"Let a man so account of
us, as of the ministers of Christ,
and stewards of the mysteries
(1 Corinthians 4:1).
It would be convenient to think that
when St. Paul writes, "let a man so account of us" he is speaking only
of himself and of a few companions. Life certainly would be simpler for
the rest of us, if St. Paul were calling for a unique judgment that only
he and a small number of people have been appointed the ministers of Christ
and the stewards of the mysteries of God.
But the "easy way" (I hesitate to
say "the lazy way," but that would also be fair enough) is not open to
the rest of the Christian Church. We are not allowed by the Christian Faith,
as God has given it in the Scriptures, to choose a few men to be religious
on our behalf. We are not allowed to divide our time so that an hour, here
or there, belongs to God, while the rest of our time belongs to us to do
with as we please, or more accurately, to do with as our unbelieving neighbors
To be a Christian is to provide
the proof, every day and in everything that we do, that we are the ministers
of Christ and the stewards of the mysteries of God. It is most important,
of course, that we should prove this fact to God, because that is how we
love him in return for the unmerited love that he has freely given us.
It remains, however, very important indeed that we prove our ministry and
our stewardship to one another in the Church and to an unbelieving world,
because that proof is how we maintain the life of the Church and how we
fulfill our Christian obligation to make disciples of all nations.
The Church exists, and we live forever,
to give praise to God in Christ by an entirely dedicated life of on this
earth and by action. St. John summarizes these purposes in a "doxology,"
a "prayer of praise" in his Book of Revelation:
Unto him [Jesus Christ]
that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made
us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion
for ever and ever. Amen (Revelation 1:5-6).
What makes us Christians is that
we are washed in the Blood of the Son of God made man, shed for us on a
cross. Every inconvenience that we might ever suffer, up to and including
our own deaths, let alone some social awkwardness or having to choose between
one use of our time and another, pales before such a sacrifice offered
on our behalf. The Son of God never needed to be a man. The Son of God
never needed to limit his omnipotent power to the tiny power of a human
being. The Son of God never needed to die, and especially by being whipped
and tortured to death. And yet he did all these things for us, to show
forth his Fatherís mercy.
But washed in the Blood of the Lamb
of God, we are not "just the same old thing." We are still human and fallible,
but we are also redeemed from our sins. We have a God-given new life, and
a God-given new purpose for livingóthe glory of God. And to fulfill that
purpose, Christ makes us an entire people of priests and kings in the service
of his Father, assisted by the Holy Ghost who dwells within us, to the
glory of God the Blessed Trinity for ever and ever.
Furthermore, the "Amen" that concludes
St. Johnís summary of praise and purpose is not merely a punctuation mark.
St. John was a Jew, and adding "Amen" to a statement was a Jewish way to
make it an oath. It is Godís oath that we are washed in the Blood of his
Son and that we are made a priestly and kingly people before him, just
as much as the "Amen" that ends our prayers is our oath of loyalty and
Now it should be obvious that every
member of the priestly and royal families of the Old Testament did not
hold office as a priest or king, but holding office isnít what St. John
and St. Paul are writing about. There is nothing wrong with holding an
office, if that is our particular vocation from God. But just as those
offices under the Old Testament were representative, with certain men representing
the people to God and God to the people, the formal offices of the New
Testament are also representative.
We expect our governors to obey
God and to represent the people, but we most definitely donít want
them to live our lives for us. We expect our bishops, priests, and deacons
to be godly men, to preach Godís true Word to us, to administer the Sacraments,
and to lead us in our prayers, but that doesnít mean that we give
up reading the Bible, saying prayers, or doing good works ourselves. Under
Jesus Christ we are not slaves or moral idiots. We are the children of
God by adoption and grace, and the members of a single kingly and priestly
family of God, in the Body of Jesus Christ.
The Body of Christ is the key to
understanding what we are to be. Every member (every cell, organ, arm,
leg, hand, foot) of a body shares with every other member a single life,
even though every member has a different job in the body. Eyes, for example,
are used to see things, and not to hear or handle them. The same is true
of the Body of Christ, where each of us has his or her own vocation, his
or her own purpose, in the one life of Jesus Christ. What is also true,
is that whatever our particular calling and God-given purpose in life,
we are all engaged in being the ministers of Christ and the stewards of
the mysteries of God.
The word St. Paul uses for "minister"
is a Greek word that means "an under-rower" in a galley, an oared ship
like the one that Ben Hur rowed in the movie. The Greeks extended the use
of this word to mean anyone who serves another by getting his hands dirty.
The word finally takes on the meaning that St. Paul is stressingósomeone
who acts as the hands of another to carry out his will, in this case, the
hands that carry out the will of God on earth.
Every Christian, in every walk of
life, is meant to be the "hands" that carry out the will of God given in
the Scriptures. While this sort of service can be very hard work, it is
meant to honor usóto show us that God trusts us enough to give us a chance
to do his work among men. And it is precisely to identify that work that
God makes us the stewards of his mysteries. A "mystery" is a truth that
can only be known if God reveals it. A "steward" is someone who protects
and preserves what belongs to his master. Thus, we are meant to preserve
the Truth that God has revealed, because it belongs to him and not to us.
And then, we know what to do as Godís ministers, because we have preserved
what God has told us to do.
We see a working example of ministry
and stewardship in this morningís Gospel. St. John is a good minister of
God, because he directs others to Jesus Christ. St. John is a good steward
of the mysteries because he will only accept Christ on the basis of Godís
revelation in the Scriptures. This good stewardship is the reason that
our Lord sends John the following message: "Go and shew John again those
things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the
lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised
up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matthew 11:4-5).
These proofs are taken from the
Old Testament Prophets, especially Isaiah (e.g., 29:18); but that is not
the end of the story. How could our Lord invoke these proofs from his Fatherís
revelation, and how could John and his followers recognize them? Itís not
good enough to say that the Prophets wrote them, because most of the ancient
books that were ever written are completely lost. What happened?
A whole chosen people, as ministers
of God and as stewards of his mysteries, copied these books, studied them,
and learned them. They built their lives around them, admitting that when
they lived or acted otherwise than as God commands, they sinned. They repented
and reformed themselves. They persevered, and they taught Godís Word to
others by word and by deed. They kept their faith alive by teaching it
to their children, dragging them kicking and screaming (just like modern
children, no doubt) to religious schools and to religious services. They
kept their faith alive by keeping it alive in their own lives, in their
homes, and in their families first. Their ministry and stewardship, called
"tradition," delivered the Word of God intact to the generation chosen
by God to hear the Gospel preached from the lips of Christ himself.
We have the same calling. When Jesus
Christ returns on the Last Day, it is our duty that he should find the
Christian Faith, the totality of the Holy Scriptures, and the active Christian
life under God intact and alive. We can only fulfill this calling if we
are willing to do the kind of work that gets our hands dirty in the service
of others. Then we will be ministers to God, to our children, and each
other. We can only be stewards of the mysteries of God if we hear them,
know them, and teach them, both together in the Church and together in
But if we take the effort to be
good ministers and good stewards, we have this promise from God. He will
remember us as surely as he remembers his Prophets, his Son, and all the
saints of both Testaments. We will be alive with God and with those saints,
those ministers and stewards, forever. And living forever is worth all
the effort our divine calling demands.
These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them
for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Andrewís Church
and Dr. Tarsitano.