I have been told that Episcopalians would rather talk about sex than about stewardship. Fortunately, Laurie had asked me to concentrate on the subject of stewardship today.
Stewardship is truly the “S” word to Episcopalians. When most people think about stewardship and how the word is spelled, they would start with a capital “S” with two vertical lines through it – the dollar sign.
It’s true that many stewardship sermons center on questions like how much do we need to meet the budget, how big a shortfall will there be if people don’t increase their pledges, can we afford to increase the salary of our staff?
So, is stewardship about money? Of course, stewardship is about money because money is such a powerful influence in our lives. So, if we are talking about stewardship, we have to talk about money, but we don’t have to start there – or end there.
Stewardship is also about ownership and control. What we have belongs to God, not us. What we have is only under our control for a time.
This puts us in a position of being stewards. Stewardship is being in charge of something that belongs to someone else. It implies accountability to the true owner of what we do with what we are in charge of.
Jesus taught in many parables that we are responsible to God for our use of what we are in charge of. He also taught that we own the owner (God) a return on what has been assigned to us.
So, we need to ask ourselves some questions. Who is really the owner of what I have? Who is in charge of my life? To whom do I give the highest allegiance, the greatest devotion? Where do I spend my greatest energy? Not just in words, but in actions?
It’s time for a story. This is a very old story. Some of you may have heard it before. If you have, please bear with me.
This is a story about a man who collects pearls.
One day, while walking through downtown, a man sees, in a store window, the most beautiful, the largest, most magnificent pearl he has ever seen. Instantly, he knows he must own it.
The man enters the store and addresses the storekeeper: I want that pearl. How much is it?
The storekeeper says: “How much you got?”
The man says $300, a Chevy Suburban, low mileage, about 2 years old, paid for; 2 CD’s worth about $50,000.
Storekeeper: Live in a cave?
Man: House in Conn. 3,500 sq ft
Storekeeper: Live alone?
Man: Wife and two children.
The man gives away his house, his property, even his family. Finally, the storekeeper says, “Okay, here. The pearl is yours.”
The man turns to leave the store. But as he is walking out, the storekeeper stops him and says, “Hey, you know what, that family of yours, I don’t need a family. So, I’m going to give them back to you. But remember, they are mine now, not yours. You must take good care of them. And that house in Connecticut, well, I don’t need a house, so you can have that back too.
Although it belongs to me, I just want you to take care of it. As for the CD’s, the Suburban and even the $300, you can have it all back too. But remember, it is all mine. Take it. Use it wisely. Care for it for me.”
So the man left with everything he had when he walked into the store, plus the great pearl. But there was a difference. He walked into the store owning everything he had. He walked out owning nothing. Instead, everything he had before was now a gift.
In our culture, we receive – in fact, we are bombarded by – two very contradictory messages. on the one hand, we are told that we must be concerned about our safety and security, that we need to save for the future, for a possible future illness, retirement, our own comfort and well-being.
At the same time we are told to spend, to consume, to have the latest STUFF, to find our identity in the things we possess.
To confound matters even worse, when we attend church, we are reminded that God loves a cheerful giver. We are encouraged to give cheerfully and generously.
Quite naturally, we may say to ourselves, “But give away my money, I won’t have safety or security and I won’t be able to have the things I want and need.” I certainly won’t be a cheerful giver.
I think there are three basic motives for giving.
First, we may give out of a sense of guilt and compulsion. This is “I have to give and I’ll feel like a low-down skunk if I don’t. Man, I wish my conscience would leave me along so I wouldn’t feel compelled to give.”
To give grudgingly and under compulsion is giving with an open hand, but closed heart and clenched teeth. It is giving with annoyance at having to give. It is giving and hating it. It is “Phooey” giving.
Second, we may give because we see needs and want to help. We see needs all around us. People are unemployed, people don’t have adequate food, and even more importantly, people need the Lord.
When we see a genuine need, and when we have the resources to alleviate that need, that ought to motivate us to give. This kind of giving, “I want to help” giving goes a long way towards causing us to give and feel good about it.
Third, we may give so God is praised and thanked. This reminds us that all our blessings come from God and it turns our hearts to God in gratitude, worship and praise. This kind of giving, “I want to thank God” giving helps us to give and feel good about it.
So, perhaps we can define Christian Stewardship in the following way – it is caring for everything we have knowing it does not belong to us. All is a gift, given to us to care for, to leave better than we found it.
We need to give to live.
We need to give to love.
We need to give to keep our hearts in the right place.
We need to give to benefit those in need.
We need to give to glorify God.
We need to give.
You will never out-give God. You can shovel in and keep shoveling in. You will find that God shovels back and keeps shoveling back. And the blessing is: God has a bigger shovel.