus walks into the temple in Jerusalem, and casts out the money changers. John’s Gospel puts this incident at the beginning of Jesus ministry.  A naïve reading of this text uses it to denounce jumble sales in church, back where we began, but we have to give John, the great theologian, more credit than this and do a little more work with our scriptures.

This text is about who Jesus is, his identity as the living temple. This was a figurative and prophetic act which revealed his identity as the Son of God. As he walked into his Father’s House, people had no regard for anything other than themselves, yet alone generations to come. They had forgotten God’s commandments. They were not interested in legacy, they were not interested in stewardship, just an instant kind of gratification, and that self-centred world view made them impervious to the God of heaven and earth who stood before their eyes. No wonder Jesus was angry. They couldn’t see who Jesus was- and they had no concern for the communities of which they were part yet alone the generations that would come after them. This was about his love and their hearts, not about cash registers in church.

There is no instant gratification in Christ-before glory there was crucifixion, before joy there was pain. By his very body, broken, bruised, nailed to a cross, Jesus would build a new temple which would bring together people of every generation, with towers telling of salvation, and walls re-echoing praise.  He gave to those who followed him a new commandment to love God and love neighbour as self, he gave them bread and wine to remember him forever. Through him, and with him and in him, they would become the living stones of the new temple.

We are stewards of that gift, his body, the church –through which we find our identity. He commanded us to turn away from self and promised that we would be set free by his life. As we hear in the Litany sung during Lent, we find our identity in his story, by his holy incarnation, his cross, passion, death, burial, resurrection and ascension and through the coming of the Holy Ghost.

Christ’s legacy is universal, unending, unquenchable, and in his name he calls us to live lives of radical generosity, service and love, building life on his life. We are called to proclaim his name and tell the praise of the one who has called us out of darkness into light, not bury it away as if we have never heard it or known it.  As he gave his life as a ransom for many, how are we called to give of ourselves and what we have, to be his body in the world today?

The daily challenge for every Christian, is to reflect on how we respond to the generosity of God in Christ, in our words, deeds and actions, and yes- in how we spend our money, use our time, steward our resources and ensure that we have a legacy to pass on. What are we leaving behind? What kind of temple are we building for the future?

Lent is traditionally a time of almsgiving- giving as an expression of our faith. What are we prepared to sacrifice? How are we called to be stewards of our faith today, for the church of tomorrow? How much of ourselves, our time, our money, our talents are we really prepared to give towards the enterprise of being a member of the body of Christ and living his story? That is surely where our reflections on stewardship have to begin?

In the name of the living God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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