Paul writes to the church in Corinth:
You seem to think Apollos and I are pawns to be played on the chessboard of your church battles. You seem to think that Apollos and I will carry your flag into war – that we are little more than figureheads who will represent your cause against brothers and sisters in Christ.
You have your petty squabbles with one another. You are divided from one another on theological grounds. You are divided from one another on cultural grounds. You are divided from one another on ethical grounds. And you have so obviously tried to conscript Apollos and me into your divisions, as if that’s all we’re good for.
But if this is who you think we are, then you are so badly mistaken. If you think we can just be conscripted into your battles in this way, then you need to hear another word. It’s about time that I give you a reminder of who we are.
There are many different ways I would describe Apollos and myself.
You could call us are servants of Christ.
You could call us co-workers with God.
You could say that we are those called to build up the church.
And we could spend hours thinking about each of these.
But here’s another way you could describe us – another set of words to help you understand who we are. We are stewards of mysteries. If you really want to know who we are – if you really want to know what makes Apollos tick and what makes me tick – if you want to know what excites us and animates us – then you should get your heads around this possibility among many others – that we are stewards of mysteries.
You all know what the word stewardship means – it means taking responsibility for some gift God has given. Stewardship means taking care of some gift that has been placed in your hands. The God of creation and covenant has placed so many gifts in our hands:
The gift of creation – of water, air, land, soil – living creatures of every kind.
The gift of family – parents, siblings, great aunts, great uncles, children, grandchildren.
The gift of body – hands to offer care; feet to carry us into lives of goodness and beauty; minds to work intelligently and imaginatively and faithfully.
So many gifts that have been placed into our hands – so many treasures handed to us for safekeeping. And stewardship means just that – caring for the gifts of God. Receiving them with gratitude. Treasuring them as the remarkable expression of generosity they are. Offering them back to God and in the service and love of creation and of our neighbours.
But if you want to really know what it means that I am an apostle. If you really want to know who I am, then think of me in this way: I am a steward of mysteries.
A steward holds something in her hands with joy and gratitude and care.
A steward takes responsibilities for what has been placed in her hands.
What I cup in my hands before me, what I hold in my hands are mysteries. An apostle just is someone who holds mysteries in her hands – who treasures those mysteries – who celebrates those mysteries – who is responsible to share those mysteries with others.
What are the mysteries I hold?
What are the mysteries I treasure?
What are the mysteries for which I accept responsibility?
What are the mysteries that I am compelled to share with others?
In the first place it is the great mystery of God’s own life and being – a great mystery that is differently expressed and acknowledged in the whole tradition that has come behind me and will extend on ahead of me. This mystery: that in some profound sense God is beyond our grasp and intelligence and rationality and feeling and reflection.
The poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke, in one of his prayers written as a young man, speaks of the mystery of God in this way:
You’re so vast that nothing’s left of me when I stand anywhere near You.
You’re so dark that my little brightness makes no sense along your seam.
Your will flows like a wave and every day drowns within it.
Rilke speaks of the deep darkness of God, beside which our little brightness is as nothing – the greatness of God beside which our capacity for making sense is dwarfed and over-shadowed, decisively. Rilke speaks of the unknowable God who is vast and powerful and glorious and beyond reach.
We may also speak of the mystery of God, not in terms of darkness, but in terms of light. If you look out on the Laurentians on a beautiful Fall day, you will see hills and trees illuminated. Such beauty, so many colours. But if you turn to look at the sun that illuminates the landscape, it will blind you. Human eyes are not formed to look at the sun – human eyes are not capable of looking directly at the sun without being damaged. The capacity to look directly at the sun is not part of our physiological makeup. [Reference from The Mystery of God – Hall and Boyer.)
So it is with God – either God is a great darkness beside which our little spark is as nothing. Or equally, or better perhaps, God is the great light – and we simply do not have the capacity to look directly at God. We are not built or constituted in such a way that we are capable of looking directly at God. Our calculations; our observations; our judgments; our evalutions; our thoughts…cannot find God – cannot reach God.
I am a steward of mysteries – I carry as a treasure in my hands the knowledge that God is great and glorious and beyond our comprehension. I carry as a message to the churches this truth of God’s greatness.
So it is that I wrote to the Christians of Rome, these words:
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.
The mystery of God’s being and God’s glory – it is a mystery we hold in our hands – a mystery we share. It’s what you may do also. To contemplate this impossible possibility – this treasure placed in your hands. To share this treasure with others – the wonder of God’s power and glory and being and otherness. The mystery of God.
There is another mystery I hold in my hands. There is another mystery that I treasure and care for and share. I am a steward not only of the mystery of God’s glory and being, but a steward of the mystery of the cross.
I have already spoken about this mystery to you:
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jew and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
This message is a mystery. This message is a treasure to be handled with care. This message is one that I am compelled to share.
One of your own Reformed pastors (Kim Fabricius) has put it like this:
You know the old saying, “What makes God laugh? Tell him your plans”? Well, you know what makes me laugh? God telling us his plans. I mean, you gotta be kidding.
The only message I have to share is the impossible message of the cross – that in the suffering of Jesus; in the crucifixion of Jesus; in life and death of this man is the strength and glory of God most fully displayed.
I mean, you gotta be kidding.
But this is the message I’ve been given to preach.This is the message I’ve been given to share in my own life and context. This is the message that speaks the truth about God and God’s love for us. Of course it would be so much easier to be a steward of some other message:
Maybe a generic message that God is out there and loves everyone.
Maybe some vague message that God will make everything better one day.
Maybe a simple call from God that we should all be nice people.
Or maybe a hard message that God will condemn us if we aren’t nice.
In many ways all of those messages would be so much easier to share. But that is not the message that has been placed in my hands – those are not the treasure I have been given to care for. And so the message I preach is the message of the cross:
That the answer to our brokenness is the brokenness of God.
That the answer to our ugly words is in the ugliness of Christ crucified.
That the answer to our fears is the hope of his resurrection.
That the answer to our loneliness is life together with the crucified one.
You want to conscript me into your squabbles with each other. You demand that I stand on your side against each other in the church. That is not who I am.
With Apollos I am a servant of Christ.
With Apollos am a co-worker with God.
With Apollos I am called to build the church.
With Apollos I am a steward of mysteries. This treasure has been placed into our hands – the mystery of God, the mystery of the cross – and we share this treasure with you. May it be power and wisdom for you – a share in the resurrection life of Christ.