Faithful Stewards

(Proverbs 10:8-12Luke 19:11-271 Peter 4:7-11)

We seem to have finally shaken ourselves free of the grey skies and cold winds of winter; but even if the sun is finally shining, there is heavy weather ahead.  When the news came down that Zimmer had bought Biomet, the horizon turned black and ominous for a lot of people in our community.  A lot of them are afraid of being laid off, and a lot more are talking about leaving.  It’s the end of an era, and it could take far more than just the era with it.  A storm is coming, and the skies are dark.

It isn’t just here, though; look to the world’s horizon.  If Iran wants to develop weapons of mass destruction, we can’t really stop them, and we don’t know how close they might be—and the government of Iran is the geopolitical equivalent of a homicidal sociopath.  North Korea already has nuclear weapons, and I’m not even sure what you’d compare them to; that may be the most fundamentally deranged government and political culture in human history.  The skies are dark; a storm is coming.

And our nation?  “We are not now that strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven”; and unlike Tennyson’s Ulysses, we cannot claim to be “One equal temper of heroic hearts / . . . strong in will / To strive, to see, to find, and not to yield.”  Our culture is collapsing back into a class system; the real divide isn’t between Democrat and Republican anymore, but between the elites and the plebes, and they’re beginning to separate like bad veneer coming off cheap particle board.  That separation is sapping the life from our political system.  Increasingly, our elites are too focused on playing their own power games and enabling their own self-interest—particularly with regard to sexual politics—to take the problems of the world around them seriously on their own terms, rather than as opportunities for political gain.  And sacrificial leadership?  Forget it.  The skies are dark, the wind is rising, and the captain is down in the hospitality suite.

Now, perhaps you think I’m being far too grim, and painting far too black a picture.  I believe there’s an end looming—not the end of the world, but at least the end of the world as we know it—and maybe you don’t see that.  But even so, squint a little, and listen closely, because this is the horizon that frames both Peter’s instructions and Jesus’ parable.  Peter’s audience could see it:  unofficial persecution was rising, and Nero was unstable.  Those who stood around Jesus couldn’t; but forty years later, Jerusalem would burn, and the Temple would be dismantled down to the last stone.  Whether they realized it or not, the end of the world as they had known it was around the corner.

In truth, it always is, even in the best of times.  We cannot control the future, and we can never be sure what’s going to hit us next.  I don’t expect any of us to be dead by tomorrow, but any of us could be.  One moment’s distraction, at just the wrong time, and you could be hit by a bus, or a train, or lose control of your car.  Or something weirder could happen.  Our oldest and most beloved member in Grand Lake was walking to church one morning when an enraged bull moose charged down the alley behind our house and killed him.  Between one moment and the next, everything can change forever.

Therefore, says Peter, be faithful stewards of all the diverse forms of God’s grace, to the purpose that God would be glorified through Jesus Christ.  There are a few things to say about this.  First, “speaking” and “serving” means all our words and all our actions, everything we do in every part of life.  Paul says much the same in Colossians 3:  “Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Peter elaborates:  if God has given you breath to speak, he has given you breath to speak his truth, every time you open your mouth.  If he has given you strength to act, he has given you strength to use to serve others.

Second, everything we have is God’s gift to us by his grace; there’s nothing that’s purely ours to use for our own purposes.  Your riches, your brilliant mind, your gentle personality, your great athletic ability, none of these are truly your possession.  All of them are gifts from God, given to the church in your person to be used for his work.  And for those of us who have none of the above, well, we bear other gifts from God to the church.  Nor is our time our own.  God gives us every moment, and he measures out the length of our days on this earth; we have only the time he gives us, and he gives it to us to serve him, including by serving one another, not to serve ourselves.  None of us can say “my time,” “my money,” or “my life” as the one who owns any of those things.  We’ve been loaned them for a little while; in the end, we’ll be judged for how we’ve used them.

Third, it’s even truer to say that none of us can say “my church” as the one who owns it; none of us have the right to say, “This is my church, so it should be what I want it to be.”  We are God’s church; he owns us, and this is where he owns us.  On earth, this is my church and your church because we belong to it, not because it belongs to us.  God calls us to the church in much the same way Jesus came into this world, not to be served but to serve, and to give our lives for the sake of the many.  This isn’t the church where any of us is allowed to insist on what we want or demand our own way; this is the church where each of us is called in the love of God to give up what we want and sacrifice our own way so that our brothers and sisters in Christ will grow in his love and his grace, and so that those who are estranged from him will come to know and love him as we should.

Fourth, as individuals and as a church, good stewardship doesn’t mean making sure we have enough in the bank to give us financial security.  It doesn’t mean using God’s gifts for our own benefit, or for our own support.  The goal of our stewardship of all our possessions and talents and time is not worldly success, or a comfortable retirement, or even to keep the lights on and the doors open.  When God comes to ask us if we’ve been faithful in our use of everything he’s given us, there will only be one criterion:  did we use it all to the best of our ability to serve and glorify him?

In our parable from Luke, a nobleman goes off to the imperial capital to receive a kingship, but some of his subjects send a delegation after him to oppose him.  If he gets his way, he’ll come back with even greater power.  If they get theirs, he’ll be exiled and replaced.  While he’s gone, his servants are in a somewhat precarious position—he’s gone, but most of his enemies are still around, and when the cat’s away, the mice will play.  He leaves each of them with money and a choice:  will they stake everything on his victorious return—because obeying their master’s command will earn them the hatred of those who hate him—or will they act as if he isn’t coming back?  When he returns, he judges them not on their financial acumen, but on their faithfulness:  did they continue to represent him and do his business while he was away, or not?

And what is the king’s business?  To what should we give the time we have left as the end draws nearer?  “Above all,” Peter says, “love each other deeply.”  When Jesus returned to the Father, he gave us the gift of his love, making us free to love each other humbly and sacrificially; but if we don’t make the decision to do so, then hatred will creep in, through its various guises—dislike, mistrust, bitterness—and sow conflict, gossip, backbiting, and undermining of leadership.  Love, however, buries those plants whenever they begin to grow, before they can bear fruit.  It breaks the cycle of sin in the community.  As the British pastor N. J. D. White put it,

a man who puts himself under the control of the love God acts, when a private personal injury has been done to him, as though nothing had occurred. In this way, by simply ignoring the unkind act or the insulting word, . . . he brings the evil thing to an end; it dies and leaves no seed. . . .  This consideration gives dignity and worth inestimable to the feeble efforts of the most insignificant of us to make love the controlling principle in our daily lives.

However feeble our efforts may seem to us at times, that we make them sincerely is what matters to our Lord; he asks us not, “Have you been successful?” but “Have you been faithful?” When he comes, may he find us faithful to the end.
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