Stewardship & Eternal Life
Stewardship and Eternal Life (11-5-2017)
If you went around asking people, “What is the purpose of life?”, you’ll get many answers: “to be happy…to live a good, long life...to make a name for yourself…to be fulfilled…to find your purpose…” etc. If you ask a Christian, hopefully we would hear an answer like: “to love God…to love your neighbor…to gain eternal life.” If you ask an Orthodox Christian, what answer would you hear? We say, “to become like God or God-like,” also known as theosis or deification. For us, we know that God became man through the Incarnation of Christ so that we humans could become God-like. And we seek to love God as He loved us first, by uniting with Him in worship, prayer, sacraments, fasting and almsgiving. This short list envelopes a whole panoply of tools that we use to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves (Mt.22:37-40). As we are united to God the Holy Trinity, who is the divine Creator, we enter into the eternal realm. In other words, we begin to experience eternal life. And it is our striving for theosis here on earth that helps us live with God eternally in heaven.
Today’s Gospel reading from the Fifth Sunday of Luke 16:19-31 illustrates how the Orthodox Christian view on the purpose of life plays out. We have a rich man, who is not named in this parable told by Jesus (v.19), and we have Lazaros, who was a poor, hungry, sick man (v.20). The rich man passed by Lazaros every day because the poor man was camped outside his front door. He was so sick, he couldn’t even stand up. It said he laid by his gate (v.20). Both the rich man and Lazaros die (v.22). Lazaros goes to Abraham’s side (v.23) which is a symbol of heavenly life. While the rich man goes to Hades and is tormented by flames and in agony (vv.23,24). Of course, this is an image of hell and the worst part of all is that the rich man cannot be relieved of his agony, nor can he leave his hellish existence because “a great chasm has been fixed” between Abraham and Hades (v.26).
Why did this happen? The rich man probably fulfilled his purpose in life. He was happy, he “feasted sumptuously every day” (v.19), being rich he probably was well-known making a name for himself. Even Christ said that Abraham told him, “remember that during your lifetime you received your good things” (v.25). Having money, he probably also had access to the best medical care and lived a good, long life. The rich man probably found and fulfilled his purpose. However, the rich man was not united with the eternal God because he was not united with Lazaros, the poor hungry sick man who lay at his front door. The word ‘Lararos’ means, “the one who is helped,” but the rich man did not help Lazaros. The rich man did not hate Lazaros, but neither did he love him. He just ignored him—that’s called apathy. And because of his inaction, his doing nothing, the rich man ended up in Hades. It reminds us of Jesus’ other parable, the one about the final judgment in Matthew 25.
. :41Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' 44Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' 45Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:41-46)
So, our standing for eternal life, whether in Abraham’s bosom or in Hades, is tied to our material support and actions that help the poor, hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick and prisoners. I would argue that our eternal life is also tied to our material support and actions to love God in and through His Church, the Body of Christ. We all say to our children, to our own flesh and blood, “I love you, I support you, I am here for you.” But our words would mean nothing if we didn’t back them up by devoting our time, talents and treasures to them to the fullest of our ability and beyond. So, why would we do that with God’s children and His Church? After all, it is what we do, not what we say, that has consequences for our eternal life.
Think of what happened to Ananias and Saphira, the Christian husband and wife, who were part of the early Church that depended on everyone’s generous and sacrificial support.
5:1But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." 5Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. (Acts 5:1-5)
Saphira also died at Peter’s feet when he questioned her about the same (vv.7-11). Thankfully, the Lord has not taken our life when we have held back our material wealth from His Church. However, we can be physically alive but spiritually dead or dying at the same time. The Lord gave the rich man in today’s parable more earthly life than Lazaros (Lk.16:22). Why? So that the rich man would have more time to repent and change his ways in order to have eternal life in heaven with Abraham.
I know the vast majority of us love our parish community and temple of St. George here in St. Paul Minnesota. Either we and/or our children were/will baptized here, married here, and we hope to be buried here. We love our friends and fellow parishioners. We give our time and talents when asked to help inside or help outside, like Loaves & Fishes and FOCUS. Of course, there is always room for growth and improvement.
However, I think many of us do not understand what it means to really love God and His Church through the giving of our treasure, our material wealth. Why do I say that? Simply for the reason that we still are not supporting our mission and ministries with our own money. Even with the revenue brought in by the Festival of Nations and the Greek Festival, we still fall short and need to pull from our savings and investments to cover the deficit.
My brothers and sisters forgive my strong language but that means we as a community our robbing from the poor and from God. Because that money we take from others/outsiders and from our own investments to cover the deficit, was not given so that we could lessen the burden on our own pocketbook. It was given to so that we could minister to the eternal God, and to the Lazaroses who lay at our gate, whether inside the gate, or outside.
No doubt, we have tremendous room for growth and improvement but the good news is we have the potential, we already have the money. Having served this community for over eighteen years. I know many of us are incredibly blessed with well-paying jobs, large comfy homes and luxurious vacations. The bad news or the sad news, is in the stewardship reports that show nearly half of us do not even bother to fill out a pledge card, that we are not willing to commit to God and our parish about how we will devote our time, talents and treasures. Furthermore, those who pledge are giving on average 1% or less our gross income, far from biblical tithing. On top of this, many pledge the same amount year after year after year, not even willing to give a few dollars more. I myself am sad because I feel like I haven’t done my job to convince everyone about the vital importance of stewardship to God. Even more, I worry about everyone’s eternal salvation. I want all of you to be with Abraham for eternity.
In conclusion, let us remember the words of the Apostle Paul who said: 4:1Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. (1Corinthians 4:1-2). We are called to serve Christ, which means serving each other, especially those in need. We are called to be stewards, which means to take care of and protect the mysteries of God. Is not the temple the place where the mysteries of the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Sacraments take place? We are called to take care of, protect and support both the place and the mysteries themselves.
We are rich, and if you don’t believe that, go to almost anywhere else in the world and you’ll see how rich you really are. We are rich but we cannot be like the rich man in today’s parable who ignores the needs of those around him. We are richly blessed because our ancestors were generous and sacrificial servants and stewards of our parish community and our temple. They bestowed upon us a rich heritage. Now, what are we going to do? Will we just pass it along to our children, grandchildren and godchildren? Look, here is what I received, now it is yours. Or will we improve and expand upon the inheritance we received, and give our successors an example of generosity and sacrifice? Preserving is not enough. If we are just preserving, we are not growing.
Finally, let us remember the stewardship theme of our entire Archdiocese for 2018: 23And whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as to the Lord and not to men, (Colossians 3:23). The next verse says, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. Amen!