18 September 2016

A Steward of the Rich Man's Things

You know your business, don’t you?  I’m sure that you do.  Whatever job you’re given to do, day after day, you are an expert at that task, and let no one tell you otherwise.

So, too, you know how to make your way in this world, or you’re well on your way to learning.  You know how the system works, and how to work the system.  You know how to connect the dots, to make ends meet, and to get what you really want, one way or another.

You’ve also figured out how to make friends.  You know what they expect from you, and what you can reasonably expect from them.  And likewise, notwithstanding all the ups and downs on your learning curve, you know what to expect from this life on earth, and what it takes to survive.

But do you know the business of God?  Do you know how things work in His Kingdom?  Do you know what to expect, and what is expected of you, on the way that leads to the Life everlasting?

The fact of the matter is that, like it or not, you are a steward or manager of a Rich Man’s things.  Your life is not your own, no matter what you may kid yourself into thinking.  Everything that you have is on loan from God.  It is entrusted to you, not for the purpose of feeding the appetites of your fallen flesh, but for the glory of God in the good that He does to you and to others.  You are to use His gifts in faith before Him, and in love for your neighbors.  That’s your job.

And you should take heed and take to heart, there will be an accounting of your stewardship.  There shall be a day of reckoning, when the ledger of your body and life in this world is presented to the Lord your God.  And there will be the facts to speak for themselves.

How have you spent your time?  And, yes, how have you spent your money?  Where have you invested your energies?  To what or whom have you given your affections?  What have you done with God’s things?  And what have you done for those people whom God has placed around you?

In short, who has been your master?  Who has been calling the shots?  Is it you?  Or the Lord?

Do not suppose that setting aside an hour a week, or ten hours a week, or even several hours a day “for the Lord” is adequate or somehow generous on your part.  Who are you kidding?  If there is any portion of your life that you regard as your own, then you are robbing from your true and rightful Lord, who has created you and given you life and everything that you have.

Have a care how you think about tithing, as well, and about almsgiving.  Perhaps you have shied away from any such notions altogether, because they have sometimes been taught and practiced legalistically.  And to be sure, do not at all suppose that tithing will atone for your sins, justify you before God, or purchase your place in His Kingdom.  But having been forgiven freely by Christ Jesus, made righteous by His grace through faith in His Gospel, and named a child of His God and Father in your Baptism, do not at all suppose that you are now to live as a god unto yourself.

As for tithing, ten percent of your income is not a bad guideline, a starting point.  It is surely not too much.  But if you are hard pressed, commit some significant percentage of your income as a regular offering to the Lord, as an exercise of faith and love.  And if you are able, do not hesitate to go well beyond ten percent.  Or, if you do not think so readily in terms of percentages — if your income and expenses are variable through the year — then consider setting apart as much for the Church and Ministry of Christ as you spend on your hobbies, your entertainment, your vacations, and your luxuries in life, whatever goes beyond your food and clothing and safe shelter.

And let your almsgiving likewise be as generous as you pamper yourself.  After all, if you can find the means to pay for your pastimes, for ball games and video games, for going out to eat or going to a show, then you can also find the means to care for your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Only, whatever you do, realize that you are not buying God off, nor are you earning His favor, since you are using and investing His riches, not your own.

Be very clear on this point: God doesn’t need your stuff.  It’s already His stuff in the first place.  But God does require your heart.  All of it.  And because you are His steward or manager, He has entrusted you to live and serve according to His good pleasure, that is, according to His Word.

The Lord looks not only at what you accomplish, but at whatever drives you to accomplish it.  When you proceed in selfishness, it may result in impressive things before men, but the Lord your God is not impressed.  Nor is He pleased by your selfishness and self-serving behavior.

The Lord does not measure things by the law of the jungle.  He does not teach you to look out for yourself first, and for your neighbor only when it appeals to you or suits your plans.  He calls you to live by faith in Him alone, and for His sake to sacrifice your entire life in love for your neighbor.  He charges you to love even your enemies, and to pray for those who persecute you.  That is how you are to occupy your days and nights, your life, your time, your energy, and all of your stuff.

That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.  And the opposite is true, as well.  That which is highly esteemed before the Lord is detestable in the eyes of men.

Consider the Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the living God.  Though He was rich, yet, for your sake, He made Himself poor, so that you could inherit the riches of God in Him.

He came down from heaven to become true Man, and not only that, but to bear the sins of the world in His own Body, to hand Himself over to the Cross.  He liquidated Himself.  He spent it all.  He gave Himself away.  Not for those who loved Him, but for you, though you were His enemy.

And the world says in response, “Jesus, you’re a bloody fool! That’s no way to live!”

And yet, it is the way that God lives.  It is how He has lived for you.  He humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death, in order that you might live with Him in His Resurrection.

You also, then, have this heart, mind, and spirit of Christ in you.  For this is how you are to live.

For God’s sake, be generous to your neighbor, even if you don’t like him.  Use the stuff that God has given you to love and serve those around you who are in need.  And don’t tell me there are no people like that.  There are.  You know there are.  Love them.  Don’t just speak nice words to them.  Do things for them.  Go out of your way.  Give up some of your time.  It isn’t your time, anyway.

Forgive.  Above all, forgive.  Forgive those who have trespassed against you, as your dear Father in heaven forgives you.  That is the coin of the realm in the Kingdom of God, within His one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church on earth: Forgiveness of sins.  It is not hoarded and hidden away.  It is spent freely.  And the more forgiveness is given, the more it multiplies and grows.

You are to exercise your stewardship in faith and love.  That is the course that you are given to follow.  So, then, trust in God, who has given you all things to begin with.  Do not be afraid that if you give some of it away, He’s going to deprive you.  He’s not going to stop being generous.  He has no problem with generosity.  This is what characterizes Him.  It flows from His very nature.

If you are generous with what the Lord your God has entrusted to you, do not worry, do not despair.  He knows how to feed you.  He knows how to clothe you.  He knows how to take care of you.  And because you are His very own, He does it all for you with charity and compassion.

Even when you are not grateful; even when you fret and fidget and forget to say thank you; even when you proceed as though you have gotten everything you have for yourself, your dear Father in heaven still has this overflowing abundance of generosity for you in Christ Jesus.  And it is such generosity that you are to have for your neighbor.  Indeed, the Lord’s generosity with you is not for your benefit only, but for the benefit and blessing of your neighbor, as well.

So, what is that going to look like?  What is that kind of faithful stewardship of your life and that kind of godly generosity in your life going to look like?

Well, here’s the thing: It looks like the stewardship of the Mysteries of God.  Which is to say that it looks like the Ministry of the Gospel, like the administration of the Means of Grace.

The right way to use the stuff that God has entrusted to you looks like the way your pastor uses the Means of Grace on your behalf: Who has baptized you and baptizes your children; who feeds both you and them with the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus; who speaks the Word of Holy Absolution and forgives you.  Your pastor gives these things of God to you without charge, without cost.

The stewardship of the Mysteries of God, that is the pattern by which you are called to exercise the stewardship of your body and life, and of all that the Lord your God has placed into your care.

It is not like the scribes and Pharisees, who are lovers of money and lovers of praise from men.  It is rather like the Gospel, because it is the life that is lived by and from and in the Holy Gospel.  It is like the Lord Jesus, coming down from heaven and giving Himself for you and to you, and to and for others, also.  That is how the Lord administers His true riches.

And that is how you are to manage and administer the Rich Man’s things.

It may seem foolish in the eyes of the world.  Well, so be it.  You ought to look foolish in the eyes of the world.  Your Lord Jesus did, and so He does.  The world still thinks this is all a bunch of nonsense.  But living by faith, your hope is in Christ.  And your hope shall not be disappointed.

Truth be told, your stewardship is not what it ought to be.

Surprisingly, shockingly, the Lord nevertheless continues to deal with you by the stewardship of His Gospel.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, your Savior, He is the faithful Steward and Manager of His Father’s things.  For His Name’s sake, He praises you and blesses you, because He has poured out the Spirit generously upon you and adorned you with His perfect righteousness.  He has given Himself for you.  He has reconciled you to His God and Father.  He has been a Friend to you in need.  And having befriended you in love and called you to Himself, He forgives you all of your debts, all of your trespasses and sins, all of your faults and failings.

In His own faithfulness and righteousness, He who gave Himself up for you in love, continues to give Himself to you with the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  And for His own sake, for the sake of His divine and holy Love, He welcomes you into His House, into His dwelling, both here in time, where He feeds you at His Table in His Church, and hereafter in eternity, where you shall feast upon the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb in His Kingdom forever and ever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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