By Linda Rex
September 18, 2022, PROPER 20—Do you have property or assets which require a lot of attention and effort for their care? Do you own some things which have become heavy financial or physical burdens for you to carry? Of all your physical possessions, what is your greatest asset? What do you value the most?
Even though we may own property or have physical assets of some kind, Jesus says that what is ours isn’t really our own. As we reflect on our origins, having been created by God to reflect his likeness and instructed by God to tend the garden and all he created, we see that stewarding is fundamental to our personhood as human beings. Taking care of what doesn’t belong to us but what belongs to God is an essential part of our everyday responsibilities as God’s children. We may not realize this, but our everyday lives are simply a participation in what God is doing in this world, and our actions (or inaction) are a statement of how well we are fulfilling our role as stewards of all God has made.
Too often I find myself approaching life as though what I own belongs solely to me, rather than seeing everything through the lens of stewardship—our participation in God’s life—recognizing that everything belongs to him. Perhaps it is good to be reminded that we have been given the responsibility to care for all God has made and to do what he wants done, rather than simply deciding for ourselves what we want to do with what we have. This understanding definitely puts a different outlook on how we live our lives and what we do with the physical assets which come our way.
Going beyond this, though, I am reminded that the greatest asset of all is not some physical belonging or possession, but rather something of more infinite value, meant to be shared with others. In the gospel passage for this Sunday, Jesus told a parable about a rich owner who had to call his manager into account for squandering his possessions. This term “squandering” is the same term Jesus used in his story about the prodigal son, who squandered his Father’s inheritance with extravagant and wasteful living. The dishonest manager was told to give an account of his management, for he was going to be fired if he could not prove his innocence.
As this manager thought about what to do, he came up with a plan which might ensure that he had a place to land once he lost his present employment. He met with the owner’s debtors, and worked with each one to reduce the amount they owed. Surprisingly, when his master found out what he had done, he praised the manager for his shrewdness in handling the situation he was in.
It is interesting that in his parable, Jesus would have the unjust steward praised for what was, in effect, stealing even more from his master. But Jesus, as he addressed his disciples, was focused on something entirely different than simply teaching them the difference between honesty and dishonesty. Indeed, what the dishonest manager offered others was what Jesus himself was offering all people—grace, and life in the kingdom.
The leaders of Jesus’ day had been made stewards of God’s kingdom and his righteousness. They were responsible to care for those who were in need or who were estranged from God. But too often, they valued wealth, possessions, prominence and popularity instead, and did not see their own need for God’s grace and mercy. Not realizing their own need for grace, they did not offer it to anyone else. Instead, they held people to impossible standards and excluded them from table fellowship in ways God never intended.
Ironically, in Jesus’ parable, the one who was the Christ figure is the unjust steward, who offered the owner’s debtors grace. In his life coming to an end, the unjust steward offered new life to those who were indebted to his master. Jesus, as he told this parable, knew the price he himself was going to have to pay so that those listening would receive God’s grace—his rejection, suffering, and crucifixion. He knew that he was facing death so that all people might rise with him in the resurrection and be given new life. Jesus was stewarding well God’s gift of grace to humanity by offering himself freely in our place and on our behalf.
Jesus’ gift of grace in his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension is our greatest asset. Jesus’ self-offering, his willingness to lay it all down for us so that we may have new life, is the most valuable thing we own. This is a gift he has given to each and every human being—it is not limited to only those who deserve it. In fact, Jesus often pointed out that it is those who realize they don’t deserve it who best see the value of this gift.
The question is, do I, do you, see the value of God’s grace and God’s kingdom life given to us in Christ? And having been given this most precious gift, do we even realize our need for it?
And, having received this totally undeserved benefit of grace and eternal life, how well do we steward it? By God’s grace we are all included in God’s life, moment by moment sharing in what he is doing in this world. By God’s grace, we have been given all we need for life and godliness. By God’s grace and mercy, we have been included in Christ’s own intimate relationship with the Father in the Spirit, having been included now and forever in the life and love of God. How well do we share this gift with others? Are we helping others to see the magnitude of what Jesus has done for them?
Whatever physical assets we may own in this life pale in comparison with this most wonderful gift. When we see and understand this, we begin to have a new perspective about everything we own. We begin to realize that generosity, sharing, hospitality, and service are each a participation in what God’s doing in this world. We find ourselves acting more as stewards, recognizing God’s ownership of us and all that we have, and we begin to actively participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection, sharing with others the good news of the grace offered to all. This is the best stewardship of the priceless asset we have been given—God’s grace and eternal life.
Thank you, heavenly Father, for sharing every good thing with us, especially the gift of the kingdom and grace through Jesus. So many good gifts! Grant us the grace to steward them well and share them freely with others, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Now He was also saying to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” The manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.” And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” And he said, “A hundred measures of oil.” And he said to him, “Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.” Then he said to another, “And how much do you owe?” And he said, “A hundred measures of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill, and write eighty.” And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’ ” Luke 16:1–13 NASB
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by Linda Rex
I love it when I get up in the morning and every devotional and scripture reading I look at has to do with that one thing God is dealing with in my life. Like this week when I was feeling so much of my life was out of control, everything I read seemed to be on the topic of control. When something like this happens, I get the sneaky suspicion I’d better be listening to what God is trying to say to me.
I believe we as humans go to great lengths to maintain control over everything in our lives and even in our universe. How much of our research into the intricacies of our bodies, our environment, our earth and our universe has to do with our desire to have some way to manage and direct what happens to us as human beings? I think we would be surprised at how much of what we do and think about every day has to do with this desire to be in control of ourselves, our lives and our world.
We get even more fanatical about holding tight to the things, people and events in our lives when we have experienced a lot of chaos and dysfunction in our early years or significant attachments. Sometimes this manifests itself in obsessive compulsive disorders, co-dependency and other mental or emotional struggles and illnesses.
In my opinion, the irony is the harder we try to control things and even to control ourselves or other people, the less in control we really are. Our efforts to be self-disciplined may work for a while, but often they fail us when we need them most. Our efforts to manipulate, manage or micromanage other people may give us an illusion of control, but they will end up destroying the very relationships and organizations we are trying to build.
It is true we were given the responsibility by God to steward, tend, and care for our world. This stewardship by necessity requires some measure of control over what is being cared for and tended. But I don’t believe God ever meant for us to assume it was all up to us. The only way it could be all up to us is if we were self-sufficient self-existent beings like God, and that’s not what we are.
As many of you are aware, I’ve been sharing the Celebrate the Grip curriculum in my preaching in recent days, and we’ve been talking about how each and every human being is held in the grip of grace. Since before creation, God determined we would be his adopted children and he planned his Son would enter our humanity and by the Spirit, bring us up into the Triune life. And through Jesus, God accomplished what he set out to do, forging for us a true humanity in and by his Son. Through Jesus and by his Spirit, God has made and is making all things new.
Talking about the grip reminds me of the many lectures and readings in which the concept of contingency was discussed in seminary. Contingency is showing up more and more in modern science and mathematics. It’s that thing some people want to call chance, but doesn’t work like chance does. It’s a whole lot more—like Someone designed and is designing things to work a certain way. And it’s something we can’t manage or control. It’s beyond us.
We don’t like things to be beyond us. Because when something is beyond us, it means that quite possibly there may be a divine Being Who has the right to call the shots in our world. We love our freedom so much—we don’t want anyone messing with our efforts to do what is right in our own eyes.
When our existence, or our future, or our daily existence, is contingent upon some divine Order or Person, then we are faced with the reality we are not lords over our own lives. This means someone else can change things in our world in such a way we may lose something we value, or we may have to struggle to do without things we think we should have. We may have to do difficult things or repent of unhealthy ways of thinking and being, and change. When Someone beyond our human existence has that much control over us and our world, we don’t like it.
Sure, we love God to be control as long as he keeps order in the world, makes the weather nice, and makes sure all the people are friendly and kind and respectful. But only because we want the world to be the way we want it to be for our convenience, comfort and pleasure. See? We’re still trying to be in control.
What about when everything in your life or mine seems to be in chaos? It can be hard to imagine God is still in control when everything in our lives seems to be totally out of control. But that kind of control is just an illusion. God has a grip on you and me which does not change. He won’t let go of us at all—we just need to trust him. And Jesus even gives us his faith so we can trust God in the midst of chaos and confusion when it seems impossible to do so.
So God says to you and to me, “Rest in me.” He calls to us by his Spirit to lay down our burdens of anxiety and fear, and to surrender all the control we imagine we have over the circumstances, people and things in our lives.
We need to be intentional about this. I find this letting go of control and fully resting in Christ is a journey. It’s a decision which is constantly being put before us—we’re tempted to try to do it all ourselves and to do it our way—or we’re called to lay down all illusion of control and to rest fully in Christ, and in his perfected humanity.
This verse which has been constantly popping up of late is found in Proverbs 3:5-6. As I remember it, it goes something like this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” It is a passage full of comfort and promise, and I thank God Jesus has already done all the trusting and leaning and acknowledging in my place. Now all that is left for me is to rest in his perfected faith in Abba in and by the Spirit. And that’s when my life is really under control.
Abba, thank you for being Lord over all, and thank you, through your Son and by your Spirit, you have ensured our perfected humanity and our eternal relationship with you. Grant us the grace to release all control to you and to rest fully in your perfect love. Through Jesus and by your Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5–6 NASB