On this Sunday that one of my brothers joins our church, I'm going to start with a story
about the other one, who gave me his blessing to tell it.
Christopher and I were worshipping together in Hofburg Kapelle, home of the Vienna
The boys were upstairs in a circular balcony, out of view, around and above us.
They began singing a stunning offertory a cappella.
It was the (second) closest thing to a choir of angels I have ever heard.
Their otherworldly music drew my soul upward, and I felt like I was floating up
heaven's escalator, savoring joy and beauty so pure my tingles had goose bumps.
At which point my brother whacked me on the arm.
There was desperate urgency in his voice, because the ushers were coming with the
"All I got's a twenty!"
At that moment I did not fully appreciate that this crisis warranted summoning me
back from the bosom of God; I was calm, and not very nice in my response:
"Jesus gave his life for you.
Don't give more than five."
One reason I was wrong to say that is that I advanced the toxic notion that offerings are a
kind of payoff.
Stewardship is not a quid pro quo.
The amount of money or time or talent or service we do or do not give does not
sway God or leverage favor.
It's a pity that many pastors and large donors miss this point.
Stewardship is relational, not transactional.
There is no way we can repay the exorbitant gift of God named Jesus Christ, even giving
more than twenty.
Trying is as futile and foolish as I was as a first or second grader, when I asked Mom how
much I owed her, assuming I had to pay it all back when I got a job someday and
worried about the debt I was running up.
Could we cut back on my birthday and Christmas presents maybe?
Thankfully, mother forgave me for I knew not what I was doing.
Thankfully, Christ our King does the same for us all.
It is so hard for us to wrap our highly conditioned brains around this.
A thousand years ago, Saint Anselm tried to explain the cross of Christ as a
transaction, and the western church has taught versions of his theory of atonement
as ironclad doctrinal truth ever since.
The theory goes like this: the only thing able to satisfy God's pure justice is sinless blood, which only Jesus could provide, so he had to become human and die.
Jesus was the only being with enough credit on his moral Diner's Club card to pay the
salvation bill – and Jesus paid it all!
You are bought with a price, the ransom is paid... a few of the many biblical images for a
mind-bending mystery got warped into transactional truth where God pays off
Satan, or Jesus pays off God, as if the afterworld works like the mafia.
But the kingdom of God is different.
Throughout his gospel, Luke tries to shake us loose from our default, business
model thinking by flipping the script.
From chapter one, when the priest can't speak (don't you wish) and the pregnant unwed
teenager sings about God turning the world upside down, Luke is the story of God
turning the world right side up in Jesus.
Today it climaxes in a gospel dripping with irony and reversal.
The king of the Jews wears a crown of thorns imposed by Rome.
The king of the Jews, who were taxed into poverty by David and Solomon and sons, pays
100% for the wellbeing of the people.
The king's court is a pair of criminals, and God's press secretaries unwittingly mock him
with truth: he saved others, let him save himself... which is what every king does,
but not this one.
"Jesus, remember when you come into your kingdom," which sounds like a future favor,
comes true at that moment, because the sign on the cross notes that he already has
come into his kingdom because the trash talk is unwittingly true.
Today you will be with me in paradise, one death row inmate answers another, and
maybe that happens right there, on the cross, before they die, because maybe paradise is not be a physical location but a place of the heart.
Christ's kingdom has totally different rules and realities.
Salvation is relational, not transactional.
And when we don't get this, when we can't accept this, when we rebel against it with all
the order and calculation and nails and spit and fury we can muster, the king prays.
Father, let it go, they don't understand.
At the heart of stewardship is letting go.
Let go of control, and stuff, and money and time and all the other gods who don't
love you and won't die for you, and place them in the hands of the one who does.
Release your toys and food and dollars and thanksgivings and power and glory, for the
kingdom and the paradise belong to the one who gives everything away.
It's not good business; love never is.
It's not a payback or a payoff or an investment; that's not what gifts are.
It's the foolish wisdom of the pitiful king.
The one in whom the fullness of God is delighted to dwell makes peace through
the blood of his cross—his utter powerlessness is absolute power.
People of Shepherd, beloved and gifted children of God: May you be made strong with
all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to
endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his
beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.