Philippians 2:1-12 • October 22, 2017
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
As we enter the second week of our fall stewardship series Live Generously, I’m guessing many of us might be scratching our heads at the scripture readings we are hearing. What does our theme verse from first Timothy or today’s gospel reading about the hemorrhaging woman or the letter from the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi have to do with stewardship? There is no mention of time, talents or treasure in these scripture readings. There is no call or plea for a godly use of resources. All of the common trappings of stewardship-related biblical texts that pastors are so well known to use during worship series like this are absent from these readings, right? Or are they?
Philippians is Paul’s most joyful letter. It is a letter of thanksgiving. It’s also a letter in which Paul gives ultimate thanks and praise to God for all that God has done for the Philippians – and you and me today – through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
I believe that one of the core reasons that North American Christians struggle with God’s call to stewardship is the way that we have marginalized the practice of stewardship altogether. For too long, Christians – both pastors and church members alike – have associated stewardship with fundraising campaigns, pleas for volunteers, church meetings, and budgets.
The call to be stewards is far deeper than the need of the church for more of your money or begging you to volunteer for things that you really don’t want to volunteer for. Here’s the important point that I hope we hear today – The call to be stewards is directly connected to our relationship with God as recipients of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. As Pastor Pam reminded us last week, it’s about our heart.
Paul’s words to the Philippian church ask us to place our whole life into God’s eternal care. Not just our life during an annual fall stewardship series. Not just when we feel like paying attention to God. Our whole life. So as we consider our call to be stewards again this fall, we must think about our entire life of faith. We cannot separate stewardship from other parts of our existence. It’s simply not possible for those who claim to be followers of Jesus.
The call to be stewards flows first from God’s gift of grace to us in Jesus. Simply stated, there is no other foundation or purpose to anything we are or do as Christians than Jesus. As Paul moves into the second chapter of Philippians, he places that foundation in Jesus at the center of our focus. Paul says, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the spirit, any compassion and sympathy…” There’s supposed to be an obvious answer here to what Paul is asking. Of course there is encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, and sharing in the spirit. We find all of these things and more in Christ Jesus.
Paul’s next words to the church, “make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
If you’re like me, you have tried to do these things before…to make the joy of the Lord complete in your life and in the world around you with your own effort. And, if you’re like me, you’ve discovered that is impossible to do.
We try to find agreement with one another, yet fail time and time again.
We try to have the same love as Christ, but we fail to live up to that over and over.
We try to be generous, but fall short of our expectations as we fall back into quick fix self-gratifying things instead.
We are human. And as humans, we sin and fall short of the glory of God.
Too often our approach to stewardship starts by asking, “What can we do?” When we start with our own efforts, we set ourselves up for failure. Just like the focus of our discipleship is not on our own works, neither should the focus of our stewardship be about us.
When Jesus called Simon and Andrew to follow him at the beginning of the gospel stories, he did not tell them they were good workers and would achieve great things as his disciples. Jesus told them to come and follow him and he would make them fish for people. Jesus did not call the first disciples to show their greatness through their own abilities. He called them to follow him, receive him, trust in him and find salvation through him. Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus issues that same call to us in October 2017.
Before we can worry about what to do with this call, God invites us to witness what he has already done, what he’s doing right now, and what he will do for us in all the days to come through Jesus. The starting point to loving and serving God is receiving God’s good gift of grace that has already been given to us through the Savior of the world Jesus Christ. It is a free gift, that, no matter what we do or how hard we try, we can never earn. God’s love for us through Jesus is not something that can be bought or sold, traded or bargained for. Our identity as Christians does not come from our inherent goodness, from the things that we do or from the gifts we offer. Our identity as Christians comes to us from the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus.
And if receiving the gift of Jesus in our baptism is the beginning of being called a disciple, then it is also the beginning of our life as stewards.
While this may seem impossible to us, Paul continues in his Philippian letter by saying that it is God who is at work in us, enabling us to both will and work for God. When the Holy Spirit dwells within us, the Spirit empowers us to do the work of God.
When we share the gospel, it is not our effort, but God’s grace that allows it to take root and grow.
When we serve others, it is not our efforts, but God’s grace that blesses our service.
If we take Jesus as our example for service and discipleship, why should we not take him as our example of stewardship?
Built on the foundation of God’s great love for us through Jesus, our call to stewardship is simply about being stewards of God’s love. At Good Shepherd, we see this expressed in our mission and ministry “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.”
So stewardship, isn’t just about money, it never has been and it never will be. Stewardship is about our hearts. Jesus is God’s greatest gift to us. When we grasp the overwhelming love and grace and generosity this gift is for us, our words and hearts and behavior in every part of our lives will mirror our gratitude for the abundant riches we receive. Behind the sharing of money, of time, of talent, of our very selves, is the sharing of God’s love and grace which we have so richly received in Jesus Christ. God did not give us this love so that we could hold it for ourselves, but so we could share it with others.
In the days ahead, remember that God loves you and is abundantly generous toward you. As we continue our journey through the Live Generously stewardship series this fall, I invite you to set aside intentional time in order to explore how God is calling you to become an instrument of grace with a singing heart and a joyful, generous life. You and I are richly blessed. The Apostle Paul’s letter of thanksgiving to the ancient church in Phillipi is also a letter to the modern church of Good Shepherd today. How are the rich and abundant blessings we have already received being shared with others in thanksgiving?
Live generously brothers and sisters in Christ. Live generously. Amen.
[I give thanks for Daniel L. Rudy’s reflection “The Gift of Christ” for much of the thematic content and inspiration for this sermon. Live Generously Stewardship Emphasis Worship Resources. Ecumenical Stewardship Center. www.stewardshipresources.org]