Living Baptismally, pt 17: On Christian Stewardship

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 25), 2020.

In reflecting in our parish today on the theme of Christian stewardship in the sense of nurturing, as in Saint Paul’s phrase “like a nurse taking care of her children.” I am drawn to two passages from our lessons today. The first that I am drawn to is the summary of the Law recorded by Saint Matthew, and the second is from Saint Paul’s first Epistle to the church at Thessalonica when he wrote, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.” It is important that we understand stewardship rooted in the holy Scriptures, whether these passages or others—that our understanding of stewardship is indeed fed by the Scriptures, nourished by the Scriptures because Christ as revealed by the scriptures opened to us is our daily Bread. All of which is to say that while our theme today is two words—Christian stewardship—the most important of them is the first: “Christian.” Christian stewardship rightly understood is not merely one form of stewardship among many, one way of offering of which there are other alternatives more or less equal to one another, offering to the Church as one choice but there are others. We give to our local schools, or causes within the school; we give to local charitable organizations; we give to the local scout organizations—giving to the Church we might often think of as one such giving among many, but that is not what Christian stewardship means, that is not what Christian nurturing means, and our scripture passages help to reveal that to us.

The first is what the Church has come to call the “Summary of the Law.” A Pharisee asks Our Lord, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Although Saint Matthew tells us this is a question to test Jesus, it also reflects a real debate among the Pharisees as to which of the many, many commandments found in the Law is the most important. Some scholars have counted over 600 commandments recorded in the books of the Old Testament, and the debate as to which was the most important was carried on within Jewish life and especially in the preaching of the rabbis; and there was no clear sense as to which is most important. The answer of Our Lord Jesus was clear and decisive: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus adds, “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

This teaches us about Christian stewardship because it emphasizes the first word: “Christian.” Our stewardship, our nurturing, is Christian because it is always rooted in this Summary of the Law. It is always rooted in loving God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind. It is rooted in offering our selves to God, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Him. Our aspiration as Christians is always to give to God our selves in their entirety; to give ourselves to God totally, wholly, and completely; and growing in our ability to give our selves to God as a living sacrifice is precisely what the baptismal life is, and how it is understood. This is why Christian stewardship is not merely giving to one cause (the parish) among many. Christian stewardship is our baptism lived out, and is defined by the doctrine of baptism, such as when Saint Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” And so Christian stewardship is tied up the offering of our selves to God that only comes from our baptism into Christ’s death—so that we might be united with Christ in His resurrection, and no longer being enslaved to sin, we are able to freely offer ourselves to God, and to God in our neighbor.

This is what Saint Paul is getting at when he speaks of sharing of our own selves to others, and his image of doing that is perfect: as a nurse taking care of her children, that is, as a mother. Christian stewardship is a mothering activity, whether done by male or female. As a great voice of the church has taught, Saint Gregory the Great, whoever begets the love of the Lord in the heart of the neighbor, engages in this very motherly, nurturing activity spoken of by Saint Paul. That is, whoever nurtures, supports, and helps grow the love of God in the heart of another person, that is, our neighbor, is being a nurturing mother of the love of God, like Saint Paul and his fellow apostles. Christian stewardship, then, is being a mother—not only with a motherly voice of love, but with a motherly giving of oneself totally and completely to God, and to God of whom all human beings are made in the image. The time, talent, and treasure we tithe to the Church is nothing more than being a mother who loves, nurtures, and supports her children. Christian stewardship is as we sing during Christmastide: “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”