Stewardship/Generosity, part 3
(watch here: https://youtu.be/A2WHidrN254)
13Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
22He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
I like the one about a young boy who went to the local store with his mother. The shop owner, a kindly man, passed him a large jar of suckers and invited him to help himself to a handful. Uncharacteristically, the boy held back. So the shop owner pulled out a handful for him. When outside, the boy’s mother asked why he had suddenly been so shy and wouldn’t take a handful of suckers when offered.
The boy replied, “Because his hand is much bigger than mine!”
God’s hands are much bigger than ours. Not only did He create all that is and ever was but He continues to create and give generously to us. If only we’d stop being so focused on taking what we need, we could fully appreciate all that He gives. We’d be able to see just how much He gives! Our God’s hands are much bigger than ours!
This week we’re closing out our sermon series on stewardship and generosity and though we’ve explored Jesus’ caution not to worry or place our trust in our wealth, I think this week’s reading gets at the heart of what it means to be good stewards and generous as God is generous. You see, all of us have been called into stewardship. We all serve a master who has entrusted us with portions of his belongings. Everything we have and everything we are are possessions of God. Our earth, our homes, our children, our parents, our friends, our jobs, our money, our minds, our very bodies…they all belong to God. Nothing we have belongs to us! They are all gifts from our loving and generous Father who entrusts us to manage and oversee them. And if we fail to manage them according to the master’s wishes then they are taken away from us. Thus is the relationship between a master and a steward. Only a foolish steward would believe that what he/she has is truly his or hers. Only a foolish steward would believe that he/she can do with his/her belongings however way he/she wanted. Only a foolish steward would believe there is no master.
What Jesus’ parable about the rich man teaches us is that managing the master’s belongings is more than simply protecting them. No, managing the master’s belongings involves putting them to good use. Everything we have has a use to it, a purpose for its existence. God doesn’t make useless things! But we have the option to either put our blessings to good use or to bad use. We can use what God blesses us with to harm ourselves or others or we can use them to help ourselves or others. Or we can simply not put them to use as the rich man in the parable had chosen to do. But even so I’d argue that his stored wealth was harming others. It was taking up space that could have been used for more life-sustaining activities, not to mention it wasn’t in circulation creating new opportunities and possibilities. For whatever reason, the man had become afraid to put his wealth to use. Perhaps there was a time when he had nothing and the terror of that experience urged him to store up his blessings. Perhaps the man was afraid his wealth would be put to bad use even if he intended it for good use. Regardless, his wealth sat in those growing storehouses doing more harm than help.
Naturally, this displeased God and the rich man was scolded. It displeases God when we store up our blessings and fail to put them to use either for good or for bad. Recall the parable of the talents from Matthew’s gospel (25:14-30) where the master entrusted varying portions of his wealth to his servants. Two of the three servants traded their talents, or coins, and doubled them while the third servant hid his talent. The master came back and was pleased with the two who grew his wealth but angry at the one who sat on his. We hear this same critique in today’s parable. God gives us blessings so that we might put them to use, plain and simple. If we can’t or won’t put them to use, then God takes them away and chides us for our hesitancy. We must trust in his continued providence. God will provide. God will continue to provide as He has always provided. We are his beloved children, of this we can be assured. God demands that we live by faith and trust in him and him alone.
Recall the story of Abram in the book of Genesis. God called him to leave his home and friends and his familiar life and take his wife into the wilderness. It was there that God promised to bless him and make him the “father of all nations.” But notice God’s wording: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (12:2-3) God didn’t simply bless Abram for the sake of blessing him or to reward him for being faithful. God said, “so that you will be a blessing.” So that Abram will put his blessing to good use in blessing others. The master/steward relationship is established between God and Abram. God’s blessings were to be managed and put to good use.
Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”(9:8) I like Paul’s wisdom because it explains why God gives so generously. God not only wants us to have all that we need but also enough to share with others. In sharing with others we are putting his blessings to good use. God is generous so that we might be generous.
At the heart of stewardship is a recognition that God provides us with everything. James writes, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (1:17) And God blesses us so that we might put his blessings to good use in sharing with others. Let us be mindful of all our blessings and from whom they come. Let us not be afraid that God will stop blessing us. Our God is a good and gracious God! Our God will provide! Let us not be afraid to share his blessings. I’ll close with the assurance of Hebrews 6:13-14, “When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and multiply you.’”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.