“There comes a day when we understand it is all grace: the whole world is a gift of God – a wonderfully generous and completely unmerited gift. We see every flower, every drop of water, every minute of our life as a gift.”
To the beloved of God at St. Peter,
We have arrived at July. I’ve been with you for almost a year now. Our time together has been precious to me. We still have five weeks together, so I will save the good-byes and words of overwhelming gratitude for when we reach the end. But this will be my last installment of “seemingly random things on the pastor’s mind.” And I’ve saved the best for last. Stewardship! Okay, maybe I’ve saved the most awkward for last. Stewardship is an awkward topic because it involves money. In this culture, money tends to fall into the “none of your business” category. We don’t like to talk about it in general. And then you add church to the equation and pretty soon images of millionaire televangelists, exploiting the bible and religion for personal gain, pop into mind and we just want nothing to do with it. Or maybe we don’t want to talk about it because we feel embarrassed or guilty because maybe we are not as faithful in our giving or generous as we think we ought to be. But don’t worry. I’m not here to guilt you into giving or even to talk about money really. What I want to talk about is much bigger than that. Stewardship.
Here is the thing. When we hear the word stewardship, we think fundraising. But I am here to tell you, stewardship is not just about fundraising. It is about mission and the practice of faith. It is about life. The most basic biblical message of stewardship is this: We belong to God. Everything we are and everything we have belongs to God. We say as much when we confess the creed on Sunday morning. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. What does this mean? According to Martin Luther, this means “I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house, family, and all things” (Small Catechism).
Everything we are and everything we have belong to God. The message that we belong to God is good news. You belong to God. You are not in charge. You are not in charge of your own body, time, talents, personality, intellect and your money. You are not in charge of any of these things. Because they are not yours. They belong to God and you’ve just got them on loan. That pretty face – on loan. That brilliant mind – on loan. The hours and days that make up your life – on loan. Everything, even life itself is on loan. Like it or not, we did not create ourselves. We have a creator to whom we belong. But belonging to God is good news. It is good news because God is very good at being in charge. God is better at managing our lives than we are. God is very good to us. God is gracious.
Mark Allan Powell thinks about stewardship, about being a steward in terms of being a house sitter. “Steward” is not a word that we use very much anymore. We hear it frequently in scripture, but we don’t exactly know what it means. So Powell talks about it like this. He says, imagine that you are going out of town for a while but you have plants that need to be watered and animals that need to be fed and played with. What do you do? You get a house sitter. Maybe it is a college student. It is a pretty good deal for that person. They get to live in your house instead of in a cramped dorm room, watch your TV, eat your food, etc. and water some plants and feed some animals. And then you come home, and you are glad to find that plants and animals are alive and they have taken good care of your house. That is what it is to be a steward – a house sitter – they live in a place that they do not own, using things that do not belong to them and taking care of those things on behalf of the owner. Humans are stewards of all God has made. God lets us live in this world and enjoy all the good things that creation has to offer and God also expects us to take care of those things.
But, says Powell, that is not exactly how we tend to live. Imagine now that you come home to find that your house sitter has changed all the locks on the doors and has taken up permanent residence in the house. They don’t let you in because they claim, “It is my house.” That is how we tend to function in this world. We move in, take up residence and declare ourselves owners. We don’t realize that God is only letting us use what still belongs to God.
Everything we are and everything we have belong to God. “Every day we stand in the shade of trees we did not plant. We live in houses we did not build. We eat food we did not produce. We ponder ideas that are not original to us. And we live in bodies with hearts and souls and minds that we did not create” (Donald Hinze). All of it is a gift. When we find that life is a gift, we experience profound gratitude and trust in God, the giver of all good things.
I wonder, what difference would it make in the way we live and experience life if we understood ourselves as house sitters? What would life look like if we really believed the truth that all that we are and all that we have belongs to God? That the good and gracious God of creation holds it all in His hands? Imagine it. Would life look exactly as it does now? Or might there be some difference, small or large? You are God’s own, God’s beloved. We will all spend a lifetime learning to live into the truth of that grace.
Grace to you and peace.