Sunday, October 16, 2011

Stewardship – Commitment: Taking a Leap of Faith - I Kings 17:8-16 and Matthew 6:25-34

Today is our last Sunday in this series of stewardship and it’s going to culminate in the dedication of pledge cards at the altar regarding our time, talent, territory and treasure.

Two weeks ago, we began our look at stewardship with the principle of Management, getting it straight in our heads that God owns everything and we are just the stewards or managers of it all. We looked at what we have in our hands to offer back to God and challenged ourselves to discover the best ways to use those gifts. Then last week we continued by looking at the principle of Investment as we explored some of the whys of giving: 1) It keeps our hearts in the right place, 2) it benefits the needy/serves as a witness; and 3) it glorifies God. We also explored some of the hows, the actual application for our giving, using the guideline of sowing and reaping and the practice of tithing. Today we are going to wrap this series up by looking at the commitment God calls us to make by looking at the difference between giving and understanding.

Taking the Plunge!
Commercials on TV are meant for you to remember them and its amazing what certain catchy jingles or images we remember. One that stands out for me is the Nestea commercial. The commercial shows a man on a hot, sunny day standing next to a shimmering, blue swimming pool. He is dressed in a suit with sweat pouring off his face. With his back toward the pool, he grasps a glass of golden tea that jingles with ice cubes. Then, in slow motion, the man, as he drinks the tea, falls backward into the pool, clothes and all. He hits the pool with a gigantic splash and lets out a contented “Aahhh!” Television viewers then hear a background voice-over: “Take the Nestea plunge!”

For us to be good and faithful steward, is for us to take such a plunge. Because being a good steward of all the resources God has entrusted us means living by faith, indeed living by trust. We have to let go of what we have, grasp God’s promises, and then lean back and take the plunge. In those moments of risky, reckless abandon, we discover how much God and others care for us. We also find out how much we care for others.

The Widow of Zarephath
The woman we meet in our first Scripture lesson today took this plunge of faithful stewardship. The Bible doesn’t give her a bona fide name; it only identifies her as the widow of Zarephath living in Sidon, north of Israel. She receives a visit from the prophet Elijah, who has fleed Israel’s king. Evidently, Elijah told Ahab that it was Yahweh who controlled the rain, not Ahab’s chosen god, Baal, and that did not go over so well. Elijah promised a long drought to prove his point, and the drought came. So Yahweh sends Elijah north for protection and points him to our widow. Yahweh promises Elijah that this widow will feed the prophet during the drought.

There are several things we need to understand about this widow. One, because Sidon was a Baal-worshipping community, we can reasonably assume this widow was loyal to Baal and the Lord did not choose her for any particular devotion to Yahweh. Two, we also must remember that she too suffers under Yahweh’s imposed drought. Three, as a widowed woman in that time, without the help of a husband, we are certain her life was difficult to begin with, without a full-blown drought making matters worse. Finally, to add to her worries, she also has a son to care for and no resources in which to aid her.

We find her searching for left-behind sticks of firewood in order to make one last fire so she can shape her last handful of flour with the last bit of cooking oil. She is resigned to death, for this is the end. Then suddenly, Elijah, a stranger, approaches and asks for a drink of water. The widow retrieves a drink for him and Elijah goes on to press his luck asking for a morsel of bread. At this the widow protests: “But… I have enough only for one more cake and that will be the last meal I will make for my child and me.”

Elijah then has the gall to tell her to make a cake for him first and then make one for her and her son. And if that was not enough, Elijah then tells her to do this and not to be afraid. This woman lived fear, fighting to scratch out a life for her and her child and now at the end of her resources, she is facing a death of hunger and want. Why should she share this last ritual of eating and drinking with a total stranger?

As she stands at the gate to the city with the prophet, the widow faces a huge decision. “This man says his ‘god’ has a word for me. This ‘god’ will not let my flour or oil be used up until the rains return. I don’t know his ‘god.’ But what if I took the risk? What if I shared my flour and oil and gave this man something to eat? Would the promise of this ‘god’ come true for my child and me?” Something clicks and she receives a word, a kindling of hope. The woman at Zarephath takes the plunge. She turns, goes, and makes a little cake, giving it to Elijah first. “And the jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of fat oil, according to the words of the Lord.”

Giving – The Difference Between Understanding and Practice
This widow was faced with a decision. The same decision we face as we try to become faithful stewards of all God has entrusted to us. We can hold on to who we are, rely in our own strength to care for our needs and grip what we have so tightly our knuckles turn white. After all, that does seem like the most prudent option, even though that really is a dead-end. Or we can open our hands and let go of what we have. Thereby, choosing to take the plunge into a future with God, standing on his promises to provide for our needs. The widow of Zarephath took the plunge. She found a jar of endless meal and a jug of never-failing oil to last her and her son through a drought.

Most of us understand with our minds all the principles of giving and the reasons we should tithe. But we often find it hard to give and put the things we know into practice. And that’s because we’re scared. Because stewardship and giving ultimately comes down to a question of faith – CAN WE REALLY TRUST GOD TO TAKE CARE OF US?

Jesus himself gives us the answer to that question in Matthew 6 as part of his teaching called the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus questioned why people worry about what they will eat and drink, about their bodies and what they will wear. Jesus said our lives are about more than food and our bodies are about more than clothes. He then gives us two wonderful examples from creation of how much God loves and cares for what he has created. He talks about how the birds of the air are fed, even the littlest tiny bird is taken care of by God. He describes how the lilies of the field and the grass itself is beautifully clothed, and it doesn’t even have a long life span. He then tells us that we are certainly more valuable to God than the birds and the grass, for after all God sent his only Son into the world to die that we might have life with him.

The message from Jesus is this - we can trust God to take care of us. Why? Because God created us and he loves us and our Heavenly Father certainly knows all of our needs. And furthermore, the message of Jesus which is confirmed elsewhere in Scripture is that God doesn’t want us to be consumed with trying to work out the details of our needs for ourselves. What God wants, is for us to seek first His kingdom and in return he promises that he will see to the needs of our lives.

So can we trust God to take care of us? The answer according to Jesus is, ABSOLUTELY YES. I’m not saying that being a faithful steward is easy. Sometimes it’s scary. And I’m not saying that being a faithful steward means you’ll get everything you’ve ever wanted, because you don’t. But God is faithful to supply our needs when we are faithful to remember the principles of giving and give back to God as he has asked.

Learning to be faithful stewards is like learning how to walk. The muscles in our legs have to grow stronger in order for us to walk, and then our coordination has to improve for us to be able to walk well. In our lives of faith, our spiritual muscles and coordination require development too. Being a faithful steward isn’t always easy. In fact, at the beginning, it can be downright scary trying to take those first few steps on wobbly legs. There will be bumps in the road, times when you’re tempted to bail out because it seems too hard. It may mean rearranging your priorities and your budget for a few less meals out so that you can tithe to the church. But if you keep working at it, eventually the muscles of your faith grow enough so that you can stand and walk without fear.

Being a faithful steward isn’t about manipulating God into a corner so you can have everything you’ve ever wanted. God is faithful to supply our needs when we are faithful to remember to give. We have Jesus’ own assurance that God provides for the animals and the grass and that we are far more valuable than these.

Will You Walk Out in Faith?
With all that in mind this morning, my question to you is this - what is God asking you to risk? What are you holding onto that you could “let go and let God?” Our challenge for this upcoming year is to follow the example of the widow from Zarephath and take the plunge of faithful stewardship. We know God will be faithful to supply our needs so we can be faithful to do as God has asked.

I invite you to take that first step of faith today. If you haven’t already done so, you can fill out a pledge card this morning while we sing our final hymn. And as you do this, I want to challenge you to give with confidence. If you have never given regularly before, maybe this means next year you give faithfully one, three, five, or seven percent. If you are currently a giver, maybe that means you strive to be a tither next year and give the ten percent. If you are already a tither, maybe that means you go up a bit in your gift.

But whatever you do, do it prayerfully, do it confidently, and do it out of gratitude for what God has already done for you.

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