Monday, August 22, 2011

Real Christian Stewardship...

Sermon preached for Pentecost 10, Proper 16A, on Sunday, August 21, 2011.

    This has been the silly season, as one friend put it.  Churches have gathered in convention to pass all sorts of resolutions that have little really to do with the faith.  Most of them have passed predictable calls to end the burning of coal, in favor of electric cars, against global warming, bullying, and gender injustice.  Without confidence in the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection, liberal Christianity has had to search for a message.  The green revolution seems to be one of them.  Christians speak of reducing the use of fossil fuels or recycling or healing living as if this were the message of the Gospel.  In doing so, the cross has been pushed to the sidelines and real Christian stewardship has been distorted.  Today Jesus rains on this silly parade and reminds us that the Kingdom of God is about the cross and empty tomb.  It does not matter how pristine we keep this earth if we forget the question, “Who do you say that I am?”
    Christian stewardship is not about fixing what is wrong with this world but about using the physical resources God has entrusted to us for the sake of and in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In other words, our stewardship motivation is not how can we preserve the earth and its resources but what are the consequences of being in Christ by baptism and faith?  How does our live in God’s kingdom affect and shape our lives on earth?  How then do we live as the people of God whom God has redeemed in Jesus Christ?
    The Gospel is not ambiguous.  The Gospel is clear.  Who do you say I am?  The question is clear and the answer is clear.  You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  You are the Messiah, the One long promised through the prophets and witnessed by the patriarchs.  Don’t forget this.  The Gospel is not some principle to guide us but the person of Jesus Christ.  This God through whom all things were made became flesh and blood of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, as we confess in the creed.  This Lord came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many on the cross.
    He rose again that forgiveness, life and salvation might be proclaimed in His name to all the ends of the earth.  He is One and Only who forgives our sins, who delivers us from death and hell, and who gives us the life that is everlasting.  This is the Gospel and there is no other Gospel worth believing or proclaiming.  It is this Gospel and this Gospel alone that gives us salvation.
    But.... this Gospel has consequences.  This Gospel affects how we live. This Gospel transforms us and our way of life.  We can no more believe in this Gospel live the same old lives that we can fix for ourselves what is wrong with us and our world.  This Gospel has traction.  It changes everything.
    So now we see that the earth is not ours to exploit or spoil but to use for the glory of Christ.  The earth is not some monument God has given to us to care for and pass on.  The earth is one of the resources we have been given to USE for the work of the Kingdom and the glory of Christ.  There is nothing wrong with recycling or being green but the earth is not our focus – Christ is our focus.  He has given us all the resources we need to do His work.  The earth and all its resources are part of these resources to use for His purpose and for His glory.
    In the same way, healthy living is not some path to immortality.  Our bodies have been redeemed by Christ.  We are not our own but have been bought with a price. Our bodies then are not ours to corrupt either by sinful living or unhealthy living.  Our bodies and our souls belong to Jesus Christ.  He purchased and won us by the currency of His own holy and precious blood expended on the cross.  We care for them because they are not ours but His and they have a purpose – His kingdom and His glory.  We ignore this at our peril and make His sacrificial death an empty gesture when we care for our bodies as if they did not matter.
    In the same way, all that we have belongs to the Lord.  He is the Giver of all things and all our things and resources return to Him for His glory. He does not come and take them from us but we are given the very privilege of returning to Him what is rightfully His.  This is Christian stewardship.  We acknowledge that we belong to Him and everything we have is His.  We return to Him what belongs to Him as an act of faith and worship.
    Every Sunday we pass the offering plate but the most important thing we place in that plate is not our money, it is our very selves.  Christ has made this stewardship possible – this is what we heard in the Epistle today: Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  The sacrifice of the mass is this – returning to God our bodies and very selves with all the resources He has entrusted to us, out of faith, with confidence that He supplies all our needs for this body and life, and because He has redeemed our lives from sin, death, and hell.
    The world is on a green revolution – electric or hybrid cars, compact florescent bulbs, recycling... but for the wrong reasons.  The world acts out of fear that we will run out of the resources we need.  Christians do not act out of fear.  Time is running out but not for our destruction.  Time is running out and the clock is ticking for the new creation to be made complete and the old to pass away.  It is not our fear of a worse tomorrow that moves us and shapes how we care for the earth, our bodies, and all other things.  It is our faith and confidence in God’s mercy and grace.  This good earth is a sacred trust not to be maintained but to be used for His glory.  Our bodies have been redeemed for His glory.  Our lives have but one purpose – for His glory.  As the hymnwriter once put it: Ever, only, all for Thee!
    Dear friends in Christ, if we were able to stand at judgment day and return to the Lord this earth in the same pristine condition as when God made it, we would have failed as miserably as the poor fellow of Jesus’ parable who buried his talent out of fear.  The highest esteem is to be declared the children of God in Christ in our baptism.  The highest gift is to receive the forgiveness of sins, the blessing of life, and the completed salvation born of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The highest calling is to live not as our own but as those who belong to Him, using all our time, talents, skills, abilities, and the resources of this good earth for the work of His kingdom and for His eternal glory.  This is also our highest privilege.
    The Gospel is not some vague principle but the clear confession of Jesus the Christ, incarnate for us and our salvation, and raised that forgiveness, life, and salvation may be joyfully proclaimed to the whole earth.  This is the unchanging rock on which the Church rests.  Our goal and purpose as  baptized believers is to live in faithful response to this Gospel, living in Christ for Christ.  But St. Paul put it much more eloquently than I have: From Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  And that includes you and me.  Amen!

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