Here’s the summary of the Stew Event from the prophet Haggai.
- We all have something to contribute to the stew: large or small
- We all need to keep putting into the stew pot, even when there’s something “distasteful” in it.
That’s the only way we can change the stew.
- We all need to share our stew so that we all get fed.
Here’s how Rev. Neal Locke ends his sermon series on Stewardship.
So in summary (for you biologists out there),
Dirtiness is a communicable condition Blessedness is not. Or to put it theologically:
Dirtiness is conferred by dirty things. Blessedness is conferred by God.
Having established this ruling from the Jewish law, Haggai now makes his main point:
When all you do is look out for yourself, building up your own possessions and your own house, while neglecting God’s house and God’s people, you’re like that person who touched a dead body.
Everything you touch, all that you build and acquire becomes devoid of life.
Spiritually dead. Empty. Meaningless. That sort of mentality spreads like a disease.
On the other hand, Everything you give to God, every offering, every sacrifice you make for God’s work here on earth–those are the things that God blesses, consecrates, and makes holy.
And that kind of blessedness also spreads and permeates every part of your life-not through things coming into contact with each other, but when your life comes into contact with the Divine life of God, who alone has the power to bless and extend blessing.
Haggai makes this point to the people of Jerusalem after they have already heeded God’s words and turned their attention back to the building of the temple.
In the remaining verses of our lesson today, Haggai contrasts their lives before and after this re-direction of their resources, and concludes with God’s renewed promise to them: From this day on I will bless you.
I want us to be careful that we don’t take this story as transactional, that God is somehow like a heavenly vending machine– if I contribute my quarter and push a button, I will be rewarded, I will be blessed.
That kind of magical, transactional, thinking misses the point.
It isn’t good stewardship either, and it’s a pretty shallow view of God.
Haggai paints a picture of two attitudes, two ways of being.
One is Transactional and material, but those transactions fail to produce the desired results, and end up spreading the wrong thing.
The other way of being is Relational and spiritual, we give to God because of our relationship with God and God’s people.
The blessing comes as a result of and through relationships, not in exchange for anything we have given.
That’s a pretty nuanced point, and the best way I can think of to illustrate it is with a story.
A man was praying one day, and asked the Lord to explain to him the difference between heaven and hell.
The Lord said to the man, “Come, and I will show you hell.”
Together, they entered a room where a group of people sat around a huge, mouth-watering pot of stew.
Everyone was famished, desperate and starving.
Each held a spoon that reached the pot, but all of the spoons had handles so much longer than their arms that none of the spoons could be used to get the stew into their mouths. The suffering was terrible.
After a while, the Lord said to the man, “Come, now I will show you heaven.”
Together, they entered another room.
It was very similar to the first – the same pot of stew, a different group of people, but the same long-handled spoons.
Here, everyone was happy and well-nourished.
“I don’t understand,” said the man. Why are they happy here when they were miserable in the other room and everything is pretty much the same?”
The Lord smiled, “Ah, it is simple,” he said. “Here they use their spoons to feed each other.”
May God bless you this holiday season with a sense of the divine presence; may you always have enough stew to keep you full, and enough spoons (and generosity) to share it. AMEN.