The ABC’s of Stewardship

Scriptures: Matthew 25:14-29

Today we begin a sermon series on stewardship. I want to start by giving a definition. What is stewardship?

These days you go online, and I went to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary. The first definition said “the office, duties, and obligations of a steward.” I hate definitions like that. What does a steward do? Well, he does what a steward does. That’s not really helpful.

The second one, though, says “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”

So there are two aspects of stewardship to understand from this second definition. First of all, it is management of resources, and particularly resources that are not ours. Secondly, it is other centered, not self-centered

So often we think of what we have as ours. “I earned it. I made the money. I bought it. It’s mine.” But really, our lives are not our own. They are given from God.

There’s a motto I found in one of the sources I was reading. I like what it said. “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

I’m going to give you what are hopefully practical understandings of stewardship, and we’re going to go through the ABC’s of stewardship. And they even start with those letters.

The first one I want to talk about with regards to stewardship is that, in order to be a good steward, we have to look at our Attitude.

Our attitude about who we are, whose we are, and who owns our resources is critical. Note that there are rewards for our work, and “crowns” in heaven for our faithfulness in witness and work; but the things we have are not “ours.”

In our story today, two of the three servants had the right attitude. They knew who they served. They “feared” (as in honored and respected) their master. They understood that the resources they were given came from him, and their job was to bring increase. They understood the trust that the master was placing in them. The trust that the master was placing in them to do what was right with his resources.

One servant in the story today had the wrong attitude. He was truly fearful of his master. Note he never argued the reality of being the master’s servant, nor that the resource (the talent) didn’t belong to him. But he still presumes to criticize the master, and refuses to work for the one to whom he presumably owes everything. How often do we feel like we can sit in judgment on God and what He has done or is doing for us?

The second letter, B, is for Belief in and of Blessings. What I mean by that is we believe in blessings and we have a belief about blessings. Belief in God first and foremost. If we do not believe that God is our Creator and Father, that only God saves us in Jesus Christ, that only God can successfully guide us through the Holy Spirit, then all the rest is moot. It doesn’t matter.

If we do believe in all those things, and love God for what he has done for us, then an extension of that is our beliefs about blessings. First, we believe that God gives us blessings – more than we can count. There’s that hymn that I can never remember how it goes exactly, “count your many blessings, count them one by one” or something.

The psalmist said, in a couple of places “our cup overflows.” Unfortunately, we often take these blessings for granted, and believe that we are entitled to them. They are subtle, and what I call “ordinary miracles” of health, medicine, food, a job, etc. We tend to not think of them as blessings until we don’t have them. Then we wonder why God took them away.

Just because God gives us blessings as gifts doesn’t mean we don’t have to work, as well. Think about the Israelites in the wilderness, for forty years. The manna fell every morning for the Israelites, but they had to go out and gather it. The quail came in droves, but they had to killed, dressed, and cooked by the people. They had their freedom from the Egyptians, but had to go and claim the land that was theirs, and then protect it from invasions.

In the New Testament, Paul talks of being transformed in a way he could never achieve himself, but had to fight to keep growing into that new creature. He was in a constant struggle. We too are freed from the bondage of sin, but then must work to sin no more and be conformed to the mind of Christ.

A belief about blessings is that we are given blessings to be a blessing. Let me say that again. We are given blessings to be a blessing. Just as the servants in the story were to use the resources the Master gave them to produce more resources, so too we are given our blessings to produce more blessings. We do that as we wisely manage our God-given resources of time, talent, and treasure, sharing them with others and maintaining good relationships.

One of the ways we keep a proper perspective on things, and make sure we are blessed to be a blessing, is by consecrating who we are and what we do. C is for Consecration.

Someone or something that is consecrated (one of those two-dollar theological words) is set apart for God, or set apart for the sacred. We can dedicate our talents and efforts – both in the realm of the church, and in the realm of the secular – to God’s glory, and to God’s purposes.

We who have died with Christ are raised into newness of life that we might conform ourselves into His likeness. Our focus should be on being more like Christ. Our lives should be set apart for glorifying God for our salvation, and honoring Him with everything we have. Our resources should be dedicated to furthering His purposes, as we see them.

Again, I note that doesn’t just mean within the church, or that such fulfillment can only be found within the church. As John Maxwell once noted (and I am paraphrasing), “God has given you talents and skills and calling. You can be ordained to any vocation, as long as it is consecrated to God.”

He then tells about how after the conference he was approached by someone who thanked him for his words, and said “I never knew it, but I am an ordained plumber!” We often feel that we are called into a particular career or life. People who choose to go into service oriented vocations like teaching, medicine, and ministry, will speak of being “called,” and have a passion that goes beyond the job itself, frequently.

But you can set apart all that effort and that calling for God’s glory rather than your own satisfaction; and I think that you will find that you are satisfied as well – just as Solomon asked for wisdom rather than gold or power, and God was so pleased He gave Solomon those other things as well.

In our passage today, the faithful servants gave what they had gained to the master; it was his in the end, and they did it on his behalf and for his gain. Were they satisfied? I don’t know directly, but we do know they were rewarded.

They got to live a privileged life while the master was gone, and then were given even greater things when he got back. I would think that would breed a certain amount of happiness and satisfaction, wouldn’t you?

As noted earlier several times, proper stewardship doesn’t require just a good attitude, belief in blessings and what they are for, and setting apart our efforts for God. It requires us to actually do something.

It is a dynamic discipline that takes effort. And it takes it on the long term. The master was gone a long time. We don’t know how long. It just says “a long journey.” The servants had to remain faithful that whole time. They kept working that whole time. \

They may have wondered if He was ever coming back! They may have been tired, and felt like just stopping for a while, or retiring altogether. “I don’t want to do this anymore!” They may have been tempted to take some of what they earned for their own purposes, knowing that it wasn’t the master’s will.

They had to be dedicated to serving their Master, and had to have the endurance to be faithful until he came back. Those are the next two letters, D for Dedication and E for Endurance. I am certain there were times when they wondered if it was all worth it. Their answer came in the moment that the master came back and congratulated them.

As I said in my newsletter note, stewardship, at its core, isn’t about money. I don’t like talking about money any more than you would like hearing about it, despite its importance in the Scriptures, and my willingness to do that. Stewardship is a different animal – something greater, in many ways. It may encompass funds, but it goes so far beyond that. It is about lifestyle, relationships, and witness.

It is about relationships because it centers around them – our relationship with and to God, our relationship with our family and friends, and our relationships with those in the world around us. Knowing whose we are, what we have gained, and what we owe are critical.

We want to be in a good relationship with God. (At least I hope we do.) We want to be able to help those we know and love, and even those we don’t know. We all want to be respected, and appreciated – no matter how much we don’t want the limelight, and would rather work “behind the scenes.”

We want to be able to be proud of what is accomplished by us and others dear to us. That’s just human nature. It’s the way we’re made. We achieve this as we are good stewards of what God has blessed us with. Believing in God and His blessings, we then use those blessings to bless others, and to impact others with our love and care.

Stewardship is about witness. We witness to who we really believe God is, and what He really has done for us, by the priority we give Him in our relationships and our lives. We testify (often without words) to whether God is a God who can be trusted to do what He claims He has done and will do (more on that in an upcoming week).

We become the measure by which others come to know God and His love, as we are generous and loving in our relationships, giving freely and with joy to serve God and each other, and impact many we are not even aware of.

For those of you who are on Facebook, and have me as a friend, you may have seen a share of an article from Christianity Today. For those of you who are not on Facebook (or not my friends on Facebook), but have access to the internet, here is a URL: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2016/july/casserole-toting-church-ladies-hold-secret-to-happiness.html?paging=off

I love the title: “The Casserole-Toting Church Ladies Hold the Secret to Happiness.” It is well worth the read.

Lastly for us now, stewardship is about lifestyle. Our lifestyle shows where our priorities are, where our true loves lie, and what we believe about how to live as redeemed and chosen children of God. I know that, even as a pastor, I struggle with this.

I know there are certain things that I love to do (and certain things that I don’t like doing, that I should do) that are harmful to my witness, and poor use of the blessings God has given me. It will take all my life to work out, it will take all of yours to work out your witness, as well. Because the stewardship doesn’t end until the Master comes and calls us home.

It is easy to go one of two ways when hearing something like this last remark. It is easy to be overwhelmed, say “I can’t do all that!”, and give up before you even start. Like many New Year’s resolutions, and other things in life, we fail because we don’t even bother to try. We are afraid of the commitment, the probable pain, and the effort it will take to do something that has mostly intangible prizes or successes or rewards.

The second response to that is problematic as well, and it is the one that says “If it is going to take all my life, and involve my whole life, then I have time to start it – tomorrow.” That’s what I do with working out. “I’ll work out tomorrow. I’m busy today.”

As with so many things, tomorrow never comes, or God’s timetable isn’t ours, and suddenly the Master calls us home before we are prepared. Either way, we don’t get what we need to done, and we hurt our life and our witness by our stewardship.

The only route that leads to success is one that many of you already know, and many of you already practice. But it bears repeating for our own sakes and the sakes of those who are hearing this perhaps for the first time.

We need to start today. We need to accept the good news of Jesus Christ, and allow ourselves to be changed by His grace. Then we need to act on that belief as we live out our relationships and lives with God’s priorities and perspective, as we manage the resources He has given us. We are strengthened in that understanding and way as we take Communion and remember how much God loved us, and we will do that in a few minutes.

I noted in that same newsletter article that Henri Nouwen once said that “Stewardship is everything you do after you say ‘I believe.’” You’re here today. You’re faithful week after week. You have said “I believe,” multiple times in multiple ways. Now may we begin the work of living that out.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: