Sermon - "Stewardship Sunday?"
Our Lord, open our ears to hear what you have spoken to us. Give us hearts to believe you and rest in your promises, in the name of ┼ the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There's a dynamic that emerges in the life of a Christian. We see that we are in a master-servant relationship. And unlike what we might sometimes wish, unlike what our hopes and dreams probably are, we are the servants. I know we would all like to be kings and queens, important people, the kind of people who can demand honor and respect, the kind of people who get their own way. And we easily forget that being a person of importance often means you don't get your own way. Yet we as Christians don't necessarily have that burden. We're on the other end of the relationship.
In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul introduces the idea that the apostles are stewards. I wonder if we remember what a steward is? Often we're told about "stewardship" and given the idea that it involves saving our money. We may have seen situations, there may even have been such situations here, where there is a "Stewardship Sunday." That's typically a day when a church says how much money it needs for the budget then tries to get the congregation to pledge support. I've seen it turn into a kind of emotional gut-wrenching scene where the totals pledged are added up publicly and the service isn't dismissed because the church hasn't met budget. What kind of faith do we have, after all? How are we going to reach our world for Jesus if we won't even open our bank accounts for his use? Don't we trust God to provide our needs?
That isn't stewardship. That's wheedling. That's urging people to trust in the atmosphere of the moment rather than in the God who has given them wisdom to use resources wisely and aggressively. Did I say "aggressively?" Yes, I did. Sometimes we're taught wise stewardship means earning all the money we can and putting as much of it aside for the future as possible. Now there's some wisdom in that. There are times I wish I did it better. But that can turn into a miserly attitude very quickly. It's easy to start trying to accomplish something with nothing, not because you have nothing, but because you don't want to use anything.
Yet money isn't all there is to stewardship. A steward is someone who takes care of affairs for his master. He generally runs the household, the associated properties, the businesses of a wealthy landowner. This is how Paul says the apostles see themselves. So what do we know about stewards?
The responsibility of a steward is limited. It may be great responsibility. Yet it is limited. The steward is not the master. He has authority only as it has been given to him by the master. The apostles also know their responsibilities are limited. Some people will use an illustration of two circles to picture this. I'd like you to imagine with me a big circle. You might even want to draw it in your bulletin. This big circle is the circle of concern. In the circle you can put all the things you're concerned about. And there are a lot of issues which belong in that circle. You may be concerned about the economy in the Middle East. You might be concerned about the safety of people in the new country of Southern Sudan. You might be concerned about whether it will rain or snow this afternoon. You might be concerned about how you are going to do with a project at work, or about the outcome of your next attempt at baking a pie. There are all sorts of things to be concerned about, both big and small. You'll never have trouble putting enough things into that circle of concern.
Now, draw a smaller circle inside the circle of concern. This is your circle of responsibility. I guess some of us find out that our circle of responsibility goes outside of our circle of concern, but that's a different problem. What fits into your circle of responsibility? How about tomorrow's weather? No, that doesn't go there. How about whether you have ice melting salt to deal with tomorrow's weather? Yes, that goes there. What about the price of food in a war-torn country? No, you probably can't do anything about that. You're concerned but you are not responsible for it. What about how you choose to use money which could go to feed hungry people? Yes, that's yours to deal with.
We're concerned about a lot of things. We're responsible for only some of those things. That's our area of stewardship. God has not given us stewardship over everything. Only over some things. Yet we can look at his mercy and grace and see that our Lord and Savior has taken on the responsibility for all things, whether they are in our circle of responsibility, our circle of concern, or outside of our concern. He, in fact, lovingly cares for them all, putting some of those cares and the stewardship of them into our hands.
So the apostles are stewards of God's mysteries. We see also that the apostles see and hear all manner of issues. Yet they leave God to judge. Remember? They are stewards. It is God who judges, and who will judge righteously. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who came to earth to reveal God's mysterious salvation to us, died for our sins and rose again from the dead in part to show us he is in fact the Lord who is able to overcome the world. So what do the apostles do when they see and hear all things? They do not judge. They leave it to God to judge. And our Lord has made judgment. He divides righteousness and unrighteousness. He divides truth and error. He divides between sin and salvation. He hears and judges rightly. We are the stewards. He is the Lord who is responsible for everything. Again, we see the circles of concern and responsibility. He has given some things to us, but not all.
So how are the apostles viewed in their stewardship? Paul's statements here to the Corinthians seem stunning, almost biting. The apostles are held in dishonor due to their humility. They have considered themselves as lowly servants of their Lord. Then the people who hear them also consider them as lowly servants.
It's all right to be lowly. It's a noble thing to be the steward. It's a good thing to be the servant of all. Jesus came to be the servant of all. A steward might not look like much. At times his work seems demeaning. Yet how important is that steward to the rich man? When the master has a document which needs care, he gives it to the steward. When he needs to be sure his will is done in a business transaction, he tells the steward what to do. When he needs to gather money, account for money, or spend money, there is the steward. The steward may be a servant, but he may also be the one who prepares and safeguards food and drink, health, and life for the master. It's been said that the king's barber is the most powerful man in the kingdom, every time the king needs a shave.
The apostles are stewards of God's mysteries. And God has given his mysteries, at least some of them, to each one of us. May he make us faithful to do his will, to look to him in faith, and to delight in the good of the works of his hand, even as he performs those works in and through us, bringing us his blessing and using us to bless others.
Lord, have mercy on us. In the name of ┼ the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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