My favorite preacher, Fred Craddock tells preaching students to avoid, if at all possible, the “ship” and “ness” words and find another word. Fellow-ship, Steward-ship. Righteous-ness, Holi-ness. They are not bad words. The church has just worn them out and they have lost their punch, according to Craddock.
And so this week’s sermon on….Stewardship. The word “steward” is an old word, airlines don’t even use it anymore, so for the sermon, we focused on the word “manager” over “steward.” Of course, I suppose Craddock could equally criticize the “ment” words: manage-ment. All the same, the sermon was about “someone who handles someone else’s stuff.” And so we come to the impasse of this sermon:
Who’s “stuff” is it?
The bible clearly teaches that God owns all stuff. All that we love, including people, the air we breath, all of it. With a multi billion dollar advertising empire behind it, our culture teaches that we own all our stuff, we need to protect our stuff, we don’t have enough stuff and we need more stuff.
Who is telling the truth? God or our culture? How do you preach a message on stuff management without moving into the usual guilt/shame/should do more syndrome of so many sermons?
Can a still small voice speak deeper into our frightened and anxious hearts than the megaphone of Madison Avenue?
Only if you trust.
Jesus tells a parable in Mathew 25 that is stark, threatening and dire, but underneath the hyperbole is the question, “do you trust the owner?” and “what are you assuming about the owner.” The managers who trusted that the owner is good and has good intent managed his property well, so he gave them more to manage. The one who assumed the owner is bad squandered the little he’d been entrusted with. I find this to be utterly convicting – believing that God owns it all comes down to trusting in the nature of God.
And so this week, an opportunity to put your trust in the owner of the cattle of a thousand hills over a culture that incentivizes you to stay discontent. Generosity really does lead to freedom and wonder. Changing our grip on the people we deeply love relaxes our heart and anxiety. God owning it all and us managing it is the free-er way to live.
And finally a wonderful quote from Thomas Merton, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”