This morning we’re taking a short break from our summer trek through the Psalms to focus our attention on the call to stewardship. The Stewardship committee has already decided to accept the stewardship theme offered by the Disciples’ Center on Faith and Giving. That theme is “Go and Do the Same.” The Center also encouraged churches to expand the stewardship conversation beyond the usual stewardship campaign, which we conduct in the fall. That campaign is centered on putting together a budget for the coming year, and convincing you to support it by making a pledge. We took up the suggestion to use some time this summer to think about stewardship as a spiritual discipline and not simply as a means of fund-raising. This is the first of three sermons, one each month, that will draw from the Gospel of Luke and touch upon stewardship.
Every Sunday we pass the plate, inviting people to contribute financially to the congregation. These contributions, along with our endowments help pay the bills. As one who draws a salary from these contributions, I appreciate these offerings. I will also say that we as a family try to give generously back to the church. In fact, the majority of our charitable giving each year goes to the church. But, why do we give financially to the church? After all, there are many worthy causes that we could support financially. Maybe you support them, and that’s fine. But why the church? I would suggest that the reason we give to the church is that it is engaged in work that no other charitable organization is doing. That is spreading the good news of God’s realm. Jesus commissioned the church to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). It is to the church that the commission is given to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19). This is the work of God in the world that we support through our financial giving.
The stewardship theme for this year – “Go and Do the Same” – is based on a phrase found in Luke 10:37. This phrase concludes a conversation between Jesus and a leader of the community about being a good neighbor. “Who is my neighbor?” the man asked. Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told the man to follow the example of the Good Samaritan, who demonstrated what it means to be a neighbor. So, “go and do the same.” The word for us today is an invitation to go and do the same by giving thanks. But, what does that mean? How might we show our gratitude for the gifts of God?
In the reading from the Gospel of Luke this morning we encounter a religious leader named Simon. Simon had invited Jesus and some of his friends over for dinner. There was a woman living in this city who, according to Luke, was a sinner. Luke doesn’t reveal what made her a sinner, but it’s clear that she was not the sort of person you invited to a dinner party featuring a well-known religious teacher. But, since these dinners were often semi-public affairs, when she heard about the dinner she decided to crash the party.
The details are a bit unclear, but it seems that the woman knew that Jesus was a source of grace and healing. So she went to the party hoping that he would change her life. She went to the party carrying an alabaster jar of ointment. The jar itself would have been very valuable, which means that the ointment would have been highly expensive as well. She knelt down at Jesus’ feet as he reclined at the table, and she began to weep. Her tears fell on his feet, so she let down her hair and began to dry his feet with her hair. Then, she began to kiss his feet. Finally, she opened that jar of ointment, filling the house with its fragrance. She took the jar and poured its contents out on his feet. She did all of this before Jesus ever said a word.
Simon didn’t say anything either, but when Simon saw what was happening, he was scandalized. How could Jesus, whom people had been calling a prophet of God, allow this sinner to touch his feet? Didn’t he know that this display of devotion was inappropriate? Even if Simon didn’t say anything, his face must have shown his disgust. So Jesus, who always seemed to know what people were thinking before they say anything, turned to Simon and said “Simon, I have something to say to you.” Then Jesus told a parable, as he often did. He told a parable about two people, each of whom owed payments on a debt. One person owed a great sum, and the other a much smaller sum. Jesus said to Simon, which of these two do you think was the most grateful when the lender forgave their loans? Was it the one who owed the most or the least? Simon knew there was only one answer. Of course, it’s the one who owed the most. Then Jesus turned to him and pointed out that Simon had failed to show him proper hospitality, but this woman had fulfilled his obligations. She understood that she had more at stake and so showed greater devotion than did Simon. So, Jesus responded to the woman’s acts of devotion by offering her forgiveness. In offering her forgiveness, he changed her status in society. No longer would she be known as a sinner. Now she would be known as blessed by God.
Did she earn this forgiveness? Or did she already know that Jesus would forgive her and restore her to life? I think she knew that the latter was true. So, she gave thanks in the only way she knew how. She gave him an extravagant gift as a sign of her gratitude for restoring her to the community.
Stewardship has to do with responding to God’s invitation to share in the realm of God. In his reflections on this text, Ron Allen offers us a possible answer to the question of how we can respond to God’s invitation to participate in the realm of God. He asks this question:
What would it mean for a person or household to give financially in a way that moves toward the overflowing response demonstrated by this woman?
We may not have yet reached her level of extravagant giving, but her example serves as an invitation to move in that direction.
Walter Brueggemann has written in great depth about the contrast between a vision of scarcity and a vision of abundance. Too often we live our lives with a vision of scarcity, which means that we tend to focus in on ourselves at the expense of the other. This stands in contrast with Jesus’ kingdom vision that lifts up abundance. That is, we have received gifts of God to share with one another so that the realm of God might be revealed in our midst.
This unnamed woman wasn’t the only person who understood this truth. The reading from Luke moves from her story to the story of three other women. Each of these women showed their gratitude to Jesus for making known the God news of God’s new realm through their financial support of his ministry.
Luke reveals to us that not only did the twelve accompany Jesus, but so did a group of women, three of whom are named in this story. Each of these women had been delivered from “evil spirits and infirmities.” This time Luke gives names: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, and Susanna. Both Mary and Joanna are listed by Luke as being part of the group that went to the Tomb where they heard the message of resurrection (Luke 24:10).
Since Jesus had delivered them from evil spirits, they had reason to be thankful. Jesus had changed their lives for the better, and so they decided to show their gratitude by traveling with him and by supporting his ministry financially. They weren’t paying dues. They didn’t give out of duty. They weren’t sent a bill. They gave out of gratitude to God for changed lives. Might we do the same?
Simon failed to show true hospitality to Jesus because he didn’t think he had much reason to show gratitude to Jesus. He did offer him dinner, but he didn’t really show him hospitality. Forgiven little, he showed little gratitude. The four women, three of whom are named, had been forgiven much, and they knew how to show their gratitude. How might we “go and do the same?” How might we show our thanks to God for inviting us to participate in sharing the good news with the world that God does love the world and God desires for the world to know God’s peace and grace through our acts of stewardship?
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
June 12, 2016