Lectionary Reflection for Reformation Day
October 31, 2010
Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Romans 3:27-28
So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36
A couple of years ago I was showing my confirmation class a few scenes from the movie Luther (2003), when one student piped up and said “So you mean Luther was upset about how money was being raised for the church?” Of course, that answer is simplistic on many levels, but this young man did have a point and a valid observation.
Reformation and stewardship are not such a strange pairing. Why not explore this link on Reformation Sunday? Instead of the traditional Lutheran celebration of “grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone” or a homily-turned-history-lesson, consider a sermon that taps into our freedom in Christ to be good stewards of God’s many gifts–including that of the gospel.
After all, Luther did have quite a lot to say about stewardship, and it is the time of year where many congregations are completing annual stewardship campaigns. A wise bishop once told me, “Every sermon is a stewardship sermon.” Why should this week’s homily be an exception?
For example, two of Luther’s 95 Theses address stewardship directly:
43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons, and
46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons.
Luther is, of course, responding to the selling of indulgences to fund a church building project in Rome, but the same principle applies today. We are to give to those in need and are to provide for our families before throwing money after the modern equivalent of “indulgences.” An interesting approach might be to lift up some of those modern things with which we try to fill the holes in our hearts, those purchases and lifestyles that we use to mask our fears, our senses of inadequacy, and our delusions. Nothing but Christ gives the security we so desperately crave.
Luther also said:
- For the more a miser accumulates riches, the more his mind or his greed is stimulated. A miser is always in need and is poor in the midst of his riches….(from the “Lecture on Ecclesiastes,” 1526)
- God has created us in order that we should be our neighbor’s steward… (from the “Against Fanatics,” 1526)
- Where there is Christian faith, gold is not one’s god. Gold is the god of the world. Scripture and experience both tell us this….God supplies it so abundantly that we cannot use it up. We see Him place these things in our hands, and we are surrounded by an abundance of all good things. (from the “Lecture on 1 Timothy,” 1528)
- I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.
He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.
All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.
For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
This is most certainly true. (The First Article, Small Catechism, 1529)
- Having money, property, land, and retinue outwardly is not wrong in itself. It is God’s gift and ordinance.
The temporal goods you have, God has given to you for this life. He does permit you to use them and with them to fill the bag of worms that you wear around your neck.
Whoever wants to be a Christian must undertake good works as a means of serving God through his office or station, his money or goods, or whatever other possessions or abilities he may have, doing what he can to His glory although he may never merit any things for it on earth at all.
As far as my secular person is concerned, I may and I should accumulate money and treasures–yet not too much, so that I do not become a greedy belly that seeks only its own benefit and can never be satisfied.
It is no sin to have money and property, wife and children, house and home. But you must not let it be your master. You must make it serve you, and you must be its master.
That is what we call the Gospel with its fruits–doing good works, fulfilling your station or office diligently and faithfully, and undergoing all sorts of suffering for the Gospel. (from Sermon on the Mount, 1530-32)
Go ahead and peruse your copy of Luther’s Works; check out more of his commentary on the role of biblical stewardship in the life of the Christian. For Luther, the gospel was primary, vocation was holy, and stewardship was an integral part of the Christian’s life on this earth. Yes, we are free in Christ! We are not measured or saved by our good works. However, as thankful recipients of this amazing grace and as part of our vocational calling in this world, we are to practice good stewardship of our time, talent, and possessions. We must carefully tend the gift of this earth and see to the needs of our neighbor.
Perhaps Reformation Sunday is the perfect time to begin looking at “re-forming” our stewardship practices both personally and corporately. We may not try to buy peace of mind for eternity, but our culture still encourages us to try and spend our way into satisfaction and contentment–to no avail. What better Sunday than this one to examine stewardship in light of our heritage?
Blessings on your proclamation!
Photo of the Luther Statue in front of Dresden´s “Frauenkirche” by ff137 is used under a Creative Commons License. Thanks!