Monday, November 8, 2010

It's Not Mine, It's Yours (Luke 8.1-3)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 7, 2010 - Stewardship Sunday 

It's Not Mine, It's Yours
Texts: Luke 8:1-3

Sometimes the spoken version of the sermon varies from the written version. And some very few times, such as this week, there is no manuscript to publish.  I will include below my November newsletter article, to which I refer in the sermon and which describes the same core analogy of the sermon between music styles, stewardship styles, and the underlying worship principles of both.

Dear Church Family,

At Good Shepherd we are interested in doing good ministry – particularly ministries to which we believe God has called us. We are likewise interested in being good stewards of money that is given to the church. It is tempting to equate and define stewardship from the “receiving end” and get wrapped up in justifying programs, creating and balancing a budget, and encouraging tithing or sacrificial giving for the sake of the ministries to which we are called as a church. However, this is getting the cart before the horse, as well-intentioned as it may be. Stewardship is first and foremost an act of personal and corporate WORSHIP, a faith-full response to the being and character of the Triune God we experience in Spirit, Truth, and Christian community.

In scripture, stewardship and being a steward has to do with serving a higher authority through wise use of that which belongs to the authority (whether God, king, or master). If “the earth and all it contains is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1), then all that we are and all that we have belong to God. Our stewardship is not a tax, tithe, token, or charitable gift, but our complete and obedient service to God. That is the definition of worship in the broad sense.

What about tithing? Tithing was part of the Law, intended to “train spiritual children” (Galatians 3:24-26). Tithing is not our expected maximum; it is like training wheels until we learn what it means to submit everything we have to God as an act of worship. As long as our stewardship is understood as giving that is tied to a budget and a set of ministries, or even to the concept of a tithe, we have put limits on our worship, just as surely as saying one can only worship with traditional music or King James English.

At Good Shepherd, we have glimpsed the freedom and blessing of worshiping God musically and artistically in Spirit and in Truth, using “every means at our disposal to invite each worshiper into the presence of God” (from the worship philosophy on the back of the bulletin). Could we discover a similar freedom and expansiveness in terms of our stewardship-worship?

There are other parallels between stewardship and music. Just as some people worship most deeply with traditional hymns, others with more contemporary styles, and yet others through creating new musical offerings in response to the Spirit, we recognize that people understand and exercise stewardship best in different ways. So we’d like to encourage an approach to stewardship-worship that parallels our approach to musical worship: united by the shared theme of worship expressed through a variety of ‘styles’ of giving. There is no preference or priority to any of these; rather, we hope you will find one to be your “language” for worshiping God in this way. 

Stewardship as Obedient Commitment

Some folks have expressed a preference for the old pledge-card system. You find it helpful to commit up front to giving on a regular basis and doing so builds a helpful and regular pattern of obedience into your life. We’d like to honor that and offer the opportunity to pledge and provide regular communication from the Financial Secretary in keeping with your pledge. Pledging does not preclude other more spontaneous giving, nor does it bind you if income or situation changes. Rather, it is an expression of obedience and commitment that is a wonderful expression of worship. 

Stewardship as Ongoing Response

Some folks have expressed a preference for maintaining the flexibility to give more or less as the Spirit leads or as needs arise. On one hand you appreciate not being constantly pressured or reminded about giving, but on the other hand you may feel freer to give above a pre-set commitment. We’d like to encourage and offer some accountability for those who want to give in this way by inviting you sign a “covenant of stewardship” that doesn’t specify a pledged amount, but an intent to give regularly and prayerfully as an act of worship. 

Stewardship as Creative Faithfulness

Some folks, particularly among younger generations, have demonstrated a preference for what I would call “creative faithfulness.” No more or less faithful than regular, weekly givers, you are willing to give sacrificially and even extravagantly if so inspired by the Holy Spirit. Examples include purchasing a house with extra space to use to house those in crisis or need, or living off one spouse’s income while giving the other’s salary away. Having had to cut back ministry expenses to a bare-bones minimum in recent years, we still have big dreams and visions that God continues to put before us. We’d like to put some of these out there before you and see if God is stirring you in a faithfully creative way.

I will be preaching on Christian stewardship on November 7… We’d like to ask you to prayerfully consider your response, with family and including children, and then on November 14 we will have a time of consecration in the service to offer our responses before the Lord. I hope you will set aside some time to consider your own response along with that of your household.

In Christ,

Robert



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