1 Timothy 6:17-19
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
The new minister in the local congregation learned that one of the wealthiest members on the roll was not a regular contributor or attender, so he made a phone call. “From all appearances your business is doing quite well, yet you haven’t given a penny to your own church,” the pastor began. “Wouldn’t you like to help us in ministry this year?”
The lapsed member replied, “Did you know that my mother is ill, with extremely expensive medical bills?”
“Um, no,” mumbled the pastor.
“Or that my brother has been out of work for over a year? Or that my sister is a single mother with four kids?”
“I … I … I had no idea.”
“So,” said the member, “if I don’t give them any money, why would I give any to the church?” (adapted from http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/jokes/)
Today we continue our series from Mennonite Church USA’s Purposeful Plan. This is the fourth sermon from the Purposeful Plan, so in about 15 minutes you will be halfway through the series. Today’s priority is on stewardship. From MCUSA’s website we read:
In his words and practices, Jesus modeled an understanding that God is the Lord of all life. Thus, we are called to be stewards of the resources that God has generously entrusted to us for the sake of God’s purposes in the world. As missional communities we will assist every participant in our congregations to cultivate a healthy whole‐life stewardship, to care for creation, to practice mutual aid and to be generous in ways which reflect the generosity of God.
The other day a friend of mine had posted a YouTube video that has received a lot of attention in that last few weeks. It is of Korean rapper, Psy, performing his hit song, whose name I will not be attempting to pronounce. Most of the lyrics of this song are in Korean, so it is kind of hard to understand what he is talking about. But that isn’t what makes this video great. What makes the video great is the dancing. And not because it is good, but because, in the words of Psy himself, it is quite “cheesy.”
So I clicked on this video to see what all of the fuss is about. And it is hi-lar-i-ous. But the best part of it all was that our 2.5-year-old son was sitting close to me, heard the music, and came over to see what all of the fuss was about, and he decided that he would try the dance as well.
It can best be described as what it would look like to ride a horse with three good legs and one broken leg while occasionally swinging a lasso. And Paxton decided to try it with absolutely no provocation from his parents. He saw it, thought it looked like fun, and started dancing.
I wanted to get a video of this so badly…so I did.
I realized as I watched my son dancing like he didn’t have a care in the world, that in another 10 years, there will be absolutely nothing that we could do to get him to do that dance again, especially in front of a video camera. He will be almost a teenager, and teenagers don’t do that sort of thing.
Every parent that I talk to tells us the same thing: “Enjoy these years while they last. They will go so fast.” And I have no doubt that they will. So I am going to try to do just that because time is a limited commodity. We only have so many years in us before the good Lord calls us home.
When I hear the word stewardship, I immediately think of money. And usually it is being used by someone who wants more of it, namely the church. Churches have stewardship campaigns to fund building projects and pastoral support. Yes, giving to the church is absolutely important. If it wasn’t for your gifts to the church I wouldn’t have been able to afford the video camera that I recorded the video of my son dancing onJ. But seriously, it is important to give to the church. But I get tired of hearing about it and I am sure that you do as well. As I was searching for information on stewardship as I prepared for our message this morning I consistently was taken to websites that said why we need to be giving a certain amount of money to our churches and often I found scriptures taken out of context, claiming that you will receive X times back of what you give to the church.
But stewardship is about much more than just giving to the church. Even stewardship of money is more than just giving to the church. Stewardship is about realizing that there are some things in this world that are in limited supply and therefore need to be used wisely. Like the moment that I realized my son wasn’t going to be willing to break it down and dance for much longer, I realized that time is something that needs to be stewarded, used appropriately. Because there is only so much of it to go around.
Today we are looking at the stewardship of money, the environment, talent, our bodies and time. So get comfortable, this might take a while.
Money: The first thing that I want to point out about our scripture for today is that it uses some very strong language about how we are to be using our money. Paul uses the word “command” twice in these three verses. Command those who are rich to not put their trust in wealth. Command them to be generous and willing to share.
Excuse me? Who are you to tell me what to do with my money? Who are you to command me about anything to do with my hard-earned cash?
The first thing we need to keep in mind is that we have nothing without God. Yes, you worked hard for what you have. But God gave you the body to work with, the mind to think with, and the opportunity to put those things to good use in a way that has allowed you to make a living. It isn’t yours, you are just a steward of this limited resource and we must use it wisely.
When we talk about stewardship we usually talk about money, so I am going to try to be a good steward of our time here this morning and move on to the next item.
Environment: Is it a Christian responsibility to care for the environment? I would say yes, because this is the first responsibility given to human beings in Genesis 1. God creates everything in heaven and earth and then tells Adam to rule over the birds of the air, fish of the sea, the plants, the animals, and the ground itself. This isn’t a free pass to abuse the land, soil, water, and animals for one’s own advantage. This is stewardship of a limited resource and we must use it wisely.
Time and time again, scripture reminds us that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Ps. 24:1). We are just borrowing it. It isn’t yours to keep, so don’t break it!
There are two things that really bother me about environmentalism today. One is that it has become increasingly politicized, especially around the issue of climate change. And I feel that when we align ourselves with one political party or the other, we lose sight of our responsibility as God’s stewards to care for his creation. We listen to the big oil companies’ statistics and ignore independent researchers’ data that contradicts these stats all because the person reporting something belongs to a different party than we like to vote for.
Regardless of your political preferences, we should have a desire to be good stewards of the environment because it is God’s, not ours. Who doesn’t enjoy the beauty of what God has provided for us? I know very conservative individuals that love getting out into nature, spending week-long trips in hunting shacks, eating from the land, cooking outdoors. I know very liberal individuals who love hiking, biking, and kayaking out in God’s good creation. Creation care isn’t a liberal or conservative issue. It shouldn’t be a political issue at all. But it should be a Christian issue.
The other thing that bothers me about creation care is that some people have the all-or-nothing approach to caring for the earth. I heard a young woman recently sharing about her decision to ride her bike any time she traveled somewhere less than 5 miles away. But one day she got caught up in a rain storm and decided to drive her car instead of getting drenched. And she felt so guilty about this!
Our stewardship of God’s creation isn’t like a light switch. It isn’t either on or off. It is more like a volume knob. You can turn it up or turn it down. The important thing is that you take small steps to keep this world from wasting away. You keep making those fine adjustments in the knob to make this world a better place. The environment is a limited resource. We must use it wisely.
Talent: In Matthew chapter 25 we find a parable that Jesus told about three different men who were given a large sum of money and asked to manage this money while the owner of the money is away from town for a period of time. Two of the men took the money that was put in their charge and increased the amount of money substantially. The third man played it safe and he buried the money. He didn’t lose any money, but he didn’t increase the money either.
When the master returns, he praises the two men who were able to increase what they were looking after. But he calls the guy who just buried the money “lazy and wicked” (v.26).
I think that, while it might be more accurate, the NIV does a disservice to this text because the translators chose to refer to this amount of money as “bags of gold” rather than using the actual Greek word “τάλαντον” which is where we get our English word “talent” from.
Romans 12 is quite clear about using the gifts that we have been given. Paul uses the metaphor of the body and how we all have a role to serve as the Body of Christ. No role is insignificant. All gifts can be used for the glory of God.
Sometimes we focus so much on our good Mennonite humility that we fail to use our talents. Don’t get me wrong, humility is a good thing. If you are given musical gifts you shouldn’t want to share them at church to gain praise from people. But if you are given a talent and you chose to bury it rather than use it for the Kingdom of God, Jesus says that you are being lazy and wicked. I wonder how many people choose to not use their talents because they just aren’t looking for something more to do. Talent is a limited resource that we must use wisely.
Bodies: What about these bodies that we have? Are we called to be good stewards of what we have been given? Absolutely! 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 tells us, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
I once heard someone use this scripture to say that we should not have piercings or tattoos because our body is a temple and someone else replied, “But the way I see it, I am just decorating my temple.”
Originally that passage was written in the context of not sleeping with prostitutes, which I still think is a good thing to avoid. But this body is a loaner; it is not our own. It is to be a temple for the Holy Spirit.
I know that I am not the one to stand up here and say this, but we need to take care of the bodies that we have been given so that we can have a long, healthy life here to serve God and witness to the Kingdom of God. Regular exercise and a better diet would benefit everyone.
I have yet to hear of someone getting a complete body replacement; we only get this one. We can replace parts of it, like knees, elbows, and even hearts. But you can’t replace everything. The body is a very limited resource and we need to be good stewards of this gift.
Time: The issue of being good stewards of time goes hand-in-hand with the concept of being good stewards of our bodies. The average life expectancy at birth is currently around 66.5 years across the globe and about 77.5 years in the United States. Does anyone want to guess where the US finished in average length of life? 38th. The list is like a golf score; a lower number is better. And an interesting point to note is that recently the life expectancy in the United States decreased for the first time in 15 years. We would expect that it would continue to increase with medical advancements.
So what are we to do with our 77 trips around the sun? How you spend your days, weeks, months and years is a matter of stewardship as this is indeed a limited resource.
We all know what it is like to be busy. We have to get the kids to school and soccer practice, we work, we try to have a social life. We clean the house, mow the grass, and then do it all over again because as soon as you are done, it needs cleaned or mowed again. And don’t forget to make time to eat. I know I have been guilty of trying to fit too much into a day because I am attempting to be a good steward of this limited resource. I grew up hearing “You’ve gotta make hay while the sun shines.”
Let’s look at Jesus’ life as an example of how to be a good steward of time. Jesus went from town to town, teaching, preaching, healing, and eating with people. He was a busy man/God. There were always people trying to get to him and trying to hear his teachings, trying to be healed. And Jesus did his best to do as much as he could. But he didn’t heal everyone. There were still sick and injured people at the end of the day. Yet Jesus took time to eat with his friends, he took time to pray, he took time for personal retreats.
I think the reason that Jesus doesn’t heal all of the people has nothing to do with his abilities. Jesus could have healed everyone in the world all at once. But I think that Jesus was trying to model for us something we call “self-care.”
We can’t work all of the time. We weren’t made to work all of the time. This is why we are given the Sabbath in the Old Testament. God knows we need time to rest. And if God and Jesus took time to rest, maybe we should pick up on this clue that it is important for us to take time to slow down on a regular basis as well.
The day that I videoed my son dancing I was feeling all sentimental about trying to enjoy these years in spite of how fast they might go by. I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and I just sat there and watched him eat his sandwich, thoroughly enjoying it. He was in no hurry, no place to go, nothing could take away from his experience of enjoying that pb&j. And as I watched him eating that sandwich I thought to myself, That kid is a messy eater. Then I realized that being a good steward of time doesn’t mean trying to do the most possible in a day. Being a good steward of time means trying to get the most possible out of a day. Sometimes you just have to sit back and watch a two-year-old enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to realize that what matters most in life is what you are doing right now. We don’t know how many more trips around the sun we are going to have, so make them count.
Call your grandfather, visit that friend from high school, stop and smell the roses. No, don’t neglect planning ahead for tomorrow, but keep tomorrow in perspective. I’m not calling you to be lazy, sit around and do nothing. But remember that there are more important things than the next promotion at work or being the best at everything. Jesus taught us to make relationships the most important thing in our lives: our relationship with him and with others.
We have limited resources here on earth; make sure to use them wisely. Be good stewards of money, the environment, your talents, your body and your time. Keep in mind that stewardship is like the dimmer switch and not the on/off switch. A little more here, a little less there. And remember, when something is in short supply, it is more valuable.