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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Stretch and Grow Time Stewardship - 09/16/2018

We have a lot going on in our house of worship this weekend. It is our Rally Weekend … that weekend of worship when we admit as a community that summer is over. It’s a bit of a lamentation. But we can also admit that we can feel our energy shifting focus, and maybe even shifting gear, as our community here mirrors the activity of the wider community and we begin a new year of Sunday School, confirmation, bible studies, TN@C – make sure you check that out!

God has added beautifully to all that we have planned by gracing us with Lutheran siblings, visiting from the Yombo Parish in the Eastern and Coastal Diocese in Tanzania and Immanuel in Negaunee. We are so very happy to welcome them to worship and have some fellowship time together. We are thankful to be part of their journey and pray we are blessings to those journeys, as they are to ours.

And, as if that weren’t enough, we also begin our Stretch and Grow Stewardship program this weekend. I know … the excitement is palpable, as it should be right?

Your council has been talking more intentionally about Eden’s stewardship ministry for a couple of years now. We’ve talked at length about how stewardship is much more than just making sure we have enough money to pay me and the electricity and heating bills. And we wanted a stewardship program to reflect that.

A book some of us read together said it well: “The Bible talks a lot about stewardship, and it talks very little about the need for an institution to get its bills paid. Rather, when the Bible talks about stewardship it almost always talks about the intimate connection between how a person handles financial matters and that person's relationship with God. In the Bible, all stewardship, including financial stewardship, is an intensely spiritual matter. It lies close to the heart of a disciple's relationship with Jesus.”

And when you think about it in those terms, it is exciting, isn’t it? We are the stewards, the caretakers of ourselves and this creation for God and of God. And we have these gifts from God … our time, our skills and talents and passions, our income, among many others things.

They are like tools we have at hand in our lives as people of God and followers of Jesus. The shepherd has her rod and staff, a cloak and pouch to carry the essentials needed to steward her flock. We enter the gift of each day with the skills and abilities, the passions and calls, and the resources to steward creation for its Creator.

For this God who acts persistently and cleverly to draw us in more closely than we even know to ask, to make the way straight for us, so we might be bold in our stewardship ministry. A Creator who is so persistent about forging this relationship with us – even when we are acting like we could care less – a God so persistent, that Jesus was sent for us. He is the one Peter points us to in our Gospel reading today. “You are the Messiah,” (Mark 8:29b) he says. The anointed one God has sent to make certain nothing can hold us back from loving God and loving one another, not even sin or death. The one who bathes our souls in the baptismal waters and feeds us at the Table of equality and mercy. What else could a steward want for?

***

So this week, our focus is on how we tithe or strive to tithe on our time – that gift of God that is evident and inseparable from every breath we take on this planet. How do we tithe on the gift of a day or the gift of time?

I think that our scriptures for today do inform this facet of our stewardship ministry.

And when we talk about giving God our time, we’re talking here about devotional time, prayer, meditation, reading scripture. We’ll talk more in a couple of weeks about pledging a worship goal, but I think time in worship listening for how God is guiding and calling you is part of this too.

 So what do we hear in some of our readings today? From Isaiah we hear how God awakens this steward, who is a teacher, each morning. And so Isaiah starts each day with a listening ear for what God is up to, what God is urging Isaiah to teach the people. Sometimes, apparently, they are not easy lessons – and so there’s some unfortunate spitting and beard plucking.

Isaiah gives us something to think about here as we look at the time we set aside each day for God. Time for listening not only for how God wants to use us for the life-giving sake of others, but also time to center us so we remember we go forth each day – even in the chaotic, beard plucking ones – with the help of this God who protects us from shame and disgrace.

***

Our Psalm reminded me of times when I found it quite easy to tithe time to God. They were times of distress. I made sure I set aside devotional time almost every day when I was caring for my dying father. When I was preparing to go to seminary and sometimes feeling anxiety over that big change, I found it quite easy to consistently start my days with a devotional. When my daughter was a baby and she was diagnosed with potentially significant heart issues, I prayed fervently for her well-being, for God’s guidance and strength.

I am a good steward of my day, my time, in those situations – I am like the psalmist who sings “For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” (Ps 116:8b). We are confident that God hears us in those distressed times.

When things are going pretty smoothly, though, I tend to let my tithe slip.

And it’s me who really loses out in this whole deal. God knows my tithe will once again return to health when I’m in distress. And I know God will be there with a wide-open ear and steadfast love.

However, if we can tithe or strive to tithe our time consistently, I believe we live more fully into what the Psalmist sings next. He says, “I walk before the Lord (every day, every moment) in the land of the living,” (v 9)

The land of the living – as opposed maybe to the land of the time crunch, the land of the overscheduled, the land of too many demands on our day, the land of endless and shiny distraction.

***

And finally, in our Gospel from Mark, we get this wonderfully real picture of ourselves as disciples in Peter, who in one moment is courageously proclaiming the truth about Jesus and in the next, tries to reign that truth in.

When Jesus starts telling them about the time to come and what those times will bring, Peter is absolutely unnerved by it. He cannot grasp it. We can maybe imagine some of the thoughts that went through his mind in that moment.

“Good Lord, how am I supposed to protect him from that?” Or…

“Wait, what about conquering the enemy?” Or…

“No, Lord, I love you. I cannot bear to lose you.” Or…

“I need more time.”

You see, the thing was, Peter could only hear himself and the world around him. He could not rise above his own perception to take in the bigger picture of what God was up to in Jesus. And maybe he never could have risen up to that eagle eye view at that point on the road to Jerusalem.

Even so, I think he teaches us a great deal here about why we are wise to tithe to God from our gift of time.

Peter isn’t giving the time to listen completely to what Jesus – AKA God – is saying here … he didn’t really hear the key revelation Jesus makes … “and after three days (I will) rise again,” (v 31b) he says.

If Peter had really heard that, really given that time to God rather than his own worry and panic, or the world’s reaction, might he have responded differently?

Maybe then we could imagine those thoughts going through his mind differently too.

“Good Lord, keep me strong through this.” Or …

“Wait, how does this defeat the enemy?” (which is a good question) Or …

“I love you, Lord, and I trust you. I will follow you to any end.” … or beginning, as it turned out.

Maybe Peter’s response to Jesus would have shifted in this story, from “Peter took (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke him” (v 32b) to something more like “Speak, Lord, your servant, your steward, is listening.”

***

I’ll end with a prayer for all of us, as we are all invited to consider our stewardship of time and how much of that gift we give back to God.

Let us pray,

God of all time, you create each of us in the right season, in the right time, and you imagine the care and reform of your creation through the time you give us. Thank you for the gift of time, for the gift of days here in your creation and help us to nurture that gift well – that we give generously of that time back to you, so you may in turn guide our footsteps and actions for the benefit of all. This we pray and hope in the name of the one who calls us through the cross – The Messiah – Jesus Christ. Amen.

Chick Lane, Ask, Thank, Tell

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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