We finally got our write-up for our series finished and we left it up there when you were walking in just so you could get a grasp on what we are trying to do with the fall series.
Entire industries are built on the premise of guarantees. Companies and organizations live and die by the sword of customer satisfaction, putting their reputation on the line with each transaction. This assurance has spread into other parts of our existence and has since evolved into the nasty little habit of entitlement, where we only commit to something – or someone – as long as things go our way.
Confronting this expectation, as disciples of Jesus, can be especially difficult. For even when we do what is right, good, noble and just it does not necessarily guarantee that the return will be equally as right, good, noble or just. Results May Vary.
So hopefully this will help with piecing together the different messages from all the different people thus far so you can see our point. So two weeks ago Joe spoke about “blessing” and last week John spoke about the dirty word “obedience.” Today we are going to speak about “stewardship.” We’ve done our best to redeem this word at theStory, as we haven’t used it to give more meaning to the guilt of you giving theStory all your money. In fact for the first number of years at theStory, Stewardship was one of our values. This was before Joe rewrote them and made up words to go along with them. The intrinsic meaning though is still there in that we see ourselves as being entrusted with life, time, money, relationships and responsibility from God. This means that the Christian’s first and chief duty in the world is to be a good steward of all that we have been entrusted with; which is everything.
To claim to be a Christian is to accept this as reality and take this on as your responsibility. From Adam and Eve in the garden to now, our mission, if we choose to accept, is to care for God’s creation from plants to animals to humans and enact his will throughout the world. So this morning, I assume that I am speaking to a room full of people who believe this of themselves and are itching to understand more about what it means to be good stewards of everything God has entrusted us with. So before we jump into the text, I want to do a little bit of role playing here.
We need to pretend that we are a wealthy guy that owns a bunch of apartment buildings. Working for us we have a landlord who collects the rent and manages the buildings to make sure they are in working order and fixes them when necessary. He has a specific budget to work within and then he’s supposed to throw the rest of the money into the bank. The problem is that he’s not really doing that. He’s gambling it at the casino. He’s not meeting budget. He’s not representing us well. He’s spending our money on lavish parties and stupid items that will never retain it’s value and don’t look our place look well. He’s living lavishly and wasting all the money that belongs to us and is not fulfilling his responsibility In other words, he’s being a bad steward. So we fire him. The next day we wake up and instead of packing his boxes and hitting the road he goes back to the apartment. He really does a number with our finances now. He goes to everyone that he collects rent for and who is behind in their payments and starts forgiving them their debts. But not their debts to him. Their debts to us! Less money in our pockets because this guy goes and tells him that they don’t have to pay anymore. One guy owed 12 months of rent and he told him that he only had to pay us 6 months of rent now.
Q: What would be your response to the manager? Did the manager do the right thing, wrong thing? Why would the manager go about doing this, what benefit is it to him?
So with all this in mind, let’s go to our text for today, which is actually exactly the same story but the ending might be a bit different than we expected.
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg- I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.
This parable is extremely confusing, but I picked it for a reason. I think it helps give us a good perspective on what it means to be good stewards (or shrewd stewards). In reading commentaries on this parable, I have probably come across over ten different interpretations about what this parable means and how we are to interpret it and what it means for us today. So my goal this morning isn’t to clarify every weird part of this story to that we can fully understand it. Rather what I want to do is allow it’s oddness, and it’s weird ending to inspire a direction for us in our thinking. It clearly isn’t the kind of ending or response from the rich man that we would have expected. It’s not the response that we would have given.
The parable ends with a quick little explanation by Jesus.
For the people of this world are more shrewd (wise) in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
There is a few hints here that we can grab so that we can have a better idea of what’s going on. For starters, we can glean from this that Jesus meant for this parable to be a kind of rebuke to his disciples. In the parable he kinds of pushes back against ‘the people of the light’ which in this case would be the disciples and those who were following Jesus. In the last bit where Jesus is explaining the parable he says that the people of this world dealing with their own people are much wiser than the people of the light. In other words, the disciples that he is speaking to aren’t very wise in the ways that they should be. This means that they aren’t being good stewards. This unrighteous manager is better off than those who are disciples who don’t seem to have a grasp on the kinds of things they should be doing.
One of the keys in this last bit from Jesus as he explains the parable is to catch the connection between the two contrasted worlds. There is people of the world and then there is people of the light. Each of them seem to have their own ways of living and their own expectations on what it means to be part of those people. This manager was wise in his own world. In his world the expectation is that you look out for yourself and you act quickly to make sure that you are taken care of and God forbid you starve because you are too prideful. Move quick, take care of yourself and make sure that you are the happiest when it is all over.
This parable though is clear that this isn’t the way of the people of the light. The people of the light live different. The problem is, in this parable we don’t really know what different life is, but it is assumed we know. The parable doesn’t lay it all out for us, but it reminds us that it certainly isn’t like the manager, looking out for himself and throwing his master under the bus just so he doesn’t have to beg. But Jesus seems to think there is something we can learn here from the manager as well. He was smart. He was resourceful and used whatever it was at his disposal to reach his goals. Jesus tells us to do the same thing. Whatever is there, use it for the good of what you are responsible for for things that will matter and last.
“Christians are dominated by the same concern as the rest of society, but Jesus teaching is intended to give us a different set of concerns.”
Then Luke goes into a some of the classic Jesus lines to do with money and God and who you serve and who you can’t serve.
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
So this parable and little bit by Jesus leaves us to wonder. What does it mean to live as children of the light? What kind of lives to children of the light live? What do they do that is different than people of the world? This parable might not tell us exactly besides telling us to be wise and use whatever is at our disposal to get the job. There are plenty of other parables and texts throughout the scriptures that tell us exactly who we are and the kinds of people we are to be (sermon on the mount for instance) This parable is more of an encouragement to get to it and be wise while getting to it kind of parable.
So since today we are talking about stewardship, let’s just jump right into some definitions.
A steward is a person who has been entrusted with another’s resources, and who seeks to manage those resources according to the owner’s vision and values. The gospel calls us to recognize that everything we have is a gift from God, and that those gifts are to be used for his glory and to further his kingdom. Scripture even calls Christians caretakers of God’s gifts and truth
1 Peter 4:10
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
So as Christians, whatever we have received is to be used for others. This has been part of the mandate of God’s people since day one. Remember back in Genesis 12 when God is promising Abraham all sorts of things and his one mandate that we have brought up many times is that
“I will bless you, and you will be a blessing”
This is what it means to identify as God’s people. It means that we acknowledge that what we have is God’s and that we use it to serve and give away and bless others. That’s the whole thing. Any story of selfishness, or personal gain, or building yourself up, or being blessed because we deserve it is all not Christian. This means that everything, and I mean everything, needs to be filtered through this reality for us. If we have something. If we find ourselves with any kind of reward, blessing, gift, sum of money, free time then the first question that Christians should be asking themselves should be “how do I use this to bless others?”
Q: When you think of your Christian life, do you see it in terms of primarily stewardship of the life and gifts that God has given you? What else do you think being a Christian means?
For me everything comes down to stewardship in what the Christian life consists of. It’s not so much of a checklist of all the things that I give up in my life for God or for others. It’s not so much like the parable of the talents where I got one talent and I better double what I got or my master is going to be angry. Rather, stewardship is a disposition to our entire life. It’s a starting point for how we look at everything else. If we see our life and everything in it as a gift then we will live a lot differently than if we see it all as if we are entitled to it or luck of the draw. This is what the people of the light look like. They look like people of gratitude, people that know that everything they have isn’t their own and is to be used for the good of others.
I don’t know about you, but this is what I want our community to look like. God wants us to be people of the light. God’s people who use our skills, money, time and energy for others because it’s all a gift anyway. God wants us to be gracious and thankful people always reminding ourselves that the earth is His and everything in it. It’s hard for Stewardship to be just one of our values because really without it, none of the others make any sense. Unless we see the world as Gods and our lives all because of grace then we will live like those elsewhere who only live for themselves and whose lives end miserably and in destruction.
This is why it is difficult to give you exact formula and end result of what it looks like to be good stewards. Results are going to vary. This is also why its a complete failure to use the word stewardship to simply be talking about our money and making sure we are spending it well. Stewardship isn’t about money. If we reduce the word stewardship to giving money to a specific source then we aren’t teaching people to be stewards we are teaching them how to make that source happy. Stewardship is not primarily about money, even though money will certainly be affected by it. Stewardship is about how we see the world and how we see our role in it. If you think that the money you earn is yours to do whatever you want with then of course you’ll buy more things, bigger houses, more trips and newer technology. If you acknowledge that the money is God’s then you are going to spend your money differently. This is why I think its wrong to tell you to give to theStory or to give you a number of 10% or to define what it means for you to be a good steward. Results are going to vary in what it means for each person. The starting point should be the same though. Results may vary when we live like stewards.
God forgive us
For spending what is not ours
For believing that we earn what we have
For not being wise in kingdom economics
Give us eyes
To see the world as yours
To see our role as stewards
To see what the world could be
God forgive us
For being wasteful with your gifts
For loving what gives us security
For needing to control the outcomes
Give us strength
To be living sacrifices
To be servants even when it hurts
To be faithful even when we are broke
God forgive us
For not acting like your stewards
For seeing needs and leaving them undone
For elevating our own wants above others
Give us hope
To know we’ll be taken care of
To see the world as you see it
To see ourselves as you see us