By Deacon Timothy Siburg
Revised Common Lectionary for Proper 16, Year A
August 27, 2023
Key Verse: For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. -Romans 12:4-5
How has your day or week started? I ask that because this morning as I sit down to write and wrestle with this week’s stories, I can’t help admitting that my family has just had a milestone. We dropped our oldest daughter off at kindergarten for the first time. The school year has begun. There’s no way that my wife and I could be old enough yet for this, could we? This can’t be real! But here we are.
I start there because I’m grateful to know that we aren’t alone. I’m grateful to know that we are hardly the first and definitely not the last household or family to approach this milestone in life. It’s good. But it’s hard. It’s wonderful. But it’s also emotional. And it’s precisely in times like these when I give thanks especially for the Body of Christ.
Paul writes in his letter to the Romans 12:4-5, “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” We are not alone. We are part of something bigger than ourselves – held together through God’s grace and presence through love, relationship, and promise. Together we are really the Body of Christ. All with one shared identity as Children of God, but also, in tension simultaneously we admit and believe that we are individual and unique beloved Children of God with particular gifts, strengths, passions, questions, talents, vocations, and experiences.
There’s tension in this. But I wonder if in that tension – the tension of both a shared identity, being the Body of Christ together, and unique individual identity, being a beloved unique Child of God – is precisely where stewardship enters in? Paul continues, “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness” (vv. 12:6-8).
Paul is unpacking the tension. And from a stewardship lens, he is inviting all who might listen to wonder about what God might be up to. We’re all created in the image of God, Children of God, and the Body of Christ together. But, as a body has many parts or members with unique roles and functions, so do the parts of the Body of Christ. God’s people have been entrusted with different gifts, talents, and strengths for a reason. So that life might go well, and that it might be abundant and meaningful. But also, so that together, the community might be stronger for it. So that the hungry might be fed. That the people might be taught and learn. That the community would be cared for and led well. That hope and joy might abide.
In some ways it’s a shame that this passage doesn’t come up a week later. At least in the context of the United States, that would invite some interesting reflection on Labor Day weekend, providing an opportunity to think about the myriad of vocations present in the community of the congregation and Body of Christ. Nevertheless, this might be a perfect week to do that. So I wonder:
- What are the vocations present among the faithful gathered in your community?
- How are the various gifts embodied which God has entrusted?
- How do we, as God’s people, best and faithfully steward these various gifts?
- How are one’s neighbors and community shown love through them?
From reflecting on being the Body of Christ together, and to the joy of knowing that that very body is made up of a plethora of different gifts and unique callings, there’s more than enough there for a good stewardship sermon. But there’s even more possibilities in the other stories this week too.
In the gospel lesson, Jesus turns the question on us. He invites the disciples, and you and me today, to reflect, think, and respond. He asks, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). How might you respond to Jesus’ question? One’s response to that is the starting of articulating who we each are as a disciple, but also in unpacking the why behind why we do what we do as stewards of God’s love.
In response to Jesus’ question Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). For this, Jesus commends him and says, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (vv. 16:18). Actions and consequences. Faith and response. Gifts and responsibilities. With this story and these experiences, comes responsibility. Jesus is entrusting Peter here with the church, just as we are each entrusted with the various gifts, strengths, vocations, passions, and all that makes us who we are. The only major difference perhaps is that Jesus isn’t telling us, as he does Peter, “not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah” (vv. 16:20). Rather, it’s quite the opposite really. We’re each called to Go and: serve our neighbors, to share the story, to respond to Jesus’ question through word and deed and in the various ways we all show up today as the very living Body of Christ.
The other stories in the lectionary offer us other stewardship nuggets of note. The prophet Isaiah reminds us of God’s promises and abundance as we read, “Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many” (Isaiah 51:2). God keeps God’s word and promises, and God’s work is not done as Isaiah adds in God’s voice, “but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended” (vv. 51:6). Isaiah is reminding here of God’s saving and life-giving purposes.
The response for this comes clearly from the psalmist. With whom we can all say with deep gratitude, “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart” (Psalm 138:1). What else can we do, but give thanks for all that God has done, will do, promises to do, and continues to do for us? So we give thanks and lean in as disciples, stewards, and together as part of the Body of Christ with all that makes us each the beloved and unique Child of God that we are. And we trust that as the psalmist concludes, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love endures forever” (v. 138:8).
For this, particularly amid the transitions and milestones of life such as starting school, I give thanks. And I invite you in your preaching and teaching this week to name similar things in your context. Lift up the teachers, school staff, parents, and students as another year begins. Pray for all the various vocations in your midst. Connect the dots so that God’s people can again see more clearly how through, with, and for them, as part of the Body of Christ and stewards of God’s love, God’s very work is happening in our midst here and now today.
Given Paul’s emphasis in Romans 12 this week, what might it look like to have a blessing of the vocations or perhaps an Affirmation of Vocation? This might be a timely faith practice at the transition between August and September. It could connect well with the start of a new school year and/or ministry program year, but also might be meaningful as people make the move to a busier routine cycle of the year in their own work and labors. This could be a one-week practice, something that is done around Labor Day the following weekend, or perhaps even is broken out into a whole month-long theme and practice. What might it look like in your context? What are the various vocations present that could be lifted up, acknowledged, and affirmed?
Worship with Youth and Children
If creating a sort of blessing or affirmation of vocation, this might be a great time to invite youth and children forward to lay on hands and pray and give thanks for the various vocations present in the congregation. But simultaneously with this, such a practice could also connect well with a “Blessing of the Backpacks.” Invite all youth, young adults, and those who labor to bring their backpacks, briefcases, or whatever might symbolize their routine of their vocations forward to receive a prayer and blessing. This is a great teaching moment too, so it would seem a natural place to also connect a Children’s Message or two or three.
Some congregations provide a charm or tag that attaches to the backpack as a visible sign of Christ’s love and presence walking through daily life – connecting the individual with the larger of Body of Christ. This practice can be as simple or ornate as desired, but it is deeply meaningful across generations as it connects the life of ministry from the worship experience to the daily routines of life, and helps the whole community remember that they are not alone and that God’s love and presence is real.