Stewards of the mysteries

27 February 2011
Eighth Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany 8A (RCL)
Isaiah 49:8-16a
Psalm 131
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Matthew 6:24-34

Paul has been scolding his Corinthian community for partisanship. Some of them have chosen Apollos as their champion, some Paul, some Cephas. I suspect there are Jew/Gentile issues behind these choices. Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles, Cephas as having withdrawn from the Gentile mission (in Antioch) and practicing “judaizing.” I don’t know what camp Apollos represented, but it’s a good Greek name. You can almost hear the arguments in Corinth about whether we ought to observe the law, have complete freedom from it, or somewhere in the middle.

Then, as we get to chapter 4, Paul tells us that a person ought to think of the leaders as servants of Christ and as stewards of the mysteries of God. He has used the term “mystery” in Corinthians in reference to his preaching when he was among them. God’s wisdom is mysterious, predetermined from before the ages, for our glory. In Romans, he will talk about the mystery of God as God’s plan, revealed in Jesus Christ, to blend Jew and Gentile together in the promises of God. The Corinthians, the Romans, are the mystery of God, God’s plan from before the ages.

Now, he says, the leaders of the community, and indeed the community itself, are stewards of that mystery. A steward is a slave, trusted in the master’s household, set over the running of the household. So, the community is the steward of God’s plan for the whole world, bringing everyone into God’s people and God’s promises. That’s a pretty amazing vocation for us.

And so, what are we worried about? Jesus’ instructions here in the Sermon on the Mount, come from Q, the source common to Matthew and Luke. They seem to be from that level of tradition when the Q people were very confident that their itinerant way of life was going to usher in (in fact, was) God’s kingdom, taking God with them wherever they went. These are good instructions that make sense for a wandering band. Look at the flowers of the field; look at the birds of the air.

The church often worries about buildings and income and light bills. But, we are the stewards of God’s mysteries. Where is God’s kingdom? What are we doing with the gift God has given us? Whenever we think God has left the building, we should go back to this passage in Isaiah, and remind ourselves of how this little band of people returning to a desolate land after their release from Exile saw themselves. God could not possibly forget them, even though the land was in ruins. God would be with them to rebuild. What mystery has God entrusted to us? What are we doing with it?

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