From the book of James; we hear the question;
“what good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”
And again; “show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
…as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:14-26)
This passage reminds me of what I talked about last week; Belief, Behavior, and Belonging.
But it makes me think of a lot more than that, too.
If what James is saying is true, then you have to make a judgment call about a lot of church history.
If faith without works is dead, then you have to admit, the christendom model that’s dominated the world for the past 1700 years, needs a bit of critiquing. I’m talking about whole regions professing faith for the only reason that it was illegal not to. I’m talking about making the assumption that someone was a Christian just because there was no other option.
Not to mention the abuses that went hand in hand with such a mentality.
So it needs a critique.
A long time ago, when I was a teenager, I saw a movie. It was supposed to be a comedy called “Weekend at Bernies”.
It’s not really worth watching, since I can’t remember the story at all, except for the general idea that these two guys go visit someone, and the guy they’re visiting (Bernie) dies during their visit.
So the movie is about the lengths they go to to convince the world that this guy is still alive.
They ride around with him propped up in the car, I think they even put him in roller skates and skate around the boardwalk with him propped up between them.
It’s morbidly funny at parts, but for the most part it’s absurd.
Faith without works is like that.
Whenever we as a church express belief without backing it up with action; it ends up looking ridiculous, like parading a dead body around, acting like it’s alive when in reality it’s not.
These are times that call for more than a resurrected savior. These are times that call for a resurrected church!
Resurrection is the mystery that lies at the foundation of our faith.
We can’t understand it anymore than we can understand God; but I’m convinced that we know Resurrection when we see it.
It’s a mystery, how it happens, why it happens, and when it happens.
But like Paul says, we are stewards of this mystery, not creators of it!
In other words, we belong to the Resurrection; it does not belong to us.
God has gifted us with this enormous privilege; salvation through the resurrection of Christ; the most fantastic mystery the world has ever experienced.
So what’s it mean to be “Trustworthy Stewards of This mystery”” like Paul puts it?
First of all, I don’t think it means life is as black and white as we might wish it was.
The definition of mystery is that you don’t quite understand what’s going on.
And if life was a Sherlock Holmes story, the point would be to get to the bottom of the mystery until no mystery remained. It would then be our job to trace down the details, one after the other until we had a clear picture and no mystery remained.
But we’re not detectives; we’re stewards.
So, what’s a steward?
I can remember being in 6th grade, and my teacher, Mr. “G” we called him, (and I still think he was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had) …he would now and then need to leave the classroom and take care of something in the school office.
He usually picked one of us to watch the class while he was gone, someone to take down names of disruptive kids so he could deal with them when he got back.
Is that the role of a Steward? Taking down names of the troublemakers?
Well,…the time that sticks out in my memory is the time Mr. G went to the office without picking anyone to take down names. He told us he was going to just be gone for a minute, and that he had ways of knowing what happened in the room when he was gone.
So he went to the office, and while he was there he made a move that would probably result in a lawsuit today. He clicked the intercom and announced over the loudspeaker in our 6th grade classroom “This is God, and I’m watching you” or something like that.
He left us all in charge, in a way…and it’s that time that sticks out in my memory.
Looking back, his leaving the room that time was a real vote of confidence. It proved to all of us that he trusted us not to get into too much trouble while he was gone; and we lived up to his expectations.
At least that time, we didn’t need the threat of a name-taker to keep us in line.
Is that what it means, to be trustworthy stewards of God’s mysteries?
A lot of us are more comfortable with a name-taker.
Then the responsibility isn’t so much on our shoulders, we know who to avoid that way.
But I don’t think that’s what God has in mind.
We’re in this together, but that doesn’t mean that anyone individually is off the hook.
We’re accountable to each other, and also to God.
This life is our classroom, but don’t take me to mean that God is absent; in fact He dwells within each one of us; it’s only by His power that we can be trustworthy to steward the divine mystery of the Resurrection.
A couple of things come to mind when I think about what it means to be a Steward. As you might or might not know, a Steward usually refers to a person in a monarchy who has been given authority to act as a king while the king is away. They are to be treated as the king in the king’s absence; so Stewards are really responsible only to the king.
Some good stories have been written about stewards overstepping their bounds and seeking the throne for themselves. They’re vulnerable to having their power go to their heads, so to speak.
So it’s important for ‘trustworthy’ Stewards to remember that they’re not kings. They’re given power and authority for the time being, but they’re not kings.
We’re servants of the King; Not the King Himself.
Therefore, it’s important that we remember who we are, and who we are not.
The second thing to remember is that stewards have a responsibility for the thing they are stewarding. They have the best interests of the kingdom in mind, and they always put the kingdom before their own interests.
But hear me well; it’s not because they fear the King.
No king worth his salt would put anyone in that position who he couldn’t trust with the kingdom. That means sharing the vision of the king.
So, a good steward knows the king as well as they know themselves…and I think that goes both ways.
A good steward trusts the king just as much as the king trusts them to carry out their responsibility to the best of their abilities. It’s a question of vision, and trust.
That’s the calling to which we’re called–to steward the mysteries of God; the mystery of the resurrection with all the confidence that comes from Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
If we’re just jumping through hoops, it shows! For where there is no vision, the people perish.
If we’re just going through the motions, we look as ridiculous as 2 guys skating with a dead body propped up between them, pretending like there’s life where there is no life.
We are stewards; what’s YOUR vision?
The mystery of the resurrection is at the heart of our mission; it’s the centerpiece around which our belief, behavior, and belonging find their place! It has to do with the promise and the hope that we have in a conquered death that holds no power and an everlasting life full of promise!
Life is too short to live otherwise.
In a couple of minutes I’m going to ask Zack and Rachel and Becky and Aaron to come forward with their children. As I was preparing this week, I couldn’t help but think about the symbolism of child dedication. Kian and Eliana aren’t able at this point in their lives to believe as we think of belief, or to behave like we think of behaving.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t belong. They have a place, right here among us; and it’s our job to create space for them, to accept them as they are and yet to call them beyond where they are.
Their lives are full of mystery; full of the seeds of resurrection.
We declare this morning that we are all children. We’re at different stages in life; some of us are barely starting out, and others of us have a good portion of life behind us…but the mystery is still there.
It’s a life-long journey, this stewardship of mystery.
We’re at different places along the path, but there is a place for us here, in the loving embrace of God.