Stewardship 1: The messy side of the gospel

One of the planks of our vision statement says that we grow and engage the faith. The church has many euphemisms. It also has many fine words. Too often what I have found is that fine words also have euphemistic meanings. And the church has worked to promote the euphemism because it is easier than the hard work of teaching the good word. It is easier until it isn’t. And when it isn’t, things have stopped working. We are teaching the good words and wrestling with them.

One of those fine words with a euphemism is stewardship. The euphemism that we all know is: 1. It is budget time and the pastor’s salary is at risk. 2. A pet project needs some money. 3. We will talk about time, talent and treasure, but what we really want is your treasure.

The good word is much more complex. Something like: the proper use of what is not actually yours.

Good stewardship is a theologically deep and complex problem because it lies on the messy side of the gospel. Lutherans like to talk about law and gospel or one big theological word – justification. The entire reformation split was over justification – how God makes us right with himself. The reformers answer was pure grace. The law shows us our sin and the gospel pronounces the grace of God over that sin. So, there is a sense that we can say that we are saints. We are baptized, and in baptism God has connected us to His son Jesus Christ. We are justified, declared righteous, in Jesus Christ through baptism. End of story, right?

Well, it would be if at baptism God also decided to rapture you. But then there would be no one left to baptize the next person. No, we live in tension that we are now saints, but not yet fully realized. Christ has already won the victory over sin, death and Satan, but we still struggle. One little word can kill them, yet they seem so strong. Welcome to the messy side of the gospel.

The big theological term for this is sanctification. When Luther would write in the small catechism his explanation to the 3rd article of the creed, “…the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith…” he was compressing the Christian life. All too often the churches of the reformation fight the last battle. Constantly on the lookout for anyone who might be teaching works righteousness we miss that fact that if surveys are to be trusted – nobody is worried about God being judgmental and having to appease him or thinking they can. In other words they’ve accepted the gospel, but it is not the costly gospel of Jesus Christ but a cheap gospel substitute. We get scared away by the messiness of sanctification and retreat back to the bright line justification. In the words of the writer of Hebrews – we stay with the milk. (Heb 5:11- 6:3)

Stewardship is squarely on that messy side. We confess the creed. We believe our justification. How then do we live? Stewardship is really a word that describes how we use money (and other good things from God) in a sanctified way. Our entire lives are a form of stewardship.

I promise to get more concrete as we move into this series, but before that I’d ask you to read two biblical stories: either Matt 25:14-30 or Luke 19:12-27 and the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4.