“The Meaning of Stewardship”

Scripture:  Genesis 1:26-31; 2 Corinthians 9:7-15

Introduction

A young preacher had just finished seminary and had taken his first appointment in the hills of Kentucky.

Wanting to be effective in his preaching ministry, he walked into the pulpit on his first Sunday and preached on the evils of smoking.  When he finished his message, some of the church leaders met him at the door: “We’re a little surprised that you would deal with the subject of smoking, since growing tobacco is one of the major sources of income and jobs in the state of Kentucky.  You might want to think twice about talking about tobacco from this pulpit.”  The preacher thanked them for enlightening him.

The next Sunday he came back and preached against liquor and drinking.  With great fervor, he preached on the ills of whiskey.  The same group met him at the door when he was finished.  They said: “We think we need to tell you that you ought to be careful about preaching against alcoholic beverages, especially since nearly a third of our county distills whiskey.”  “I didn’t know that,” the preacher replied. “Thank you for helping me.”

He came back the next Sunday to preach a stirring sermon on gambling--in any shape or form, the lottery, racehorses, or any other.  Once again, that group met him after the service: “We think we need to tell you that over half of our county raises thoroughbred racehorses, so you want to be real careful about talking about gambling from the pulpit.”

Being a quick learner, the next Sunday, the young preacher preached against the evils of scuba diving in international waters![1]

Stewardship

Like that preacher, many of us are tempted to take the easy way out when it comes to dealing with topics that we’d rather not talk about.  The way that we use our resources – including our money – is often one of those topics.  The truth is, though it might make us uncomfortable, the Bible contains over 2,000 verses on the subject of money and possessions.  Stewardship of resources was one of Jesus’ favorite topics – he taught about money and possessions more than any other topic.  We have approximately 38 of Jesus’ parables recorded in the New Testament – and 16 of them are about money and possessions.

I mentioned earlier in the service that we will be talking about stewardship for the next three weeks – the last week will be our “Pledge/Consecration Sunday” where we offer our pledges for the year.

So, what exactly does “Stewardship” mean?  Can anybody give me a basic definition for the word “Stewardship”? 

[Opportunity for Responses]

The official definition of the word “Stewardship” is: “The conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.”[2]  Though we tend to use the word to refer specifically to money and giving, notice that neither of those things is directly mentioned in that definition.

Created as Stewards

Our first reading this morning was from the first chapter of Genesis.  It told of the 6th day of Creation – the day in which God created all of the animals that share dry land.  On the last half of the 6th day, God does what we all like to think of as the crowning achievement of creation – humans are created.

Unlike the rest of creation, however, the creation of humanity isn’t recorded just as a matter of fact.  Humans are created with a unique purpose and responsibility – that is, to actively care for the rest of God’s creation.  God’s first words to humans were about relationship – but not about the relationship between humanity and God, but between humanity and creation:

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. … See, I have given you every pant…and every tree.”

We were created not to be mere users or consumers of what God has put on the earth, but to be stewards of creation.  We tend to think about stewardship as something that we do – often, something that we are compelled to do – but the author of Genesis reminds us that stewardship is, fundamentally, part of who we are as God’s people.  We are to subdue and exercise dominion over the earth – studying these terms in the original Hebrew reveals that it must be understood in terms of care-giving and nurturing of what God has given, rather than exploitation.

This means that we are to be mindful of the ways that we use what God has gifted us with – specifically, the creation account lists fish, birds, plants, trees, and land-based animals.  We were created to partner with God to make sure that God’s creation and all of the creatures within it are well taken care of. 

This responsibility carries over to all of the other ways in which God has gifted us, as well.  In his sermon titled, “The Good Steward,” John Wesley tried to answer the question of in what ways humans are God’s stewards.  He wrote:

We are not at liberty to use what [God] has lodged in our hands as we please, but only as [God] pleases, who alone is the possessor of heaven and earth, and the Lord of every creature.  We have no right to dispose of anything we have, but according to God’s will, seeing as we are not proprietors of any of these things…nor is anything properly our own in the land of our pilgrimage.  [Only] eternal things are our own: With all of these temporal things we are barely entrusted by another, the Disposer and Lord of all.  And God entrusts us with them on this express condition – that we use them only as our Master’s goods, and according to the particular direction which he has given us in his word.[3]

Wesley continues on to name some of the things that God has entrusted as with as stewards – many are things I wouldn’t have thought of, and which would be entirely overlooked if we understood ourselves to only be stewards of our finances.  Wesley identified four different areas where we have been gifted:

1.    Our souls - Including our emotions, memories, and our imaginations.

2.    Our bodies - Including our energy, abilities, senses, and speech.

3.    The “Other” Category – Including time, health, influence, and education.

4.    Our worldly possessions – Including food, clothing, homes – and, he writes, “Above all, he has committed to our charge that pecious talent which contains all the rest – money.  Indeed it is unspeakably precious, if we are wise and faithful stewards of it; if we employ every part of it for such purposes as our blessed Lord has commanded us to.

About Money…

So, yes.  Stewardship is about money.  But it’s not just about money.  More than just being good stewards of our material wealth, stewardship is about understanding that all that we have belongs to God.  It’s about living into our responsibility to care for others and for all of creation because of what God has given to us.  Stewardship is about having a spirit of thankfulness for what receive, and in that spirit of thanksgiving, glorifying God by using it to serve others.

That’s what Paul was talking about in our reading from 2nd Corinthians.  Paul writes:

Everyone should share whatever they have decided in their heart.  They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure.  God loves a cheerful giver.  God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace.  That way, you will have everything you need and will be able to share abundantly in every good work.[4]

In all that we offer – be it money or time or energy or other gifts – we are called to give cheerfully and readily, knowing that it is from the abundance of grace that we have received from God that we are able to offer to others.

Conclusion

As you prepare to turn in your financial pledge cards on November 17th, I hope that you will also consider how you will pledge your other resources to God.  As you pray about the dollar amount of your pledge for 2014, pray also about all the other things God has put into your life and how they can be used to serve God most effectively.

I hope that these three weeks are a time of thanksgiving for the things that you have in your life.  Whether you find yourself with a lot or money or a little, a lot of extra time or a little, a lot of education or a little…  Know that God has gifted you.  And what you do with those gifts matters to God.



[1] From Kenneth Sauer’s sermon, “Our Primary Stewardship.”  Accessed online at http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/our-primary-stewardship-kenneth-sauer-sermon-on-gifts-giving-47789.asp

[2] Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “stewardship.”  Accessed online at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stewardship

[3] John Wesley, “Sermon 51: The Good Steward.”  Accessed online at http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-51-The-Good-Steward.  Emphasis mine.

[4] 2 Corinthians 9:7-8.  My translation.

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