I'm going to read the
text, beginning with verse 16 in chapter 3, 1 John:
know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to
lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in
anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in
need and yet refuses help?
children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will
reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for
God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if
our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we
receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and
do what pleases him.
this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son
Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All
who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by
this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Of course I lifted the title of this
sermon from that last verse -- By the Spirit Given.
To really share the
story of stewardship, last week we had these little inserts in the
bulletin. It's hard to teach about stewardship. I really
appreciate Alan's courage to come up and share from his own
experience. One reason it's hard is that everybody -- on T.V.,
everything -- they're all out with these commercials wanting your
money. And so it causes us to pause before we want to talk about
it in church, but we've got to do it, it's too much a part of the
A young boy
approached his father and asked that most difficult question:
"Dad, where did I come from?". Well, Dad squirmed a bit
with panic, but then he looked his son over and decided he was of the
right age to talk to him about the facts of life. So Dad told his
son how the expression of love resulted in the beginning of life, how
life was developed in the womb, and finally how a child is born.
As Dad told the story, his son's eyes grew wider and wider. And
when Dad finished, his son said "Wow, that's really neat.
That sure beats what Randy told me -- he said he came from
Well, in stewardship,
to get grounded, we have to see first of all where we come from.
That is the beginning of the story. And in faith we believe we're
here because (as it says in the very first verse of the Bible) in the
beginning God created the heavens and the earth and we're part of that
creation. We're here because God has given us life. And we
know that all life ultimately belongs to God. That God has done us
a high honor -- he wants to keep giving to us, to bring it to a greater
fruition. And he's invited his people to join him on his
life-giving mission. It's quite an honor really.
The first verse in
this chapter 3 says "See what wealth the Father has given us, that
we should be called children of God". That's where it
starts. We have an identity. An identity that gives us a new
value, and hopefully will fill our hearts with thanksgiving and
gratitude that God includes us. Not just in his love, but in his
mission, in his will.
Verse 16 goes on to
say 'We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us, and we
ought to lay down our lives for one another'. Now we know that
Jesus made the supreme sacrifice when he laid down his life for
us. But John didn't have that in mind when he challenged us to lay
down our lives for others. Because he goes on in verse 17 and he
says 'How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and
sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?' We lay
down our lives by channeling the love of God through goods and services
or through meeting the needs of those among us.
We keep that love
alive. And we call it stewardship.
When we lived in New
Mexico, we were there for 10 years and I developed a hobby -- gold
mining. That's just a great hobby -- you get out there in the
hills, nobody bothers you, nobody's crazy enough to get out there in
those desert hills. You get in those draws out there, you work,
and sweat, and you'll find a little bit of gold. After seven years
of that, I found enough for wedding bands for our kids, and a ring for
Cheryl. And that about cleaned me out.
But I was intrigued
when I came across this story that was found on a scrap of paper mounted
behind a glass in a desert store in Southern California. It was
written with a stub of a pencil and a piece of wrapping paper, which was
originally found folded in a soda can and wired to a pump out on an old
desert trail. The message went like this:
pump is alright as of June 1932. I put a new sucker washer into
it and it ought to last 5 years. But the washer dries out and
the pump has got to be primed. Under the white rock, I buried a
bottle of water, out of the sun and cork end up. There's enough
water in it to prime this pump, but not if you drink some first.
Pour in about 1/4 and let her soak to wet the leather. Then pour
in the rest, medium-fast, and pump like hell. You'll get
water. The well never has run dry. Have faith -- when you
get watered up, fill the bottle, put it back like you found it for the
next feller. P.S. Don't go drinking the water first --
prime the pump with it and you'll get all you can hold. And next
time you pray, remember that God is like this pump -- he has to be
primed. I'll give my last dime away a dozen times to prime the
pump, but my prayer -- and I've sent my last beans to a stranger while
saying Amen -- it never failed yet to give me an answer. You've
got to get your heart fixed, to give, before you can be gived
to. Signed, Desert Pete".
I like him -- he's a
good steward. And that's what Jesus tried to with his disciples,
and still does, works with our hearts first. Before we can really
launch into stewardship, we really are way ahead if we know who we
are. If we know of this love. This is the desire to
give. Because, as we read in scripture, we are created in the
image of God. And God loves and God gives. And we creatures
who are created in his image are invited to love and to give. And
to reflect the image of the One who gives us life.
Now it goes on, our
text does, and John begins that next verse by saying -- 'Little
children' (I hope that doesn't put you off): "Little
children, let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and
action". He wasn't talking 'down'. John was undoubtedly
a venerated elder in the church, well respected. And he mentions
in verse 1 that we're all children of God. He was using a term of
endearment -- just showing his love to those who he was writing
children. Children are honest, and pliable. Teachable.
And he's encouraging us not to be childlike, but to be childish, in
order to hear the invitation. To get more involved with the gift
God has given us in our stewardship.
I had to smile,
sometime back, about an E-mail -- we get those too, sometimes
bothersome, but this one had children's prayer. Some Sunday-school
teacher had decided to teach her children to pray, so she wrote on a
sheet "Dear God", and left it blank for the children to
complete a prayer. They really had suggestions for God more than
"Thank you for
my baby brother, dear God, but what I prayed for was a puppy.
maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their
own rooms. It worked with my brother Larry".
And here's one that
we can understand: "Dear God: instead of letting people
die and having to make new ones, why don't you just keep the ones you
have now? Jane".
Children are young
and they're pliable. But we're told to be like children, aren't
we? Before God, we're always going to be babes with a lot to
learn, and a long way to go. So don't be put off when John says
But then he steeps it
up with some pretty good challenges: 'Let us love, not in word or
speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we
are from the truth, and will reassure our hearts before him".
Talk can be cheap, we know that don't we? It's hard not to be
cynical, when something like Katrina happens, lots of promises but just
no help coming along soon enough. The news people keep panning
over those same old roofs that have been there now 8 months. It's
disheartening. Talk can be cheap, but there's a problem in the
timing. As I read John's text, it makes it look like we're to be
equipped with a lifestyle that just helps us to make decisions as we
meet life head-on. Not with a lot of planning sometimes -- things
just happen, and we respond.
I read about a
missionary lady who was sitting on a second-floor window when a letter
came. She opened it while she was sitting there on the window
sill. Out of the letter popped a nice, shiny $10-dollar bill,
which pleased her very much as this was a number of years ago when that
represented a pretty good sum of money. But as she looked out the
window, she noticed a shabbily-dressed man down there, who she knew
could use that money a lot more than she needed it. And he looked
so discouraged to her. And so she put it in an envelop and sealed
it, and on the outside she just wrote "Don't despair".
She flipped it out the window and it fell right at his feet. He
picked it up, and looked up at her, and opened it, and smiled at
her. Tipped his hat and walked off. And she felt good about
this responding to an immediate need. And that took some faith.
The next day when she
was ready to leave, here was this shabbily-dressed man right at her
front door. And he handed her $60! And he said:
"Don't Despair took the 6th race, 6 to 1!".
Well, I don't know if
that's a true story, but it's a good parable. Sometimes we just
have to respond with what we know at the time. But then there's
other times when we have to plan our stewardship. And this is
particularly true when it comes to the church. I'm like Alan in
one sense -- I was trained in stewardship as a young boy. I
remember distinctly my father giving us a silver dollar, each of us -- I
had 6 brothers, so that was a lot of money. Gave us each a silver
dollar once a week. But he gave the teaching right with the
coin: 10 cents has to go back to the church, to the Lord's
work. Well, you know, that went over with me. I loved my
Dad, and I thought that must be the way it was supposed to be. But
it was probably more legalistic than loving, quite frankly, but you
know, that stayed with me.
And if our situation
is such that a tithe is simply not workable, then we plan what is
workable. There's a place for spontaneous unplanned giving and
meeting life as it hits us, and giving love in the moment, but then
there's the planned giving, the stewardship giving which the church
quite frankly requires. Because our great missions that we
accomplish through First Christian Church and other churches needs
steady, on-going support. Every one of us pulling together.
And that's a challenge, it will always be a challenge for us to
under-gird the ministry of the church.
Some years back in
Portland I heard Mark Marty, who is a well-known editor and theologian,
he made the statement that Oregon is a heathen state. And he gave
us some raw statistics (I thought they were a little high) -- he said
31% attend church at any time during the year. And then he went on
to say that 'in your state, 7 out of 10 times when the hungry are fed,
the old are cared for, the addict treated, it's the church at
work'. And it's still that way. The church is the most
reliable servant in the community for dealing with deep human
needs. And so our planned stewardship is really important.
In the 1920s, there
were two boys from Southern Illinois, and one of them was telling the
story (he was up in years when I heard him tell this, he was one of the
boys), said they were excited because there village had been challenged
with paving main street. If they would pave main street, the
circus would come to town. That's all the incentive -- the
community got behind hit. First they put in the curbs, and these
two boys were sitting in the shade of a big tree on the curb. And
here came this fresh cement out there in the road. You know what
little boys do when there's fresh cement (these kids were normal boys),
they waited until nobody was looking, and they reached their bare toe
out and they carved their initials in that fresh cement. Well, a
week later they were going by there, and yep, they're still there.
Their initials. Two weeks after that, the circus came to town and
these boys came and sat on that same place on the curb. And those
big circus wagons were being pulled down main street full of lions and
tigers, monkeys, and all those animals. Those are huge, heavy
wagons, steel wheels around wood, and they were making a big grating
noise as they were pulled down main street. And these kids were
amazed. After those wagons had gone by, they didn't leave any
impression at all. But there were their initials right in front of
them, impressions they made that are going to be there for a long
time. And it's all in the timing.
And the time when we
can make an impression -- our time is right now. While we're
living and kicking and breathing, it's our time to serve as stewards.
By the spirit given,
our time to love, to live it up. Our time to allow the
resurrection background music to play on through us. Our time to
live and love and give the life. Our time. By the spirit
given. Let's live it up. Amen.