“Let’s Get Personal”
Let’s Get Personal
Stewardship Sermon 2016
Stewardship. That’s a word that produces different reactions. Perhaps you hear that word and wonder, “What does it even mean?” Perhaps you hear the word “stewardship” and think, “Oh no! It’s that time of year again? Are we behind in this year’s budget?” Or perhaps you hear that word and instinctively grab your wallet or purse—you know, to keep it safe from prying offering plates! Maybe you think, “The church is always asking for money.” When you talk with someone who has drifted away from the church, that’s one of the reasons they give. Whether or not that’s true is not really important. What is important is that some folks seem to feel that no one else, not even God, ¬should know the balance in their checkbook or “What’s in your wallet?” Right? When it comes to money and our stuff, that’s personal.
Well, here’s some news for you. “Stewardship” is not all about money. Money is only part of the picture. “Stewardship” involves every part of our Christian faith and life. We often use the term “stewardship” to translate the Greek word oikonomia (oy-con-uh-MEE-ah). That Greek word literally means “the management of a household or family.” As it turns out, the Old English word from which we get “stewardship” means the same thing. It’s what the housekeeper or the butler would do in their service to the lord of the manor. I know a lot of you watched Downton Abbey. You know how this works, right? The lord of the manor owned the mansion and the whole estate. The housekeeper or the butler (Mrs. Hughes or Mr. Carson) merely managed what belonged to him (Lord Grantham).
So it is for us Christians. Our loving triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is the “lord of the manor” for the heavens and the earth and everything in them. We merely manage what God Himself owns. In this stewardship sermon, I am going to remind you of how we are here to just take care of God’s stuff. Today, Let’s Get personal.
I believe I have mentioned this to you before, but it bears repeating. Martin Luther wrote (somewhere) that we need to be converted, brought to faith, three times by the Holy Spirit. The first two conversions are the heart and head. Conversion of the heart is ¬the initial receiving of faith. For most of us, that happened when we were baptized as babies. For all of us, conversion of the heart is when the Holy Spirit put faith here. The second part of our Christian faith and life is the conversion of the head, which means to grow in what we know about God. That’s why we have Sunday school, youth, and adult Bible classes, Vacation Bible School, adult and youth confirmation. We need to know God’s will for us so that we can respond in love to the ways in which He has blessed us.
But that’s not where our Christian faith and life stop. For Luther said we also need to have our purses/wallets converted which, he acknowledged, may be more difficult. Why? Because how much money, or stocks, or bonds, or property we have is intensely personal. Imagine how we would feel if our listing in the telephone book, or our info on Google, would include how much money we had. The struggles between the president and the Congress over budgets remind us that money also means power. Sometimes we don’t want to give up the power, the control that comes with our money.
These days, churches do not publish that stuff. My home church used to, years ago. Not now. Too personal, right? And I as your pastor, don’t want to know. Some pastors look at the financial secretary’s records. The gentleman that was called before me to be the pastor here said he looked at that stuff. But not me. It’s personal.
In the Old Testament reading today we get the story of Cain and Abel. Cain is someone who didn’t want God looking in here to see how much he gave. The Cain and Abel story has been well known to us since Sunday School days. Most people think this is a story about murder. It is. But before that, it is a story of two guys: one who gave back to God freely and generously, and one who gave little and grudgingly.
Here is the deal: we read in the Old Testament reading that Cain and Abel went to offer their sacrifices to the Lord. Cain was a farmer. If Cain did things right here, he would have loved the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and would have offered to God a good portion of the best of his harvest. Apparently, he did not do that. It looks like he was worshipping half-heartedly, and therefore gave half-heartedly. The text does not say he took the best or the first portions or that he offered it up gladly to the Lord. I like to say that he gave God the cauliflower and broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and kept the good stuff.
Abel did love the Lord his God will his heart, soul, mind and strength. When it was his time to offer an offering in worship, he gave the first born of his flock, a prized lamb. And when God looked at how Abel was worshipping with all his heart, and Cain was just going through the motions, He accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. This made Cain mad, mad enough to kill his brother. Which was a lousy solution to Cain’s problem. He should have given God his all.
Giving is part of our worship. It is the reason we do it here. And God, who has made us stewards of His stuff, wants us to live our lives knowing everything we see and have is His, and living our lives 100% for Him. Whatever we give to God, whether it is tithes or time or talent, should come from a heart that is thankful to Him for creating us, sending Jesus to die and rise for our sins, and giving us the gifts of faith, forgiveness and eternal life through His Holy Spirit. In fact, our whole lives are offered up as sacrifices to the Lord. That is, we dedicate ourselves to God, to serving him. We, motivated and empowered by the Lord through his Word and Sacrament, serve God by living according to his will, doing good, and showing love to others (Rom 12:1–21; Heb 13:16).
Now like I said, this is a personal thing. Cain took it personally when God pointed out his heart was cold towards God. Well, God looks in here too, in each of us. He knows what He has given us to take care of for Him (We are renters in this world, not owners). He knows how joyfully we give. Remember, whether it is our tithes, time or talents, we are to give to God joyfully and off the top, not from the leftovers. God has been generous with us. When we give to Him from the “first fruits,” we are truly worshipping Him and remembering how good He is to us.
God does get personal with us, but it was personal to Him when He gave His only Son to die and rise for us to take away our sins. He has given way more to us than we will to Him. But He was willing to pay that price to see us with Him in heaven, and when we give generously and joyfully back to Him, it is worship and it is thanks.
So there you go. Another stewardship sermon in the books. May God lead us all to be generous, all the time, everywhere, with everything we have and are, as we thank Him for everything He gave to us.