The Rector’s sermon for November 19, 2017  



Living Each Day as a Steward! (3 of 3)

3:  The Steward’s Lifestyle

I’m supposed to say that we’ve come to the end of our Stewardship Journey for 2018, the last day you’ll hear about giving and sharing from the pulpit.  But the truth is this isn’t theend of the journey; it’s just the beginning.  Many of you remembered to bring your pledge card today and you will place it on the altar at the Offertory.  Some of you are still thinking about what the number will be and you’ll return your card in a week or two.  But as we end the Stewardship sermons and the clever gimmicks, the work is just beginning.  As long as I’ve been here, your vestry and finance committee have allowed us to function on a faith budget, to the horror—by the way—of those who prefer a balanced budget.  But how can I ask you to trust God to keep his promises, if we—as a church—don’t do the same?  So, today is really the beginning, the unfolding of God’s gifts to his church, through you, to do the work he’s given us to do.
Now the final theme for today is “The Steward’s Lifestyle.”   We first looked at the identity of a steward, and we learned that we are called to be God’s steward, that we are to give cheerfully, that it’s our duty to extend the Church of God, and that we are to trust God to be our source of everything we have.   Next we looked at the purpose of God’s steward, that everything we do should reflect our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, that our motivation and goal is to use all his gifts to us with the purpose of helping others to come to know his Son.
Today we put it all together with “The Steward’s Lifestyle” and the message comes from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (8:3-7).   Paul had previously written to the what he calls the Macedonian Christians. (These are congregations from Philippi and Thessalonica along with smaller surrounding congregations.)  In that letter he asks the Macedonian Christians to contribute to the poor Christians in Jerusalem.  In this letter to the congregation in Corinth, he tells them how the Macedonians Christians responded to his request:
“…[the Macedonians] gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.”
We can look at these words and say, “That’s nice, but that’s what all congregations were being asked to do,” or we can go a little deeper into these words and see why Paul holds up this account as an example to the congregation at Corinth and an example for us as well. 
There are four very important highlights here that will help us to evaluate our own concept of giving.  First, the text says they gave beyond their means.  These congregations were experiencing hard times themselves, but despite their poverty, they wanted to give to help others who were suffering.  Second, they gave of their own free will, so much so that they “begged” Paul and Timothy for the privilege of sharing to help others.  They wanted to experience that special grace that comes when one helps another.  It’s all about that saying, ‘it’s more blessed to give than to receive.’ 
There is a true story of a young man named Vince Dicamillo.  He was at college enjoying his life when the Great Depression was beginning.  When the stock market crashed, his family called him home.  The firm his father owned was bankrupt and his parents had lost their home.  After returning home from college, Vince was tasked with helping to collect some back debts owed to his family.  On his first call, he climbed the broken steps of an old dilapidated house.  He knocked and two small children came to the door.  They were dirty and their clothes were like rags.  He asked, “Is anybody home?”  “I am,” said the first child as a third child entered the room.  Together they said, “I am.”  Just then a worn and tired looking mother came into the room.  “Is there anything I can do?” she asked.  Vince was speechless.  He felt it was useless to try to collect a bill from a family living in such poverty.  Finally, he pulled from his pocket his last two-dollar bill.  He handed it to the woman and said, “It’s for the kids to see the circus,” and left.
As I said, that is a true story, and Vince went on to become a successful building contractor.  As he reflected on that experience, he said, “I felt so uplifted about the small gift that I’ve continued the policy throughout my life.  God helped me develop a lifestyle of giving.  I didn’t plan it that way, but the more I give, the more I seem to get back in return.  That’s God’s promise in regard to giving.”  In Paul’s letter he refers to those who gave according to their means and beyond.  The result was that God blessed them bountifully.  It was true then, it was true in the Great Depression, and it’s true now.
We could stop right here, having learned some solid truths about living each day as a steward, but there are two more points!  Paul writes that the Macedonians didn’t do “as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God…to us.”  The gave themselves first to God and then to his ministers.  All their living was in the absolute care of God.  Then whatever amount was given, large or small, what was given was acceptable because it was given from the right attitude.
God uses His Word and Sacraments to empower us to give of ourselves.  As the Holy Spirit works through Word and Sacrament, he teaches us to become givers rather than takers and transforms us into people who use our lives, gifts, and resources in service to the Lord as Christian stewards.  When we become self-giving people, God is pleased because...He first wants us, not our gifts.  “I seek not what is yours…but you,” says the Lord (2 Corinthians 12:14).  When God has all of us, our deeds of stewardship grow into a lifestyle of stewardship.  The challenge becomes, are we as individuals, dead or alive in Christ?
As Paul said to the Corinthian Christians, their giving would be a test to see if their faith was genuine.  If our faith is dead, we will have little or no response to Christ’s love and the needs of others.  But truth be known, we are all dead in our trespasses and sin.  So if we claim to be alive at all, it is only possible through Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.  He died when he didn’t have to and rose again so that we could have a new life through our faith.  That is where we are destined to be:  alive in Christ.
To those among us who are not as yet fully responsive to the love of Christ…to those who are asleep in a place of apathy and need to be awakened…to those persons:  the answer is ministry.  Ministry is a positive response that stresses positive things.  For example, have you chosen a worship ministry or two from the display in the Narthex?  Did you notice the added needs on the opposite wall where you can again add your name to share your time and talents?  It’s about expanding the church of God, growing our various ministries of sharing, caring and helping.  It’s about living a stewardship lifestyle.
A story is told of a game played at a youth function.  Using only the loose change in their pockets, the young people were told the object of the game was to give away as much money as they could.  Money was everywhere.  People were trying to put money into other people’s hand, shirt pockets, pants pockets.  Everyone was laughing, and there was much joy and good will in the group.  Then one rule of the game was changed:  Instead of trying give money away, the object of the game was to get as much money as possible.  All the money quickly disappeared.  People were trying to grab money from every possible place.  There was no laughter; faces were stark and filled with determination.  It was quite a contrast!
Almighty God has chosen us to be alive, to share our bounty with others and to live lives that are pleasing to Him.  And the natural progression of the joy of giving first begins as with the Macedonians:  “They gave themselves first to the Lord.” Once that happens, we will witness with conviction, we will serve whenever and wherever possible, and we will give cheerfully toward the spread of the kingdom of God.

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