Preached August 8th, 2010
1 Corinthians 12:1–11
St. Luke 19:41–47a
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is the tenth Sunday after Trinity, and as we begin, I would like to pick up the theme from last Sunday, that of Stewardship. Recall a parable of our Lord that begins with the following words Luke 19:12-13 12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. In this parable, the noble man gives ten pounds to each of his servants and tells them to trade with them in his absence, that is, to act as his stewards until his return. As the parable unfolds, we find that some have done much more than others with the resources entrusted in their care; some are much able stewards than others. The point I would like to make here, however, is that they were all initially given the same resource to begin. They were all given ten pounds. This is the situation in the Church. All members of the Church receive the common inheritance of the Church, and so in like manner all are expected to be stewards. As we know, some will be effective stewards than others, but the expectation is there for all.
Now I would turn your attention to another parable that begins with Matthew 25:14-15 14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. 15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. We notice immediately that there are some similarities, there is a wealthy man who is going on a journey, he calls together his servants although the numbers are different, and he assigns to them certain of his assets to hold in trust in his absence. They are to be his stewards while he is away. The big difference here is that the distribution of the assets is quite uneven, five to the first servant, three to the second, and only one to the last servant. Note also that our Lord has said specifically that this is how the Kingdom of Heaven works, thus telling us that the distribution of Kingdom assets among men is not to be expected to be evenly divided. This brings us to the primary topic for today, the responsibility for stewardship of the special gifts of the Holy Ghost. I should add that there are many, many people included in this list, many who do not imagine themselves to be included.
Just as he did last Sunday, St. Paul begins this Epistle lesson with the strong phrase, I would not have you be ignorant. He is addressing an important matter here, one far too important for his listeners to simply remain ignorant and thereby fail to act on the gifts they have been given. No, they must be informed, they must be knowledgeable. Poor stewardship of our spiritual gifts simply because of ignorance or faulty teaching is not acceptable, but it can only be prevented if people are truly and properly taught about their spiritual gifts. Without trying to give a complete description of spiritual gifts, we will simply use the description that St. Paul has provided here as an outline.
The universal gift of the spirit, given to all Christians, as described by St. Paul is this: 1 Corinthians 12:3 3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. This is really very profound. The ability to discern that Jesus Christ is the Lord is given by the Holy Ghost. Only with the Holy Ghost can Jesus be discerned as the Lord of Life, which explains why so many do not see him in our present day. They hear or read His Name, but it does not mean anything to them if they have not the Holy Ghost. This is a remarkable gift, and it is freely given to all Christians.
As the Church has need for them, the Holy Ghost provides particular gifts to various people in order that they may serve – this is where stewardship comes in. Even though the types of gifts vary widely, we must bear in mind that they all come from the same source, the Holy Ghost. Our lesson speaks of a diversity of gifts simply meaning a variety of gifts or endowments. Differences of administrations refers simply to different tasks, while diversities of operation means just different ways of doing the job. Despite all of the variety, there is one God that motivates it all, one Lord and Master that we serve who is over all.
According to the various different gifts given, we will see different sorts of Christian action. Two of the gifts mentioned early in St. Paul’s list are wisdom and knowledge. Those who receive these gifts will approach the Christian faith as an intellectual study. These Christians can be particularly valuable to the Church in a time when it is under attack by the forces of secularism, times when the ability to reason clearly and persuasively are of great value to the Church. This requires someone who knows history, theology, and the Bible very well to make the case for the Church.
There are also the practical Church workers, the ones who do the everyday work around the Church. This includes everything from teaching Sunday School to working in the flower beds, working in the Church Office, working in the kitchen, helping with VBS, and working with the Boy Scouts. Perhaps most importantly it includes those that make evangelism calls, that conduct pledge campaigns. These are simply ordinary people whose faith moves mountains of difficulty. They do much of the sacred work of the Church.
Finally, there are the prophets, priests, and evangelists designated by the Holy Ghost. These are the ones to whom the Word of God is given, the care of souls is assigned, and to whom responsibility is given for spreading the Good News. None of these is a position to which any may aspire for personal aggrandizement, and no one has a right to any of these positions. Only the Church may call a person to any of these positions. They are all servant positions, for the benefit of the Church as a whole. Like all of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, they are intended to be for the good of the whole Church.
Our Gospel lesson is the story of Jesus Christ weeping over the City of Jerusalem. He says, Luke 19:42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. Following this, Jesus goes on to describe the coming destruction of Jerusalem, describing rather precisely the destruction by the Romans that did in fact occur in 70 AD. But how are we to understand what Jesus is saying in verse 42 above? As He looked out to see it that day, Jerusalem looked like a prosperous city, a wealthy city with marble palaces and much gold in the city. Everything looked to be in good order. Of course, Christ does not look at the superficial nature of things, but rather He sees things as they really are. He sees the corruption within the Jewish nation, the accommodation with wrong rather than holding to righteousness – the Sadducees were particularly guilty here. He sees the religion of Israel reduced to the absolute legalism of the Pharisees, a complete distortion of what was intended.
Jesus is saying that the nation of Judah have become such poor stewards of the holy city and of the faith that they simply do not even recognize that they have gone off the rails. Instead, they have been blinded by the symbols of prosperity and they think that all is well, but Christ knows otherwise.
Jesus weeps first because of what He sees, because of the spiritual poverty and ignorance that is evident to Him. It is a sad sight. But He also weeps because of the devastation He sees coming, the punishment for this failure of stewardship. He knows just exactly how completely devastating it will be, and He is saddened at that.
But notice that Christ proceeds on into the city, straight way to the Temple where He throws the money changers and the animal sellers out of the Temple court yard. Luke 19:45-46 45 And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; 46 Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. He has come straight to the source of the problem that infects the whole nation – the Temple. There could be no pleading ignorance here. This is where the whole nation came to God for absolution from their sins; this was the House of God. And yet, look at what he had found!
There is a lesson here for the Church. The Church is to be the constant witness of stewardship. If the Church becomes too sunk in selfishness and greed, Christ will be too angry to weep. He will use a whip to drive the sin out of His Church, just as He drove it out of the Temple. He has shown us that He knows how; we would be most foolish to think He cannot do it again when the time of accounting comes.
Stewardship is both an opportunity and a responsibility for each of us. It is also not optional. We must participate, and we must do our best with it. It is best if we understand how things work, and that we must take the role assigned to us. We cannot opt out, although we can opt to fail as many unfortunately will do. Let us understand our place, our role, and be good stewards to the best of our ability.
+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.