October Lectionary Preview: Stewardship through the lens of discipleship
August 23, 2018 by Presbyterian Foundation
By Rev. Dr. Cynthia Campbell
Pastor, Highland Presbyterian Church
The month of October is often the height of Stewardship Season. For those following the lectionary, October offers a close reading of Mark 10 which invites us to think about stewardship through the lens of discipleship.
Stewardship grows up out of our gratitude for all of God's grace and goodness. But if a good steward is one who makes right or appropriate use of one's time, energy and resources, then stewardship is also one important way that we live out what it means to be followers of Jesus.
Taken together the four gospel readings for the month of October ask us some crucially important questions: Who am I? What should I do with my stuff? What should be the shape of my life? And finally, where are we going?
Mark 10:13-16 – Who Am I?
“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
In the ancient world, children did not represent innocence so much as they represented dependence. A child needs everything and receives everything as a gift. This is a difficult concept for those of us who are accustomed to thinking that we are what we make of ourselves; that our achievements are the result of our hard work; and that whatever we have in this world is what we have earned. Being utterly dependent on the grace and mercy of God is not an easy idea. Learning that God’s love is a completely free gift and not the result of any merit we may have achieved is the work of a lifetime. But this is where true discipleship begins: receiving God’s love as a little child soaks up all the love that is lavished on her. Children respond with delight and joy, and eventually learn to say, “Thank you!”
Mark 10:17-31 – What Should I Do With My Stuff?
An earnest man comes to Jesus longing to know how to follow God, how to inherit the kingdom. He has lived a good life in more ways than one: he has kept the commandments and he has been financially successful. And yet, he knows that there is something more – or else why would he come to Jesus looking for the answer to a very big question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The answer, of course, is in the text above: you can’t do anything to merit receiving something that is a free gift. And so it seems strange that Jesus appears to give him something to do: sell what you own and give the money to the poor.
For two millennia, Christians have wondered what to do with this. Is it to be taken literally (sell everything) or metaphorically (use wisely)? Here is some sage advice from Augustine: “Riches … are gained with toil and kept with fear. They are enjoyed with danger and lost with grief. It is hard to be saved if we have them; and impossible if we love them; and scarcely can we have them but we shall love them inordinately. Teach us, O Lord, this difficult lesson: to manage conscientiously the goods we possess.”
Perhaps one of the meanings here is that whatever I have of wealth in this world, I need to steward it in light of the fact that many in this world are poor, and that poverty is a condition in which human beings cannot and do not flourish as they are intended. If no one should be murdered, then no one should be allowed to starve. What does this say about how I manage my abundance?
Mark 10:35-45 – What Should Be the Shape of My Life?
Three times, Jesus tells his followers that he (and they) are headed to Jerusalem and that once there, he will be handed over to the authorities. He will be put to death, but he will rise again. Then, three times, Jesus tells his bewildered (and almost oblivious) followers what following him looks like. This is the last prediction and the final teaching.
Our followership is shaped by the nature of Jesus’ sonship: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” Stewardship is best understood as what we decide to do with our lives: how will we use what God has given us – skills and talents, energy and intelligence, opportunities and resources – in order to serve one another as God in Jesus Christ has served us? If Jesus is our pattern, then the shape of our life will be service. From the youngest among us to the oldest, we are called to answer this question every single day in the ways that are appropriate to that stage of life. What should my serving look like today?
Mark 10:46-52 – Where Are We Going?
Throughout the gospel of Mark, we have been told that Jesus and his followers are “on the way” – they are on a journey to Jerusalem, where Jesus will be put to death. We are now at the last stop on that journey before they enter the city on what we know as Palm Sunday. The last stop is Jericho. A blind beggar is sitting by the side of the road. He cannot see but he knows who Jesus is – the Son of David, the Messiah. Jesus heals him saying, “Go; your faith has made you well.” But the man does not go away; he followed Jesus on the way.
The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It is the path of self-emptying, self-giving love, and finally redeeming love. Our loving will never match Jesus’ love, because this is the love that is at the very heart of God. But his love does set us free – free from our self-centeredness and fear – to follow along the way and to find our highest and best selves in loving ourselves, one another and God.
Cynthia Campbell serves as pastor and head of staff at Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky., a position she has held since 2013. Cynthia began her ministry in Texas and served in three congregations before completing her Ph.D. She joined the faculty of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1981 where she taught theology and ministry and directed the Doctor of Ministry Program. In 1988, she was called to the First Presbyterian Church of Salina, Kansas, as Pastor/Head of Staff, one of the first women to serve a congregation of over 1,000 members as pastor. In 1995, she was named President of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago (one of the 10 seminaries of the Presbyterian Church). She is the author of A Multitude of Blessings: A Christian Approach to Religious Diversity (2007) and God’s Abundant Table (2011). Cynthia is married to Fred Holper, who recently retired from teaching preaching and worship at McCormick Seminary. They have two adult children who live in Milwaukee and are also the proud human companions of Shadow the cat.