Friday, February 15, 2008

Call and Response

Part of my Lenten sacrifice is to give up secular reading. So I've put aside the George R. R. Martin fantasy series I'm in the middle of in favor of The Confessions of St. Augustine and Stewardship: The Biblical Basis for Living, by Ben Gill. The latter had a particularly thought-provoking section on God's covenant with His people and our responsibilities within it.

In the Bible, we see the word "berit" referring to God's covenants. In every instance it is God who makes the covenant with us. We aren't coming to God with our needs; He is coming to us, knowing what we need and offering consolation and salvation. His offer is unilateral and non-negotiable, but our "yes" cannot be merely a passive response, "Oh, you want to do this for me, God? Okay."

In each particular instance, God's covenants demand an active response. The covenant with Noah is the first time we see "berit" in the Scriptures and as Ben Gill puts it,

When God made a covenant with Noah the latter understood that covenant in terms of an immediate stewardship of the Earth's animal life. ... Noah's existence was devoted to God's command that he act as a steward for the preservation of the animal life God had created. From the very first mention of the concept covenant in the Old Testament, the word is always connected with a stewardship of that which God has given.

God comes to us, in His mercy, offering salvation. Our part of the bargain is to actively worship Him and by that worship, to care for each other and the Earth. The relationship entails a sort of call and response where God comes to us and we, in turn, reach out to Him and then to each other.

When God told Noah of the flood, his response wasn't to build a boat that would house his family and the animals that were his personal property. He built the ark, a massive construction designed to house every single animal; predators and prey, insects, reptiles, even mosquitoes I dare say. Noah's activities were not aimed at self-preservation, they were acts of stewardship for the good of God's creation in obedience to His command.

The proper response to God's covenant, therefore, is stewardship. It is at once entirely natural and entirely proper to respond this way. We were created to give back, and our nature leads us to that inclination providing we understand first and foremost that everything we have is from God. Once that humble acceptance has been reached, the next natural course of action is to make a return to the Lord. It is only when we allow ourselves to become distracted by the lure of worldly possessions and the competition for status in our society that we lose sight of what we are bound, through creation, to accomplish.

It is easy to fool ourselves into thinking that our position or possessions are the work of our own hands. After all, we learned the geometry equations that earned us our high school diploma. We studied the literature and sat for the exams that comprised our university degree. We applied for, solicited and dedicated ourselves to the job that furnishes our weekly paycheck. The sweat of our brow puts food on our table, a roof over our head and clothes on our backs.

We have to look deeper. We have to see farther.

We have to acknowledge the design and grace that put us in the path of the opportunities that led us to where we are. In the language of "berit," God descended to us with the knowledge, ability and opportunity for advancement. Our passive response was to capitalize on it for our own gain.

Now it is time for an active response, for us to make a return to God for what He has done for us. Up and out...up first in thankful appreciation to the God who is so generous, and then out to the rest of creation in responsible stewardship of our leadership role.

Without stewardship, we are not fulfilling God's covenant with us. The call and response is stymied. We are passive recipients, not members of the body of Christ.

Remember what God asks of His house in the parable of the ten gold coins...

So he said, "A nobleman went off to a distant country to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return. He called ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins and told them, 'Engage in trade with these until I return.' ... But when he returned after obtaining the kingship, he had the servants called, to whom he had given the money, to learn what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.' He replied, 'Well done, good servant! You have been faithful in this very small matter; take charge of ten cities.' Then the second came and reported, 'Your gold coin, sir, has earned five more.' And to his servant too he said, 'You, take charge of Five cities.' Then the other servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it stored away in a handkerchief for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding person; you take up what you did not lay down and you harvest what you did not plant.' He said to him, 'With your own words I shall condemn you, you wicked servant. You knew I was a demanding person, taking up what I did not lay down and harvesting what I did not plant; why did you not put my money in a bank? Then on my return I would have collected it with interest.' And to those standing by he said, 'Take the gold coin from him and give it to the servant who has ten.' (Luke 19:12-24)

God doesn't want passive self-preservation from us. He wants active, joyful, engagement.

He wants stewardship.

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