Last Sunday our church examined the story of the widow who put her last two coins into the offering plate. We admired her great faith, and Pastor Yang in his sermon also reminded us of the agonizing choice she faced. She certainly could have used those coins to take care of her needs, and yet she also knew the importance of giving to the Lord’s work.
Like that widow, we also face choices about the use of our time and resources. Today is the culminating day of our three-week emphasis on stewardship, during which we’ve been encouraging one another to make wise and God-pleasing choices in the management of all that God places in our hands. We will soon have the opportunity to declare our choice about giving to the Lord’s work here at St. Paul’s. During the gathering of the offerings today we are encouraging our members and friends to fill out the Stewardship Commitment Form which appears in your bulletin and bring it forward as an of giving to the Lord.
But first, let’s do some more thinking about the subject of stewardship. When Pastor Yang preached about choices last week, he used the example of choosing between buying a new car and putting a new addition on your house. As one who’s had the same house and car for a number of years, I could relate.
His example also reminded me of one of my favorite shows on television right now. It’s called “Love It or List It.” In the show, a family decides to put a certain amount of money toward improving their housing situation. One expert takes that money and puts it toward construction improvements on their existing house. The other expert looks around at the available real estate in their area and helps the family think about what kind of new house the family could afford with that same amount of money. At that end of the show the family has a choice between staying in their old house with the new improvements or moving to a new house. In other words, they either decide to love their old house or list it.
Stewardship can be thought of as “loving it or listing it” also. When we look at our lives and schedules and activities, and think about what we want to do in the future, we can either decide to love things the way they are or choose from a list of new opportunities.
On the Stewardship Commitment Form we have given you there is a list of ways in which a person can serve at St. Paul’s. I hope that each of you will look at that list and decide to participate in some way–either continuing a current work with renewed love or finding something new to do. And if there’s something you like to do that is not on the list, we’re happy to explore how that work can be done here also.
Lists can be helpful. They get us thinking about the many needs that exist and the many opportunities we have to meet those needs. They help to clarify our choices. However, an even more fundamental choice must be made first. This is the choice of whether or not to give at all. I don’t know of any TV show that illustrates this choice, but if we were to create one we might simply call it: “Give it or Keep it.”
To give or to keep is an essential stewardship question we must all consider. Certainly there is a portion of what God has given us that we should keep to meet our own needs. However, there is also always a portion that we should give for God’s work.
Before we think about what those portions should be, let’s first think about what “giving for God’s work” means. Certainly it means, first of all, giving toward the proclamation of God’s Word. God accomplishes His greatest works through His Word, as that Word turns the hearts of men toward good, announces His forgiveness and inspires us to faith.
“Giving for God’s work” also means giving with no strings attached. It is not really giving when we demand to keep control. Giving is about letting go and trusting in the Lord to accomplish His purposes. St. Paul’s is in the process of putting together a budget right now. We’ll have it done soon, but we’re not going to publish it and then ask people to give if the budget seems okay to them. We’re going to ask people to give and then trust that the Church—meaning all of us together—will use it in a way that is pleasing to God.
Now back to portions. Ten percent is a good number to give toward the proclamation of God’s Word. The Scriptures commend the tithe—and this is a good goal, although some of us will be able to give more and some may perhaps have to give less.
That being said, one hundred percent is actually the right number to give toward God. It’s the number which reflects a life lived in faith and gratitude. The question of “give it or keep it” can be a helpful way of distinguishing between donations and expenses, but it’s a poor way of thinking about life as a whole.
This is illustrated in today’s Gospel reading. Here we heard the story of three servants who were each given a portion of their master’s money to take care of. The first two servants worked with the money and ended up doubling it upon their master’s return. The third servant, however, did nothing but keep the money safe. When the master returned that servant was condemned in the harshest of terms.
Keeping God’s gifts hidden and unused is wrong. When we give less than one hundred percent toward God we are keeping something of His hidden. God has entrusted us with the time and talents we have, but they still belong to Him.
We are to use what God has given us for His purposes—which includes our joy, yes, but also the joy of others. Holding back God’s gifts occurs when we do nothing or when we use His gifts in ways that are not pleasing to Him.
There is a part of us that sympathizes with this third servant because we recognize his fears. We sometimes have them too. These fears are no excuse, however. They betray our lack of faith in a God who has given us amazing gifts and wants us to use them.
I’ve often thought that this parable of Jesus might be better if one of the first two servants of the master would not have doubled his master’s money, perhaps even losing it. That would be more like real life, wouldn’t it? And it would help relieve some of our fears about taking risks with what God gives us. Certainly God doesn’t expect that everything we do turns out to be successful, right? I would say He doesn’t. He just wants a good effort.
But in another way, the two servants doubling their master’s money makes another point—that any time we work with God’s gifts and do so with God’s purposes in mind we will accomplish some good. Maybe even great good. We may not always see it, but with God the promise is there. His Word will not return empty.
This speaks to the joy of working towards God’s purposes. It brings great joy to do God’s work. And God notices the things we do which help His people and further His kingdom. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” he says in the parable. “Enter into the joy of your master.” What greater words could there be to hear?
Jesus’ parables of the Kingdom speak powerfully to God’s ways, and they make many excellent points for us to consider. And yet they are not complete allegories claiming to reflect all reality. One way in which the parable could mislead is if we think God, like the master in the story, simply hands out his gifts and then walks away, expecting us to figure things out for ourselves. Our God, like His Word, is living and active. He is an ever-present help in trouble. He is with us always to hear our prayers and offer his Spirit.
In the TV show “Love it or List it” families are assisted by two experts—Harriet, who helps design and build the additions to the homes already owned by the families, and David, who searches for the new homes. Each of these experts is highly skilled and does an amazing job of giving the families a significant upgrade. Our family always watches the show and wishes we could have a dynamic duo like that to help us.
Of course, as members of God’s family we do have experts to help us – many experts – we all do – and they help us with more important things than an addition to our house. We have Sunday School teachers to teach us and our children. We have Board members to organize uplifting social activities, help us think through our finances, reach out to others and organize opportunities to serve. We have pastors to teach us God’s Word and extend His care in difficult times. We have musicians to lift our spirits through music and friends to support and encourage us.
Those who commit to studying and obeying God’s Word, and then hone their skills through Christian service, become experts in life who extend the greatest kinds of help to others. These good stewards multiply the blessings of everyone through the use of their God-given gifts. They become like Abraham, who trusted God enough to let his nephew Lot choose the better land. And they become like the Macedonian Christians, commended by Paul in his letters, who gave generously to help the poor in Jerusalem.
Everyone is grateful for good earthly stewards who make life better. But we should be most grateful for Jesus, God’s Son, who died to take away our sins. Only he managed all of life’s challenges perfectly, thus becoming the worthy sacrifice to atone for our sins. And only His Words are perfect in their truth and effect, enduring forever. Jesus is the true expert, sent by God, who’s self-giving has opened the Kingdom of heaven.
Today, like every day, we have an opportunity to share the gifts God has given us. Let us do so wisely, generously, sacrificially and without fear, trusting that God will bless our giving. In the holy name of Jesus, amen.