November 10, 2019
It is good to be here with you all this morning. Particularly, it’s good to be up here with you all this morning. You may recognize me from sitting in the back with my cup of decaf coffee, where I simultaneously try to protect my coffee from the kids and wrangle the scissors out of their hands as they run around the corner. So being up here is a little less nerve racking than a normal Sunday morning for me.
As you likely know, I’m Leigh’s husband, and the dad of four kids who are not here today.
What you may not know is that during the day, I run a financial planning practice, and I help my clients be good stewards of their finances. As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking about, and talking about, stewardship.
When we hear the word stewardship, it is common to think about money. And, while money is a component of it, that’s actually not what I’m here to talk about today.
So again, you’re welcome.
Stewardship is a much bigger thing than just our finances and, if I can boil down everything I’m going to say today to two main points, the only thing you really need to remember is this:
Stewardship is being the image of God everywhere we go and in everything we do. And,
Stewardship is bringing the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
To help illustrate this, I’m going to tell you two stories – one about Moses and one about Jesus. Then, I want to talk about us.
So, let’s pray as we get started.
Jesus, we thank you for this time together. We thank you that we can come together on a Sunday morning and talk about stewardship, and talk about you, and the long line of people who have come before us, who have sought to live their life following you. From the old testament to the new testament to our modern-day age. So, Lord we pray that you would help us to understand the stewardship of our lives better by the end of today, and that we would be able to go forward serving you well. Amen.
Let’s start with Moses.
It was about 3500 years ago. And, Moses and the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. At the top of the Egyptian power structure was Pharaoh, his country had built an economic structure that required slave labor, and the Israelites were tasked with making the bricks. Over time they were required to make more and more bricks with less and less help. It must have been particularly tiring, emotionally degrading, painful, never ending work.
God told Moses to free the Israelites from the oppression. So, Moses made a simple request to Pharaoh, and while it may have been simple, it wasn’t easy for either of them.
For Moses, an 80-year-old with a speech impediment, it’s a moment of trepidation. By God’s direction he stands before Pharaoh, demanding the Israelites be freed from slavery.
“Let my people go,” as it’s often portrayed.
Although it seems likely Pharaoh will kill Moses, God has already told Moses his actions will be successful, because God is at work through him.
For Pharaoh, it is an absurd request. He’s being asked to overturn his entire economic system, potentially bringing his country to ruin. Not something any ruler would be quick to do, and, probably not something any ruler would do.
So Moses goes down to the water’s edge where Pharaoh was in the middle of his morning routine and he says to him, “Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews says to you, “By this you will know I am Yahweh, from the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will turn to blood.” Then Moses did as Yahweh commanded – he lifted up his staff, he struck the water of the Nile, turning their life source into blood.
But did you notice the wording, “by this you will know I am Yahweh?” But Moses isn’t Yahweh – he’s acting on behalf of Yahweh. When Moses lifts up his arm, and his staff, he’s representing God’s arm. His actions merge with God’s actions. Moses, who is not God, becomes an image of God. And after a back and forth power struggle with Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s team, he brings justice for the Israelites who were the slaves in Egypt.
Moses had stewardship over what God had asked him to do – freeing the Israelites from slavery.
While he didn’t feel qualified, and he probably had a lot of doubts, and could have chosen to ignore the problem, he understood that it was God who asked him to move boldly forward. Now he enlists the help of Aaron, because again, he didn’t feel qualified. But he went; he took the abilities that he had to accomplish the task at hand.
He confronted the injustice, and he brought freedom.
All right now let’s fast forward 1500 years.
You know, 1500 years, what’s a few years between friends.
And we find Peter and his friends exhausted from fishing all night and catching no fish, they prepare to pull their boats into the shore, clean their nets, and go home to their families. This is their livelihood; it’s how they make their money and they basically did a day’s worth of work and got paid nothing. But Jesus calls out to them from the shore, “Throw your nets on the right side of the boat and you will find fish.”
Remember, Peters the professional here. He’s the one that knows how to fish and how to find them. And of course, if I’m Peter, now this is in English and not Aramaic but what does he mean by “the right side of the boat?” Is it my right side? Is it his right side? Or, the correct side? What if I get this wrong? I still have no fish. Anyway, he throws them in and he catches 153 fish.
Who counted the fish? 153? Can we say “oh yeah there’s like hundreds of fish. Or, there are plenty of fish?” 153? Anyway, I digress.
After laboring to bring all the fish to shore, they find Jesus already cooking fish on a charcoal fire.
I have so many questions about this story. Maybe I’ll come back and just ask questions. But anyway, there’s Jesus cooking fish on his fire.
And as Peter nears the fire, I wonder this, did the dancing orange to the fire’s flames stop him in his tracks? The emotional connection with this fire surprising him? It was only a few days ago Peter, warming himself by a similar fire, endured one of the most difficult nights of his life. It was a night leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion and the crowds were out to find the disciples. Three times Peter was recognized as a disciple of Jesus, but each time he vehemently denied knowing the rabbi.
“I don’t know him.”
“I’ve never been with him.”
With the third denial Peter and Jesus make eye contact – the pain is overwhelming.
Peter rejected his teacher, his best friend, and shame washed over his body. Just a few hours earlier he had promised that if all the other disciples rejected Jesus, he never would.
And yet there he was…
Of course, not that any of us have ever felt that way.
So, looking into this fire on the beach, all those emotions come rushing back. The hurt he was feeling brought tears to his eyes.
But this fire, it wasn’t built for destruction. Jesus didn’t build this fire to remind Peter of the pain. No, you see, Jesus was doing something bigger. He built this fire for restoration. Even breaking bread again with them. Jesus knew the emotions Peter was carrying around, and he knew the relationship was disrupted by the campfire denials, and he knew that the relationship was worth restoring.
So, Jesus being God, and being the perfect image of God, recognized his stewardship over the relationship. And he took it upon himself to initiate the healing. He went towards Peter, he connected with him, and he cared for him. Jesus took that shame that Peter was feeling, and he brought it onto himself. He didn’t need to wait for Peter to come to him with an apology. He reached out to Peter, despite the awkward, difficult, crazy emotions that Peter was probably feeling. He viewed their relationship in light of God’s desire for wholeness – as Jesus Himself taught in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus took the broken relationship and he made it new.
And since a few years among friends is nothing. Let’s fast forward another 2000 years.
And here we are sitting in pews – thankfully padded pews – in a little house in the woods off of Providence road talking about what Moses and Jesus mean for the stewardship of our lives.
Our lives are made of relationships, skills and abilities, money and stuff, and time. We’re asked to be stewards over all of them. Our lives are made up simply of relationships, skills and abilities, money and stuff, and time. And we’re asked to be stewards of all of them. I did try to think if there’s more, and maybe the more poetic in the bunch can come up with some, but that’s all I had.
Stewards in modern times, if I can translate this word for us, are simply caretakers and managers.
These lives that we’ve been given, they’re given to us by God. I didn’t choose to be born in this country, at this time in world history, with these friendships.
But here I am.
And here you are.
We’re alive today, and it’s our responsibility to navigate well this life we’ve been given.
As I say this, these words, they’re heavier in my heart than perhaps they would have been, hearing stories of a five-year-old whose life is potentially nearing an end, myself having been on what potentially was my deathbed at 12, I don’t take these words lightly.
We really are here today, today, we don’t know how long we’re here, but we’re here today. And we’re stewards of this day.
We are made in the image of God like Moses, and we’re seeking to follow Jesus, the perfect image of God – the visible expression of the invisible God.
Stewardship is being the image of God, everywhere we go and in everything we do.
It’s bringing the kingdom of God on earth, here, as it is in heaven.
Like Moses, when we work to accomplish God’s desires on earth, we’re fulfilling our calling to be the image of God. We are the hands and feet of Jesus.
We are the compassionate eyes of Jesus, with empathy and sympathy, and our hearts break for the suffering in this world. There needs to be restorative justice, and as image bearers, we get to act on behalf of God.
Our actions bring justice for those enslaved by the systems of this world – and sometimes just by our own choices.
You all know this more than I do.
I’ve heard the stories of the places you’ve all gone – the ways you’ve fought injustice. You’ve been to places like El Salvador and Woodburn McCabe, and you’ve built long term relationships with each of them. You’ve marched for the rights of others. You’ve written letters to your elected officials to eradicate child hunger and you’ve fought for a green earth.
Speaking of which, I’m really trying to get this composting versus recycling right. But it’s hard. Does the paper plate go in recycling because it’s paper? But it says if it’s soiled that goes in composting? But what if it doesn’t have food on it but water? Now is it recycling? Or, is it composting? I don’t know, I am trying, and whoever sorts out my mess that I put in there – thank you! I’m sorry, I’m trying my best.
But back to the point.
All this work that you’re doing is the stewardship of your time, your talent, and your treasure. You’re living out your call to be the image of God. And as you do it, you’re bringing the kingdom on earth here as it is in heaven. I’m truly inspired by all of you in this.
But your life story isn’t done being written, and my life story isn’t done being written, and the awesome kids in the back, who aren’t there today, their stories are just starting. Until the Lord calls us home, we get to continue the work that we’re doing.
As Leigh’s grandfather neared the end of his life, he was no longer able to get around like he used to. He was in a wheelchair and essentially confined to one floor of a building. His body was growing weaker and it was clear that he was nearing the end of his life. However, and if I recall correctly, we were there to celebrate his last birthday, 92. We asked him if there’s anything he wanted to do or wanted to tell his great grandchildren about life. And this is what he said. This is a great example of stewardship in our lives:
“What you want to do is live every day just the way it appears to you, and you don’t know what it’s going to be ahead of time. So, you just need to wait and see. So, what does God have ready? What does God have ready for us to do? We have to find out. So, each day we ask that question: What does God want us to do today?”
Every one of us can ask that question, whether we’re five and heading to school or 95 and retired.
What does God have for you to do today?
And tomorrow, Lord willing, we’ll get to ask the same question.
What does God have for me to do today?
For Moses it was a grand narrative of freeing people from oppressive society and an economic structure.
For Jesus, in the story we highlighted, it was restoring hurting relationships.
For us, it will be as varied as the people in this room.
God has put specific passions in your heart – His passions – and every day we see things through these passions and desires. We get to be God’s image by entering into the world around us bringing the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
What are the things that make you cry out to God?
What do you wish you could wave a magic wand and fix?
Maybe it’s an injustice as large and complex as child trafficking or justice system reform.
Or maybe it’s just as close as the loneliness of the people near you or serving the needs of the people you encounter every day.
Maybe it’s bringing joy and caring for the children or the elderly.
Maybe it’s healthy marriages and healthy institutions.
I know for some of you, it’s all the tasks you do to keep this church running well: Sunday morning hospitality – including the decaf coffee, setting the stage, playing music, singing, cleaning up, security, maintaining the building and the property, helping with the kids, building relationships with our neighbors, and even just showing up and bringing your love and your life to this community.
I could go on – but you probably don’t want me to keep going on. And as I said, there’s as many possibilities as there are people in this room.
So, as we prepare to leave today. What does God have for you today?
Jesus, we thank you for this day. It is the day that you have made, we will rejoice and be glad in it. We thank you that we get to be your image bearer, that we get to bring your kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Allow us to feel our feelings, and see that which is around us that hurts us, and that we cry out to you for, and enter into it as your representative here on Earth. Jesus show us what you have for us to do today. Amen.