March 2, 2014

Our Calling as Disciples

“On a candle-lamp tour of a deep cave, our guide invited us to experience absolute darkness. We extinguished our candles and felt a dark so complete it pressed in on your face. After a minute, the guide said, "I'll get out my matches," and we breathed sighs of relief. After a pause, he muttered, "Oh, I must have left them in my desk"—everyone gasped—"Guess we'll have to find our way out in the dark." Stunned silence. A few long seconds later, a tiny flame sprang into view. There was a match after all. And even before we could light a single lamp, we could see not just that little light but each other, the cave around us, and the trail.” This story was written in a devotional on Wednesday by Jonathan Strandjord from the ELCA Church-wide office.

Today we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday and we are finishing the three week series regarding Biblical understanding of stewardship based on the book ‘Ask, Thank, Tell’ by Pastor Charles Lane. Two weeks ago we talked about the definition of stewardship and underscored that it is not just about paying the bills and church. It includes management of all creation including our own households and lives. Last week, we connected stewardship to discipleship as Pastor Lane’s book emphasized that the number one priority for congregations in stewardship ministry is to nurture relationship with Jesus Christ. Today, we take a look at what discipleship looks like from this perspective with a connection to Transfiguration Sunday.

In Matthew 25, Jesus is telling parables that are connected to his death, resurrection, and future return. And once again I want to remind everyone that the purpose of parables is to explain the kingdom of God. To put today’s parable into context, we have a man going on a journey and leaving various amounts of talents with three servants. The connection here is that the man going on a journey is Jesus; leaving through death and resurrection with the intent of one day coming back. And the servants are us, disciples within the Body of Christ.

He has given his servants talents to manage. A talent was a huge sum of money. In today’s dollars, one talent would be worth approximately $360,000. So the first servant would have received approximately $1.8 million (in today’s dollars), the second $720,000, and the third $360,000.

But there are two really important things to recognize in this story that we tend to misinterpret through the glasses of Western culture. First, the underlying theme is not the money. It is about the idea of Jesus giving to us in abundance, beyond our understanding of need. Secondly, this is not a story that determines one servant ‘better’ than another. The question is what are we doing with Jesus’ abundance? Are we keeping it for ourselves or are we sharing abundantly for the sake of the kingdom? Are we willing to take risks for the sake of the kingdom? And thirdly, it is a display of God’s faithfulness to provide abundantly for those who are willing to risk for the kingdom. Remember, these servants were not managing the talents for themselves. The owner is coming back. So how are we investing, as disciple’s, for the kingdom? In regards to discipleship, which emphasizes relationship with Jesus, which servant are you? Which servant is Zion?

A mission leader wrote two years ago, “Stewardship is an act of mission that moves the church from creed to practice. Simply put, stewards are people who acknowledge that they belong to God.” Managing our vocations, families, time, talents, and resources are about God’s mission in our lives. How are we conducting our role as disciples of Jesus? How are we going about God’s mission?

Last week I shared a quote from Pastor Lane’s book that stated a congregations stewardship ministry’s number one goal is to make disciples. He goes on to say, “…giving [of ourselves and our resources] is an act of faith, growing out of a relationship with Jesus. God’s word belongs at the center of our stewardship ministry every bit as much as it belongs at the center of preaching, teaching, and everything else we do together in God’s family (p. 17).” Our calling as disciples then, is beyond the budget and programs. It is an emphasis on making Jesus the central foundation of life. We need to distinguish between our purpose and the support system. A hospital’s focus is on healing, while resources are necessary for support. A school’s focus is education, but again resources are necessary. The Church’s focus is nurturing relationship with Jesus Christ, and resources are necessary. So in our discipleship, we are reminded to stay focused on our purpose in order to be faithful.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Jesus took a few disciples up the mountain with him where they witnessed something beyond imagination. They saw Moses and Elijah (two of the greatest prophets from Israel’s history) having conversation with Jesus. His face shone like the sun while God’s voice repeated the words that we read at Jesus’ baptism, “this is my Son in whom I’m well pleased.”

As we enter the season of Lent, there are opportunities to see the depth of God’s love and mercy showered upon us through Jesus Christ. The transfiguration displays his humanity and mysterious divinity beyond our understanding. And through stewardship, we proclaim his love and mercy as thankful disciples, trusting God’s abundance. Amen.