Sunday, September 07, 2008

Stewardship & the Human Vocation to Work

As part of my parish's stewardship campaign, I will be preaching of various aspects of Christian stewardship for the whole month of September. I will include for reference the Gospel for the Sunday, but since my sermons are more catechetical than exegetical this month I will deal only marginally with the text.

On re-reading the sermon this morning, I noticed a number of typos that I have since corrected.

+Fr Gregory
Sunday, September 7, 2008: 12th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST-Tone 3. Forefeast of the Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos. Sunday Before the Elevation of the Cross. Martyr Sozón of Cilicia (ca. 304). St. John, Archbishop and Wonderworker of Novgorod (1186). Ven. Serapion of Spaso-Eleazar Monastery (Pskov-1481). Martyrdom of St. Makáry, Archimandrite of Kanev (Pereyaslavl'-1678). Apostles Evodia (Euodias) and Onesiphorus of the Seventy (1st c.). Martyr Eupsychius of Cæsarea in Cappadocia (2nd c.). Ven. Luke, Abbot, near Constantinople (10th c.). Ven. Cloud (Clodoald), Abbot, founder of Nogent-sur-Seine near Paris.

Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." He said to Him, "Which ones?" Jesus said, "'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

If we think about stewardship at all, we usually limit ourselves to concerns about money and then only insofar as we need to keep the lights on and pay the priest.

While certainly these are laudable goals for the parish (especially paying the priest!), Christian stewardship is significantly more than simply a matter of paying the bills. Together with our prayer life, our fasting, and our participation in the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church, stewardship is an essential part of our Christian life. More than what we say how we use the three basic elements of stewardship, time, talent and treasure, reveals what we value, how we view ourselves, and what we imagine it means to be human. To begin our consideration of stewardship and its role in my life as I strive both to understand who I am in Christ (vocation) and live out that identity (asceticism) let me begin with the most universal question raised by stewardship: What does it mean to be human.

This may seem to be a strange place to begin, but think about it for a moment. Before we are any of us Christians, that is before any of us our baptized or make a commitment to Jesus Christ, we are all of us human. The importance of our shared humanity should not be minimized; after all we are saved and made one in Christ precisely because God took on our humanity. He becomes as we are, in the frequently repeated phrase of the fathers, so that we might become as He is. Deification, theosis, presupposes not only divine grace poured out by the Holy Spirit (above all through the sacraments) but also a common humanity shared not only with other men and women, but also with Christ our True God. Too often, especially in the early years of my own spiritual life, I saw the Gospel as an escape from the shared human nature and struggle.

As I have grown older, if not necessarily wiser, I've come to appreciate St Irenaeus' argument that in Christ the whole of human life is recapitulated, or assumed, by Christ. Why is this important? Because as the saint reminds us, that in us which is not assumed by Christ is not healed by Him.

So faithful to the example of Christ and the teachings of the fathers, let us look first to our common human vocation as we struggle to be faithful to who Christ has called us to be.

The human vocation is written not simply in the first pages of the Holy Scriptures, but (if we accept the testimony of the Scriptures) inscribed also in the creation itself. Indeed, reading the opening chapter of Genesis and seeing the creation of the human couple, Adam and Eve our First Parents, the fathers saw humanity not only as an icon of the Most Holy Trinity, but also as the goal of creation. It for us that God creates; even as later it will be for us that He becomes Man in Jesus Christ.

Taking a longer view, and mindful of the incarnation, the fathers saw humanity as the point at which the Uncreated and created met. To be human is to be the place of communion between God and the cosmos. We are this because we are both a microcosm and a macrocosm; we are both the creation in miniature even as we also contain the whole creation in ourselves. For this reason on turning his mind and heart to God King David says of us all: "What is man that you care for Him?"

In the moment in which our creation is completed, we read in Genesis the divine command to our First Parents: "Be fruitful and multiple, fill the earth and subdue it." While this certainly refers to procreation, to the begetting and raising of children in marriage, it also has a more general application. To be human is to be productive and profitable and to make of the creation a fit home for the human family. In a word, the vocation of the human person is to work.

But work in Genesis means much more than what we think of it now on the other side of Adam's transgression. In Genesis, we see God first and foremost as an artisan. As a potter forms clay into vessels both beautiful and useful, so to God takes the unformed matter of the cosmos and shapes it into something beautiful and good. This is not an abstract goodness or beauty, but one that is fitting for man. God creates something beautiful and good for us and then He charges us to continue that work of shaping creation as a beautiful, good and fit home for ourselves.

The primordial human vocation is this: After God and in God, we are to be as God for the creation and one another. We are called by God to exercise our gifts and ability to shape not only the material world, but also the social and cultural world according to the needs of the human family. This is not simply a functional task, but one which from (beginning to end, in both means and modes) is to be characterized by beauty and goodness.

Before all else, to be a steward is to commit oneself personally and generously to using the gifts of time, talents and treasure God has given each of us to create a good and beautiful home fit for the human family. But how we use out time, talent and treasure is not only an expression of our original vocation. While it has always required effort, even before the Fallen, because of Adam's transgression our work is often frustrating and marred by want and conflict. If sin has marred our vocation, it has not been undone. If anything one of the great sorrows of human life is the myriad ways in which our original vocation is so often left unfulfilled, still born and even aborted by human selfishness and material want.

It is for this reason that our work must be in Christ making our stewardship not only an expression of our shared human vocation, but also an expression of our personal effort to redeem human work, creativity and ingenuity.

In the next three weeks, I want to explore with you the three elements of our stewardship: time, talent, and treasure. As I said at the beginning, how we use time, treasure and talent reveals not only what we value, but also who we understand ourselves to be as a Christian community. May we by our stewardship show ourselves to be faithful disciples of Christ and found worthy at the end of our life to inherit the place prepared for us from all eternity.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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