“A Stewardship of Healing”
St. Luke, Evangelist
17 October 2010
Trinity Episcopal Church
San Francisco, California
Ecclesiasticus 38:1-4, 6-10, 12-14
II Timothy 4:5-13
St. Luke 4:14-21
I. Stewardship – what is it?
In the biblical story of Joseph, the character of Joseph is slowly revealed to the hearer or the reader. Gifted, arrogant at times, honored and loved by his father, regarded suspiciously by his siblings, this young man would become a salvation for his family, if not the nascent people of Israel. In his story he moves from the plains and hills of Palestine, and the relative wealth of his father’s household to the narrow river culture of Egypt and to the household of the Chief Steward of Egypt where he serves as a slave, and incidentally as a seer. The dream-telling qualities of Joseph’s life is only one aspect of his story and service, and it serves him well as he moves into his new community, and eventually through his visions becoming a steward for the people of Egypt.
Joseph, like most stewards, knew that the goods, the visions, and the wealth that he managed for the benefit of others was not his own. He was thrust into that knowledge by his forced sale into slavery. The slave had no rights, no property, really – but often earned the respect of their wealthy owners through a just and virtuous exercise of their stewardship. The Bible is full of stories about these men and women, and Jesus uses them as an example of ingenuity and intellect. All of them operated with the knowledge that they had to make an accounting, and that sometimes they needed to give up what might have been theirs in order to meet the expectations of the owner.
Stewardship is often regarded by many, especially at this time of the year as an uncomfortable and embarrassing request for our wealth. This perspective comes to us absent the basic idea of stewardship, namely, that we operate with gifts, talents, skills, and wealth that has been entrusted to us. In our culture of money and achievement, these things are seen as property, rather than as the gifts that they are. Thus, it is a good thing to look at lives that were informed differently, and at the stewardship of those who understood stewardship and its responsibilities.
Today we honor St. Luke, and indirectly, we honor all those who serve as physicians, nurses, and health care givers. Like Joseph, these people are keenly aware of their stewardship of others. It is not their life, their heart, or their mental wellbeing which they care for. They steward the physical resources of others, and we expect that of them. This notion of a stewardship of healing can help us to move away from stewardship as only a demand on our fiscal resources, to seeing stewardship as a discipline that involves other aspects of our lives.
II. Stewardship – a history of ministry
The other day, in a meeting with the pastor and president of St. Paulus Church, we listened as these good people described their ministry to the community absent the church building that had been their home until it burned in a tragic fire some fifteen years ago. As they described their journey they also wanted to hear about our ministry. One of the members present at the meeting took the time to talk about the stewardship of ministry at Trinity Church. Like the stewardship campaign in many parishes, the buildings and facilities of our congregations can seem like a rude interruption of our spiritual life, as we deal with seismic studies, dwindling resources, and responsibility to the community.
His story, however, was not one of anguish and frustration with all of that. He talked about the stewardship of this place, as a stewardship of all that had gone on here in the past, and of an equal stewardship of what might be. He reminded us that the building and the ministry here are gifts, the property and accomplishment of others, which is ours to promote and continue. As he talked, my mind was filled with the likes of Flavel Mines, Ruth Brinker, Fr. Cromey, and others who had taken the wealth and resources of others and turned them into healing for a community. It became clear to me that a stewardship of place has to be a stewardship of ever so much more – a stewardship of the neighborhood, a stewardship of the families and individuals living here, a stewardship of those who walk these streets and sidewalks, a stewardship of the environment of this part of the earth.
III. Stewardship – fulfillment of the Gospel
It’s at this point that Saint Luke’s Gospel can be of some help. It is also good to remind ourselves of the tradition of Luke as a healer and a physician, and of his program of lifting up the poor and needy in his Gospel. In today’s Gospel, Jesus reads from Isaiah and then adds a note of commentary. Listen to hear Jesus’ agenda for the Kingdom of God, and Luke’s concern for the poor:
'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
Jesus’ commentary is brief and succinct, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke adds that the congregation was “amazed”, his code word that they had indeed heard and had believed.
This is the stewardship of the kingdom of God, the stewardship of healing. It is a stewardship of all that we have been given - this church, this ministry, our reputation and good will, our very lives - for the benefit of those whom Isaiah/Luke/Jesus mentions: the poor, captives, the blind, the oppressed. Our stewardship of healing is only as good as the health and benefit it gives to those who are needful. On one level we could say that our stewardship of this place is all about these people. On another level we could say that, absent the building and all the concerns that accrue to it, our stewardship of our own lives is all about these people.
When I mentioned the saints that have done work here before, the former stewards of this place, I thought again on Joseph, the Seer, the visionary. Perhaps the stewardship of healing is really all about what kinds of dreams and visions that we have. What have we dreamed for the benefit of our community? What visions do we have that involve the betterment of those around us? Joseph took his dreams and saved two nations: his adopted nation of Egypt, and the nation that lay in the hopes and dreams of his father Jacob. Now it is our turn to dream and to make real, to have visions and to build them. The gifts we have can heal our world, but let’s start here, in this place.