“A Faithful Stewardship”

Services

Sunday— 9 AM Sunday School, 10 AM fellowship, 10:30 AM Worship Service

Oct. 22

This sermon is the fourth in a five-part sermon series looking at the essential tenets of the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition. Today we will explore “a faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks the proper use of the gifts of God’s creation…” Book of Order 2015-2017: The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Part II, F-2.05.

In last week’s sermon, one of you (who shall remain nameless) came up to me and said, “Great job preacher. I really enjoyed your choice of words today. Can’t remember the last time I heard the word ‘cacophonous’ used in public.” My friend was referring to my description of the Corinthian congregation in which the good folks in Corinth were gathering for worship and all hell would break loose when several of them would be speaking in tongues or prophesying – all at the same time. It was a cacophonous scene no doubt – perhaps more flowingly described in my Navasota, TX vernacular as “those boys and girls were making a bunch of racket.” (See 1 Corinthians 14:26ff)

So, we have gotten “cacophonous” out of the way… just in time for “ostentation.” Yes, “ostentation” is the big word for today. Today we are looking at “a faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks the proper use of the gifts of God’s creation…” Ostentation is one of those words that sounds like what it means. From the word’s Old French and Latin roots, ostentation means “to stretch toward” as in stretching toward excessive display. Ostentation means excessive display, vainglory, pretentiousness. Or, as I might say in my Navasota, TX vernacular about someone who is ostentatious: “that boy is full of (!*?#) himself!”

“A faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks the proper use of the gifts of God’s creation.” There are several words and concepts in this essential tenet of the Reformed tradition that we need to hover over. Let’s start at the end of this statement and work back toward the beginning. The statement ends with these words “…the gifts of God’s creation.” The gifts of God’s creation…a faithful stewardship begins with the understanding that all things belong to God. And I mean all things. You and I did not create ourselves – God did and gave us to ourselves. You and I did not create this earth we inhabit – God did, and gave this good earth to us. You and I did not create our industriousness, our intellect, our energy and enterprise for living – God endowed us with such talents, and gave them to us. You and I did not create time in which we live, move, and have our being – God created time, and gave time to us to love God and enjoy God.

Life is a gift, this earth is a gift, our lives are a gift, our ways and means are a gift of God’s creation. A faithful stewardship begins by recognizing in the depth of our bones and being what the beginning of Psalm 24 proclaims: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it…”

Thus as baptized, practicing Christians, our Reformed tradition has from its beginning in the 16th century Protestant Reformation insisted that we make proper use of the gifts that God has given us. “Proper use” means to take no more than our fair share of the gifts of God’s creation; it means to use the gifts of God’s creation – ourselves, our time, the earth’s natural resources – in glory to God, in service to neighbor; not in personal, individual aggrandizement, and building up, and stockpiling, and accumulating for ourselves. A proper use of the gifts of God’s creation means that we use God’s gifts at our disposal properly – for our reasonable living, for the service of those in need, and for the sheer joy of serving the God we know in Jesus Christ.

When we seek the proper use of the gifts of God’s creation in a reasonable, moderate, non-excessive manner we will be well on the way to practicing a faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation. Notice how vivid and pointed the word “shun” is. Shun means to deliberately, intentionally avoid something or someone. When we shun someone or something, we turn away from it, we turn our backs on it, we deliberately and intentionally reorient our lives away from that someone or something. In this case, our Reformed tradition has challenged us to “shun ostentation.”

“Shun” is a hard, pointed word because our Reformed tradition knows that human sin is prevalent in us and prevalent in our society. And it will take a hard, pointed effort to break sin’s hold on our being. And because of human sin we are prone to embrace ostentation; because of human sin we are prone to seek ostentatious endeavors; because of human sin we are prone to seek ostentatious plans, and programs, and prerogatives for ourselves. Because of human sin we are prone to overstep boundaries, to stretch toward AND over reasonable, moderate limits – to enrich ourselves, to call attention to ourselves, to say to those around us, “Look at me, and all that is mine…aren’t I something?”

Of course, the Bible doesn’t think too highly of ostentation, or stretching toward and beyond reasonable boundaries. In our text from the prophet Isaiah today, the great prophet is railing against a Judean society whose wealth has blinded it to reasonable personal accumulation. Isaiah points to examples of ostentation in 7th century BC Judean society that sound eerily similar to our context today. As the Judeans’ wealth has increased, they are buying bigger and bigger houses; they are purchasing more and more land; they are becoming more and more obsessed with fine dining, with lavish dinner parties, with fine wines, all the while ignoring justice, forgetting the poor, and disregarding God’s justice and the proper use of God’s gifts of creation.

“Ah, you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you…Ah, you who rise early in the morning in pursuit of strong drink, who linger in the evening to be inflamed by wine, whose feasts consist of lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine, but who do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands!” (Isaiah 5:8,11,12).

Yes, the Bible isn’t too easy on the sin of ostentation. Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool. And Jesus preferences the parable with this stark reminder to us: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). And then Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the rich fool whose wealth increased more and more and more by measure of his grains harvested. And as his wealth increased more and more and more, the rich fool built larger and larger and larger barns – ostentatious barns – to hold all this grain, yes, but also as a monument to himself, for all to see and take notice, and for the rich fool to be able to sit back and say to himself, “’Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God” (Luke 12:19-21).

A faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks proper use of the gifts of God’s creation is a stewardship that is rich toward God. A stewardship that recognizes and honors God as the Creator; a stewardship that seeks a reasonable, moderate, non-excessive approach to life and living and money and possessions; a stewardship that seeks to shun ostentation and the financial and spiritual expense of an ostentatious lifestyle, in order to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.