Managing God's Gift of Other People
Stewardship 2 – 2016 LSB #’s 649, 845 (tune 707), 848
Text – Luke 10:33-35
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, & when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him & bound up his wounds, pouring on oil & wine. Then he set him on his own animal & brought him to an inn & took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii & gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, & whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”
MANAGING GOD’S GIFT OF OTHER PEOPLE
In case you haven’t noticed, there are other people in this world. Sources say the number is well above 7 billion. In the United States, there are somewhere over 318 million, & each of them is God’s gift to you. But don’t let statistics overwhelm you. Just focus on the people nearby – where you live, where you worship, where you work, where you play.
They are God’s gifts to you. As we continue the series on Managing God’s Gifts – this look at real, biblical, all-of-life stewardship – we now focus on our neighbor. Remember, ‘stewardship’ is not a dirty word. Nor is it a word that only means “money” or “fund-raising.”
“Stewardship” describes how we believe & live as God’s created, redeemed & sanctified children. All of our Christian faith & life is “stewardship.” If you want a better word than “stewardship” think “management.” If you don’t know what a steward is, think “manager” – someone who manages what belongs to someone else. That someone else is God Himself.
Last week, we focused on God’s gift of the world, His created order, & how we can manage it according to His will – receiving it with thanksgiving, caring for it, & using physical, material things for the benefit of our neighbor. Today, we focus on God’s gift of other people.
Yes, other people, all 7.3 billion of them around the globe, all 318 million of them in our nation, & every individual with whom we have contact are God’s gift. Being good managers in our relations with others leads us to love & serve them, especially as we bear witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus. When we go back to God’s original plan for His creation, in Genesis 2, we see how God breathed life into Adam, the 1st man. After that, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18 ESV) Not only did God then create woman & institute marriage, He also showed that we human beings need other human beings.
If you don’t believe that, then check to see if you have a belly button. Adam & Eve did not, but if you do, you needed two other people in order to come into this world. Your belly button is your lifelong reminder that you need other people & that God calls you to serve & love other people.
God created & programmed us to live in community. Other people, especially those closest to us in our families, are gifts from God. Just as God Himself is a community – three persons, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, in one divine Being – He creates us to live in community. It begins with man & woman in marriage. It also includes other people around us.
God wants us to “manage” those other people around us with love & service to them. He gives us these other people in our marriages, in our families, in the church, & in society. We heard it in the reading from Leviticus 19. The chapter begins with God telling His OT people & us: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
So, what does that holiness entail? Things like revering mother & father, keeping the Sabbath, not turning to idols. (Leviticus 19:3–4) Right on the heels of this command to be holy, God talks about loving our neighbor. Maybe “managing” your neighbor sounds like a strange way of loving them, so we’ll look at that in more detail.
As God Himself says, don’t worry about snipping every last head of grain when you harvest your field. Don’t worry about plucking every last grape when you harvest your vineyard. “Leave them for the poor & for the sojourner.” (Leviticus 19:10) Why? Because the Lord is your holy God. Don’t steal. Don’t deceive. Don’t lie. Don’t take false oaths using God’s name. Don’t make God’s name as common as dirt. Why? Because the Lord is your holy God. Don’t oppress your neighbor or rob him. Pay your workers a proper wage, & pay them on time. Don’t spurn the deaf or the blind, or cause them to stumble. Why? Because the Lord is your holy God.
Don’t take other people to court just to get the advantage over them. Don’t respect the rich & famous over the poor & unknown. Don’t tell tales about your neighbors or disrespect their life in any way. Why? Because the Lord is your holy God.
You see, your neighbor – in your marriage, in your family, in the church, & in society – is God’s gift to you. God has created that neighbor. He has loved that neighbor. He has redeemed that neighbor & covered that neighbor with the blood of Jesus. He wants you to serve & love that neighbor just as He does – just as He has served & loved & redeemed you.
A quick look around makes it clear that isn’t the way society operates, nor most people in society. We live in a world that teaches us How to Win Friends & Influence People for our own benefit. Dale Carnegie’s book does offer helpful wisdom for interacting with our neighbors.
However, the well-known goals of winning friends & influencing people include increasing your own popularity, increasing your own prestige, winning new clients or customers, & becoming a better salesperson or executive.
There’s nothing wrong or sinful with Christians being popular or Christian business people gaining clients or Christians being better salespeople or executives. The problem comes when we try to win friends & influence people for our own benefit, for our own advantage.
Jesus did not say, “You shall love your neighbor so that your neighbor will love you more in return.” He said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) And, by the way, when He gave that 2nd greatest commandment, He did not mean that you should love yourself first & then figure out how to love your neighbor after that. He knew that you already love yourself – too much, in fact. That’s what sin is: being curved in on yourself. St. Paul’s words clarify how we are to love our neighbors: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) Isn’t that what we heard in the Gospel reading?
The man who fell among robbers desperately needed someone, a neighbor, to love & serve & help him. First, a priest happened by. He did nothing! Just walked on by. Then, a Levite happened to see him. Again, no help! Just passed on by. Finally, a Samaritan “came to where he was, & when he saw him, he had compassion.” (Luke 10:33)
The Samaritan put his own needs on hold & actually put himself at risk. He bound the man’s wounds, carried him to the inn, & paid for him to stay there & convalesce. This is a wonderful picture of managing God’s gift of other people, the people whom God’s Holy Spirit puts in our path.
Not only is this a picture of God’s will for us to love & “manage” our neighbor, it’s also a picture of how our gracious, merciful God actually loves & rescues us. You see, Jesus Himself is our Good Samaritan. We have fallen among the robbers of sin & death. We’re left stripped, beaten & dead in our own sins against other people & by sins that others commit against us.
But God Himself comes to our rescue. In His divine, eternal compassion, He comes to us & binds our wounds. Jesus pours on the oil & wine of His healing forgiveness when He baptizes us, absolves us, & feeds us at His Table. He brings us into the church, where He continues to arrange for our ongoing healing & recovery from sin & death. And what price has He paid?
He went to the cross to suffer our wounds & to die in our place, taking on our beatings from sin & death. He rose on the 3rd day to bring life & immortality to light through the Gospel. Jesus is our greatest neighbor who has loved & served & helped each one of us. Based on this compassion & healing from Jesus, you & I are set free to love & serve our neighbors, the people God puts in our lives. Now we are ready to hear & live the exhortation St. Paul gives in the reading from Galatians 6: “Bear one another’s burdens, & so fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:2 ESV)
Then, he says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, & especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) How do we “manage,” or steward, the people around us who are God’s gifts to us? We love & serve them for their benefit, not ours.
“But, Pastor, how can I do that? There are so many people around me.” Yes, there are a lot of people in the world, in our nation, & just in your life. That’s why good stewardship flows out of the doctrine of vocation. It tells that God does His work – His holy, spiritual, heavenly work – of caring for us through the “masks” of people around us.
In other words, God works through you as you care for, love & serve your neighbor. You are the mask God disguises Himself with. Someone expressed it this way:
“We don’t have to wonder if our work in this world is ‘spiritual’ enough. Christ’s blood provides full payment for our sin; our relationship with God is already secured. That’s a given. Now we can tend to the neighbor’s need in perfect freedom. Thus for the child of God in this world every occupation is a holy calling – holy with the presence of God.”
How can you manage, or steward, God’s gifts of the people around you? Focus on the people God has put closest to you in life. Consider your family. How can you love & serve your spouse, your children, your parents & siblings for their benefit? Consider your church. How can you love & serve your pastor & your fellow Christians for their benefit?
Consider your place of employment. How can you love & serve your boss or supervisor, & how can you love & serve your fellow employees, again, for their benefit? The ways are countless; & all of them are ways of practicing good stewardship with the people who are God’s gifts to you. Finally, St. Paul writes of the best way to “manage” God’s gift of people. He says, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1) If we truly love & want to serve the people whom God has put on the pathway of our lives, we will want to give them Jesus & His forgiveness.
We’ll want to warn them of their sins – sins of unbelief or self-centered actions or destructive lifestyles. We will want them to join us in the healing & compassion of Jesus. We will want them to rejoice that Jesus is their Good Samaritan too.
The greatest & best way to love & serve our unbelieving neighbor is to bring the Gospel of Jesus to them, & them into the Church. The greatest & best way to love & serve our Christian neighbor is to practice the love, forgiveness & reconciliation of Jesus with them at all times & in all places.
God wants us to live in community. To that end He gives other people to us as His gifts. He wants us to love & serve them as He has 1st loved & served us. That’s good stewardship – “management” – of the people in our families, in our church, & in society. Amen.
Where charity & love prevail there God is ever found; brought here together by Christ’s love by love are we thus bound. Forgive we now each other’s faults as we our faults confess, & let us love each other well in Christian holiness. For love excludes no race or clan that names the Savior’s name; His family embraces all whose Father is the same. Amen. LSB 845:1, 3, 6.
 Senkbeil, H., Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness, copyright © 1994 Concordia Publishing House. P. 168.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet