Preaching, Reflectionary

When Jesus Met Stewardship

Or, Can a First Century Guy Find Happiness with a Twenty-First Century Fundraising Campaign?

We are in the midst of a Stewardship campaign that happens to be an unusually energetic one for Small Church. I have actually been only marginally involved and only as a cheerleader. On Sunday, the third and final meal and conversation that comprise a major portion of the effort will take place before church. The following Sunday we will consecrate our pledges. So it will come as no surprise that I would like to preach something this week that is supportive of the good efforts of the Stewardship Committee.

Glancing ahead a few weeks ago, I noticed we had the Parable of the Talents on tap for the 13th, and I spared a casual thought or two for how I might use the material. I felt pretty confident that I knew what it was all about, you see.

But then there was that darn James Howell, writing in Christian Century, not to mention those revolutionary editors of the “Seasons of the Spirit” curriculum we use, putting many inconvenient thoughts in my head and leaving me feeling pitifully inconclusive.

I expect this is just how the people around Jesus felt when he finished telling the Parable of the Talents.

Today I have heard it interpreted in what I think of as the old-fashioned way (complete with John Houseman for Smith Barney intoning: “They eahhnnn it.”); as a radical rejection of the economic system of the First Century (with the talent-burying servant featured as the one who speaks truth to power—huh?); as a call to churches to be faithful rather than individuals (good for Congregational types, but it seems to me there was no “church” at that moment in time); and a comparison of parables to the Trojan Horse (now we’re getting somewhere—you think you’ve got one thing, then, whoa, it’s something else again).

I love Howell’s notion of the Trojan Horse parable. I’d like to play with that some more. The only trouble is having Howell the Horsie meet Stewardship and like it very much. Although Matthew was writing for an audience a half-century after Jesus’ life, he was hardly writing for an institutional religious crowd. Certainly they were not engaged in sorting out capital expenses and ongoing budget needs.

What in the world was Jesus getting at? What part of this was Matthew’s gloss? And why do I feel like I’m in for a week of gnashing my teeth? Leap in and express an opinion, please.

11 thoughts on “When Jesus Met Stewardship”

  1. Having just witnessed the audience end of it, the parable of the talents wasn’t my favorite part of it.
    The service where they told about the amazing accomplishments of the church, its openness and acceptance–that helped me feel more involved.
    Or maybe it was just the way the Talents parable was expressed–it felt flat in its delivery (by our normally interesting pastor) to me.

  2. The stewardship theme of this coming Sunday at St. Stoic just happens to be…talents, of course!
    The whole idea of taking one’s talents underground (both in the 1st and 21st centuries) reminds me of the whole Y2K preparedness thing, and hopefully dovetails last week’s work, where I talked about the world’s economies of scarcity, expediancy, and efficiency–things that the world places a lot of emphasis on–as contrasted with the Gospel economies of abundant grace, eternal life, and generous sacrifice.
    The folks who thought that going underground and storing up for disaster really were preparing for the wrong disaster, I think. The real poverty lies in our not sharing and supporting one another. (See 1 Thess. 5:11) And of course there is a local context to that point that I won’t bore you all with here.

  3. In a case of great minds thinking alike, here’s a snippet of what I was writing last night:
    We know that among the first wave of Christians, belief in his imminent return was pervasive. But fifty years down the road, “soon” had still not arrived.
    That’s probably why Matthew makes an adjustment or two, writing that the Master returns after a long time away. Scholars think the writer had heard the basic stories, handed down in the community orally or in writing. He had access to Mark’s gospel, written a decade or so earlier, and also to a collection of Jesus’ sayings. Like any good writer, he used his understanding both of Jesus and the context of his audience to shape his storytelling. He makes this a story for the time in which he lives.
    A friend wonders which of those places we find ourselves. At the end of the last century, as we heard wild tales of Y2K bugs in our machinery, we might have identified more closely with the very earliest Christians. And the extreme weather disasters of the past months might incline us in that direction, too. Are we living in the time of “wars and rumors of wars,” of signals that the end is coming?
    I suspect that there has hardly been a time in history that people didn’t wonder the same thing. We’re just seeing it all covered 24 hours a day on CNN.

  4. I don’t know if this helps: I’ve been playing with seeing parables from the perspective of a church’s understanding of mission and evangelism. For example, the sower casts seed about indiscriminately, where “seed” are disciples. Some are eaten (by lions), scorched, crushed, etc. But some find good soil and produce more seed (disciples).
    Likewise if the talents are church members, then this is a parable for churches not to “bury” their disciples, but to invest them in risky ventures. The idea being that there will be more disciples in the end.
    I dunno. It sounds a lot more church-growth than I generally think, but I found it challenging to me personally. It also is less individualistic than it usually gets preached (where each of us have talents, etc.) It also helps me make sense of the “reaping where I did not sow” idea at the end.
    Just an idea.

  5. Although it also occurs to me that the last steward who is in survival mode is distressingly like our small churches. It could be a different angle on “stewardship,” in that case. I know it would hit close to home here.

  6. That’s very close to the attitudes I faced when I first got to Small Church, Dave. Actually, identical from the controlling forces in church leadership. But the flip side seemed to be a fantasy-based view of the money. That’s no better. I think now there is a good core group of volunteers who grasp the financial picture, and that gives me hope.

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