Wesleyan Roots: “The Good Steward”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Good Steward”

A Message on 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 28, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (NRSV)

 

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

 

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Today is Commitment Sunday, the one Sunday a year that we ask you as congregation members to make a pledge of your financial commitment to this church for the coming year. It’s the Sunday we ask you to turn in your “Pledge Cards” so that we can create a budget for the operation of the church for the 2019 year.

 

But I want to start out today by talking about something that happened this past Monday. It didn’t make the news much and I only found out about it through some posts on Facebook, but the Rev. Eugene Peterson died Monday at the age of 85.

 

Peterson is up near the top of my list of theological heroes. I have read many of his books (but not all 35 plus of them that he wrote). His writing has challenged me while at the same time comforted me. In his autobiography, The Pastor, I have found good, sound advice as I navigate my role as a pastor. I often turn to his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, while working on my sermons. And as you know, I often include those paraphrases in my sermons.

 

My favorite story about Peterson comes from a video he did years ago with Dean Nelson at Point Loma Nazarene University. (https://youtu.be/FaaIui7cESs)

 

In the interview Nelson asks Peterson if it is true that he (Peterson) turned down the opportunity to “hang out” with Bono, the lead singer for the Irish rock band U2, when they were on tour in the states. It seems that Bono is a big fan of Eugene Peterson and his writings.

 

Peterson confirms that indeed, it was true. The reason for turning it down? “I was pushing a deadline on The Message. I was finishing up the Old Testament at the time… I really couldn’t do it.”

 

Nelson responded by saying, “You may be the only person alive who would turn down the opportunity just to make a deadline. I mean, come on, it’s Bono for crying out loud!”

 

Peterson, without missing a beat and matching Nelson’s enthusiasm, replied, “Dean, it was Isaiah!” [Article: https://bibleandmission.org.uk/2011/07/11/isaiah-eugene-peterson-and-turning-down-bono/]

 

Knowing that I was going to be talking about money today, I was curious about Peterson’s take on the subject. I found an article written by Daniel Grothe, a friend of Peterson and his wife, Jan. In the article Grothe points out something that I had never thought about: Peterson must have made a lot of money with his books.

 

Peterson grew up in a modest home during the great depression in a small town in Montana. He became a religion professor and a Presbyterian pastor, founding a small church in Bel Air, Maryland, and served that same congregation and wrote books.

 

He never served a megachurch. He never asked his congregation to buy him a new airplane. For most of his life he and his wife lived simply, existing paycheck to paycheck. Then his books started to sell. And boy, did they ever. The Message alone has sold more than 17 million copies.

 

After retirement he and his wife moved back to Montana to the small house that as a kid he helped his dad build on weekends. It was a small, wood-framed cabin up in the mountains, certainly not luxurious.

 

Here’s how Grothe describes the Petersons: “There is not an ostentatious bone in their bodies. These are people who have turned down opportunity after opportunity in order to preserve a life of simplicity and quiet faithfulness. A long obedience in the same direction. I have long said that it only took Eugene Peterson 65 years to become an overnight success, and the success came when he had gotten over his need to be successful. God must have known he could trust this old couple with that kind of money, that kind of acclaim.”

 

It turns out that the Petersons followed John Wesley’s advice that we talked about last week: Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Grothe says that the Petersons provided the funds for scores of students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees, paying for the entire cost of seminary out of their pockets.

 

Grothe finishes the article with this: “Of all that I have learned from Eugene and Jan Peterson over the years, maybe that’s the thing that will stick with me the most: that true life is found as we become like Jesus, as we spend our lives giving it all away.” [https://relevantmagazine.com/article/the-hidden-legacy-of-eugene-peterson/]

 

Michael W. Smith recorded a song years ago titled, “Give It Away.”  One of the verses and lyrics is:

 

We can entertain compassion

For a world in need of care

But the road of good intentions

Doesn’t lead to anywhere

‘Cause love isn’t love

Till you give it away, yeah

You gotta give it away

 

As we live

Moving side by side

May we learn to give

(May we learn to give)

Learn to sacrifice

 

For this stewardship month of October we have provided copies of the book, Giving It All Away and Getting It Back Again: The Way of Living Generously  by David Green and Bill High.

 

At the end of the book, the authors provide this summary of the basic ideas of the book:

 

  • We are not owners of anything. God owns everything.
  • God wants us to be good stewards of everything he’s put into our hands.
  • We all have weath–our intellectual capital, our social capital, our emotional capital, our spiritual capital, and our financial capital.
  • Stewardship produces responsibility: as stewards, we need to be found faithful.
  • The great joy of stewardship is generosity: giving it away because we get it all back again in the form of joy.

 

John Wesley certainly practiced those principles.  In his sermon #51, “The Good Steward,” he says, “Once more: in what manner didst thou employ that comprehensive talent, money? — not in gratifying the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life; not squandering it away in vain expenses — the same as throwing it into the sea; not hoarding it up to leave behind thee — the same as burying it in the earth…”

 

He goes on later to ask, “Wast thou accordingly a general benefactor to mankind? Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the sick, assisting the stranger, relieving the afflicted, according to their various necessities? Wast thou eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame, a father to the fatherless, and an husband to the widow? And didst thou labour to improve all outward works of mercy, as means of saving souls from death?”

 

Now I am not going to preach to you what is known as the “Prosperity Gospel.” You know what I’m talking about, don’t you, the idea that the more money you give to God the more money you will have?

 

God is not an investment machine where you put money in and expect to get more money back. To me that is faulty theology. We give to God and in return receive things that are more heavenly than worldly: the grace in giving, the sacrificial aspect of giving, the return of a portion of our blessings God has given us, doing so as praise and thanksgiving. The simple joy of giving.

 

Remember just how much Jesus gave. He gave and gave and gave and gave. And he gave his life on the cross, the most perfect form of giving ever.

 

In a moment I am going to ask you to come down to the altar rail and place your pledge card in the baskets sitting there. If you didn’t bring your pledge card from home raise your hand and the ushers will bring you one.

 

But first I want to tell you about something that happened here at the church this morning. George Griffin is always the first one to the church on Sunday mornings. He volunteers to open the church up and unlock the doors. This morning he was standing at the table where the donuts are cutting the top off of the donut boxes when he passed out. He fell down, hitting the back of his head on the floor, and slightly cutting two fingers on his left hand.

 

I was standing nearby when it happened. Abby Lykins was standing next to George and helped ease his fall. The box of donuts went all over George and the floor.

 

Abby goes and calls 911 while I kneeled beside George. He comes to pretty quick, knows where he is and what’s going on.

 

While we are waiting for the ambulance, George says “Wait a minute, I need to give you something.” He reaches into his coat pocket and hands me his pledge card that he had filled out.

 

Folks, if a 90-plus-year-old gentleman laying on the floor waiting on an ambulance to take him to the hospital can still turn in his pledge card, then our excuses look pretty pale, don’t they?

 

As you contemplate your giving for the coming year I am going to leave you with the scripture we read today from 2 Corinthians, but this is the way that Eugene Peterson, a humble saint who believed in and practiced “giving it away,” paraphrases that scripture:

 

“Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”

 

So my challenge to you this week is to be a good steward! Sow bountifully! Give with a joyful heart. Remember that “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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