Sermon on Stewardship

Sermon for Sunday 13th September 2015

James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

‘ . . .as those who will give an account’
Dangerous Faith

Anglicanism has more than its fair share of peculiarities, hardly surprising for a church which had its genesis in the determination of a King to marry whomsoever he wanted at a time of religious upheaval in the 16th Century.
But for the purposes of today, when we are considering Stewardship, I want to think about our Anglican posture of prayer. Not because I want everyone to pray that more money will come in – but because our posture in prayer says something about how we relate to God, and not only in theory. We are embodied, and what we do with our bodies affects our faith as much as our faith affects what we do with our bodies. You may like to spend time praying adopting different positions – pay attention to how it changes the disposition of your heart and mind . . .

So how does being Anglican affect our posture in prayer? Well, the fact is that by and large our way of praying is rather odd –  for historically and indeed until recently, pretty uniformly, Anglicans kneel to pray. OK so some more modern types sit – itself unusual historically, after all, only the relatively wealthy could afford to put seats into their churches – or adopt the shampoo position, which is sort of half way between sitting and kneeling whilst massaging your follicles, but as the prayer book repeatedly says – ‘the people all kneeling . . .’.

Whereas the way to pray most commonly observed and practised, and that of our Jewish forebears also, is that we pray Standing up! I’ll come to standing up in a minute, but why are Anglicans different? Well as far as we can tell it was because in the feudal times out of which the Church of England grew – one knelt before one’s lord and master, and so transferring that practise it seemed right and proper to kneel before God – but I suggest that that is not helpful. Not least because it leaves us entirely with a sense that we are supplicants in prayer, which is only a very small part of the story.
Our primary relationship to God is not one of begging. And certainly if we consider what it is to be a Steward, then begging isn’t primarily what we are about. For God in Christ has so dignified his people that he calls them to be Stewards of all that He has created, and in that dignity to Stand before him.

In the book of Job – after Job has poured out all his complaints, the LORD confronts Job with the words – ‘gird up your loins like a man and I will question you, and you shall declare to me.’ For 35 chapters Job has sat in the dust and pondered his plight, and now the LORD appears with the command – get up from the dust – face me like a man! Gird up your loins is a way of saying – get ready for hard labour – get ready for battle! ‘I will question you, and you shall declare to me.’ God invites Job to debate face to face. Astonishingly, God treats the human as in a sense an equal – and expects us not to cower but to Stand before Him. So we learn to speak with God as it were ‘Face to Face’ Standing. If you wish to enter into a deeper apprehension of your life before God, Standing to pray makes a huge difference – After all – is not God Present??!

Now at this point you may be asking – WHAT has this got to do with Stewardship??? Surely you need to be talking about how we need to be giving more etc. etc. etc. Or give us guidelines – or something.
Well I’m not . . . The Christian Life is not one in which we are spoon fed. God in Christ has forgiven us our sins and set us free from Sin. We don’t have to sin. God in Christ through the gift of the Spirit has taken us up from the dust and set us on our feet – he offers his Life to us that we might obey his commandments and do them – to love our neighbour as ourself, to love God with all we have and all we are. God treats us like responsible adults. ‘This is the way, walk in it . . .’

For example, as we have thought about over the last few weeks – when the wealthy young man comes to Jesus, Jesus tells him it like it is – he treats him as a responsible human being. This is the deal – sell your possessions give the money to the poor, then come follow me . . . over and over again Jesus says things that treat us not like infants, but adults. And sadly and too often, we seek to evade Jesus Word to us – the Word that gives Life . . .
So the parable to the talents, the man going on a journey  puts all his wealth in the hands of his servants . . . As the Psalmist says ‘The Earth is the LORD’s and everything in it’ Everything belongs to God – he puts it into the hands of the human. Let us make man in our own image, ‘according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’Each of the stewards is held responsible – it is the one who tries to squirm away, who seeks to evade his responsibilities who finds himself in the mire. As Jesus said – when the invitation to the Kingdom came, ‘one after another began to make his excuses . . .’ The call into the Kingdom is a fearful call for it is at once a call to our true dignity and therefore Responsibility as human beings – not by the deceitful standards of the World, but by the Command of the One who created the heavens and the Earth . . . our stewardship is not calculated to win us the admiration of society, but God’s Well Done, Good and faithful steward

When we are baptised into the Life of the Church – the time for excuses is over. Yes we may sin, and for that we confess our sins one to another that we might be healed – but no excuses now. God in Raising Christ from the dead has set us up on our feet – our Life, our very Existence is now Face to Face with the Living God, and thus as the Scriptures continually tell us – we must give an account . . . Baptism is not into some life where we are as it were held in cossetted existence, no it is a passage into Life before God, It is an awakening to the true reality of our lives and our Life Together – in all its Glory and all its Fear of the LORD.

Those who are called by the church to teach should know this accountability well, for we are called on me to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and no other gospel. Not to as it were to try and find easy ways around the words of Jesus, but to face up to them for ourselves and to declare them to God’s people. As St Paul says ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!’ It’s of course tempting to say – God help me if I don’t, but it is to God that the preacher is responsible!!! There is no other defence!!! As James puts it in his epistle we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. Yet it is not only the ordained who are given the capacity for speech. Perhaps in no greater way does God give over Stewardship to man than in conferring upon him the terrifying power of speech?? As Paul says, Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And what terrifying responsibility – for as James tells us, the ongue is like the rudder of a ship – small but guiding and directing its course – our Speech creates worlds for Good or Ill – and it forms us also. As Jesus puts it I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’
It is no wonder that James exhorts us – ‘be slow to speak’ – for we will have to give an account of our stewardship of the Divine Gift of speech. And Peter is reminded of that in the most forceful of terms. Responding to the words of Jesus hastily he says the first thing that comes out of his mouth. And Jesus treats his words with full seriousness – ‘Get behind me Satan!!’ As I have said before, our Life in Christ is a matter of LIfe and Death, to dare to call oneself Christian is to take the responsibility for our Life that he places into our hands

Jesus summons to Life could not be more serious “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” To follow Christ – to die to oneself is to be set free in Radical Responsibility. It is to live with the Command of God as our only guide. No rules no regulations, certainly no careful calculations. One of the insights I had about myself on Sabbatical was a tendency to try and be calculating in my Life before God. The only response to the Life of God is Yes, or No. There are no %ages. It is all or nothing. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Simply all we have comes from God – and we are to use it for HIs Glory – the Glory of the One we Love – according to our unique abilities – to Love God with all we have and all we are, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
That is our Life – it is the meaning of our Existence. To be a steward of that which God has given us is to live with this Life giving Command before our eyes, day in and day out. It is to live knowing that we shall all have to give an account – it is to understand that nothing we have is ours, even our very lives, but everything belongs to our Father, as we ourselves are his Precious possession.

We are HIs precious possession – it is because we belong to Him in Jesus, that we have life; because we belong to Him in Jesus that we are set free to live in true Responsibility for our LIves. It is our sense of the reality or otherwise of our relationship before God in Jesus Christ which marks out how we respond to that. Whether, knowing Him and Loving Him we dare stand before Him, Rejoicing in Him and boldly stepping out in Life in His Name. Or, not knowing him, hearing words about giving an account with terror and fear

It’s not my place to tell anyone how much to give – or to what – but an obligation is placed on me to remind us that God in Jesus Christ has radically saved us and brought us into the kingdom of his Son, He has given us his life, breathing the Holy Spirit into each one of us, lifting us from the dust of death and setting us on our feet – facing Him moment by moment and day by day. Our Life is before God, and we will have to give an account to God of how we have used all he has put into our hands – so let us respond not with fear and excuses, with self serving calculation, but  – with cheerfulness – indeed as St Paul puts it in the Greek with Hilaritos – as Children of our Father bestowing gifts upon the righteous and the unrighteous – with Joy and Gladness in all of our Stewarding of the Good Gifts he has bestowed upon us.
For in truth all of us are accountable before God for what we have done with that which is his . . . Not taking responsibility before God for all he has placed into our hands is to deny the very Life he has given us – but let us not hide in the shadows of excuses and fear, but walk fully in the Light of the Life of Christ, so that on the last day when he shall come to judge the Earth, we may rejoice at his coming and Stand before Him, as we have learned to do. Rejoicing Always, Praying without Ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances – for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.

Sermon for Sunday August 22nd – Stewardship

Sermon for Sunday 22nd September – Stewardship Sunday

Luke 16:1-13

The Good Steward

Today is one of those strange Sundays which I can never find in the liturgical calendar, but which almost all churches seem to celebrate, and that is Stewardship Sunday 🙂

Stewardship -I wonder what image that conjours in your mind? What are our expectations on ‘Stewardship Sunday’. I wonder if folk avoid church on ‘Stewardship Sunday’ 🙂

I wonder if this story resonates? I remember a colleague of mine at the Catholic school where I taught, and he recounted how the local parish priest had visited him and his wife on a dark winters evening. He had come in and without asking after them or their family, reminded them of their financial obligations to the church. and then left. . . as my friend said, ‘I wouldn’t have minded all that much, but he wasn’t our parish priest, we worshipped at another church!’ 🙂

Well, I have never preached on the subject of our giving to the church and I’m not about to break the habit of the last 15 years of ministry. Which you might think must be the end of the sermon, for what ELSE can one talk about on Stewardship Sunday, but money, or deceitful money as Jesu calls it. Like the vain person, Money assumes we MUST be talking about it 🙂 Of course  we might think of Stewardship of ‘Our gifts, or time’ and perhaps we’ve heard sermons on that. But I’ve never preached on that either and don’t want to break my duck today 🙂 Partly because preaching on Money, or Gifts or Time, is to preach on things which we instinctively, if wrongly think of as ours, which has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ – which begins with the assumption that Everything is God’s.

That we can say of Nothing – ‘This is Mine’. Indeed things, Money distort us and make us want to Own them. Thus we speak of Ours. That is the way Jesus addresses us about Money. He calls it Untrustworthy – Unrighteous – Deceitful – it’s out to trap you, out to make you think it is yours . . . So I don’t want to dwell on those things because we all tend to thinking they are ours however much we deny it – and we will end up with the sort of unhealthy dynamic where if my sermon is particularly skillful, then perhaps I can encourage you to think about giving a little more in these areas?? No

Rather I want to think what it means to be a Steward in biblical terms – what we are stewards of – and how we should respond to today’s gospel reading.

So what does it mean to be a steward? Firstly a steward is a servant. He or she has a master for whom they works. And they are ALWAYS in view. The Christian is God’s Servant, God’s Steward. In a sense being God’s steward is the Whole Active Christian life. Supremely in The Servant, The Steward of The Lord. Jesus Christ, whose Bread is to do the will of HIs Father. We are the Body of Christ – so we, the church are the Servant of the Lord – our very life is about serving God – that is why we are here. The manager in the story is put in charge of his masters things – but he has squandered them. And he realises his time is up, for his master wants an account!! He knows he is facing the sack.

Similarly our Stewardship is something of which we are expected to give an account. Individually and as a church. Christ calls us to account. ‘How have you stewarded what I have entrusted to you?’ God is asking us. So our Lives and our Life together is lived out with a view to Christ and His command to us. He is the one we must answer to. And here we have a problem, for frankly when it comes to we modern people, we are so full of our sense of it being Our Life to do what We want to do with, that the idea that we might have to give an account is at best vague. Put another way, we tend to think of God and Christ in very abstract terms. The idea of Judgement, of accounts being made is not close to the surface of our thinking, but we cannot begin to think clearly about Stewardship without this. The Steward in the story is FAR wiser than we are in this regard. ‘the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.’ He’s VERY aware of his boss and his responsibilities. Put another way, if we are foolish enough to claim to be Christians, then we should know better in the matter of having to give an account.

So Stewards work for another – and they have to give and account of how they have CARED for that which is not theirs. Stewardship is a matter of taking Care of that which is Gods. This is why I do not think Money, or gifts or talents or out time are in view when we think of Stewardship. I want to suggest that Stewardship has little if anything to do with anything we might be deceived into things we think of as ours. Rather they are those things which we feel detached from. THESE are the things we are given to care for. Indeed THERE in a sense is part of the problem. Dishonest Money actually Detaches us from our sense of responsibility – we do not identify with that with which we have been entrusted as Stewards . . .

Three areas of Stewardship that are given into our hands. They define the Entire Active life of the Christian, God places them into Our Care, and will come to ask us what we have done with them.

The Creation – If you like, the original model of the Stewards are Adam and Eve – they are told to ‘Till and to Keep the Garden’. As some of us explored last year – the words have overtones of worship – their tending is to be worshipful – in the sense of treating with the greatest of respect. As we heard a few weeks ago in our musings on Colossians, Jesus is the Second Adam, He stewards Creation in healing the sick and casting out demons, and calming the storm, and cursing the unfruitful tree – He is the one in whom the whole created order holds together and for whom it was made. So As the Body of Christ we are to Steward the Creation.

And when we do, The Creation is a source of blessing to us – The Earth hath brought forth her increase and God, even our own God shall bless us Ps 67:6 – As we tend the Earth, then God blesses his servants through the Earth. God looks after the Good Stewards whose eyes are on looking after God’s good Earth. YET . . . we have as it were sought to make the Earth a source of our own gain, We have not treated it as if it was not ours, to do with as we life, we have not been Good Stewards. And so more and more the Creation is not that vehicle of blessing . . .

Just this week I was reading of one of hundreds of examples of this. How in Alaska – for generations people have with tremendous respect and care fished for Sockeye Salmon. Stopping the fishing if the stocks looked stressed. But now it appears that the huge headwater area is also the site of possible Gold and tin mineral extraction on a vast scale – the Financial worth of the deposits estimated at $ 1 trillion US. Although one mining corporation this week announced it was withdrawing one big corp now has what it likes to call ‘Rights’ on the whole lot (How Proud we are, to say we have RIGHTS on that which is God’s) . . . $1tn, or the health of the Salmon?? History which seems in this regard be heading into an abyss tells us who will win in the end. If you like sockeye salmon, enjoy them this season . . . dishonest wealth distorts our view.
We are given stewardship of our own souls – of our lives before God… I wonder if we have thought of that? For as Christians Our lives are not our own to do with as we will as much as the planet is not ours to do with as we will. Creation, Our souls – belong to God in Christ. To mix the metaphor, How do we tend the garden of our soul?

The rich man calls his Steward to give an account – we are accountable. The Steward is not his own boss – neither are we. How do we tend the garden of our souls wisely? By being accountable for our lives.

How regularly do we sit with someone to give an account of our stewardship of our soul? Of our life with God?

We are meant to do this – we are meant to watch over one another in love. And again money distorts it. We have grown up in a church where the only people who are accountable are those we pay 🙂 They have contracts and terms of service and covenants. And we are SO used to money dictating things that we think there is nothing wrong with this, after all Deceitful mammon whispers in our ears, ‘we don’t want to waste our money, do we?’ . . . – but are we as alert to the wasting souls amongst us?

I wonder how many of us come to worship Sunday by Sunday, but think ‘I feel like such a lousy Christian’ – I wonder how few of us dare to voice this to another – to ask for help – to say to someone else, would you help me steward my soul? Would you in love, hold me to account for my life?

The shrewd manager sees the time of accounting coming! He realises he has failed big time  he realises he is about to be sacked . . . so he thinks ‘I need some friends’ and he takes the bills of his masters clients and in a rush cuts and slashes them – ‘quick rewrite your bill so its half as much – you – cut yours by a third – you cut yours by 80%!’ Of course when his master sacks him – these people will look after him, for he has ‘looked after them – and his master smiles. He’s lost his money, and this scoundrel has taken care of himself 🙂 He is shrewder than the children of Light

Which brings us to our final arena of stewardship of One another.

3) Love your neighbour as you love yourself – This is Stewardship – for your neighbour is a bearer of the image of God. They belong to Him. I wonder if we think about this when we think about our neighbour. The person we meet on the street. The poor. They belong to God -they are put into Our hands. Esepcially those of us who have the financial means to help them. Throughout Scripture, ‘The Righteous person’ is exemplified in the one whom the poor know as their friend. Righteousness and care for the poor go hand in hand.

It is in regard to This stewardship that the story Jesus tells hits home most clearly. The manager – the steward of the rich mans affairs has made a mess of it – we are told he has squandered his property. The man puts money to work, to buy himself friends. And Jesus says we should do the same, and particularly with respect to The Poor. Until Very recently Care for the Poor was understood as Central to Christian piety. But less and less so, as so many Christians ironically grown wealthy, and increasingly separated from the poor. One of the ways Money is deceitful is in hiding the wealthy from the poor. It is worth considering how we live in our society – are the rich and the poor cheek by jowl? No, there are rich neighbourhoods and poor neighbourhoods. HOw many of us know people as friends whose daily lives are a struggle to feed a family, I wonder? The Righteous are known and welcomed by the poor.
We live separate lives and so The Poor are just an abstraction to us . . . just like God and judgement and giving an account. For many in our society, and indeed sadly in the church, the poor are just an abstraction – we do not sit at table with them, or share their lives, yet I regularly hear them condemned as deserving their poverty, written off as wastrels. THese people who are by and large strangers to us

And the Owner of the house is coming. Next week the door closes. Week by week we have heard Jesus warning his people about dishonest wealth, about caring for the poor. Next week we have the chilling tale of the Rich man and Lazarus. The door closes, The judge has come and the one who lived without a care for the poor man at the gate finds himself in hell . . . This week we are a week shy of this – the manager realises that the judge is on the way – so what does he do?? He transfers his masters wealth to those amongst whom he will have to live. and Jesus notes – the Master commended him for his shrewdness. When the accounts are settled, the man will find himself amongst friends and Jesus says ‘And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.’

He acts out of fear . . . he is not a child of light. He does what he does because he knows he’s out on his ear. We Know that we are utterly loved by the One who has given His World, His people and indeed His Life to us. We have nothing to fear from Deceitful wealth, however loudly it may whisper in our ears that we have to look Care for it. We have been given a far more glorious task of Caring for Creation and Others and through that our very souls

I said at the outset that God wasn’t in view in the Rich man, but perhaps in a sense he is. Yes we like the scoundrel manager have squandered what belongs to HIm. We have squandered the earth, our souls and indeed the lives of others, but perhaps at the last, he might smile upon those who have come to their senses, Woken up to who they are in Christ, and have sought to be the Good Stewards they were created to be.