Our theme today is stewardship. We’ll ask what it is, where a spirit of generosity comes from, how we can grow in it, why it matters, and what’s at stake for a church of generous givers–or one that’s not.
If you have studied the Older Testament with me, you’ll remember its undulating highs and lows, with three exuberant Everest peaks, each with its hero—Abraham, Moses, and David; and three terrible troughs between, each with its sorrow—slavery, disintegration, and exile. But here’s the thing. In the trough is where the future comes. . .
According to Genesis, God gave us “dominion,” that we might “fill the earth and subdue it!” Now, this commandment is rather different from all the others in that we have performed it eagerly, to the letter of the law. The Earth: we filled it, and we subdued it. But unlike a horse or a tractor which the master takes back to the shed when its work is done, we don’t know who our master is any more, or when to rest. We are going to keep filling this earth and subduing it until it is subdone!
In the year 1712, the future began. Thomas Newcomen developed the first useful steam engine. Supplanting the power of a few hundred horses to drain water from the bottom of a coal mine in Dudley, England, Newcomen’s engine enabled much more coal to come up from the earth. Therefore more power came to homes and businesses. Jobs began to multiply. The standard of living improved and, to be a rather short-spoken about it, before long people began to think that this earth was a good place to live, with a future.
Every year in America, thousands of churches fail because they had nothing to say to the children—the grown children, that is, like Abram and his wife Sarai when Papa Terah made Haran home. Consider. When we won’t cross the rivers always known to us for lands never yet shown to us, money is always the matter.
Almost 180 years ago, the French citizen Alexis de Tocqueville traveled the new America and later described the character of our people in essays which still startle us Americans with features so recognizable. He saw, for example, our vaunted individualism. He defined it as “a calm and considered feeling which disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the circle of family and friends . . .”