February 23, 2014

Stewardship’s Twin

Back in 1994, I was engaged to an Australian woman while in the Air Force. I specifically remember one conversation about future plans and dreams. There was a distinct difference between our styles. Mine was one that was planned and deliberate while she had a more adventurous ‘living in the moment’ approach.

Anyway, one day she asked, “What is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you?” After thinking about it for a while, I responded, “Probably losing my home and job.” She thought for a moment and asked, “Don’t you have homeless shelters in America?” I said yes. She continued, “So there is an option for a roof over your head and a meal, right?” Again I said yes. “So that’s the worst thing that can happen?”

My mind began thinking about those words as I came back with another option. “Maybe the worst thing would be sentenced to jail.” Again she straight-forwardly pointed out, “In a place where you have protection from the elements, three meals a day, clean water for drinking and bathing, and the ability to be seen by a doctor if ill. That’s the worst thing that can happen?” It was like I had been punched by a left hook and right uppercut. Trying to find my balance after being hit by those comments, she looked directly at me before delivering the knockout, “I think the worst thing for you would be to lose your pride.”

While I was concerned about planning and controlling my future, my fiancé had the approach of living for the day. Whatever comes today, she will make the most of it. She doesn’t worry about 6 months, 5 years, 15 years from now. She and her husband are extremely happy without relying on financial resources to bring them fulfillment and security.

The difference between me and her was similar to that of Abraham and Lot. Lot was attracted to the security of the lush Jordan Valley for his family, servants, and animals. Abraham and Sarah’s half on the other hand, had no choice but to trust in the security of God’s will and calling. Possessions or Relationship? Where is our security and where is discipleship?

The Gospel text that I am using today is a parable, a story (a teaching tool) told by Jesus, maybe literal but most likely not, explaining the kingdom of God. The theme of this parable is found in verse 15, “Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” And in this text, Jesus confronts us with straight up, no nonsense, no beating around the bush questions. They can sting the ego and pride, just like my original example.

The Rich Fool in today’s parable wasn’t chastised for the act of building bigger barns but rather for his greed. He said to HIMSELF, “there I will store all my grain and my goods and I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.”

What the Fool didn’t know what that he was going to be dead the next night. What good was all that time and effort chasing worldly possessions? He didn’t get it. Is the purpose of life simply earning and living in financial security? Where is our trust when the stock market crashes or when we learn of an unknown health condition? Is our primary concern in this life related to resources or relationships?

In every parable regarding money, Jesus says, how can you store up all these goods for your long-term future when my people are suffering in your community today? Jesus says blessed are those who have little and we tend to believe blessed are those who have much. What does that say about our relationship with Christ? It begs the question, is our priority the relationship or is it programs and activities?

In most congregations, there is more emphasis put on the activities and relationships between the members than there is on the relationship with Christ. Pastor Charles Lane writes, “Let me say it as clearly as I can: Your congregation’s stewardship ministry is first and foremost about making and growing disciples. You need to be about the business of helping God’s people grow in their relationship with their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When this is the primary goal of your stewardship ministry, having enough money to pay the bills will not be a problem. Most of us are far more inclined to talk about the activities of our congregation than we are to talk about how Jesus is active in our lives. The dominant church paradigm continues to be about membership, not discipleship (Ask, Thank, Tell, p. 12-13).”

Pastor Lane points to Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Jesus makes it clear in that short sentence. It is one or the other. Period. Are we more concerned about finances or nurturing our relationship with Jesus? When we have wealth (and in comparison to the world, if you are here today you are wealthy), it becomes the object of our trust and it literally replaces Jesus Christ, who is the only worthy object of a believer’s trust.

Someone recently mentioned, should we feel guilty about wealth? Absolutely not! We are reminded that the wealth is not ours, but a blessing from God to manage. Our blessings are reasons to be thankful, therefore giving abundantly of ourselves and our resources with joyful hearts. In the act of discipleship, we are nurturing relationship with Jesus. It’s less about looking out for our own long-term security and more about giving to those in need TODAY.

I’m going to close with another quote from Pastor Lane. “Discipleship contrasts sharply with membership. When we talk about discipleship, the primary relationship is not with the congregation. The primary relationship is with Jesus. The congregation is the community of people with whom this relationship is lived out and nurtured. The role of the disciple, then, is to grow deeper in Jesus and to tell others about Jesus. Giving [generously of ourselves and GOD’S resources] is part of growing that relationship with Jesus (P.14-15).” Amen.