Sunday, November 08, 2009

Faith is the Foundation

1 Peter 4:7-11

Do you ever put yourself in the biblical story by asking whether your life story fits into the sacred story? If so, have you ever seen yourself in the story of Abraham and Sarah? In this important biblical story, God calls a couple to leave their homeland and move to a new place. I sort of resonate with this story, though not to the degree that we see described in Hebrews 11, which says that they set out on this journey, “not knowing where he was going.” At least, we had a house when we got here. They had to live in tents for several generations! But, they dwelt in this new land and “looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect is God” (Heb. 11:8-9).

This is what faith is all about. It’s about trusting someone with your life and your future, even though you don’t know what that future holds. Harvey Cox calls this a “deep-seated confidence.”1 It’s a quality that comes to us as a gift from God and lets us step outside the box and take risks when necessary, so that we can accomplish the things that God has set out for us. That is, faith lets us take hold of the manifold grace of God so that we can be all that God would have us be!

You may wonder – why trust my life and my future to the hands of God? Shouldn’t I take responsibility for myself? Perhaps the answer to that question can be found in the one who Paul says, emptied himself, took on the form of a slave, and humbled himself by dying on a cross (Phil. 2:6ff). It is Jesus who defines God’s true nature for us, and provides for us the works that are “to be our way of life” (Eph. 2:10). Faith lets us take hold of this calling.

1. Stewardship as an Act of Faith

For the next several weeks our focus will be on the call to stewardship. The annual stewardship packet, which includes both a pledge card to be returned by Thanksgiving Sunday – November 22 – and a daily devotional, has already been distributed to members and friends of the congregation. We’re being asked to prayerfully consider the ways in which we will support of the ministries of this church for the coming year, even as our ministry groups are prayerfully planning their budgets for the coming year. All of this is being done, with faith as our foundation.

As we listen for God’s voice in this process, it’s important that we bring our congregational core values into the conversation. In many ways our call to stewardship is simply a continuation of the conversation we’ve been having in worship over the past two months. Stewardship is itself an important core value that can be listed alongside those we discerned as a congregation last winter -- compassion, service, acceptance, a joyful spirituality, witness, and worship. Our acts of stewardship under-gird everything we do as a congregation. As Rick Rouse and Craig Van Gelder write in their book The Field Guide for the Missional Church:

“A congregation that wants to move forward in mission will find it necessary to practice stewardship as it builds financial viability.”2

Central Woodward is fortunate to have a corps of strong givers and a legacy of capital and endowment gifts that make it possible for the ministry of this church to flourish as we walk with God into the future. This practice of stewardship is an act of faith – an act of trust in God’s provision for our lives. We give our money and our time and our abilities, even though we could be doing something else – perhaps even important things – but we seem to know that our stewardship of God’s gifts is a sign of trust in God’s provisions. By acting in faith, we put this church, and its ministries, in a position of financial viability even in a time of financial challenges.

Our text this morning, which is taken from 1 Peter 4, calls on us to be both serious and disciplined, for the sake of our prayers. It also calls us to be constant in our love for one another and in showing hospitality. Finally, we’re told to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God,” by serving “one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” Therefore, if you speak, remember that you are speaking the words of God, and if you serve, do so in God’s strength, so that God might be glorified.

2. Four Zones of Stewardship

The message is clear. We’ve been given the gift of God’s abundant grace. Or, to quote Bruce and Kate Epperly, this is a “lively resurrection faith” that “calls us to experience life and ministry in terms of abundance rather than scarcity.” Although our culture is focusing on scarcity and telling us to hoard our gifts, because we don’t know when the other shoe will drop, that’s not the biblical story. Even in difficult times, God calls us to live by faith. The Epperlys point out that:
As the biblical tradition constantly asserts, even in the most desperate situations, God is constantly doing a new thing, bringing worlds into being and imagining alternatives to present situations of suffering and injustice.3

As we consider this call to be good stewards of God’s grace, we do so with the biblical story in mind. And, if faith is our foundation, then we will make good use of God’s wondrous gifts, not by hoarding them, but by putting them to work for the kingdom of God – because our God is a God of abundance, not scarcity.

We tend to think of stewardship in monetary ways, but if you take a look at the front of the bulletin, you’ll see four words – time, talent, treasure, and terrain. These four words, taken together, define for us the zones in which we’re called to exercise stewardship of the “manifold grace of God.”

  • Time
The first zone is time, and if you’re like me, you waste a lot of it. By being good stewards of our time, we’re reminded that time is precious, and that it should be used for the glory of God. It’s not a matter of God getting a percentage of our days, while we control the rest. No, time belongs to God, and we’re called to use it all for the glory of God. So, whether it’s our involvement in the life of the church, time with family, or time at work or even at play, we should use this gift wisely and for the glory of God.

  • Talent
The words “abilities” and “gifts” define what we mean by talent. While Peter’s list is brief, Paul’s much more expanded list in 1 Corinthians 12, which ranges from prophecy to healing, and from teaching to service, reminds us that whatever our abilities – whether it’s the ability to sing, listen, write, sew, lead, or teach – we’re called to be good stewards of these gifts, and use them to build up the body of Christ and to love our neighbors as well.

  • Treasure
Jesus said, where your treasure is, there your heart will be as well (Mt. 6:21). That’s about as simple and straightforward as you can get. We can argue about percentages, but the question each of us must ask is: Where does my treasure lie? That’s because wherever we put our treasure, that’s where we’ll find our hearts. By making a financial pledge to the ministries of this congregation, we show ourselves to be good stewards of the manifold grace of God and we invest ourselves in the work of God from this community to the ends of the earth.

  • Terrain
The fourth zone of stewardship -- that of terrain – may sound out of place. Indeed, the use of this term in this place, is a new one for me as well. In fact, Felicia introduced the idea to the Stewardship Group as she took leadership of this ministry. Felicia had in mind, at least in part, the stewardship of our church property. And we should be good stewards of this gift, but we can expand on this idea – and I’m sure that Felicia would agree with this expansion – to include the care of all of God’s creation. Besides, even though the use of the term terrain in a stewardship context might be new to us, it’s really as old as Genesis 1, where we find God giving humanity a commission to take care of this new creation (Gen. 1:27-28). And, once again, when we hear 1 Peter call us to be good stewards of the manifold grace of God, we should keep in mind our responsibility to care for the earth and all its inhabitants. This is, of course, not only a matter of stewardship, it’s also a matter of justice and compassion, making it an expression of honor to God and an expression of our love of our neighbors. Therefore, but being stewards of this terrain, we fulfill both of the Great Commandments – to love God and to love our neighbor.

I invite you to prayerfully consider this morning’s text, meditating upon it over the next three weeks, as you consider the ways in which God is calling you to a life of stewardship of God’s bounteous gifts.

1. Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith, (San Francisco: Harper One, 2009), p. 3.

2. Rick Rouse and Craig Van Gelder, The Field Guide for the Missional Church, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2008), 110.

3. Bruce and Katherine Gould Epperly, Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry. (Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2009), p. 25

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
November 8, 2009

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