Sunday, December 11, 2011

Stewardship Is Only Stewardship in Christ

Third Sunday in Advent
Commemoration of John of Damascus, Theologian and Hymnwriter
Commitment Sunday
December 11, 2011

Today you get to hear a stewardship sermon from John the Baptist. When you have a preacher such as he is it’s really best to let him do the preaching. Since today is Commitment Sunday it’s expected to have a stewardship sermon. And really, what better way to get a stewardship sermon than from the man who was sent by God to be the one to prepare the way for the Messiah. There is no stewardship in the Christian sense without the one who came into the world as the Messiah. That we are stewards of all that God has given us is because of the one who came to bring us the fullness of all things.

John’s stewardship sermon is actually pretty simple. The apostle John tells us about John the Baptist. He tells us that John “came as a witness, to bear witness about the Light, that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but came to bear witness about the Light.” John’s purpose here is to witness. He is to make known the Light so that all might believe in Him.

We should listen to John. We should get over ourselves and all the wonderful things we can do for God and listen to John. We need to stop spending time thinking about all the things we should be doing for God and simply believe. Listen to John and look to the Light. Believe in Him. Jesus is the one John was pointing to and there is no better stewardship sermon than that. There is no other stewardship sermon apart from that. The only way we can be stewards of what God has given us is to believe in Jesus.

So John gives us the stewardship sermon we need to hear. John the apostle tells us that this was the testimony of John. This is what he confessed. People were asking John the Baptist about himself but he said, No, it’s not about me. It’s about Him. It’s about Christ. It’s about the one who is the Light. It’s the one in whom we believe.

Our problem is that we think of stewardship as what we do. Yes, it is what we do; we are stewards of what God has given us. But so often we don’t think about why and how we are stewards of all that God has given us. We think of believing as the starting point and then our lives as Christians as what we do for God. But that’s wrong. Believing is all the way through. It’s our whole lives long. It’s the main thing. Without it there is no stewardship. If we think about what we are to do for God then guess what we’re not doing? We’re not looking to the Light, believing in Him. We may think we are, but we’re not. Whenever we are the ones trying to do things for God we’re doing the opposite of what God wants of us. What He wants is not our best but our worst. Our best is what got us into the mess we’re in.

What He does is rescue us from the mess we’re in. The way He does that is by taking from us our sin and filth and guilt. When we think we have to do good things for God we are really offering Him our sin and filth. Don’t concern yourself with giving to God what you think He wants. Look instead to the Light and believe in Him. Jesus is the Light and He outshines the darkness of your sin and guilt. He is pure and sinless. It’s what He does that is what God the Father wants. He doesn’t want or need anything from you.

Does it seem like John the Baptist isn’t a very good stewardship preacher? Shouldn’t he be telling us what to do? That we need to give more? We need to spend more time serving on boards and committees at the church to do God’s work? We need to sacrifice more of our time to help the poor? As it happens, John was actually pretty good at that as well. It’s not written here in our Gospel reading but elsewhere in the Scriptures we find that John could preach a pretty mean stewardship sermon as we’re normally accustomed to hearing. Do this, don’t do that. Give more, sacrifice more, serve more. And all of that is good and doctrinally correct and we should take it to heart.

But in itself it’s not a stewardship sermon. In itself it’s not faithful preaching nor the message God wants us to hear and take to heart. When John preached those things they were connected to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ; you know, the Light, the one in whom we are to believe. A life of believing is a life of stewardship. It’s true that we at times, if not often, need to hear exhortation of what we should do and how we need to serve God with our time, our money, and our abilities. But without looking to the Light and believing in Him, what are you doing other than what any person can do who doesn’t believe in Christ? Nothing. In fact, there’s a lot of people out there who do many wonderful things, but they are not the things that God wants, because they are not done for God’s glory.

Things are not for God’s glory if they are not because of God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ and His suffering, death, and resurrection. This is the point John is making. That’s why it’s the stewardship sermon that actually shows us what stewardship really is. It’s living as God has called you to live. When you look to the Light and believe in Him you see what it is that God has called you to do. Everything God has given you has purpose because Christ died for you. Everything God has given you is blessings. If we think outside the box we will see what John was talking about, that stewardship is not about what we do but about what Christ has done. This certainly includes the blessings God gives us for our benefit, most definitely. But what are blessings if they are only for ourselves? The blessings He gives us are for others’ benefit as well. And that’s why we serve. That’s why we give. That’s why we do all those things that we know we should do but need to be exhorted to do. We do them not because we are supposed to. We do them because we look to the Light and believe in Him. We do them because stewardship is not about what we do but because of who Christ is and what He has done for us.

He is the Servant who has done all for us. What we do to serve others is pretty small in comparison but really greater than anything we could ever think to do ourselves. When we serve it’s really just what flows out of believing in Christ. Looking to the Light rather than to our own notions of what we should do for God.

When people hear about stewardship they usually want to hear practical things. How do the things John the Baptist is preaching practically play out? How does one look to the Light and believe in Him? How does this flow into being a steward of all God has given us? What the world sees as practical is worthless in the eyes of God. What God sees as practical is worthless in the eyes of the world. The way John the Baptist preaches stewardship is by pointing us to Christ, where and how He comes to us, not to our own works and what we should do. For us, then, what he points us to is Christ’s work in the Gospel and the Sacraments. Think about how immensely practical this is.

What we are talking about here are the Means of Grace. The Means of Grace are the means, the ways, in which God delivers to us what Christ accomplished on the cross. What He accomplished on the cross He accomplished two thousand years ago. That’s in the past. It’s a historical event. It happened. But how do you get what He accomplished there? How does it actually benefit you in your life?

The answer is the Means of Grace. The Holy Spirit delivers the forgiveness and salvation won at the cross to you in the proclamation of the Gospel, in your Baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper. The reason this is so practical is that you don’t have to wonder how you are to look to some Light that’s out there somewhere but know exactly where God delivers to you His blessings. It’s in the Means of Grace. When you look to your Baptism you are looking to Christ. In your Baptism you have everything you need in order to serve God, whether you’re rich or poor, talented or not, busy or have a lot of time on your hands. When you eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion you are receiving Christ into your very being. How you serve others is that Christ is in you and accomplishes through you all those ways you serve.

A true stewardship sermon is not a shot in the arm. It’s not a motivational appeal and certainly not a guilt trip. What it is is what we always need, and that is the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified. What we need to hear and do is look to the Light and believe in Him. And all the ways you serve and carry out the stewardship of all that God has given you? Make use of the Means of Grace. You have no hope of being a faithful steward apart from the faithful partaking of the Means of Grace. In them you have life and in that life you can truly serve. Amen.


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