Sometime next week you will be receiving a letter from our Clerk and friend Bill Barta asking you to make your annual pledge of financial support to Christ Congregation for 2017. It is a wonderful letter for several reasons—warm, informative, honest—and I hope you will give it both prayerful consideration and financially robust response!
But the letter’s most significant aspect, in my view, is the single word it does not use: “Stewardship.” I for one am deeply grateful for that omission, and I want to tell you why.
What you will get from Bill is obviously a traditional congregational “stewardship letter,” but without the dreaded “S” label, asking you (quite reasonably) to pledge your financial support for the church in the year ahead. As I understand the history of Christ Congregation you do not have a tradition of strong “stewardship campaigns” as many congregations do, with lots of preaching, every-member canvasses, interpretative documents, small-group meetings about the mission of the church, and the like. All to the good: what works, works and you have apparently done pretty well without all the stewardship hoopla. Congratulations!
That, you see, is why I am grateful that Bill’s letter does not invoke the idea of “Stewardship”: because by not linking stewardship to “fund-raising” (or “money-grubbing,” take your pick) it leaves the biblical image of “steward” uncontaminated and available for its true and genuine theological meaning and purpose.
Our pre-eminent North American Theologian Douglas John Hall published a little book in 1990 which has largely been forgotten, but nevertheless remains probably the most definitive essay ever written on the theology of stewardship. It is called The Steward: A Biblical Symbol Come of Age. In it he makes the simple observation that as Jesus teaches he continually reaches out to the ancient near eastern role of the “steward” as a paradigm of what can be the life in God Jesus offers—or not, when it goes very badly. Again and again in the New Testament we hear Jesus’ parables and references to “good stewards” and “bad stewards,” but the larger point is that the role of the “steward”—the caretaker and caregiver, the “midwife,” the estate manager, the “advance person,” the ordinary man or woman whose life is somehow dedicated to the protection of someone or something other than themselves because of its dominant value in their own lives, be it child, cause, or context—the person who takes up that steward role is definitive of the Christian cause.
In our politicized time and culture we are magnetized by feelings about the elite, the privileged, the 1%, the terrorists, the grifters, the abusers, the real or imagined leeches, the aliens, the sanctimonious power-brokers, the self-righteous preachers, and all the rest of those “others” who rile and threaten us. We are either out to destroy them or to get their vote—take your pick.
It would appear that Jesus largely used as his point of reference for what the coming Kingdom of God meant a different group of people entirely: those who whether by choice or fate were grasped by their responsibility as caretakers of something beyond themselves, or in the biblical image “stewards.” They might be good or bad, but so far as Jesus seemed to be concerned, they were the ones he was talking to. In the politics of the Kingdom, they had the votes.
So I hope you glimpse the idea that stewardship in the eyes of Jesus has nothing initially to do with money but with care of and for something outside yourself that is important enough to you to shape your own fate and identity, along with those you care about. It might be about the suffering and the poor, or the environment, or the unjustly treated, or the marginalized or victimized or hoodwinked of our brothers and sisters. It might be about recycling or it might be about revolution; it might be about nurture or about nature. It might be about the homeless or the conspicuously over-homed, about the starving or the over-fed, the unjustly convicted or the criminally ignored.
How, then, did this grand and Christocentric idea of “stewardship” get so hijacked and super-glued to the idea of money and fundraising for the satisfaction and self-comfort of organizations called churches, and thus so empty of theological calories? I cannot help but wonder whether the culprit was not so much the “corporatization of the church” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as historians have often noted. Perhaps instead it was a kind of failure of nerve in the sacramental promise of the Eucharist, which we celebrate this week.
Might the original meaning of stewardship have come somehow from the idea that bread and wine could be transformed through us into the life of Christ? And if that were so, what else was possible? That is, the very unholy idea that God would become flesh and dwell among us, possibly wrecking our entire idea of God, requires a great deal of re-thinking about how flesh and spirit, God and creation, body and soul, matter and energy, find—and become—each other.
Might the “steward,” the caregiver, be the transformation point? Was that who Jesus was?
Douglas John Hall, in the closing pages of his largely ignored but lyrical little book, writes:
What if a religion that had acted out of the motives of mastery for so long were to begin now—even so late in time!—to act out of the motives of service, not as yet another predator on the community of humankind, but as neighbor to a species that had fallen amongst thieves? What if stewardship became our very mode of operation, our characteristic stance, our way of being in the world, our means of expressing and confessing our faith—not an addendum, not a means to something else, not an evangelistic come-on, but the very heart of the matter?
Thank you, Bill, for not mentioning and so allowing us the possibility of discovering, it.
Blessings and Peace,
Tomorrow, November 5th 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.is Christ Congregation's Work Day. Let's roll up our sleeves and give our church a bit of tender love and care.
Saturday night, before bed, be sure to set your clocks back 1 hour. This is also a great time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors.
Christ Congregation celebrates as The Rev. Alexis Fuller-Wright has answered the call to be our new minister.
The Rev. Alexis Fuller-Wright and daughter Nora.
(Sunday, October 23, 2016)
On the left: Nancy Wright (Alexis’s mother), Liz Fuller-Wright (Alexis' wife), Alexis Fuller-Wright, and daughter Nora. (Sunday, October, 23, 2016)
Please notice! – Sunday, November 6, 2016 9:00 a.m. Bible Study will be cancelled due to the Princeton Half-Marathon.
Dear Christ Congregation Friends,
This Sunday I will continue a series of four sermons around probably the most basic theme of Christian faith: Who was Jesus, and what does he want with you? The series will take us into the Season of Advent, the celebration of the coming of God to God’s people in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
My “conversation partner” in this series is the English theologian and biblical scholar Robin Griffith-Jones and his seminal book The Four Witnesses (Harper Collins, 2000). That book was a compelling and detailed study—a tour de force, really—of the different “portraits” of Jesus to be found in each of the four Gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. While he bears no responsibility for what I say, I am indebted to his spirit and ideas for much of the inspiration behind these sermons.
The identity, place, and role of Jesus in Christianity has never not been a mysterious and controversial subject, from the pages of the New Testament itself to the present day. The basic Christian confession that Jesus Christ is Lord is itself the doorway to transcendent cosmic mystery whether for the simplest and humblest believer or the most erudite and critical biblical/theological scholar. All who stand in that doorway are called to pause, reflect, and wonder at the enduring question asked by Jesus himself . . . .
“Who Do You Say I Am?” the series is titled and will be preached in the following order:
October 30, 2016: “Discovering Mark’s Jesus: The Rebel with a Holy Cause”
November 6, 2016: “Discovering Matthew’s Jesus: The Ultimate Rabbi”
November 13, 2016: “Discovering Luke’s Jesus: The Sacred Story-Teller”
November 20, 2016: Non-series Thanksgiving sermon: “One Came Back”
November 27, 2016: Guest Preacher
December 4, 2016: Discovering John’s Jesus: The Breath of the Mystic”
Blessings and Peace,
J. Randall Nichols
November 12th and 13th- Together with Coalition for Peace Action, Christ Congregation will co-sponsor the Coalition’s Celebration of The Reverend Bob Moore and The 37th Annual Conference and Multi-faith Service for Peace.
The Rev. Robert Moore has served since 1981 as full-time Executive Director of the Princeton NJ-based Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA). During that time he has also served as part-time Pastor of East Brunswick Congregational Church, and after its merger with Christ Congregation of Princeton in 2014 as part-time co-Pastor of Christ Congregation. Mr. Moore is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who this year also celebrates his fortieth year of ordination. Christ Congregation is pleased to share in this celebration and recognition of his service to church and community.
Saturday, November 12th
5:30-6:00 p.m. Reception and drop-off for Potluck 6:00-7:00 p.m. Potluck Meal (Please bring a dish to share) 7:00-8:00 p.m. Program
Sunday, November 13th 11:00 a.m. at the Princeton University Chapel. Sunday's sermon will be given by Muslim Life Coordinator and Chaplin for Princeton University, Imam Sohaib Sultan. For more information, visit www.peacecoalition.org.
Save the Date! – December 10, 2016 at 5:30 p.m. we will gather for Christmas dinner. More details to follow.
Saturday, December 24th there will be a special holiday service. WE WILL NOT worship together on Sunday, December 25th
To submit announcements and suggestions to be included in the CC Newsletter, email firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday each week.
The Rev. Dr. J. Randall Nichols, Interim Minister
Joanne Hardgrove, Organist-Choir Director
Brandi Grove, Church Secretary
Rebecca Fransisco, Seminary Intern
The Rev. Jeffrey Mays, Pastor Emeritus
Office Hours: Tuesday – Friday 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.