Sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Advent (13 December 2015) by Revd Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

Today at the Cathedral View More
8:00am Holy Communion
8:45am Morning Prayer
11:15am Sung Eucharist
3:00pm Choral Evensong
5:30pm Eucharist
6:00pm Cathedral closes

Sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Advent (13 December 2015) by Revd Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

So many stewards, roles old and new - but we can't do everything, says Rev Canon Michael Hampel

The world abounds with stewards. When you arrived here today, you passed one of our stewards on duty at the west end of the Cathedral before being greeted by a wandsman and shown to your seat.

There is a High Steward of England although the post has been vacant since 1421. There is a Great Steward of Scotland (which always has to go one better!) and that post is currently filled by the Prince of Wales.

There is a High Steward of Westminster Abbey - a post held by Richard, Lord Luce, whose duties seem to be confined to wearing an orange mantle and white ruff at special services – not quite as glorious a title as Westminster Abbey’s High Bailiff and Searcher of the Sanctuary, a post which is gloriously held by the glorious Sir Roy Strong.

And there was a High Steward of Sutton Coldfield but that post became extinct under local government reorganisation in 1974 – at which point the last vestige of glamour which Sutton Coldfield possessed must have disappeared for ever ...

And, officiating in various capacities in this service are members of the clergy and lay people who are stewards – stewards of God’s mysteries.

What in our second reading this morning from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians relates to the pastors of the early Church?

 It’s a fascinating word – ‘steward’ 

It starts life as a high-ranking official in a royal household; it’s linked to the word which means to heat a room or boil meat and gives us ‘stew’; it had a passing association with the keeper of a brothel.

And it may have been at that colourful juncture in its etymology that it took on a more servile connotation as a housekeeper and, in our Bibles now, translates the Greek word ‘economos’ which also of course gives us the word economy.

The housekeeper manages the household budget and George Osborne, in managing the nation’s economy, is doing just that but on a bigger scale.

Economus is also an official in the Roman Catholic Church. Each Roman Catholic diocese has an economus who is the diocesan finance officer.

Stewards, the clergy and housekeepers

In this season of Advent when we take time to step back from things and take a look at ourselves, it’s a useful moment for the clergy and lay officials of the Church to hear that we are stewards of God’s mysteries and indeed to find out a little bit about the background of that word ‘steward’ and note that it is not as glamorous as it sounds – despite the glamorous vestiges of the word still retained in those ancient high offices of state in Scotland and Westminster Abbey.

To be a member of the clergy, in Pauline terms, it seems is to be a housekeeper.

Housekeepers and budgets

Those of who help to run St Paul’s Cathedral sometimes complain after five hour long meetings about the annual budget and the maintenance of this place that we were trained to be priests not business managers but we clearly need to think again as we read St Paul to the Corinthians where he tells us quite clearly that we are housekeepers of the mysteries of God – and I can assure you there is nothing more mysterious than the densely packed tiny print of the budget sheets of St Paul’s Cathedral.

And the word appears also in St Luke’s Gospel – but translated slightly differently – where Jesus asks, ‘Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time?’ And, lo, this from a parable which is a good tried and trusted Advent reading from scripture about being alert and prepared for the coming of Christ.

So this use by Paul of the word ‘steward’ takes the clergy down a peg or two or at least reassures them that where they are is where they ought to be. But, inasmuch as we are all members of the priesthood of all believers, we might all thereby share the designation of stewards of God’s mysteries and, in considering the meaning of the word, we should not only observe the Advent humility which it imposes on us but also note its transience.

And what I mean by that is this: we are entrusted with our roles and responsibilities in this life only temporarily. In Advent, we await the first coming of Christ at Christmas through the birth of a child in a stable in Bethlehem at a particular moment in history. But we also await the second coming of Christ which will happen at our death at some point in history which will be different for all of us – but at a point at which our role as the housekeeper will end after what in the great scheme of things will have been a very short tenure and the mantle of office will be passed to others who come after us.

We can't do everything

So, when we suffer from the stresses and strains of modern living, we should remind ourselves of one important truth: we can’t do everything. And that must come as a relief to us all.

So that, alongside the Advent humility, we get a sense too of the Advent hope.

Let us pray

O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst humble thyself to become one with us, and to be born into the world for our salvation: teach us the grace of humility, root out of our hearts all pride and haughtiness, and so fashion us after thy holy likeness in this world, that in the world to come we may be made like unto thee in thy eternal kingdom.

And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.