Stewardship 1 – 2016 LSB #’s 781
Text – Mark 8:6-8
And [Jesus] directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves, & having given thanks, He broke them & gave them to His disciples to set before the people; & they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, He said that these also should be set before them. And they ate & were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.
MANAGING GOD’S GIFT OF THE WORLD
Stewardship – is a word that evokes different reactions. Perhaps you hear that word & wonder, “What does it even mean?” Perhaps you hear the word “stewardship” & think, “Oh no! It’s that time of year again? How far behind are we in this year’s budget? How much will we need for next year’s budget?”
Perhaps you hear that word & instinctively grab your wallet or purse – you know, to keep it safe from prying offering plates! Or when you hear “stewardship,” perhaps the pastor & the stewardship committee members instantly start looking like “moneygrubbers” in your mind’s eye. Well, here’s news for you. “Stewardship” is not all about money.
From God’s perspective, money is only part of the picture, & a small one at that. “Stewardship” involves & permeates all of our Christian faith & life. It describes how we believe & live as God’s created, redeemed & sanctified children all the days of our lives.
The term “stewardship” is often used to translate the Greek word oikonomia. That literally means “the management of a household or family.” The Old English word from which we get “stewardship” means the same thing. It’s what the housekeeper or the butler would do in their service to the lord of the manor.
The lord of the manor owned the mansion & the entire estate. The housekeeper or the butler had the task of managing it. So it is for us Christians. Our loving triune God – Father, Son & Holy Spirit – is the “lord of the manor” for the heavens & the earth & everything in them.
We simply manage what God Himself owns. In this stewardship series, we’ll focus not chiefly on money but on the big picture of Managing God’s Gifts. We begin with His gift of the world, all of His physical creation in all of its down-to-earth, material beauty, usefulness & goodness. Psalm 24 (ESV) sings the glories of our heavenly King, beginning with these words in verse 1:
“The earth is the Lord’s & the fullness thereof, the world & those who dwell therein.” In order to appreciate fully God’s gift of His world & everything in it, we need to go back to the 1st & 2nd chapters of Genesis, before the fall into sin.
There we hear how God created everything – the heavens, the earth, light, dark, sea, sky, land, vegetation, fish, birds, all the animals & critters, even us human beings – all of it out of nothing. Only God can do that! And since He created it all, He owns it all, & He cares for it all.
Notice what our mighty, heavenly King did next. He turned management of His good creation over to His human creatures. He entrusted the entire estate that He created to their capable management & stewardship. He told Adam & Eve:
“Be fruitful & multiply & fill the earth & subdue it, & have dominion over the fish of the sea & over the birds of the heavens & over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, emphasis added) In Genesis 2, God explains what that means: “The Lord God took the man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & keep it.” (Genesis 2:15, emphasis added)
Subdue God’s good creation? Have dominion over heavens & earth, over land & sea, over fish, birds & multi-legged critters? Some people recoil at that. Perhaps you have some misgivings too. It sounds tyrannical & abusive, so irresponsible & repressive. It certainly can be that, but only after Adam & Eve plunged us into sin & brought death into the world.
However, in God’s good order & according to His gracious, loving plan, “subdue” & “have dominion over” meant nothing more than receive, guard, keep, use responsibly, manage well, take care of – that is, practice good stewardship. God wants us & all people, over the whole planet, to work & keep His world of physical, material things, both animate & inanimate. He wants us to manage it all, & manage it well.
It’s what we learn & confess in the explanation of the 1st Article of the Apostles’ Creed, where Martin Luther instructs us:
“I believe that God has made me & all creatures; that He has given me my body & soul, eyes, ears & all my members, my reason & all my senses, & still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing & shoes, food & drink, house & home, wife & children, land, animals, & all I have. He richly & daily provides me with all that I need to support this body & life... All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness & mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank & praise, serve & obey Him.”
That is good stewardship – good management – of God’s gifts: receiving them from Him, thanking Him for them, & using them as He intends. The problem is we now live in a post-fall world, one world infected by sin, corrupted by death, & rampant with poor management of God’s good creation. We fallen sinners routinely abuse the gift of God’s good earth.
We toss our candy wrappers or cigarette butts on the ground with an out-of-sight-out-of-mind neglect. When we repaint the living room, we may not properly dispose of the unused paint or thinner. We have huge companies looking for inexpensive ways to dispose of waste materials from their factories & end up polluting God’s earth with toxic sludge or smog.
Enter the environmental movement, coming to save the day. They tell us we must protect the environment & learn to recycle. We must drive our cars less, or at least drive more fuel-efficient & cleaner cars. We must “Save the Earth!” or “Save the Whales!” or “Save the Rain Forests!” The latest mantra is, “Stop climate change & be green.”
Certainly, these can be good things & sound practices. Good management of God’s gift of the world wants to take care of the many things, creatures & resources that God gives. Where we run into problems, however, is when the environmental movement turns planet Earth into a goddess to be worshiped & protected at all costs, as though we human beings were nothing more than a parasite infestation in an otherwise pristine paradise. Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker that says “Love your mother” right next to a picture of planet Earth – or the one that says “Walk gently on Mother Earth,” right next to a picture of planet Earth.
The idea comes from Greek mythology where Earth is called “Gaia,” the ancestral mother of all life. She is a goddess & we must do homage & protect her. Good management of God’s earth, however, does not mean seeing or worshipping the created order as a goddess.
Nor does it mean exploiting the land, the sea, or their many resources, as if physical things do not matter. When we mindlessly litter, when we waste food, when we poach animals, when we flush out or bury toxic waste, we’re playing God & forgetting that we are but managers of His good world. We are never the owners of Creation.
Also, when we spurn the material order in such callous ways, we are imitating the old Gnostic heresy that says, “Spiritual things are good; material things are bad.” A manager who wastes or neglects the Master’s possessions deserves only to be fired.
God’s Word gives us a completely different way of managing God’s good gift of the world & everything in it. In the Gospel reading, we hear our Lord Jesus Himself respect & honor the created order of His Father. We can even rejoice that He also uses the created order to deliver the gifts of His salvation to His people!
Jesus had been teaching for three straight days. The people had been gladly hearing & learning the Word of God from Him, but by that time, they were hungry. If Jesus had told them to go home for something to eat, they’d have fainted on the way.
So our Lord once again shows His deep compassion. He took the seven loaves & the few small fish – created things – gave thanks for them, broke them, & handed them to the disciples to give to the crowd. All 4000 people that day ate their fill & were satisfied. Our Lord Himself practices good stewardship – good management – of God’s material world. He uses the gifts of creation to feed & satisfy those 4000 people. The small catechism teaches us this:
“God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people.” So we, God’s managers, learn to pray “that God would lead us to realize this & to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” (SC, explanation of the Fourth Petition)
Managing God’s gift of the world means receiving His material world, in its many-splendored wonder, with thanksgiving & using it for our benefit & the benefit of others.
Since we don’t always do this, since we too neglect God’s good world, since we may even be tempted to deify God’s creation, we look to Jesus not only for daily bread, but also for His mercy & forgiveness – His “bread of life.” This Jesus, who fed the crowd of 4000, also came to redeem & restore us along with all the rest of God’s creation.
This Jesus, “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity,” is also “true man, born of the Virgin Mary.” (SC, explanation of the 2nd Article) This Jesus Himself had & still has “body & soul, eyes, ears & all [His] members, [His] reason & all [His] senses.” (SC, explanation of the 1st Article)
This Jesus received all these gifts of God’s created world & managed them in order to save & to redeem you. His physical body was cruelly whipped. His physical head was crowned with thorns. His physical hands & feet were pierced & fixed to a cross. His voice cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30) to proclaim you forgiven with your sins erased.
On top of all that, this Jesus rose victorious from the grave, with His physical, material body. His resurrection on the 3rd day also becomes the 1st day of a new, restored creation. Jesus even uses things of His creation to deliver His salvation directly to you: water for your Baptism, to make you His child; sound waves for you to hear His Absolution; & bread & wine in His Supper to give you forgiveness, life & salvation. Your Lord Jesus redeems, not just your soul but your body, so that you may live now as faithful stewards, or managers, of His world. Let’s read, mark, learn & inwardly digest St. Paul’s words: “Everything created by God is good, & nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” (1 Timothy 4:4)
You & I have been called & redeemed by Jesus Himself to care for His creation – to manage the gift of His world. Instead of deifying the created order, we treat it with proper respect, because “the earth is the Lord’s & the fullness thereof.”
Instead of wasting, we conserve. Instead of despising physical things, we delight in all that God gives in His created order. Instead of littering or polluting, we find ways to properly & safely dispose of trash or toxic waste. Instead of abusing or poaching animals, we care for them, &, yes, even use them for food, as God has given.
Even in this broken world, we can delight in God’s creation, because He knows us intimately. He is with us day by day. His love for us never fades away. By His grace, we can manage God’s gift of the whole world because our heavenly Father has prepared in advance the good works that He calls us to do. Amen.
We give Thee but Thine own, whate’er the gift may be; all that we have is Thine alone, a trust O Lord, from Thee. And we believe Thy Word, though dim our faith may be: whate’er for Thine we do, O Lord, we do it unto Thee. Amen.
The quotations from Martin Luther are taken from Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, copyright © 1986, 1991 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
 Psalm 24:1
 Genesis 9:3
Pastor Dean R. Poellet