A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 30th December 2007 by Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 1:26-31 and Luke 12:22-34.
Today is Stewardship Sunday. In Christian understanding, stewardship is the way time, talents, material possessions or wealth are used or given for the service of God.
In Genesis chapter one, it has clearly described an orderly and mysterious creation of God. But the world that we live in now, however, is very much distorted. Wars and violence, environmental pollution that jeopardize our planet earth, poverty and the enormous wealth gap between the rich and the poor have destroyed the beauty of God’s creation. People are alienated from God, from other people, from ourselves and from Nature. In view of the original creation and creative order of God, we being identified as people of God, disciples of God, children of God, have to rethink our role to serve our Lord and the world.
In Genesis 1:26-31, it stated that we human beings who are created in God’s holy image are given important roles and duties to take care of the world and nurture all creatures in the entire nature. The essence of Christian stewardship is to give and care. We need to give the gifts given by God and used them to care for God’s creation.
How can we become a good steward of God, a faithful servant of our Lord?
Today, I have taken Luke 12:22-34 to draw out some insights for the above question.
“This passage is a call not to be anxious about daily needs. Life is more than concern about food and clothes, as seen in the lessons from God’s care of creation. Jesus’ exhortation is based on the value of people in creation. Anxiety is useless; it reveals lack of faith. God knows one’s needs. So seek his kingdom and one’s daily needs will be met. God gives the kingdom to his children. Seeking his kingdom includes caring for others, so there is a call to sell possessions and be generous. In short, look at priorities. Where one’s treasure is, there one’s heart is.”
Jesus in the passage underlines the importance of trusting God. The one who fears God and build up treasure for him has nothing to fear. When we have the utter trust of God’s care for us, we will be free to do meaningful things for God and other creatures that God loves.
Let me share a personal experience. In the year of 2002, it was my 6th year of teaching social work at the Polytechnic University. By that time I was thinking to make a change as I felt that my service in the University was no longer satisfying and meaningful. I prayed for God to lead my way. After a while, I had an idea of quitting the job at Polytechnic University and to rethink of my future career. Meanwhile, there was a call to take some courses in biblical and theology studies in order to equip myself for better service for God and the church. It was quite a struggle for me at the time. Teaching in a university is quite a decent job with stable income and many attractive welfare benefits. If I left the post, I would never be able to return on the same terms because the staff policies were changing to be much less favorable for newly joined staff.
Another struggle for such a change was, would I do well in a course of theology? What would I do after all these courses? What would be my future? Should I change my career from teaching to church ministry? Am I suitable to take up this vocation? The uncertainty made me feel very unsettled and worried.
While I was struggling, the passage in Luke 12:22-34 inspired me and gave me the courage to move on. In verse 12:31, ‘to seek his kingdom first and these things will be given to you.’ The promise of God’s care helped me to change the focus of thinking. I began to think more of my gifts from God and focus on God’s provision and not on the inadequacy and insecurity. I began to identify more of the gifts I possess and the favorable conditions that supported me to make a change. First of all, my husband was very supportive to my study in theology. His relatively stable job and secured income reduced my financial burden and met the family needs. Secondly, my training background and experience in social work enhanced my services in the church ministry because I was trained to be concerned with social issues, sensitive to people’s needs and problems, able to identify community resources and communication skills etc. All these are the gifts given by God with his grace. Focusing on this provision of God facilitated my work and service as a good steward.
Each of us our situation is not the same of course. However, no matter how different of our life experiences and situation, it is sure that God give us everyone the gifts in a unique way. I would invite you to think of your gifts given by God who is the source of power as God is the creator of everything. When we shift our focus from our inadequacy and insecurity to focus on the provision of God that gives us many gifts, we will then stay away from anxieties or transform ourselves to encounter the fear positively with confidence and courage.
Too often we intend to pay attention to anxiety, worries and problems. This attitude and perspective always defeat our motivation and will to do the right things for God. In the biblical text today, God helps us to think more of our gifts which reflect the providence of God.
If you want to become a good steward to serve God more effectively, what is the change that you may have to encounter? Do not focus on the negative factors that generate your anxieties, but think of the gifts that you have and trust that God will give you the necessary strength to face it.
Our trust in God is grounded in providence of God. In psalm 24:1, it said ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, and the world, and those who live in it.’ In 1 Chronicles 29:14, King David in his offering prayer has praised the greatness of God. “For all things come from you, and your own have we given you.”
God’s Love and care to the people and all creatures is another ground for our trust in God. God creates everything and in his eyes all are good. (Genesis 1:26-31)The needs of raven and lilies are met by God, why not human beings? (Luke 12:24-27) In addition, Jesus ensures us that we are taken care of by God. God is pleased to give us the kingdom, (Luke 12:32) to be present in our life and support us during time of struggles. The tenderness of reassurance is expressed in the address to the disciples as ‘little flock’, it is in the Old Testament figure for God’s fragile yet cared for people. (Psalm 23:1; Isaiah 40:11) The naming of ‘little flock’ suggests that people are fragile and indeed we are. We should be humble but at the same time admit it courageously. The good thing is, we are protected and being taken care of by God with his steadfast love. In Psalm 23: 1, it said “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.” In Isaiah 40:11, it said “he will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lamb’s in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” God illustrates his gracious care in his words and so we should rest in his hands without fear. Given God’s promise and assurance, we have every reason to be courageous to encounter all difficult situations, and to take risk to serve God.
When we are free from anxieties of deprivation of needs and being protected from all dangers by God, then we can be generous with what God has given us. Jesus calls for the selling of possessions and being generous by giving to the poor. God honors such generosity: he gives us the ‘treasure in heaven’. Such treasure involves God’s commendation and reward for service that pleases him. Selling of possession is a representation of disciples being able to share what we have to those in need. It could be materials, money, time and talents. Once our anxiety is removed, we have more capacity and freedom to work for God’s will and mission
Christian stewardship is the grateful and responsible use of God's gifts in the light of God's purpose as revealed in Jesus Christ. Christian stewards, empowered by the Holy Spirit, commit ourselves to conscious and purposeful decisions.
Stewardship is lived out in seeking God’s kingdom of justice, peace, and the integrity of creation in an interdependent universe. Christians as stewards are wisely employing God-given human resources, abilities, relationships; and of course sharing material possessions we hold and giving them in service, justice, and compassion; providing for future generations, sharing in the life, worship, and responsible stewardship of the Church and of its mission.
Stewardship is a joyful act for the sake of God's world, both for the individual and for the community.
I would like to end my sermon by sharing with you a Stewardship Prayer
Almighty and ever-faithful Lord,
We are gratefully acknowledging Your mercy
and humbly admitting our need,
we pledge our trust in You and each other.
Filled with desire, we respond to Your call for discipleship
by shaping our lives in imitation of Christ.
We profess that the call requires us
to be stewards of Your gifts.
As stewards, we receive Your gifts gratefully,
cherish and tend them in a responsible manner,
share them in practice and love with others,
and return them with increase to the Lord.
Almighty and ever-faithful God,
it is our fervent hope and prayer
that You who have begun this good work in us
will bring it to fulfillment in Jesus Christ,
our Lord. Amen.