Monday, October 24, 2011

Non-Lectionary Sermon - Stewardship Focus: Inspiration: The Steward and the Ship


Sermon 10/16/11
Genesis 6-7, selected verses

Inspiration: The Steward and the Ship


            Today we switch gears from our focus on God-values, to focusing on stewardship, and how God calls us to car for all that we have been given. Or, I guess we could say, we begin to focus in depth on stewardship as one more God-values. This Sunday is Inspiration Sunday – next week is Gratitude Sunday, and finally, on the 30th, we will celebrate Consecration Sunday, as we offer our pledges to God for the year ahead. And this year our theme for our stewardship focus is The Steward and the Ship, (get it? Steward/Ship) which will focus on the story of Noah's ark. But we will come back to Noah in a few moments.
As I said, today is Inspiration Sunday. Do you know what inspiration means? If you break down the word, it literally means to breathe in. Of course that root, spir- - is what gives us the word Spirit. Inspiration, then, is what breathes life into us. And as people of faith, it is the Holy Spirit, literally God's Holy Breathe, that is meant to breathe life into us. But hopefully many things work together to inspire us. When I was in junior high, I used to keep a list, actually, of people I found particularly inspiring. I called it my hero list. It wasn’t very easy to get on – it was reserved for people who really touched my life – who did something in a way, lived life in a way that really made me want to emulate their good qualities. No celebrities – all people I had met personally. They included a student who was two years older who had a confident ʺI know just who I amʺ way about her, my 8th grade science teacher and my 9th grade English teacher, a speaker from one of those life-lesson school assemblies, and a couple others. Who inspires you? Who breathes life into you, makes you want to do or be something more?
            Sometimes I feel inspired by what I see unfolding here at First United. I feel particularly inspired when I see people taking initiative, or acting out of their comfort zones, or making a little go a long way, remembering our abundance instead of feeling limited. Let me give you a few examples. I won't name names, although I am sure you can figure out who I mean in some of these cases. This year, while planning our carnival, someone had the inspired idea to make a phone call that enabled us to have our carnival fliers go home with children in the ESM school district. The result was that we had a ton of children at our event. Another carnival inspiration: one of our young people, new to the church, asked if she could run a jewelry and craft table at the carnival. I will be honest – I wasn’t sure how popular it would be. But I am no fool – I don’t turn down people with ideas who want to do things. It was a huge hit – the table was frequently swarmed all through the day. Many of you visit our shut-in members, but I am particularly inspired when, for example, I hear that one person and her family have gone above and beyond to help out someone during a difficult health crisis. I was told, ʺshe and her family are angels, they are just angels.ʺ I am inspired when you go beyond in your care of one another. I've been inspired by someone who has a vision for our physical space, this beautiful building, and who keeps coming up with creative ideas to make it warmer and more welcoming, including a completely transformed nursery. I am inspired by a man who is not a big fan of public speaking but got up here to tell you about his personal Giving Beyond challenge and how he hoped to inspire you, in turn, to give. I am inspired by a young person who stayed home from his family's weekend away because he wanted to do some volunteer work at the Rescue Mission instead. I am inspired by one of you who invited speakers to come talk to us about Haiti, that led to a successful and rewarding Dress Our People ministry. I am inspired by the man who almost every visitor to our worship services names as the person who greeted and welcomed them when they stepped in the door. There are some people working hard, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, to breathe life into us, into this place. Who inspires you? Who do you inspire?
             Inspiration, breathing in the Holy Spirit, having new life in us, and breathing new life into what is dear to us here – let me not give the impression that these are some magical, unrepeatable acts that we can’t all do. I believe we can all be inspirational. And we do it like this: we pray for help – that is what Jesus talked about the Holy Spirit being – our Advocate, our helper, who fills us up with God's Holy Breath. And then we act as good stewards of our resources. We take the tools God has given us, and the power of the Holy Spirit, and we act. And I firmly believe that when we do that – use the tools God gives us and rely on God's Spirit-directed guidance – we will be inspiring and inspired.
            So what are the tools we have? We could talk about it in any number of ways, but we are all stewards of at least these things: our time, our talents, and our treasure. Today we read about Noah and his ark. Noah might not be who pops to mind when you think about stewardship. But actually, Noah, for a tumultuous period, is made by God steward of everything! We have talked before about what stewards were in biblical times.  Stewards were managers of the property of wealthy men. The steward was usually a slave or a former slave, but they had a great deal of power, too. They were responsible for all the affairs of the master’s household. They oversaw all the finances, and had authority over all the other household slaves, and sometimes even over the children of the master. The Greek name for them is oikonomos, and that’s where we get our English word economy.
            Noah becomes the steward of all creation, and he uses his time, his talent, and his treasure to carry out what God calls him to do. Think about it. Imagine how long it would take to build an ark. Even today, with our technology and skilled workers, it takes a long time to build a large sea vessel. Noah must give an enormous amount of time to the task. And no doubt he is giving enormous financial resources to build the ship. Although we read about God describing just how the ark should be, we don’t read that God gifted Noah with any special fund to make it happen. And of course, Noah must have had the talent – the ability to construct an ark. Time, talent, treasure, as a steward of what is God's – namely, all creation.
            Noah's tools are our tools – time, talents, treasure. And maybe God isn’t calling us to build an ark. But we are called to be stewards of everything that God has put into our hands. If all that we have is from God, then we have to be stewards of all that we have, and take good care of what is God.
            So how do we do it? How are we stewards of time, talent, and treasure? I have more homework assignments for you. Three. But you can pick and choose – do one, two, or all three. But humor me, and try one this week, ok?
            You are a steward of your time. Time is such a precious commodity isn’t it? One of the biggest struggles churches face is helping people commit to the time that mission and ministry takes. We are so very busy, and we have so many demands on our time. What time do we give to God? How much of your day do you spend with God? How do you spend your time? Are you even aware of where your time is going? I think many of us would be surprised, if we mapped it all out. So that is your first assignment – I want you to keep a record this week of how you spend your time, in ½ hour or hour increments. You can make up your own chart, or you can use one I have for you. But I want you to write down everything you do this week. Don’t change your normal behavior. Do what you normally do. And then take a look – where is your time going? Are you spending it how you thought? Does it match up with your priorities?
            You are a steward of your talents. And yes, you have talents – gifts from God. Things that you can uniquely contribute. We talked about it a bit before summer and we will be coming back to all those little slips of paper I had you turn in with what you like and what you are good at. The apostle Paul talks a lot about spiritual gifts. If you read his words carefully, you will discover that Paul was most interested in gifts that could be used for building up the community of faith. What are your talents, and how can you use them to build up the Body of Christ? What Paul thinks is inspiring is when we use our gifts – whatever they are – and we find ways to serve others, serve God's kingdom with them. So assignment number too: I have here for you spiritual gift inventories. A way of figuring out how you are gifted, and how you can share those gifts. Take the inventory, and see what you find out about yourself. Are you using your gifts?
            You are a steward of your treasure. What do you spend? Why? On what? What do you save? What do you give? I want you to do the same thing for your treasure assignment as for your time assignment – keep track of every cent for one week. What did you make? What did you spend? What did you spend it on? Did you spend it how you intended? Does your spending match your priorities? I make myself a budget for every pay period. It is always filled with great intentions. But somehow, what I spend and what I meant to spend never quite match up by the end of two weeks. So I can tell you this is an assignment I will be doing. Start asking questions. Are you using your treasure how you want to be? In my own stewardship journey, I can tell you that I had a challenge giving what I meant to give to God – until I finally just had it directly withheld from my paycheck. When I left it up to me, somehow I never had enough. But when I put my tithe first, somehow I still managed to make ends meet. I just needed to give up a little bit of the control. Are you using your treasure how you want to be?
            Time, talent, treasure. These are tools. Tools that can help us inspire and be inspired. How are you using these tools? How will you inspire, be inspired?  In these coming weeks, I hope you will be spending some time in prayer, thinking hard, doing some homework, seeking inspiration – the Holy Spirit bringing us to life. We have everything we need. Noah built and ark. What we build together for God in this place? Amen.
             
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