Responsive Stewardship

Luke 19:1-10
Series on Peace’s Goals
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Something happened to me at the soccer fields this week-end. I could not stop thinking about it when I got home, so I re-wrote parts of this sermon.

Here’s what happened: There were people and cars everywhere, as there are most Saturdays, many Sundays, and evenings during the week. I walked out onto the fields – multiple fields. As I looked around for Rebecca’s team, there were saw hoards of parents with their tents, large umbrellas, coolers, and fold up chairs. And it hit me. I’ve come to worship. I have joined the throngs of people who are worshiping organized athletics for children. I reached the sidelines of Rebecca’s game and listened to the parents calling out to their kids, “approach the ball,” “be more aggressive,” “defense” and all kinds of other instructions. There was an intensity in the parents’ voices like this was a life and death moment for these 12 and 13 year old girls. I heard parents of 8 and 9 year old boys behind me shouting out to their team with the same kind significance. This was not just recreation. This was life. This mattered.

Now I have been going to soccer fields for a long time – fifteen years to be exact – since our eldest was seven. I’ve been a soccer mom, a basketball mom, a volleyball mom, and a piano mom for that many years. There have been a few seasons of softball, track, ballet, gymnastics, football, band, orchestra, vocal ensemble and chorus too, and in England, there was korfball, netball and cricket. I was a three-sport athlete myself, so athletics have been a large part of my life.

What I have witnessed in recent years is the growing focus of parents on their children’s athletic ability from earlier and earlier ages, often to the neglect of their spiritual lives. And today, more than ever before, I realized that this all about stewardship. This is the stewardship of time, energy, and money -- all family resources usually in short supply. I’m starting to wonder about our sports-crazed culture.

What are we teaching our children about stewardship when we will toss hundreds and thousands of dollars into a sporting activities and spend week-ends in motels chasing after the games of 12 year-olds, just so they will be prepared to play high school sports. We might not intend to say that it is more crucial than faith, but our actions speak louder than words.

Now I love relaxing in front of a NFL game on Sunday afternoon, and I follow baseball this time of year and in March I’ll be watching basketball games. But when we pay an average professional quarterback nearly 2 million a year, while we pay an average college professor less than 1/20th of that and a pediatric surgeon gets about 1/5 of that, something is wrong.

What are we teaching our children when the golf courses and club houses and shopping centers are larger and more beautiful than our churches? They see what our culture really values. And this value statement is more dramatic in a place like Lakewood Ranch, where nearly everything is new and reflects our modern value system.

What are we teaching our children when we spend more in annual fees to keep the common areas of our neighborhoods perfectly landscaped than we spend on feeding hungry children in the world? There is a dis-connect between what we say we value and what we really value. We’re demonstrating the tight grip our culture has on us, people of faith.

We come today to our final of five goals and it is perhaps the hardest one to address – that of stewardship – how we manage our resources – our time, our talent, and our treasure. An honest examination of stewardship shows us what we treasure and whether we have really been transformed by our relationship with the Lord to be responsive, to be grateful and generous, as Zacchaeus was.

Luke 19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.
7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." 9 Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

Our story about Zacchaeus is one of a remarkable conversion or transformation. Zacchaeus was not only rich, but he had been dishonest, like many tax collectors in his day. He took more money than was owed the Roman government and kept the extra for himself. But Zacchaeus’ life was transformed by the love of Jesus Christ. Jesus noticed him and said, “I’m coming to your house.” Apparently, he not only entered his home but also his heart, and Zacchaeus and his household were saved.

What would people say about you if Jesus walked into this room and picked you out of the crowd and said, “I’m going to your house for dinner.” Would they wonder why you had been chosen? Why would Jesus pick any of us? Because Jesus Christ is full of mercy and grace. And so he does pick us. He is saying to you today, just as he said to Zacchaeus, “Let me stay at your place.” He’s saying, “Let me into every room in your house and every place in your heart, soul, and mind.” And when we let Jesus into every area of our life, then we see our need to be saved from sin in multiple areas of our lives. One of the most difficult areas of life to give to the Lord is our management of time, talent, and treasure. Jesus had a lot to say about this – much more than any other subject.

This story raises questions about the meaning of salvation. Sometimes we think that salvation is simply uttering a prayer, “Lord I trust you. Come into my life.” But those words are big. Saying “I trust you. Come into my life” means that my life is no longer MY life.” Salvation is a process of giving my life over to God. Zacchaeus had a dramatic conversion. He gave half of his wealth away immediately. But we are slower in giving our all. Perhaps Jesus would say of us, “Salvation is slowly coming to this house, instead of salvation has come.” We are still learning to trust the Lord.

And some of you are thinking, “Well, Zacchaeus was rich and I’m not.” I don’t think Jesus is asking those who live month by month, scraping by, to give up half of what they own, but we are called to tithe ten dollars for every hundred. And few of us actually do. But all of us can take steps in the right direction. And the comfortably well-off can do more, like Zacchaeus.

But it is more than the decision you make when that annual promise card comes in the mail from church during Stewardship season. It is more than the weekly moment of the offering plate coming by. No, the real decision moments are many and daily. Will you eat out tonight or eat leftovers? Do you go shopping for new clothes or keep wearing ones that are a little out of style? How many pairs of shoes do you really need? Do you buy whole foods or processed foods? Do you pay for drinks at restaurants or drink water? Do you combine trips in the car or are you impulsive, going here and there without thought of gas expense? Do you stay at the discounted hotels when you travel? Do you buy low or mid-range cosmetics and toiletries? How many services do you pay for, which you could handle yourself? All these little decisions ultimately control the larger ones. Until you have courage enough adjust all the little decisions, there’s no way you can change the big ones.

Here’s a big decision which you could make today and change the future of Peace Presbyterian: Will you tithe to the Lord in your last will and testament? Can you do in death what you have been too anxious to do in life?

If you are a responsive steward of the gifts of God, then you are giving generously and sacrificially. If it does not squeeze your own spending, then it is not generous giving, no matter how much it is. Trust in Jesus Christ means trusting your whole life to the Lord. It means being so full of gratitude that when Jesus knocks on your door, you are eager to open it and change your lifestyle. Luke’s gospel will not let us off the hook. There is story after story about how crucial it is for us to be faithful, humble stewards of all God has given us.

Peace has four teams related to the goal: Responsive Stewardship. All our other goals – worship, relationships, discipleship, and outreach have one or two teams related. But Responsive Stewardship has four, telling us this is challenging and broad-ranging ministry.

First, we have a Stewardship team encouraging you to give your time, talent, and money to the Lord through Peace. We have an Admin team to effectively manage the human and financial resources of the church. There’s a Building Vision Team touring other churches, interviewing architects, and planning very deliberately for the beautiful, missional church we will build in three years. And as of this week, we have formed a Property Team to care for, to steward this ministry center of ours.

So here’s where my imagination went after sitting at that soccer game: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the Peace family standing around cheering for the youth of our church to be strong and generous stewards of God’s amazing grace? Imagine us pulling out our lawn chairs to watch the kids engage in mission or to study their Bibles. What if we were encouraging them in faith with the same kind of intensity I saw at the soccer field today? “Come on, trust God. Practice your faith. Commit your life to Christ. Grow in the fruits of the Spirit. Be humble and full of gratitude. Share what you’ve been given.”

We’d be counter-cultural for sure, but maybe we’d discover the real joy and peace of salvation, like Zacchaeus did.