In the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad & Tobago (PCTT), the month of September is observed as ‘Stewardship Month’. Over the years, by dint of the earnest exhortation of our preachers, we have moved away from a narrow understanding of ‘stewardship’ to the conviction that being stewards is inextricably linked to who and whose we are. This year's Stewardship Month theme is “Growing in Giving”, with the sub-themes: growing in gratitude, faithfulness, discipleship, and mission.
As many of us would testify, in conducting the study of Scripture, we often experience moments of profound enlightenment, which we correctly recognize as the prompting of the Holy Spirit...This happened as I simultaneously reflected on stewardship, and contemplated the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the first week of September.
In these six diverse passages spanning the gamut of the canon, we discover common threads within the diversity, leading us to “behold wondrous things” (cf. Psalm 119:18), and to make vital connections.
The first, from the Old Testament Wisdom book of Proverbs, begins by telling us of the invaluable nature of a “good name”. Such a treasure cannot be placed on par with even the most precious worldly possessions. And immediately, comes a reminder on what is often the critical test to our “good name”, how we relate to those who are less privileged with earthly gifts:
“Rich and poor have this in common:
The Lord is the Maker of them all.
A generous man will himself be blessed,
for he shares his food with the poor” (Proverbs 22:2, 9, NIV).
One writer comments that:
“The proverbs are spiritual guides for ordinary people, on an ordinary day, when water does not pour forth from rocks and angels do not come to lunch” (Ellen F. Davis. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs, Louisville: Westminster, John Knox, 2000, page 12).
And, indeed, it is in the midst of the ordinary that we encounter our calling to be the people, the stewards, of this world that belongs to God...
We consider next the Psalm readings. Psalm 125 is one of fifteen ‘Songs of Ascents’. It affirms trust in the Lord as a great strength to the believer, which is reciprocated by God’s all-encompassing presence and protection.
Psalm 146 opens the collection of five Psalms sometimes referred to as the “Hallelujah” Psalms. We continue to find therein the good news of God’s faithful and comforting nature. In contrast with humanity “in whom there is no salvation” (vs. 3), God remains trustworthy, and ever ready to uphold the frail and the helpless. As in the Proverbs, in both Psalms it is evident that God’s mercy entails a deep concern for the downtrodden.
In the brief Isaiah passage, there is a progression of this same idea: the awareness that God’s divine judgement, often portrayed in Scripture as devastating to sinful humanity, is closely linked to His salvation:
“...say to those with fearful hearts,
Be strong, do not fear;
Your God will come,
He will come with vengeance;
With divine retribution
He will come to save you.” (Isaiah 35: 4 KJV)
Such is the exquisitely merciful nature of the God whose presence surrounds us as the hills surround Jerusalem (cf. Ps. 125, vs. 2). And, following beautifully on that image, Isaiah tells how in the wake of God’s coming, the land itself will become fertile and life-giving.
In both New Testament readings, the issue of faith arises. In Mark (7:24-30), we see Jesus doing something he does only here—responding with apparent disdain and refusal; but also something that he does frequently in the gospels - he praises and rewards the tenacious faith of an unlikely individual. James 2:1-17 addresses what faith looks like, proposing what appears to be contradictory and controversial: ‘works’. Ultimately, however, it is the ‘correct’ answer: a practical living-out of what we say we believe.
Throughout these readings we are led into a deep contemplation of both the nature of our sovereign God, and the calling He gives us as His stewards. We must be like Mount Zion, unshakeable, for our hope is in the Lord, the Maker of all, who reigns forever.
Jesslyn is an elder and lay preacher of the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad & Tobago. She is also the Clerk of Session of her Pastoral Region, the Secretary of her Local Board, the President of the Women’s Group, a Choir member, and a Sunday School Teacher.