Epiphany as a Verb: “We are NOT the Church without…YOU”
1 Corinthians 3: 10,11, 16-23 & Leviticus 19:1,2, 9-18 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ February 16, 2020
Well this is awkward! Or is it? This morning’s conversation on stewardship is sure to raise people’s attention because going into this morning, I know that we ALL have an opinion on stewardship. Actually, let me rephrase that, we all have STRONG opinions on stewardship. Some believe that what one does with their money, with their time and with their skills should be at the discretion of the person. Right up there with sex and politics, stewardship does not have any place in the pulpit. Perhaps they are reacting to the long drawn out stewardship campaigns heard Sunday after Sunday, or memories of stewardship committees from church elders asking for their pledges for the coming year. For some, the result were feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and never being able to do enough. Indeed, this can be a very awkward conversation, can’t it? Yet, I would like to suggest that there can be a fresh and freeing component in a stewardship conversation. Indeed, we have a stewardship component in every gathering of worship. While stewardship is a front and centre conversation this morning, it always is a meaningful component in other services as our reader offers the invitation for us to give, as we each make our offerings, as they process forward and as a stewardship prayer is offered. I want to be clear that it is my personal practice to not have knowledge of the individual givings of people. Some minister feel that it is important to have this knowledge and others, like myself do not. I do not know what the ‘right’ answer here is. I can only tell you the answer that I have come to in my practice as a minister. However, I have had many spiritual conversations about one’s appropriate monthly offering. People trusting me and asking about ways that they might get involved with the ministry of the church ~ what is ‘right’ (for them) in the giving of their time, their talents and their treasure to the church. I believe that stewardship should never be awkward. I believe that it is a natural part of our spiritual life that we are constantly trying to figure out. So, if we can, let’s talk about this curiously charged thing called stewardship.
We have all heard a lot, perhaps read a lot, about stewardship. So, it is helpful to begin with a definition. My favourite definition is that “stewardship is what we choose to do with God’s stuff”. While I continue to read and explore in this area and hear other definitions, there are parts of that definition that draw me back to it over and over. Firstly, stewardship is a reminder that we have tremendous treasure inside. “Stewardship is what we choose to do with God’s stuff”. We are each richly and uniquely blessed in our lives: we are blessed with talents, we are blessed with time, we are blessed with treasure. Related to that is a reminder of the source of our blessings: our blessings come from God. It is “God’s stuff” that we are blessed with. “Stewardship is what we choose to do with God’s stuff”. This is an important reminder amidst our ‘self-made’ culture that champions the belief in the power of the individual. We are who we are; we are what we are; we are what we are primarily by God. We certainly have worked and applied ourselves; however, the foundation was first laid by God ~“God’s stuff” offered unto us. Finally, there is a reminder that we have choice. “Stewardship is what we choose to do with God’s stuff”. When I meet with people who request help in discern their giving to the church of their time, talent or treasure, we begin by acknowledging this spiritual choice that we have to make. Even choosing not to share is a choice. Every day we discern how we live our lives, how we share our lives, how we live our faith. So, if we can move ahead with this, at least as a working definition, then we can continue.
As we move into this morning’s text, we are immediately invited into the world of building and construction. This is often lost on us adults because building is something that fascinates the mind of our children. Children love to save boxes and create forts, gather pillows and blankets and make a house, pull out blocks and create. Could we, for this morning, just imagine with Paul? He invites us into that same fascination with our faith, except the construction is that of a human organization ~ the church, as he shares it with his congregation in Corinth. The church is something that is built ~ purposefully. The church does not just occur by accident. He describes the work he has done as being akin to a “skilled master builder”. As we spoke about in the second chapter of this letter, it is the gift of God’s wisdom bestowed through Christ unto the community who follows. Paul is using this same understanding here. The “skill” he describes is not his skill, but is the spirit gift of the wisdom of God offered through him in his work. His skill is that of being a “master builder”. The Greek lends itself more to that of an architect. Like an architect, Paul had the vision and the dream of how the community might be built. And in his shaping and forming of that community, he began, as any builder would, by designing the foundation.
The foundation, for any building is the most important. What we build on…matters. For Paul, he insists that our foundation must be upon Christ. I wonder what it might look like to consider building a community upon the foundation of Christ? For me…the church becomes an ‘other worldly building’ when we think of building upon the foundation of Christ. For me, the church is one of the only organizations that exists for others. While it certainly is there for the needs of its members, it is ‘bigger’ than that; the church exists for those who are not here. The church is here for those who are not…yet…here. The church hopes and prays for those who are hungry (in body and spirit) and seeks to be food; the church hopes and prays for those who are lost and lonely, who are vulnerable and neglected, who live on the margins. The church models the self-giving, sacrificial love of Jesus when we found our existence in these ways. When we hear a song or a prayer or a sermon that ‘doesn’t touch us or feed us’ as we wanted it to, do we turn up our nose in disgust or do we wonder: ‘I wonder who that song or prayer or sermon might have been for’. When we see all the things going on, do we wonder ‘why are we wasting our time doing this or doing that?’ or do we celebrate and pray for the diverse ministries that touch so many? Truth be told, there are parts of the church that I love and other parts that I do not like as much. A very wise person who shaped my ministry was my Grandmother who lived to 103 years, and who dearly loved her church. When I was ordained, she told me “don’t ever fall into the trap of trying to please everyone”. Founding the church on Jesus Christ, I think, means the one person that we are to please with our ministry is Jesus! Founding a church on Jesus Christ, I think, is about considering the needs of who are not here as much as those of who are. It is about fostering a self-giving, sacrificial love and expressing it in this living, breathing body…the church. Founding a church on Jesus Christ is the living reality that the church is about each of us and ALSO everyone who is not here yet.
There is a beautiful part of this text that is quite easy to miss because the Greek and the English languages are so different. The later section records a beautiful sentiment: “You are God’s temple”. Taken on face value, this passage speaks to us, individually, in how we are each God’s temple. But the real gift is taken when we understand it in the Greek. “You” is a unique word here in that it speaks to them individually and how they collectively might come together and shape God’s temple. You is about how their lives are bound together to fashion God’s temple. “You are God’s temple” is the explicit call for us to bind our lives together and be the church. The Church cannot / will not, be the church without YOU and YOU and YOU! And this is why stewardship Sunday is so important for us; this is why stewardship conversations are so important through the year. We are each charged with this awesome responsibility of ‘what we do with God’s stuff’. You are God’s temple and God’s temple needs our time, our talents and our treasure to flourish. Stewardship is this ongoing call to discern how we are led to share the abundance of our lives in this year ahead. As we are just nicely into this new year, perhaps this is a good time to have an honest conversation with God and pray about how you are led to be the church this year. We budget for holidays, home renovations, where we will spend our time, why not consider our spiritual budget as well? Considering how we are led to share our time, talents, and treasure in the year ahead…You are God’s temple and We cannot be the church without you!
I would like to close with words from a wise minister as he reflected on the churches he served: “I always want to be the sort of church that is so bold, courageous, and risky in its ministry, that if God does not want our ministry, it will utterly fail. On the other hand, I want a church that is so faithful that when people see us they will say, ‘there really is no reason for that church being there, other than Christ want it there. There is no sufficient explanation for why that church is still alive today: still there, still witnessing, still serving, still enacting the Gospel, except that Jesus really means for it to be there.’ That’s the sort of church I want to serve.”