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Stewardship Begins with Servanthood

October 22, 2006 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan

Verse: Mark 10:35–10:45

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 10:35-45

"Stewardship Begins with Servanthood"

I find it interesting to study the origin of words-where they come from, what they originally meant. The term for this is "etymology." One of the things I have discovered about myself is that I am a "keeper of pigs." Some of you who know that I grew up on a farm may think I'm referring to that, but I'm not. Etymologically speaking, I am a "keep of pigs." As a Christian, I am a steward, and so are you. The word steward comes from the Old English word stiweard, which was made up of two words: sty (a pen for pigs) and weard (a ward of a keeper). A stiweard took care of the lord of the manor's pigs, overseeing everything from their health and feeding to their protection and breeding. When the stiweard returned the pigs to the lord off the manor, he had to account for his care of the animals, that is, his stiweardship. Several weeks ago, I spoke to you about stewardship, and explained that this is much more than just money. It involves our time, our talents and abilities, our relationships - in short, all of life is a matter of stewardship. Here is a good definition of stewardship: I encourage you to write it down and reflect on it:

Christian stewardship is the free and joyous activity of the child of God and God's family, the church, in managing all of life and life's resources for God's purposes.

Today we begin a 3-week worship and preaching series on Christian stewardship, and specifically on financial stewardship. We begin today with the theme "Stewardship Begins with Servanthood." May the Lord's rich blessing attend the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus' sake.

If we're going to understand what it means to manage God's gifts entrusted to our care, then we need to understand what it means to be a servant. Today's Gospel lesson paints a vivid picture of this. In the verses immediately preceding today's Gospel lesson, Jesus tells his disciples for the third time what's going to happen to him: "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles, and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scrouge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise" (Mark 10:33-34). Wow! Pretty powerful stuff, right? And what's the reaction of his followers? Out of left field, James and John come up with this request: "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left, in your glory" (Mark 10:37). They wanted the top cabinet positions in Jesus' administration, and when the other ten disciples find out what's their reaction? "They began to be angry with James and John" (Mark 10:41). Are they angry with James and John for such a selfish request? I doubt it. They were angry that James and John got their request in first. "Time out!" Jesus tells all of them. "Let's go back to basics here. Let's go back to what this is really all about:" "... whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45).

Jesus' message was incredibly counter-cultural then, and it's incredibly counter-cultural now. Our culture idolizes those who are the celebrities, the power brokers, the rich and influential. Our culture doesn't pay much attention to those in servant roles. They don't make the headlines. When it comes to stewardship, when it comes to servanthood, we have the same selfish motives that James, John, and the rest of the disciples had. We often think of ourselves first. We talk about things like they are our own: "my house," "my car," "my family," "my investments." None of these things are our own. They are on loan to us from a loving and gracious God who desires that we use these gifts to be a blessing to other people. How can we demonstrate what it means to be a servant of Christ through our homes, our cars, our families, our investments? How can we demonstrate that these things are not our own, but God's?

Today's first reading is often read on Good Friday. That passage from Isaiah 53, along with others from Isaiah, are called "Servant Songs" because they speak of that suffering Servant of the Lord. That suffering Servant of the Lord who came "not to be served but to serve" is Christ Jesus. He is the One who was "wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5). He is the One on whom the Lord has laid "the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). He is the One whose blood was shed for our inward-focused and selfish lives. Stewardship begins with servanthood, and it begins with the truth that Christ Jesus willingly let go of his life for our sake. Will we let go of things that are near and dear to us, for the sake of God's mission to the world? Before we can give, we must first receive. Having received the riches of new life in Christ Jesus, we are now called to give-not because we have to, but because we want to. We are moved to give of ourselves, our time, and our possessions in a spirit of joy and thanksgiving, in response to all that God in Christ has done for us.

Stewardship begins with servanthood. I saw this in action last Sunday-our big fiftieth anniversary Sunday. In the midst of our Sunday morning celebration, there was a homeless man in our parking lot. He had a sign that said, "Homeless-please help." That kind of thing always makes us uncomfortable. We want to respond, but we're not sure how. We have to live with that tension as we are confronted with our calling to be Christ's servant. God has this annoying habit of intruding into our well-planned events, doesn't He? Some of you did reach out to this man: you stopped to talk with him, you ministered to him. But that man, like each one of us, also has a need to know Jesus the Suffering Servant who gave his life for him. Did any of us invite this homeless man to worship with us? You see, stewardship and servanthood is not just about money. When all is said and done, it's about us-about Christ in us.

Two weeks from today, we will have the opportunity to present to the Lord an estimate-of-giving for ministry in 2007. We will bring these cards forward to the altar as an act of worship on the festival of All Saints, November 4-5. None of us knows what the future will hold, but we do trust that the same Christ Jesus who gave himself for us will be there for us, no matter what. And so stewardship and servanthood are really built upon trust. When you receive the stewardship mailing this week, please read through it, pray about it, and with the Spirit's guidance determine what your contribution for kingdom work will be as we begin the next fifty years here at St. John's. Amen.