Today we’re beginning our annual focus upon stewardship and over the next couple of weeks we’re going to discuss it and be open and honest about what God says concerning stewardship in Scripture. This year we are expounding on the last practice of the Methodist Way, Extravagant Generosity, as our theme for stewardship. You might think that this is an odd choice, given the way that people have been cutting back financially because of unemployment and the economy. But God calls us to be faithful stewards and to be as generous with others as He has been with us. So our focus together is going to be looking at steps we can take in our lives to help us get towards being extravagantly generous: to live responsibly, to possess loosely and share gratefully.
Jesus and His Parables
By some reckoning, Jesus told around 48 parables. 5 deal with God's character. 8 deal with history. 4 encourage us to "Watch" faithfully for Christ's coming. 3 bid us pray and not lose heart. 8 deal with obedience. And 9 deal with stewardship. Why did Jesus talk so much about possessions, about management of material blessings? I think he did so because he knew money was his chief rival for the soul of humanity. After all, what was it that caused the rich young ruler to walk away from Christ? Money. What was it the prodigal son wanted from his father, and after getting it, ran away to live the fool? Money. What was it Judas received for betraying Christ? Money.
In our parable this morning from Matthew 25, the premise is that a wealthy landowner sets out on a long journey. Before his departure, he entrusts “talents” or a large sum of money to three of his hired hands. Most Biblical scholars speculate that the amount of the talent was probably worth about $1,000 back in Jesus’ day, a huge sum then and worth the equivalent of a little over a million dollars today. One of the hired hands gets 5 talents, another receives 2 talents and the last servant got just 1 talent. After a long time away, the landowner eventually returns and calls the servants before him for an accounting of what they had done with his money. Two are praised and one is punished. And I believe that this parable has a lot to teach us this morning about living responsibly so that we can end up being extravagantly generous for God’s kingdom.
God Is The Owner
First, we look at the character of the landowner, who possessed everything that was handed out. Understanding the landowner as God, the parable helps remind us that our Heavenly Father is the rightful owner of everything around us. Psalm 24:1 puts it bluntly, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof."
I heard a funny story about this – a lawyer in Louisiana was once asked to do a title search for a piece of land being acquired for a U.S. Army base. He ran the search back to 1803 and sent the title in. The base commander was not satisfied and asked the lawyer to run the title search back still further. In response, the attorney wrote: “Said parcel of land was purchased in 1803 by the Thomas Jefferson administration from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The French acquired it by military victory from Spain; Spain acquired it from the Indians by conquest; and the Indians came to own it from God the Creator. I hope this complies with your request."
Read the Bible and you'll see. All that I have – all that you have - it came from God, it is God's now, and it will someday return to God (Hebrews 1:1ff). This is true for our car, our house, our clothes, our bank account. The Apostle Paul reminds us in our second Scripture lesson from I Timothy, "For we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out" (6:7). The ancient Egyptians tried to take it with them, packing the pyramids with wealth, food even servants, but museums are full with exhibits of things that they left behind.
Our Job is Faithful Management
Getting this perspective on ownership is the first step towards responsible living and becoming extravagantly generous. And it leads right into the second step. This parable reminds us that our job is faithful management. We are like the servants among whom the landowner divided up his money. He commissioned them to work with his resources entrusted to them until he returned, just as God has done with us. This is what we as believers call stewardship. Stewardship means I am out of ownership and into management. It means that life is like a great ship loaded with cargo to be delivered to people in many places. And Christ is the owner, but we are the captain. So how will we steer the ship?
I read in the New York Times once of a college graduate who moved to the big city bent on making his fortune in banking. He was driving a very nice car, a graduation gift from his older brother. One day as he was getting into his car, a poor inner city child of twelve stood admiring the car. "My brother gave it to me," the young banker explained. The kid said, "I wish...." And immediately the banker thought he was going to say, "I wish I had a car like that!" But, no! The child said, "I wish I could be a brother like that!" "Do you want a ride?" the banker asked. "Wow! Sure I do," the lad said and got in. Soon the boy asked if he could stop in front of an old building while he ran upstairs. Thinking the boy was going to fetch a friend to gawk at his car, he was amazed when his young neighbor came down carrying his severely handicapped brother. "Just look at this car! Isn't it great? Some day I'm going to buy you a car like this!"
Now that's biblical stewardship! Not how much of my money am I going to give God, but how much of God's money do I keep for myself? Not me, mine, I-focused, but God-and-others-focused. When we get to heaven, Jesus will not care what kind of car you drove, but did you use it to help others? He won't ask the square footage of your home, rather the number of people you sheltered. He won't ask your net worth but rather how generous you were in helping others.
You see each one of us has been entrusted with a certain sum. The text says some of us are given five talents, others two, some of us one. We're not all equally endowed. But we show what we’re made of by what we do with what we’ve been given.
How we manage what God has given us is a reflection of His priority in our lives. It’s that simple. No matter what we might say about how much we love God and that we want to serve Him, our actions speak volumes more. Do we honor God with how we manage His resources? Or do we give back leftovers instead of our best and all?
I believe we can do better than spending an hour surfing the Internet or reading the newspaper cover-to-cover and five minutes reading God’s Word before falling asleep.
I believe that we can do better than bringing our best energy and talent and motivation to our jobs, but when it comes to serving the body of Christ, we sit on the sidelines or look for something requiring the least amount of effort.
I believe we can do better than spending hours talking with friends about our hobbies and favorite sports teams, but when it comes to talking with those same friends about our faith, we stay silent and never invite them to church.
I believe we can do better than spending money on all the latest electronic trends or some amazing vacation, but when it comes to giving God an offering we look at our budget and say, “What’s left over here?”
If we’re to live responsibly in an effort to be extravagantly generous, we have to remember that God is the owner. And we must remember that our job is faithful management. And we must also keep in mind that the time of accountability for our efforts is coming.
The parable tells us the landowner returned and called in each one of his servants to see what they had done with his resources. The first servant had doubled his five talents and returned ten. He was commended. The same with the two talent employee – a 200% return. And the master proclaims: “Well done thou good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (Matt. 25: 21, 23).
But the last servant could only return the one talent he had been given. He’d buried it and he sourly complained to his master: “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground." What’s the problem here? Translation: "I resent your lordship over me. I'm into possession, not management. I'll work to put money into my pocket, but I won't do it for you!" In short, he rejected his master. He rejected the entire concept of stewardship. Jesus called him "wicked," "slothful," and said he would "cast him into outer darkness."
In every game there is a buzzer, a whistle, a finish line, a bell that rings signaling the end. So will come a day in each of our lives. A trumpet will sound from on high and we’ll each stand before the Lord and give an account of our stewardship. What will Christ have to say to us on that day?
Paul reminds us that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Tim 6:10) and that “some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (I Tim. 6:10) and been plunged into “ruin and destruction” (I Tim 6:9). Is that the legacy you want to leave behind? My prayer this morning for each and every one of you is that your legacy would be one of faithful management, responsible living and extravagant generosity in God’s name. Hear the words of God calling out to you today: “Use the gifts that I have given you. Don’t complain what you do NOT have or who you are NOT like and instead start concentrating on the things that you do have, that you have been given.” What do you have? How can you multiply it? How can you share it to make a difference for the kingdom?