Monday, November 17, 2008

High-Roller Stewardship

Grace Lutheran Church, Ada, MN
November 16, 2008
Stewardship Sunday—Pentecost 27
Matthew 25:14-30

One Sunday morning, about this time of the year, Pastor Olson told his congregation that he had bad news, good news and bad news for them.

“First, here’s the first BAD NEWS,” said the pastor. "Our church’s furnace has died and needs to be replaced immediately."

“But now the GOOD NEWS,” Pastor Olson continued: "We have more than enough money to do the job!"

Then he offered the second bit of BAD NEWS, though: "All that money is still in your pockets!”

Now as I look at it--this story makes for good humor, but lousy theology.

This story is good for a chuckle–but it’s at least two-thirds wrong when it comes to theology–when it comes to helping us make sense out of things in light of the Word of God.

That’s why I like to re-tell this story--not as a BAD NEWS/GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS story--but as a GOOD NEWS/GOOD NEWS/GOOD NEWS story!

I prefer to think of this as a GOOD NEWS story: good news times three!

GOOD NEWS: "The furnace has died and needs to be replaced immediately." Which is to say: God is sending us a challenge, an opportunity…

God’s got some more work for us to do, to keep us out of mischief while we await his New Creation. God’s got another job for us to tackle while we get ready for the final coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Broken furnaces, third graders needing Bibles, hungry bellies, ears itching for the gospel—all those "problems" that confront us are also always challenges to ministry, opportunities for mission.

Hidden beneath every problem we encounter is the call of God to go deeper, step up, move out, and forge ahead!

So, this morning here at Grace, what are the problems that are on your minds?

How about: “Entering a time of staff transition, getting used to an interim pastor, and calling a new pastor?”

What else troubles you right now? Are you concerned about the crops our farmers are still trying to get out of their fields? Are you worried that church offerings might not keep up with expenses? Are you wondering how the global financial crisis might impact us all?

There are, to be sure, plenty of problems out there—plenty of good reasons to lose sleep.

But the faith question is this: how do we think about these problems? Do we imagine them to be only problems—or are they something else?

“GOOD NEWS—we have to replace our church furnace.”

Good news? How could that be? It sounds like a problem—surely not an opportunity!

That’s how the third slave in this parable from Matthew 25 would have seen it, I think.

His buddies–the first two slaves--were tickled pink to be given chances to turn a big profit with their master’s money.

But the third slave saw all that as nothing but trouble–trouble that paralyzed him into inaction, burying his master’s money rather than taking any risks with it.

When we see only problems or calamities, we miss out on how in and through those circumstances God might be calling us to something bigger.

One of the very wise pastors in our synod made a comment recently that I will not soon forget. He said that when Jesus told his followers that we will always have the poor with us—Jesus wasn’t complaining about a problem or making a dire prediction….but rather: Jesus was uttering a promise!

Jesus promised you and me that there would always be poor folks among us, so that we’ll never run out of opportunities to respond to them as children of a God who frees us to be generous.

So—“GOOD NEWS: the furnace is busted.” Or, if you prefer, complete that sentence any other way, inserting whatever problem is foremost on your mind.

But that’s just the beginning…

“GOOD NEWS: We have more than enough money to fix the furnace,” as Pastor Olson told his congregation. Whatever the challenge or opportunity that’s out there, the resources are here–in abundance!

That’s because God is the source of all that we are and all that we have–and God doesn’t know the meaning of the word “stingy.”

In the Parable of the Talents, this breath-taking abundance of God is represented by the fabulous sums of money the master leaves behind with his three slaves.

For example, before he goes away on his long journey the master leaves five talents with the first slave. That’s 75 years of wages or nearly $3.3 million[1] in our day, here in Norman County.

Such overflowing wealth in this parable–it’s like a bell going off! It’s a clue, a sure sign, that the master in this parable represents none other than God!

For no one is more generous than God.

God has held back nothing from us–not even the precious life of his only beloved Son, given up to death on a Cross for you and for me.

If God has given us Jesus, God has given us the very best–and then some! God has given us Jesus. And God has given us everything else--with Jesus!

God has given us everything we need to do the work God has called us to. I really believe that–and I hope you do, too.

Dear friends of Grace Lutheran, you can meet and exceed your goals for financial stewardship, all in the service of God’s mission for you. God has lavished on us all the time we need, all the abilities we need, all the resources we need to get God’s work done.

The first GOOD NEWS: "The furnace is dead and we need to replace it—God’s given us this opportunity to invest in our life and ministry.”

The second GOOD NEWS: "We have more than enough money to meet all our goals in mission and ministry—because God knows only one way of giving: abundantly, lavishly, unreservedly!

And here’s the third GOOD NEWS from our friend Pastor Olson: "The money is still in your pockets!"

That’s good news–not bad news, dear friends!

The resources are at your disposal–you get to free them up.

What awesome trust God places in our hands! God lets us be trustees, the managers, the caretakers of all that God possesses.

God trusts us to make wise and generous choices with all that we have.

God could have done otherwise. God could simply extract our offerings by force. God could choose to levitate our wallets or do a little Star Trek "beaming up" of our dollars. God could do his own “automatic withholding” of a portion of our paychecks.

But instead, like the master in the parable who went on a journey and turned over everything to his slaves, God recklessly grants us the freedom in Jesus Christ to do the right thing with our cash and with everything else that we have.

God trusts us to care for our own needs and the needs of those who depend on us...

…even as God counts on us to see to it that his great rescue and renewal mission in our world moves ahead unimpeded.

GOOD NEWS: “The money (for all of that mission and ministry)—the money is in your pockets!”

God wouldn’t have it any other way.

This morning I believe God is sitting on the edge of his seat, waiting to see what we’re going to do with this abundance.

And what God is looking for isn’t just an abundant response from us. God is waiting with baited breath to catch the twinkle of delight in our eyes when we give back some of what has been lavished upon us.

God gets a kick out of that! As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.” (The Message)

God gets a charge out of some of his own generosity rubbing off on us.

One of my favorite quotes in this regard comes from the late, great Eleanor Roosevelt: “Every day do at least one thing that scares you.”

Every day do at least one thing that scares you!

What an exciting way to live—like the trusting master, like the first two slaves in the parable—those “high rollers”, those risk-takers, wheeling and dealing with their master’s money!

That’s how God calls you and me to live—and how God calls us to give. “Every day, do at least one thing that scares you!”

God, who is in the risk-taking business--God who risked it all for you and me at the Cross–God continues to take the risk of leaving the money in our pockets–so confident is God that, living as his generous people, we will do the right thing with all that we have and all that we are.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.
[1] $43,814 (average household income for Norman County in 2003) times 75, i.e. 15 years wages per talent times 5 talents in the parable.

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