October 2019 - Managing All of Life
“Managing All of Life”
In many congregations (my own included), the fall season brings with it the annual stewardship campaign that leads into budget formation for the coming year. This provides funding for ministries, staff salaries, outreach support, and much more. This annual occurrence becomes an opportunity for preaching and teaching not just on financial stewarding, but so much more.
Truth be told, we often equate stewardship with money. This is due in large part to the lop-sided emphasis that the church has placed on a very narrow definition of stewardship over many years, neglecting other much-needed emphases: time management, giftedness for serving, care of self, etc. When all is said and done, stewardship begins with the truth that we own nothing. It all belongs to God, as the Word of God makes clear: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world, and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). We often talk and act like it all belongs to us: my house, my car, my money, my life. But there’s something at work here that is bigger than just my own individual life. God is the Maker and Owner of all that he has made in heaven and on earth. Scripture does not record anywhere that God has ever relinquished his ownership of anything he has made. It all comes from and returns to the Lord. We are merely the managers, the caretakers, of what belongs to the Lord. These things have been placed into our hands to steward wisely and faithfully for a brief moment in time. How will we use them?
Over the course of this year, the appointed Gospel readings have come from Luke’s record of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Recently in worship, we heard these words from Jesus:
Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:7-10).
Jesus’ words are a comeuppance to the sense of entitlement that we may have about ourselves. At the end of the day, we are those unworthy servants who are called to do our Master’s duty. And what a mess we have made of what our Master has called us to do! We go off in a different direction from the task God called us to do (like Jonah); we come up with a whole laundry list of reasons why God should get somebody else to do the job (like Moses); when the pressure is on we deny ever knowing who Jesus is (like Peter). The list goes on and on. And yet, it is that same Master who has laid down his life for these same unworthy servants who have made such a mess of it all. It is the Master himself who has paid the price for all of our misdeeds and errors, what Scripture calls sin. If God the Maker and Owner of heaven and earth did not withhold the life of his only Son, but freely gave him up for us all, who are we to withhold anything of what God has placed into our hands? Our motivation flows out of grateful hearts for all that God in Christ has done for us. We cannot give anything to God that does not already belong to him, but we can – and should – serve God by serving our neighbor who is in need. As Martin Luther once said, “God does not need our good deeds, but our neighbor does.” We are to see our neighbor as Christ in our midst, serving him or her as we would serve Christ himself.
Our congregation’s theme for the fall 2019 stewardship series is based on an Offertory Prayer that we have been using in worship:
Merciful Father, we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us: our selves, our time, and our possessions; signs of your gracious love. Receive them for the sake of him who offered himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our selves, our time, and our possessions – they all come from the Lord and are entrusted to our care in this life. This is a sacred responsibility that we have to manage all things to the best of our ability with God’s help. May the Lord be honored and glorified in each of our lives as his “unworthy servants,” stewards of God’s gifts that are placed into our hands.