Old Testament: Jeremiah (31:27-34)
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
The Response: Psalm (119:97-104)
97 Oh, how I love your law! *
all the day long it is in my mind.
98 Your commandment has made me wiser than my enemies, *
and it is always with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, *
for your decrees are my study.
100 I am wiser than the elders, *
because I observe your commandments.
101 I restrain my feet from every evil way, *
that I may keep your word.
102 I do not shrink from your judgments, *
because you yourself have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste! *
they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.
104 Through your commandments I gain understanding; *
therefore I hate every lying way.
The New Testament: 2 Timothy (3:14-4:5)
As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
The Gospel: Luke (18:1-8)
Jesus told [the disciples] a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer
Yogi Berra, famously observed, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up someplace else.” The Hall of Fame catcher, coach, and manager had a knack for getting his hearers’ attention and amusing them at the same time. But in this case, he also reminded us of the importance of keeping our long-term goals, and even our ultimate goals, clearly in front of us instead of just making life up as we go along. We need to know where we are going: what our ultimate destination is, if we ever hope to get there.
Jesus clearly did that in the ten chapters of the gospel according to Luke from which our Sunday readings have been taken for the past four months. Everything that Jesus says and does in this extended narrative takes place within the context of, and within the shadow of, his determined journey to Jerusalem. Nothing will deter him from marching boldly toward that goal.
Today is the one Sunday of the year on which our Stewardship Committee specifically asks me to talk with you about stewardship. It comes as we invite members of the parish to consider making a pledge to St. Mark’s life and mission for the coming year. Seen from that perspective, stewardship can seem to be a short-term goal: one that focuses on prayerfully filling out and turning in a pledge form. That is important. But with our efforts to use God’s gifts faithfully and generously, we, too, need to keep before us our ultimate goal, and then make our decisions based on that goal. We need to know where we’re going, or we might “end up someplace else.”
We can, of course, consider our response to God simply as one of many things we need to do with the time, talent, and money that we have. And, once we have made our decision and turned in our pledge form, it can be a case of “seen, done it, check.” But that approach ignores the much deeper sense of what genuine and faithful stewardship is all about.
In today’s first reading, Jeremiah begins to look beyond the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent 70 years of exile in Babylon to the long-term future of God’s people. He speaks of a “new covenant” that God will make “with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” The people’s immediate reaction would probably be one that was interested in getting the details. “We know the requirements, all the commandments, of the covenant that we have had; but what rules and regulations is God going to add or delete or change in this new covenant?”
But instead of giving them a list of commandments, Jeremiah calls them to take a step back and to look at the bigger picture, to consider their entire notion of what the covenant was about. Instead of God giving them another list of laws written on stone tablets, Jeremiah envisions God saying to them: “It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt… But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The new covenant will not be a set of rules and regulations. It will be an entirely different outlook on life and an entirely new way of life. It will orient everything that they do toward the ultimate goal of living as God’s people, doing God’s work in the world. It will encompass everything.
In the same way, genuine stewardship is not just about completing an annual pledge form, turning it in, and trying to fulfill that promise as the year goes on. Instead, it is about an entire way of life. It is about orienting everything that we do – including the use of our time, talent, and treasure – to being and living as God’s people, using it to do God’s work in the world.
Over the years, many members of this parish have shared with us reflections on what the life and mission of this parish means to them and what stewardship means to them. And it has been obvious that their striving for faithful stewardship of all that they have – their time, talent, and treasure — has changed their lives. It has enriched their lives. It has deepened their lives. Their exercise of faithful and generous stewardship has oriented their lives toward their ultimate goal. They have become more and more cognizant of where they are going, and are therefore less likely to end up someplace else.
That has certainly been the case for Judy and me through our many years here at St. Mark’s. As we have tried to use the money we have, the time that we have, and whatever abilities we have to support and further the work of this parish, we have found that we ourselves are being changed. And now, as we prepare for our future, that way of life, written on our hearts, has led us to focus on how we can continue to use all that we have and all that we are to serve the people here in the greater-Dayton community and the world beyond it in the years ahead. Stewardship is a life-long process, always straining forward toward our ultimate goal of living completely as the people of God.
In a certain sense, stewardship begins with us and with our fundamental approach to life: specifically with a sense of gratitude for all that we have, for all that God has given to us. It is our faithful response to God’s many gifts. It leads us to give of our resources generously to do God’s work in the world and to serve the needs of others.
But conversely, it is in the giving of our resources generously to do God’s work in the world and to serve the needs of others that we ourselves are transformed. Our ongoing stewardship of God’s gifts changes us. A life of faithful acts of sharing those blessings with others internalizes those acts. It allows God to write God’s new covenant on our hearts, to make it an integral part of who we are. And isn’t that really our ultimate goal?