I am old enough to remember when airline flight attendants were called stewardesses. Maybe there were stewards, as in a male version of stewardesses. I don’t know. But stewardesses much like flight attendants do now were tasked with taking care of the needs of the passengers flying with them as well as the cabin itself. Stewardesses made sure all was well in any particular flight to a particular destination. They served food, coffee, snacks. They assured lanes were clear and the restrooms clean. They informed folks of safety protocol and calmed nerves amid turbulence. These things and so much more. I’ve known stewardesses, or flight attendants as they are known now, to comfort crying babies in flight in only to give their parents a rest.
I should also note that airliners weren’t the only moving vehicles that employed stewardesses. Ships, cruise ships namely, employ them as well.
Thinking of the work of the stewardess, we come together for Stewardship Sunday. We are called to be stewards and stewardesses of the vehicle called the church.
This analogy is interesting in numerous ways. One particular way I find the we-are-stewards-of-the-church analogy interesting is this: In history, the metaphor of a boat has often been used to describe the church. In fact, some churches have stained glass windows with boats as representatives of the church. The church is to be fishers of people, yes. But we’re also called to be keepers, stewards, of the boat, of the ship called the church.
Being stewards of the church certainly means maintaining the physical structure of the church. We like to be warm during the winter. And having a heating system that functions well and consistently means being good stewards of the church. Rick and Larry can tell you how this is an important yet expensive and time-consuming job.
There is also the worship service and stewarding it. There are bell-ringers, candle lighters, liturgists, greeters, musicians, and an officiant, usually the pastor. All of these are stewards of the church. Then there are refreshment providers and those who lock the church up after everyone has gone.
Yet there is more. All of this takes funds. So many generous spirits give, donating the resources that keep the ship afloat!
All of these roles mean being stewards of the church. This morning we honor all our stewards and stewardesses. As we enter this season of thanksgiving, we offer gratitude for all the hearts and hands that serve the community and its movement forward. So, let’s give ourselves a round of applause!
Yet, we aren’t called to be just stewards of our particular community. We are called to be stewards of the wider community. We called to be stewards of the world community. And we are called to be stewards of the earth itself. This task, this task of being good stewards of the earth, it is of special importance these days as the planet we live on faces a very stark future.
11,000 scientists just this week expressed great distress that if we do nothing as citizens of the earth, the planet we live on will face “untold suffering.” They said the Earth is looking in the face of a climate emergency. Changing how we do things and in a drastic way, it is a necessity if we want to stem the tide of the unfolding emergency.
Now, if this sounds like that old fable with Chicken Little crying the sky is falling, the sky is falling. Or maybe an example of a religious group saying Jesus is returning on this so and so a date. The fact that the sky hasn’t fallen, the fact that Jesus has never returned, has I think influenced us to dismiss the reality that this is different. The sky isn’t falling, but greenhouse gases have created a kind canopy over the earth, warming the earth inside. This is a reality and we need to face it with courage and creativity.
Some 1,200 years ago, in the 700s, in medieval China, a form of Christianity, a Syrian form of the Eastern Orthodox church, developed and became quite popular. While it did not last, being persecuted out of existence in the 1100s, the Chinese Christian church offered a really unique and fascinating form of the Christian faith. One of its innovative and intriguing approaches was related to its view of how followers of Christ are to live on the Earth. It is an approach I wish the Christian tradition preached from the rafters from then on. It preached that when God created the heavens and the earth, he endeared humanity with the goodness of God and created humans to be guardians of Creation. It preached that we as God’s greatest creation, made in the likeness of God, are to guard the earth against destruction, misuse, and degradation. We are called to guard the earth and assure her safety and protection. It’s a message we need to remember and reclaim! Before it's too late.
So, this Stewardship Sunday we honor the Christian work of being good stewards. We honor the Christian work of caring for the church, seeing that it continues in its calling of being an extension of Christ in the world. This caring might manifest in lovingly this beautiful structure built some 200 years ago. This caring might manifest in reading scripture on Sunday mornings. This caring might manifest in bringing a freshly made baked good to share with one another during Fellowship time. There are numerous ways love and care for Christ’s church, either it be this particular example or the universal church. The point is we honor the stewards and stewardesses of the church among us.
At the same time, we also honor those who are stewards of all of Creation. And in honoring stewardship of Creation, in honoring the guardianship of Creation, we in turn should feel a nudge of the spirit to join in the work as individuals and as a community. Our children and grandchildren, and the God of Creation, are all counting on us.
An important part of Christian stewardship is caring for one another. One expression of our care for one another is the practice of prayer. Lifting up those who need God’s presence, peace, and power in prayer as a daily practice – it is a beautiful practice that moves us beyond self and helps us to truly see others and show them God’s compassion.
As we close with a pastoral prayer, I ask you to consider it as a collective act of taking into our hearts and minds all those needing God’s care and healing, including our leaders, our governments, our organizations and groups and churches. And as you take them into your hearts and minds, let us hold them in minds and hearts and in God’s light. The Quaker tradition has a lovely way of putting this. In prayer for a person or situation, we hold him or her or it in the light, namely the light of God. And then we let them go to be held in God’s mind and heart. That’s the practice of prayer, we take into our minds and hearts those we pray for, we hold them in the light of God, and then we let God do the rest.
So, let us offer our pastoral prayer, and we will close with the time with a song, Lord, listen…
O Spirit of Holy Compassion, undergirding this community, how we find strength and common purpose in You and in each other through You. We turn our minds and hearts toward those who need our love and support: those who are ill, those who are in pain, either in body or in spirit, those who are lonely, those who have been wronged, those who grieve. We hold them all in the Light, grateful for the miracle of togetherness and the compassion we are able to share with each other and the world. Amen.