Monday, November 03, 2008

Audio from Sunday, Nov. 2

Just a note: I will not be preaching next week, Sunday, Nov. 9, so there will not be any updates to this blog until Nov. 17! I'll be away working on a dissertation hoping to close in on finishing a rough draft soon...

Anyway, here is the audio from yesterday.

Sermon from Sunday, Nov. 2

Throughout this series on stewardship, I’ve been reminding you that stewardship is about more than our money; it is about our whole lives, our spiritual gifts, our church families, our biological families. A steward is someone who uses the master’s goods on the master’s behalf, making wise decisions with the things that have been entrusted to them; and so if we are God’s stewards, we recognize that everything is God’s and it is up to us to use it wisely to bless the world as God wants to bless the world and not simply use those things for things that make sense to us.
Like I’ve said throughout, stewardship is not simply about our money. Yet we should not deny that stewardship is in part about our money. Churches tend to either talk too much about money or not enough. Some churches blather on and on about money mostly because they want yours. Those churches do a lot of damage. But there is another way to do damage as a church and that is to never talk about money at all. Money enslaves so many people in our culture; I cannot stress enough the danger that money poses to us spiritually. Not because it’s money, but because in our culture money is power; and anytime we have power we are tempted not to use it for God’s purposes but for our own.
I know this because we tend to be extremely private about our money. Someone has observed that money is the only thing we’re private about in our culture anymore; in a world where the religion of the presidential candidates is a hotly debated topic, religion is now on the table. In a world where the gossip pages are filled with the sexual orientations, identities and escapades of various celebrities, sex is now on the table; but money is definitely not on the table. If you want to kill a conversation with someone, ask them how much they make and how they spend what they make. You might end up killing not only a conversation but a friendship!
So I want to try to split the difference between an overemphasis on money and an underemphasis on money, and I want to be countercultural this morning and break the silence our culture has on money, and to do that I want to say that the way you spend your money is one strong indicator of what kind of steward you are. It is not the only indicator, it is not make-or-break, but it is in fact one important indicator that tells you what kind of steward you are. As I have said before, your checkbook is the only theological book most people ever right—it reveals clearly how you understand God and who your God truly is. So let’s turn our mind to the stewardship of money this morning and see what may be there for us to learn in a new way. As we do, I want to be clear that I am not specifically talking about how much money you give to our church; that question is important but it is not my concern for today. I know that tithing, giving 10%, is an excellent benchmark, but my objective this morning is not to get 10% of your money out of your pockets, but to make you think about what you are doing with 100% of your money, and to make changes there if you think that’s important.
I chose sort of an odd passage for this idea this morning. It is taking place just before David dies, and he is about to yield the throne to his son Solomon. David wanted to build a Temple for God in his lifetime; up until this time, the Israelites had made God’s symbolic home in a Tabernacle, a traveling tent that could be picked up and moved when the Israelites had to move, thus emphasizing God’s presence with them as wanderers and strangers in the world. But now Israel had a permanent home—they were in the Promised Land and they were at the peak of their power as a nation, and David wanted to build a grand Temple for God, a fitting place for the God of a powerful nation. But in 1 Chronicles 22, God essentially says to David, “Thank you for thinking of me, I appreciate the effort, but I don’t want you to do it.” David was a warrior, and God said he wanted his house to be built by somebody whose hands were not bloody with the work of war. So David’s son Solomon would be the one to build the Temple.
Still, before David died, he took a lot of time to make preparations to help Solomon with this task. As Solomon would soon be king, he would have enough on his plate without worrying about planning and building a Temple too. So though David’s heart was heavy because he could not be the one to build the Temple, he prepared the way. He hired stonecutters to cut stones to be ready to build into the Temple. He called the priests together and gave them the jobs that they were supposed to do when the temple was built. He provided a hundred tons of gold and two hundred tons of silver for the walls of the house, and led the leaders of the tribes to bring in still more of these precious metals and bronze and iron as well. And then in a formal ceremony, he gave the plans to Solomon and charged him to build the temple according to plan, but more than that, to lead the people in obeying God’s plan for their lives. And then to close the ceremony, David offers up this prayer to God to close the proceedings. It is a deeply moving prayer and to me expresses very well a good way to understand how we should steward our finances. There are 4 important points in the prayer that I wish to touch on.
The first thing I want to look at is David’s recognition that everything comes from God. “Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory and the majesty,” says David; “for all that is in heavens, and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all…For all things come from you, and of your own have we given to you.” This is a healthy place to begin as a Christian steward. So often we have difficulty being a steward because we believe that our lives are our own. When you are quite sure that you have earned everything you have, it becomes very hard to let anyone else use it but you. After all, if you’ve earned it, you deserve to have it and use it in ways you see fit! But when you start realizing that all of life is a gift, including the ability to make money or anything else, then we share it much more freely. Consider that King David realized this as a rich man, a man who was able to give tons of gold to the work of the temple; here was a man if anyone felt that they had earned it, he had earned it. But quite the opposite—he realizes it’s not his, and that the only reason we can give is because he has given to us. David’s attitude is humble and beautiful. His attitude can serve as an inspiration for us in our greedy world; we live in a place where people cling so stubbornly to their property and become something ugly in the process. When we realize that it’s a gift, we don’t have to cling so closely. Incidentally, this point is also important I think given the current economic situation. When we talk about financial stewardship, the big elephant in the room is the downturn in the stock markets and the economy. This realization that all things come from God is important especially now when so many of us are nervous about our various accounts. It doesn’t make the situation simple or easy, but it lends us dignity to know that God is the one who provides for us and will not be thwarted no matter what is happening. Yes, that may look different than we had anticipated, but it is no less real or important. It also makes us realize the depth of slavery that people can have to their money; people took on loans to buy things they couldn’t afford because the allure of the things was so great. When we are always striving after things, we are never satisfied—that satisfaction can only come when we accept God’s gifts.
The second thing that I want to look at is David’s profound joy at being God’s partner. Because God is so great and can do anything on his own, David is proud and humbled that God is using him to do something great. Listen to what he says: “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to make this freewill offering?....We are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors…” Look at this great temple, about to be built, the huge pile of cut stones over here, the heavy metals for building over here, the people preparing themselves spiritually and physically for the task of building over here, and not building just anything, but building a house for God--and it just hits David—who are we to be doing this? How come you don’t send angels to build your house, God? Even they would not be worthy of this, much less us! As David is now an old man, it hits him that not everyone gets to do something meaningful in their lives. Some people spend their whole lives chasing after things which will expire when they expire. Some people spend their whole lives clinging to things which do not satisfy and wonder why they spend their whole lives dissatisfied. And yet, here is David surrounded with the raw materials to do something great, and he says, “Thank you, God. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of something great. Thank you for allowing my people to be a part of your great plans in the world. We have nothing of our own to give you, and yet you have chosen us anyway. Thank you.”
Yet at the same time as he recognizes his human limitations, he also is proud of what he has been able to accomplish. He says, “I know, my God, that you search the heart, and take pleasure in uprightness; and in the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I see your people offering freely and joyously to you as well.” David is able to look at the way people are giving to this important task of building the Temple and he is proud—he’s proud of himself and he’s proud of his people because they have finally got their priorities straight. This also is something we realize when we are stewarding our lives—and our finances—rightly. When we can look at our lives and our checkbooks and realize that the way we are living is helping the Kingdom of God come in, not hurting it, we’re allowed a measure of pride at that! We’re allowed the privilege of knowing that God is using us and we’re allowed all the pride that comes with that. Now of course we recognize as David did at the end of his life that it all came from God and we don’t do it on our own—but still, we can be proud.
The third thing I noticed when looking at this passage was David’s sense of melancholy at not being able to give completely. If you look at David throughout his life, you’ll notice he was kind of a mixed bag. He wasn’t always on the right side of things; he had an adulterous affair and then had the woman’s husband killed. Another time, God told him not take a census of the people, because he was doing it to serve his own ego and pride. David did it anyway, because he liked his way better than God’s. So anyway, all this is to say that David was not a saint by any stretch; he was messed up like the rest of us; and ultimately all the blood that he shed ended up costing him the chance to build a temple for God.
And you can read the melancholy all over David’s words. “We are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope.” I’m not a psychologist, but you can read regret all over these words. David will not get to see his work come to fruition, and he is aware that it is his own fault; God has graciously given him the chance to do meaningful work, and because he spent so much time pursuing his own agenda, he has missed the chance to finish the meaningful job, the one that would have meant the most in the end. Certainly, he is pleased that he has been able to play a big role in the Temple, but he’s also aware that he’s missed his chance to finish the job and live out his true aspirations in life. Here David is reduced to wondering what might have been, which is a question no one likes to ask.
As an old man, David has learned a lesson we have the chance to learn before we get to our deathbed: that being able to give to God’s work is the greatest goal to which we can aspire. We can chase our little dreams but how much better to let our little dreams go and choose God’s big dreams for us instead? When you are having your David moment, when you are able to look all around you as an old person, just this side of the River Jordan, what will you see all around you? Will you see piles of things you have enjoyed and will remain on this shore while you cross that great river? Or will you see piles of stones and iron, bronze, gold and silver, materials you have left behind from your life so that the next generation can take your legacy and do something great and lasting for the God you love, something you can be proud of? This is the question which, if we are wise, we begin to think about before we approach the end of our lives. It is a question which colors our relationships throughout our lives as stewards; have we used our wealth for ourselves or to do something real and lasting? David was so pleased and proud that God has used him to do something amazing, and God can use each of you to do something amazing too, something which will give you pride and not regret as you examine your life.
Finally, I noticed in this prayer the way that David anticipates the future with hope. David did this wonderful thing for his son Solomon. The way he stewarded his riches set his son up for life. But not financially—he didn’t bother setting him up financially for life, although Solomon always had plenty. Look at David’s passionate prayer for his son: “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our ancestors, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. Grant to my son Solomon that with single mind he may keep your commandments, your decrees, and your statutes, performing all of them, and that he may build the temple for which I have made provision.” David’s good stewardship of his wealth set the stage not for his son to be rich, but for his son to be faithful. Because he did the right thing with his wealth, the people he loved were more inclined toward faithful living.
We may forget sometimes that our stewardship of our money is not just about us. Yes, when we practice good financial stewardship, it can help us to realize that everything is from God; yes, when we practice good financial stewardship, it can make us feel very rewarded and humbled to be part of what God is doing; yes, when we practice good financial stewardship, it can help us to feel proud of ourselves rather than disappointed in ourselves. But in the end financial stewardship is not simply about us, it is about other people.
We learn what is normal from our parents. This is of some concern to me now that I’m raising children. When I sit down with Gracie and Jack and sing “Love Shack” except I sing “Love Jack,” I get worried that she thinks that’s normal. When I heard her say the other day, “Get up offa that thing and dance til you feel better,” I thought, “This kid doesn’t have a chance—because she thinks I’m normal!” Now of course, I’m just kidding—but what I’m trying to point out is that we learn what’s normal in our lives by watching our parents.
In my life, that meant tithing. I watched my parents tithe when they had little and tithe when they had a lot. I thought that was normal. I thought that everybody in church did it. That fact predisposed me positively to tithing in my own life—and I can say without hesitation that tithing is the spiritual practice that has most changed my life. I understand that taking a portion of my money and making it untouchable makes me realize that the other 90% is His too. I commend the practice to you not because we need the money, but because it changed my life. And it changed my life because my parents modeled it for me.
You may have children in your life now who are watching you exercise stewardship. Or you may not—your children may be grown, or not born yet, or you may not have children. Yet parents are not the only ones who teach their children—because we are members of a church family. When you practice good financial stewardship, and even more when you are willing to be transparent about it, others learn from you. Others see the peace in your life and want it in theirs. Others see the joy and contentment you have from living like your life is a gift and want to know where it came from. When we practice financial stewardship, like David, our actions go far beyond ourselves and touch the world with the life of liberty God wants to give us freely.
When I look at David, I see a man who despite his foibles was a man of solid financial stewardship, who gave away tons of gold and silver and stone and bronze in order to build a house for God. And it changed his life and the lives of those around him. In the same way, may our generosity be useful to God, a comfort to us and an inspiration to others.