A Reading from the Book of Joel (2:23-32)
O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame. Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.
1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion; *
to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.
2 To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come, *
because of their transgressions.
3 Our sins are stronger than we are, *
but you will blot them out.
4 Happy are they whom you choose
and draw to your courts to dwell there! *
they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,
by the holiness of your temple.
5 Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness,
O God of our salvation, *
O Hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the seas that are far away.
6 You make fast the mountains by your power; *
they are girded about with might.
7 You still the roaring of the seas, *
the roaring of their waves,
and the clamor of the peoples.
8 Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your marvelous signs; *
you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy.
9 You visit the earth and water it abundantly;
you make it very plenteous; *
the river of God is full of water.
10 You prepare the grain, *
for so you provide for the earth.
11 You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; *
with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.
12 You crown the year with your goodness, *
and your paths overflow with plenty.
13 May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, *
and the hills be clothed with joy.
14 May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,
and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; *
let them shout for joy and sing.
A Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy (4:6-8,16-18)
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (18:9-14)
Jesus told his parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Two Episcopalians went up to church to pray, one a church and community leader and the other a newcomer. The church and community leader prayed with confidence, “God, I thank you that I am not like so many people in our country: lazy, indifferent, trying to sponge off the money that others have made, always looking to get something for nothing. I have always stood on my own two feet. I worked hard in school and got a good education. I’ve always found a job and have worked hard there, too. Whatever I have is a result of my initiative and my efforts. I am a self-made man.” Meanwhile, the newcomer prayed in humility and gratitude, “I thank you, God, for all that I have. Sure, I have worked hard and tried to use the opportunities that you have given me, but so have many other people: people who are not nearly as fortunate as I. I was lucky to be born in this country, at this time, to a loving family. I grew up in a fairly safe neighborhood. I had parents who valued a good education and hard work and who cared about me, no matter what happened. I have been blessed with good health and the medical care that I have needed, with family and friends to support me, with good schools and good teachers; and I have been blessed with jobs that, even though they were frustrating at times, have enabled me to support myself and my family. I know that I have had all these things, not because of what I have done, but as gifts from you. And those gifts have made all the difference.”
St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians (4:7) asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” That question is the one that lies at the very heart of stewardship. “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?”
Stewardship requires us to take a clear and honest look at all that we have and to acknowledge that, ultimately, all of it is a gift from God. God has entrusted it to us so that we might use it to do the work of God in the world. That work includes caring for our own needs and those of our family – not our wants but our genuine needs. But it includes also caring for those who are not as fortunate, not as blessed, as we are. It involves recognizing them as part of our family, too.
Some people find that hard to do. Some refuse to do it. They insist on distancing themselves from those who are not are fortunate as they are. They distort reality and try to portray most or all of those in need as lazy, as not wanting to work, as unwilling to help themselves. That’s easy to do when you don’t personally know those who are struggling: those who are working long hours and maybe multiple jobs, but who still can’t make enough money to care for their families; those who didn’t grow up in loving and supportive families; those who don’t have the education that we have or the security of a steady job; those who don’t know from day to day whether they will have enough food to feed their children, or access to health care if they get sick, or enough money to keep the heat on when the weather gets cold.
We live in a culture that idealizes the myth of the self-made man or woman: the one whose own initiative and drive and dedication gets the credit for everything that he or she has. To a certain extent, that’s a helpful approach to take. It encourages us to use our gifts to the best of our ability: to strive to do important things, things that can make the world a better place for ourselves, for our families, and for others as well.
But there is also a downside to that approach to life. It unrealistically attributes far too much to ourselves, to what we have accomplished, to our supposed autonomy, as though we are not reliant on many other people to do all that we do, to accomplish all that we accomplish. It fails to acknowledge that we, too, have been and are dependent on many other people for what we have. It fails to acknowledge that we are all in this life together. And it fails to acknowledge that we are ultimately dependent on God for all that we have and all that we are.
Columnist and commentator David Brooks has written about the way that we can delude ourselves, giving ourselves the credit for everything that we have. He calls that tendency “The Credit Illusion.” Writing to a fictitious inquirer who has asked about how much credit he actually deserves for everything that he has accomplished and for everything that he owns, David Brooks writes: “You… are right to preserve your pride in your accomplishments. Great companies, charities and nations were built by groups of individuals who each vastly overestimated their own autonomy. As an ambitious executive, it’s important that you believe that you will deserve credit for everything you achieve. As a human being, it’s important for you to know that’s nonsense.”
We obviously need to take seriously our responsibility to do whatever we can to care for ourselves and for those who are dependent on us. We need to take pride in a job well done, in our accomplishments, in our contributions to the world around us.
But, like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, we need to be very careful not to overemphasize our own autonomy and the credit that we take for ourselves in what we have accomplished. Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, we need to be very careful not to dismiss those who are not as fortunate as we are, pretending that they could not possibly have worked as hard as we have. Sometimes, that is the case; but many times, it is not.
Instead we need to remind ourselves of the countless ways that we have been blessed and of all the people who have enabled us, and who continue to enable us, to enjoy the successes that we have had and the things that we possess. We need to thank God for all of them and for all that God has entrusted to us. And, as the stewards of God’s money and time and talent, we need to consider, humbly and thoughtfully and prayerfully, how we can best use all that God has entrusted to us to care for those who do not enjoy all these blessings and to do God’s work throughout our lives.