A sermon on Christian stewardship.
The other day when I started thinking about what I would say for Stewardship Sunday, I happened to glance over at this old Bible (above), sitting on a table in my office at home. Christian stewardship is about being willing to be generous with what God has given to us, and seeing this old book reminded me of a good story about generosity.
My Grandpa Dorn was the youngest of twelve children born to Herman and Amelia. Their oldest child, Annie, was the only child born in Germany, about a year before they came to this country in 1875. All of my ancestors came from Germany, mostly around that time, and all my German-born relatives, on all sides of the family, were dead by the time I was born– except Annie. She was a baby when she came to this country, and almost ninety years old when she died in 1963—so I have a few vague memories of her. She was my only direct, personal link to the old country. This was her Bible, and it may well have been her parents’ Bible. It is in German and it’s very old, but the first pages that would tell when and where it was published are missing.
Herman and Amelia and little Annie got off the ship in New York. They then got on a train to go to Minnesota where they knew some farmers near Prior Lake. On the train, they ran out of food and out of money. They did not know what to do. They did not know anyone, were too proud to beg, and did not know how to speak English. And Annie was crying because she was hungry.
Eventually, an elegant lady from one of the train’s first class cars, heard about the trouble and came to talk to them. She had originally come from Germany herself, so she knew the language, and wanted to help. She not only gave them some money, but she also took a collection for them from the more well-off riders in her car. Herman and Amelia received more than enough for the rest of their journey. That act of generosity is still remembered, as that story is still told in my family almost a century and a half later.
We like that kind of story. Sometimes, after a half hour of worrisome, heartbreaking, and frustrating stories, the evening television news will feature a story about some stranger’s unexpected generosity and kindness to a person in need. It makes us feel good about the world again, after so much in the news that makes us feel sad and worried.
Christian Stewardship is all about such sharing and generosity. It is about using the gifts God has given us to do his work in the world; like helping others in need. In case you are new around here, in Lutheran churches ‘Stewardship Sunday’ is church-language for ‘talking-about-money Sunday.’ And, in case you are a first time visitor here, I am sorry to have to be talking about money today. It happens every time. Someone who hasn’t been to church in years comes on the one Sunday of the year we do focus on money, and they leave saying to themselves, “Yup, just as I thought; all the church ever talks about is money.”
Let me first clarify what stewardship is. It may not be a word you use every day. The dictionary defines a ‘steward’ as ‘a person who manages the property or financial affairs of another.” As Christians, we believe that everything belongs to God. “The cattle on a thousand hills,” are mine, says the Lord in Psalm 50. And Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Whatever we call our own is merely on loan to us, from God, for a little while. And God has some clear commands for us on how we should be managing what is His. God tells us to be honest in our dealings, he tells us to be careful about the dangers of greed to our soul, we are told to be generous with what we have been given, so we can help with the Lord’s work in the world and give to those in need, and so forth. Contributing to the Lord’s work is not matter of grudgingly letting go of a little bit of what is yours to give to God, just to keep Him happy. No, Christian stewardship a matter of managing, in a God pleasing way, what all belongs to God— even if it is your name on the account or the deed or the title card.
In Deuteronomy chapter eight, Moses reminds the people that it is all from God. God has been leading the Hebrews: out from slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness, and now on into the Promised Land. God’s leading and providing has, to this point, been direct and miraculous and unmistakable (verses 15-16); manna from the sky to eat and water pouring out of solid rock. But now they will be entering a land where God’s provision will be in the more usual, indirect way of providing sun and rain and the growth in the fields, with the people providing the work of their hands. But says Moses, it will be a land of plenty that God is giving you– wheat and barley and fig trees and vines, where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing.
Then Moses reminds them that even though the manna will not be falling from the sky, everything they have will still be from the Lord, who made the sun and sends the rain. The people must not forget that. Moses says, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord and fail to observe his commands. Otherwise when you build fine houses and settle down, and everything is going well for you, then you might forget the Lord and say, I did this all myself; ‘My power and the strength of my hands produced this wealth for me.’” Don’t let that happen, Moses said, or then, it will not go well for you.
It is today as it was in 1200 B.C.— the more God blesses someone, the more likely it is that the person will forget all about God. It doesn’t happen that way every time, but many times it does go just that way. (continued…)