Here's a complete resource for a congregation to begin using an asset-based approach to financial stewardship. "This simple program can help your congregation fund God’s mission in a fresh and exciting manner." Available for free PDF download. From ELCA Stewardship.
A Bible study that uses the Lutheran Book of Worship's "Affirmation of Baptism" as the basis for understanding stewardship.
Lay leaders, congregational groups and circles.
· To relate our understanding of baptism with stewardship.
· To study parts of Paul's letter to the Romans.
· To examine stewardship in all of participants' lives.
Enough copies of this study for each participant, Bibles, LBW, newsprint and markers. Hospitality supplies (coffee, etc.)
Ninety minutes, assuming that group will not have studied in advance.
NOTES TO LEADER
· You may wish to review the Barclay Commentary referenced in the study.
· Note that small sub-groups of 3 to 5 persons are essential for personal sharing to take place.
· You may add other questions as the needs of your particular group seem to indicate.
· Don't neglect the need to provide hospitality time and supplies. Small group Bible study is a crucial time for relationship building in the life of parish and inter-parish groups.
Review the Bible study and become familiar with the needs of the group you will be working with.
The Bible Study
It has been said that if you ever want to know what a family believes, a sure way is to be a "fly on the wall" at that family's daily meals. If you could listen in day after day to the family conversation, you would soon discover what they believe! Well, if someone were to ask us what the church believes about the sacrament of baptism and our life as a baptized people, there would be many answers, to be sure.
But you really don't have to be a "fly on the wall" to discover what the church tries to believe about baptism. The church's liturgies of baptism are an excellent way to discover the traditional beliefs about our life as a baptized people. These liturgies, or worship services, of the church represent the "worked out" and common understanding of our ancestors and the church of our present time. In this Bible study, we will use the Lutheran Book of Worship's Affirmation of Baptism service as a general framework for our study together. This service is found on pages 198 through 201 in the LBW. We will adapt the service for our use here in this study.
Dear friends, we rejoice that we have been received into membership of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, and into the fellowship of the Gospel.
Brothers and sisters in Christ: In Holy Baptism our Lord Jesus Christ received us and made us members of His Church. In the community of God's people, we have learned from his Word God's loving purpose for us and all creation. We have been nourished at his holy table and called to be witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, therefore, I ask you to join me as we profess our faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the Church, the faith in which we baptize.
Do you renounce all the forces of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises?
Response: I do.
Leader: Do you believe in God the Father?
Response: I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Leader: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
Response: I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Leader: Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
Response: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life Everlasting. Amen.
(Read Romans 8:11-19 to self. Then read aloud)
In this passage of the Bible, St. Paul introduces one of the great themes about baptism in the New Testament; namely, that baptism is our adoption into God's family. William Barclay, in his Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, points out that it is very helpful for us to understand how serious and complicated a step Roman adoption was in the time of St. Paul so that we can appreciate the power of this analogy for our own lives as adopted children of God through baptism.
First of all, in Roman law the father's power over his family was absolute. In regard to his father, a Roman son never came of age. Obviously, this made adoption into another family a very difficult and serious step. In adoption a person had to pass from the power of one father to the power of another father. Without getting too involved, Barclay mentions that it is the consequences of adoption, which are most significant for the picture that is in Paul's mind in this passage of Romans.
1. The adopted person lost all rights in his old family and gained all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family. In the most binding legal way, he got a new father.
2. It followed that he became heir to his new father's estate. Even if other sons were afterwards born, it did not affect his rights. He was inalienable co-heir with them.
3. In law, the old life of the adopted person was completely wiped out; for instance, all debts were cancelled. He was regarded as a new person entering into a new life with which the past had nothing to do.
4. In the eyes of the law, he was absolutely the son of his new father. (Page 106 Barclay's Commentary on Romans, Westminster Press, Philadelphia)
I hope you can begin to catch the power of what St. Paul is saying to us about our "adoption into the family of God our Father through baptism." Just go over those four points that Barclay mentions and imagine the meaning of them in your life as an adopted child of the Father.
In my own family we have been involved in two adoptions. The first was a ten-year-old boy and the second a three-year-old girl. It was interesting watching my wife, my two biological children, and myself, relate to these two adopted children. Maybe my family's analogy is nowhere as powerful as the one St. Paul uses in Romans, but let me share these personal thoughts with you as I read this passage in Romans.
1. One of the early questions my adopted son asked us was "how much money his brother and sister had in the bank?" Then he asked how much we had saved for him. Interesting way for a ten-year old to ask the blunt question: do you love me "equally" as the other children? Maybe you and I will never be able to realize what St. Paul means when he writes in verse 17 "if we are heirs of God, then we are joint-heirs with Christ," but let us get the message straight anyhow: God our Father loves and watches over us his children with the same identical love and care with which he watches over his only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ. This is one of the central themes in the Gospel of John, that God's perfection is his love. Unlike you and me who love people with varying degrees of love (50 percent for this person, 65 percent for that person). God loves only one way, 100 percent.
How much does God love you? He loves you with the same 100 percent love with which he loves Jesus the Christ!
How much "money" does God have in the bank for you or how much does he watch over your every need? You and I have the same amount of "money" as Jesus does! We are joint-heirs with Christ of all God's treasures.
2. Another question that our older son keeps asking us is "Did we want an older boy?" "Would we like to have had a new baby to adopt instead of an older child?" This kind of question keeps coming up in a variety of ways.
My wife has a neat way of answering John, and she frequently will say, "John, it cost us close to $2,000 to adopt you. Do you think we are nuts enough to spend that kind of money if we didn't want you?"
Of course, the issue here is fear. My older son has had several families already. The world, even at his young age, has been a pretty dishonest place for him to live. John keeps struggling with his fears about who we are and will we be trustworthy and what happens if he does something too bad, will we keep him? These are painful questions for my wife and me. As imperfect parents, we know the hurts and pains of trying to reassure John again and again about our love and promise to be his parents forever.
This is what St. Paul is trying to say in verses 14,15, and 16 of this chapter. God our Father sends the Holy Spirit to keep battling our "fears" that somehow it is not true that we belong to the Father as Jesus does. We could spend hours exploring the place that fears play in our lives. Fear is a powerful yet so often such a subtle emotion, but the Holy Spirit keeps helping us overcome our fears so that we can come to God with the complete confidence of a son to his father. Maybe, we don't really appreciate this struggle until we listen carefully to other people and discover how few people, even within the church, know the confidence to cry out "Daddy" or "Abba" to their God.
Putting it simply, the major goal of the devil is to drive us away from the confidence of trusting God as our Father. This is the evil one's primary goal. He will use anything -- be it our sin, our sickness, our goods, our jobs, our church, our family -- he will use anything to drive us from trusting God as the Father of all life. Baptism, as Luther would put it, is God's sign of his promise always to be our Father. The Lord's Supper is God's sign of promise and commitment repeated again and again "for you."
3. Another major struggle we have in our household with all our children and probably in particular with our older son is that the world teaches our children to live in ways that we as parents see as not proper for those who are brothers and sisters in Jesus. And so our task as Christian parents is to help introduce our children into a way of life that we usually call the Christian life, or our discipleship to Christ, or our stewardship of God’s gifts. Here I believe we can easily translate this family task into the opening verses of our study. If we are alive in Christ, then we have a "duty laid upon us" -- we have an obligation to live not as our human nature would want or as the world would suggest, but as ones who live in union with Christ our Brother. For as we share with Christ in the Father's love, in the Father's treasures, and in a common access to the Father as an equal son or daughter with Jesus, so don't we also share with Christ in the Father's work in this world?
At this point, we probably can't argue with this line of reasoning that our baptism into Christ unites us with our Brother in the Father's work in the world, the stewardship of life. We wouldn't even be in this study in the first place if our desire was not directed, in some manner, to try to live out our baptized life as responsible stewards of the Gospel. And so the goal of this study has not been to convince us of what we already try to believe and to live. No, the first goal has been to discover again the great privilege and joy that we possess to know the good news of having the Father of Jesus Christ as our Father, the good news of having the Holy Spirit to guide and battle us when the "old fears" come back to haunt us, the good news of knowing that we live our life as children of God, not as strangers, but with other fellow pilgrims or fellow brothers and sisters in the family called the Church of Christ.
Within this context of the good news of the Gospel, may we now share some of our personal experiences of trying to "do our obligation" or our duty or our ministry in union with Christ in the world? Some people will call this a question of our work as Christians "out in the world." That's okay with me. For what is stewardship all about except our ministries in Christ on Mondays, Tuesdays, and all the days of the week in the marketplaces of this world?
For Your Group Study
(Group sizes can range from 2 to 5 or so) Three questions:
1. Briefly, share what you do for a "living" during the week.
2. Name one challenge or struggle that your job or ministry gives you.
3. Share how the gift of your faith -- your belonging to God as His adopted baptized child -- helps you in your trying to do what Christ Your Brother would want of you. This is what the stewardship of an adopted-baptized child of God is all about.
Leader: Let us pray for ourselves, affirming our baptism, and for all the baptized everywhere: That we may be redeemed from all evil and rescued from the way of sin and death: Lord, in your mercy,
Response: hear our prayer.
Leader: That the Holy Spirit may open our hearts to your grace and truth: Lord, in your mercy,
Response: hear our prayer.
Leader: That we may be kept in the faith and communion of your holy Church: Lord, in your mercy,
Response: hear our prayer.
Leader: That we may be sent into the world in witness to your love: Lord, in your mercy,
Response: hear our prayer.
Leader: That we may be brought to the fullness of your peace and glory: Lord in your mercy,
Response: hear our prayer.
Leader: Into your hands, 0 Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy, through your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord.
Leader: You have made public confession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in Holy Baptism: to live among God's faithful people, to hear his Word and share in his supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
Response: I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.
Leader: Let us pray.
(Pray together.) Gracious Lord, through water and the Spirit you have made us men and women your own. You have forgiven all our sins and brought us to newness of life. Continue to strengthen us with the Holy Spirit, and daily increase in us your gifts of grace; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence and service; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
The Rev. Raymond C. Scheck is pastor of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Damascus, Md.