To have a vocation is to be called by God to do something. Some vocations are rather specific, such as a call to Holy Orders, a call to teach the Christian faith, a call to work for peace and justice from a religious perspective. All believers share a call to serve God and our neighbors as stewards of what God has provided to sustain and enrich creation. Each time we renew the Baptismal Covenant we promise to live by the implications of our Baptism.
In the biblical stories of creation, the vocation of stewardship is given to human beings alone. I think it is fair to say that the vocation of stewardship is one of the things that makes us human. No other creature is given such responsibility nor the ability to exercise such responsibility. Along with the call to be faithful stewards of God's creation, human beings possess the ability to act with purpose, to create, to communicate in complex ways through many languages, and to live in a conscious relationship with the Creator. Because the story of our faith says this vocation was given to humans by the Creator "in the beginning," I sometimes say that stewardship is in our DNA.
Last Sunday, I was reminded twice of the call to faithful stewardship.
At the principal service, our retiring hymn was "Come, Labor On." It's a hymn that stresses divine call and human response. The first part of one stanza got my attention; "Come, labor on. Claim the high calling angels cannot share." Not even the Holy Angels are expected to do what humans are called to do. To each order of creation is given certain roles that are not given to other orders of creation. Among the roles human beings are given is the vocation to serve God as stewards of creation. That responsibility does not belong to angels or any other creature. As beautiful, mysterious, powerful, and wondrous angels are, their vocation is different from that of humanity.
Later in the day, the Cathedral was full of the creatures with which we share the planet earth - dogs, cats, fish, snakes, ferrets, and other pets - that their human protectors had brought for our annual blessing of the animals. People have a special relationship with their pets. Pets bring a lot of joy to our lives. But as wonderful as these creatures are, they do not share the calling entrusted to their protectors. The Creator did not call them to do the things humans are called to do and they are not endowed with the same abilities and responsibilities as humans.
All this is to say that our annual emphasis on stewardship, which happens in many Christian churches in the fall of the year, is more than a fund raising campaign. It is an opportunity to celebrate God's call to be faithful stewards of God's bounty. It is an opportunity to take a closer look at our relationship with our possessions, our neighbors, and our planet. It is an opportunity to see how we can grow in generosity. It is an opportunity to invite God to use us more and more as instruments who move the world toward the vision God has for it. It is an opportunity to address our need to give as a central aspect of our humanity. It is an opportunity to celebrate the life God gives us through a new covenant to give to God in gratitude for what God has given us and to share our life and treasure with God's people.
Over half of the teachings and proclamations of Jesus have to do with possessions. I believe that is because he realized how easy it is for us to be possessed by our possessions. I believe he also understood that possessions are those things that are most likely to come between us and God, us and our neighbors, us and creation, and even to come between our selves and the selves we are meant to be, our spiritual identity. And, I believe Jesus wanted all people to be liberated from whatever enslaves us. The story of Jesus' encounter with the rich man who came to him seeking eternal life is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Jesus told the man that the only thing he needed to do was to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him. Mark's version of the story is slightly different. Mark's version of the story reads, "Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). Jesus said what he did out of love. He knew the man was enslaved by his wealth and true liberty for him would not be possible until he ceased relying on his stuff more than he relied on God. He was inviting the man to be a faithful steward of God's bounty, to become fully human.
And that is the invitation that is annually extended to each follower of Jesus during the fall stewardship emphasis. That is why I look forward to this time of year. Every year, I hear from people who took the next step in pursuit of "the high calling angels cannot share." I hope you will be one of them this year!
I'll see you in Church!
The Very Reverend Ronald D. Pogue
Saint John’s Cathedral