The lay sermon of Anne Hansen, Oct. 15

Good morning!  It is so wonderful to see all of us here together in this joint service.

alpha-sunToday is an important day, and we have a lot to talk about.  The worship committee has brought us all together this morning to corporately inaugurate a season of renewal and healing. This morning we also celebrate the completion of a 72-hour straight-through cover-to-cover reading of the whole Bible, organized by the Christian Education committee.  That reading was a tangible demonstration that we take the word of God seriously. And we all participated in it.  At the beginning of the service we read together the final chapter of Revelation, marking the end of our 72-hour vigil.  We will read Genesis chapter 1 at the end of the service, because the reading of God’s word is never finished.  And also today we kick off our annual stewardship season.

We do have a lot to talk about.  But my assignment is to reflect for a few minutes on the topic of stewardship.  I can tell you, it’s a very dangerous assignment to give a stewardship homily!  You’re likely to discover that you need to change your ways. In pondering the subject I’ve uncovered a number of errors in my own approach to stewardship, and it looks like I’m going to have to change my ways.

My first error was easy enough to remedy.  I was thinking that in order to give a stewardship sermon I needed a classic stewardship text from the Bible.  You know the ones, something like the widow with her 2 mites, or Jesus’ teaching to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”  I was disappointed that today’s gospel didn’t give me much of a jumping-off point.       But then I read it again.    And I saw that today’s gospel is, in fact, directly about stewardship.  It’s a negative example of stewardship to be sure, and a pretty terrifying one.  I don’t want to lead right off with it, but we’ll come back to in in a few minutes.

With today’s gospel reading turning out so unexpectedly to be about stewardship, the question posed itself:  how many other stealth stewardship passages are there?  Well, I can tell you.  I was the overnight helper for the MIQRA on Thursday night, and I listened to ten hours of Bible reading.  Maybe it’s because stewardship was on my mind, but I’d have to say just about all of it is about stewardship!

That’s because stewards is what we are.  That was my second error.  I had been thinking of stewardship as a choice that we make.  We can do it or not, a little or a lot; it’s up to us.  The fact is, my friends, stewardship is not a choice.  We are stewards.  We were created as stewards; stewardship is our life’s work.  We can be good stewards or bad stewards; but we can’t be not stewards or partly stewards or a little bit stewards.

If I am a steward, as I believe we all are, I’m responsible for the things that have been entrusted to me.  So what are those things?  Well, in a few minutes we’re going to read Genesis Ch. 1, in which humankind is created in the image of God and given dominion over all the living things of the earth.  We’re familiar with our stewardship of the earth, but shouldn’t we stop to think about our stewardship of the image of God?  How are we doing with that?  A few chapters later, we learn by the negative example of Cain that we are, in fact, our brothers’ keeper:  we are stewards of each other.  Perhaps we might want to spend some time on that.  Going further, we are stewards of all that God has taught us through the law and the prophets about justice, truth, mercy, and faithfulness.  We are stewards of the revelation of Jesus Christ, stewards of the ever-expanding Kingdom of God, and stewards of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We are stewards of the hope of Revelation 22.

And then there’s the personal:  We are stewards of all our faculties.  When was the last time we considered the stewardship of our eyes and ears; of our strength and of our intellect and of our affections?  How about the stewardship of our tongues?  The epistle we read today spoke of guarding our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.  And of renewing our intellect by setting our minds on the things that are true and honorable, just, pure and praiseworthy.  That is stewardship of the faculties God has given us.

Our gospel reading today was the third of a group of parables in Matthew 21 and 22. We’ve been reading them over the last 3 weeks.  Jesus told these parables to an audience of chief priests and Pharisees.  They understood that Jesus was talking about them. They also understood the message: that the kingdom of God had been taken away from them.  Jesus said it to them explicitly in last week’s gospel: He said, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”  Why?  Because they have utterly failed in their stewardship.  In the first parable, which we read 2 weeks ago, they are sons, but they do not believe or obey.  In the second parable, which we read last week, they are compared to tenants in a vineyard who, instead of producing fruit, beat the servants and kill the son of the landowner.  And in today’s gospel they are invited guests who disregard the invitation of the king and mistreat the servants who bring it.  Sons, tenants of a beautiful vineyard, invited guests: they have been given everything.  But they fail to honor what has been entrusted to them.  And so God takes it all away.  My dear friends, this is a sobering message and it would be very foolish of us to ignore it.

By now the stewardship committee is getting anxious and wondering if I am going to say something about money.  Having talked about all this other, it seems to me frankly that money is the lowest rung on the stewardship ladder. But we have to start somewhere. And sadly, if I hear the scriptures correctly, you can’t get to the higher rungs of stewardship without first mounting this one. It’s not like we’re going to be good stewards of God’s image or of faithfulness or of our own affections while we’re guarding our money.

And, as it happens, my third error was about money.  If you remember, my first error was thinking that only a few passages are about stewardship.  My second error was thinking that stewardship is a choice.  My third error is the most insidious and possibly the most significant of the 3.  So listen up.  Every year at this time I think, “What’s our income, and what percent of it am I going to put in the little envelopes every week?”  That’s not a bad question of itself, but the assumption behind it is just embarrassing.  What I’m actually thinking is, “Here’s my money.  I’ve added it up.  Now, how much am I going to give to God?”  In effect, “What will I make God’s allowance this year?”       Yikes!  My assumptions are all wrong and in the worst possible way!  I am God’s steward.   The question is not what should be HIS allowance from my money, but what should be my allowance from His?  What portion of the wealth God has entrusted to my use should I claim for my own living expense?

It’s true that my thinking is full of errors and often I haven’t done it right.  That is why we need the scriptures and prayer and worship and the wisdom of each other and those who have gone before us.  It’s not too late.

The stewardship committee has given us this beautiful quote for the stewardship season, “Take heart, get up; He is calling you.”   Friends, it is not too late.  Let us indeed take heart and get up.  He is calling us.  Let us follow and obey.

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