Old Testament: Isaiah (25:6-9)
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of
well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
The Response: Psalm 24
1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, *
the world and all who dwell therein.
2 For it is he who founded it upon the seas *
and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
3 “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? *
and who can stand in his holy place?”
4 “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
5 They shall receive a blessing from the Lord *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, *
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
8 “Who is this King of glory?” *
“The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.”
9 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
10 “Who is he, this King of glory?” *
“The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.”
The Epistle: Revelation (2:1-6a )
I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
The Gospel: John (11:32-44)
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 4The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Last Sunday’s gospel reading, with its story about Jesus asking a rich man to give up everything he had in order to live in the kingdom of God, was an ideal lead-in to this year’s stewardship program. But Jesus’ instruction in today’s gospel, the one about becoming the servant of all in order to become truly great in God’s eyes, likewise provides a rich source for reflection on what stewardship is all about.
Stewardship is not primarily about meeting budgets and paying bills, although those are obviously important topics. Stewardship is about service. It is about using whatever God has entrusted to us, including our money, in order to serve the needs of all and to help build up the dominion of God in the world. That service should not be an after-thought, something that we do only after we have taken care of everything else that we need and want. Instead, it needs to be a responsibility that we address up-front and that carries a high priority for us. For people of faith, contributing to the work of God in the world and serving the needs of others need to be central issues when we consider the use of whatever resources we happen to have.
Quite a few years back, I included, in a message about stewardship, a story about the great religious leader John Wesley. It is a story that bears repeating.
John Wesley was one of the greatest evangelists of all time. He was ordained as a priest of the Church of England in 1728. Three years later, he began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. The first year, his income was 30 pounds; he found that he could live on 28 of them and could then give 2 to the poor. In the second year, his income doubled, but he continued to live on 28; this allowed him to give 32 pounds to the poor. In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds, triple what it had been; but keeping his own expenses the same, he gave away 62 pounds.
By 1776, his income had reached 1400 pounds, yet he still rarely let his expenses exceed 30 pounds. The English Tax Commissioners became suspicious and launched an investigation. His written reply to them declared, “I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate I have at the present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want for bread.”
Among other things, John Wesley both understood and embodied what Jesus was talking about at the conclusion of today’s gospel reading. He saw himself as a servant of others, especially of those who were in need. And he viewed whatever income he had, and whatever increase in income that he had, as opportunities to serve the needs of others even more.
John Wesley provided a powerful witness to the gospel and a striking example for us to follow. But we actually don’t have to go across the Atlantic and back to the 18th century to find such an approach to living out our Christian faith. All we need to do is to walk over to the Lounge during today’s Coffee Hour to find a group of people who, year after year, dare to take a similar approach.
The annual meeting of our Parish Action Team is an amazing thing. As Fr. Jim pointed out to us on a Sunday shortly after this year’s Yard Sale, he has been a priest for almost 50 years and has served in seven different dioceses; yet, he observed, he never knew a parish that worked so long and so hard to make money in order to give it all away. Like John Wesley, we rejoice at and are grateful for the thousands of dollars that we make in the Yard Sale, because that means that we have more money to give away in order to do the work of God in the world. That is an example of putting the gospel into practice.
As we focus on our own use of all that God has entrusted to us, and as we prepare to make our pledge to St. Mark’s Church for 2019, these two examples of faithful stewardship challenge all of us to ask us why we have whatever we have, whether we are talking about our time, our talent, or our treasure: our money.
Exercising faithful stewardship for us cannot be something that we do just once a year, when we work the Yard Sale and the Parish Action Team meets. It needs to be a year-round mindset and a year-round way of life for all of us: as a parish, as households, and as individuals Christians. And the pledges that we make at this time of year to the life and ministry of St. Mark’s Church are important first steps in committing ourselves to that mindset and that way of life for the coming year. They are ways of putting into practice our commitment to follow the one who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”