Today’s text is from Acts 17:24-28
We’re talking about stewardship today – a word that might make you cringe because so often it has to do with money. And when we think of stewardship and money I’m sure many things come to mind. But often it’s so easy to think of it as the church simply doing a money grab. Often we feel the same way when it comes to taxes. Or when charities want donations. Or when anyone asks for anything. Why would I give away what’s mine to someone else? Why should they get something for free when I worked for it?
Or it’s possible to fight back and say that I’ve given away enough – whether it’s 1%, 5%, 10% or even more – and that I’ve got to keep the rest since, after all, it is mine. But let’s unpack that thought; because ownership deals with possessions which deals with creation which deals with humanity.
In all our readings for today one thing is clear: God is the author of life. God is the breath in our bodies. God is the light in the darkness. God is everything. This is crucial in our reframing of what stewardship is. Christianity often sells us a bill of goods that God is an old man with a white beard sitting on a throne in one physical location somewhere in the universe. And when we see God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as bounded by time and space then it only becomes natural to assume that things like dirt and rocks and leaves and sidewalks and buildings and random objects are just that – random.
And the list continues on and on to include more important things like money and possessions and people. It’s easy to fall into the trap that money and possession and people – and everything else – has a bit of it that’s not part of who or what God is. It’s possible to view money and people and the world around us as less than everything that God is.
It’s possible to view some parts of creation as better than others.
Let’s dig into this idea with a thought experiment: You’ve been told you have the opportunity to win one million dollars. That sounds great until you hear the caveat: In order to receive this million dollars you must press a button. And when you do, you’ll receive that money, but one random person on this planet will die.
Now, the odds are that you’ll never have known the person who dies if you press the button. Their family will never know they died so you could become wealthy. And it’s easy to stand here and say that I would never press the button for a million dollars in exchange for the death of one other person. And I can guarantee that’s correct. And I can guarantee that’s correct for you as well.
Because we’d all do it for a lot less.
Here’s where stewardship and taxes and donations and charities all merge together with ownership and possessions and creation and humanity. Now, if at this point you’re just as stunned with me that you’d be okay with someone else dying for a lot less than a million dollars – or you’re upset that the accusation has even been made – let’s again unpack this thought.
Every day people die from hunger-related causes. About 56 people have died – mostly children – since this sermon started. 21,000 people over the course of one day – one every four seconds. Now, as people of God who live amongst other people of God the question can be asked: Why are people dying of hunger-related causes? There is definitely enough food for everyone. Certainly over-population is a huge problem, but there’s no reason at the moment why everyone can’t be fed properly. Or drink clean water. Or be clothed and kept warm.
And we do our best as people to fix these problems. I just received the ELCA’s annual Good Gifts catalogue that lists all the different ways you can support those with almost nothing by buying things like goats, cows, wells for water, school supplies – the list goes on. And we need programs like that because without it I’d have no idea how to get a goat for someone else. But at the same time, after I buy my goat for someone less fortunate than me, pay my taxes, toss some coins into a red kettle this winter, or volunteer with an organization, something happens.
Our sense of ownership takes over. We feel we’ve been good stewards of what is ours – we’ve helped others out and now it’s time to settle back in and focus on ourselves. We forget that scripture makes it clear that: God is the author of life. God is the breath in our bodies. God is the light in the darkness. God is everything.
So, would you press a button that kills someone else in order to receive one million dollars? I’ll speak for myself here to say that I metaphorically press a button in order to live the life I’m currently living at the expense 21,000 people dying every day – because am I really doing my best to help these people of God thrive and survive?
This is where stewardship becomes frightening. This is where Jesus’ words to us are chilling. Sell everything we have? Having money and getting into heaven is impossible?
This is why seeing God in every inch of creation is so crucial. This is why seeing Christ in every person on this earth is critical. This is why feeling the Spirit’s presence in one another is key. Because if we don’t, then it’s so easy to keep the focus on ourselves instead of on the world around us.
Now, I’ve heard the sentiment before that, “why should we help those in other nations when we can’t even help those in our own backyard.” Because no one is worth more or less than anyone else. A child in Africa has the same Spirit of Christ in them as your next door neighbor. A terrorist and a humanitarian worker both are children of God. Reframing stewardship is about removing the lens of ownership from our eyes – because society has done a good job tying it tightly around us.
We’ve been taught that having money means power. If you have it, then you’re in control and if you don’t then you’re left for dead. Reframing stewardship means not wondering how much of our stuff we should give away, but instead how much of God’s gifts should we keep for ourselves?
Because God is everything. We are children of God. This cannot be underscored or stated enough. You have the gift and promise of new life through Jesus Christ. But the question remains: What are we going to do with that freedom?
Because we have been freed for, not just freed from. We have been freed for mission in this world. We’ve been more than simply freed from the powers of death and given salvation, but freed for the life of the world.
In Jesus Christ we have been given everything. We have each been blessed to be a blessing. We have each been called to be stewards of God’s creation. This includes rocks, trees, buildings, possessions, money, and people.
Our challenge this day as followers of Jesus Christ is to wonder how much of Christ’s gifts we can give away. Our challenge this day as people of God is to give all that we are because through Jesus Christ we have been given everything.