stewardship isn’t about what’s wrong, but what’s right.

Luke 15:1-10

And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

It’s Loyalty Sunday. Which is a nicer way of saying Stewardship Sunday. I don’t know why it’s called that. I wonder if someone changed the name because the word stewardship makes people nervous. I’m not too fond of it either. It always seems like thinly veiled language for “give us your money, please”. It’s not just that it’s in poor taste. I’m fine with that. Some of you even like country music. Poor taste isn’t the issue. It’s worse. It’s that when we talk about stewardship, we always start with what’s wrong, not what’s right. That makes everything darker. That leaves out hope. That leaves out Jesus. We can’t do that.

When we start with what’s wrong, the list ain’t small. That’s exactly why we start with Jesus. The God who seeks the lost. Who dines with sinners. Who makes His home with the folks who caused everything that’s wrong. Who saves the folks who couldn’t save themselves. That’s us. We’re Christian. Christ comes before anything else. Even in stewardship. Otherwise, we’d be Time-talent-treasurians or some other garbage. When you forget Jesus is the good shepherd, the only thing left to turn to for help is…well…us. Or more accurately our idols. And they’re still idols, even if you stamp a cross on them.

I’ve only been embarrassed of being Lutheran once. That actually says a lot for as many dumb jokes we make about potlucks. Lutherans don’t actually have the market cornered on “liking food”. Just saying. The only time I’ve ever been truly embarrassed to be a Lutheran, I sat and listened to a Missouri Synod preacher start a sermon like this:

He just looked around the room. Slowly. Seriously. Then he started snapping his fingers. He didn’t say anything at first. Just staring. Snapping. Letting the tension build. Then he said something along the lines of “every time I snap my fingers, someone dies without knowing Jesus. And we could have done something about it.” Apparently it was a big push to raise money. I figured it would have been more cost-effective to just have him stop snapping his fingers, but what do I know. I’m not in charge of anything.

I’m not trying to be flippant. I’m trying a little, actually. Snap your finger all you want. There is no amount of time, talent, or treasures that can buy salvation. Only Jesus can give that. And there is nothing you can do wrong to stop the Good Shepherd from seeking the lost either. The good shepherd is Jesus, not you. I was embarrassed because he lied. He manipulated people. Used their guilt and fear. Most of all because he turned Jesus from the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost into a secret knowledge we use to save people from hell. It made for a moderately successful fundraising tool. I guess. There’s a reason the wealthiest religions all threaten hell if people don’t give enough. There’s a reason it’s so easy to start stewardship talks based on what’s wrong. There aren’t enough people in church. Or volunteers. Or programs. Or funds. All of these are good, but fear, love, and trust in them above the God they point to…there’s a name for that. Idolatry. But without Jesus, that’s all we have. So most of the time stewardship is tactless complaining about what’s wrong in order to make you step up we can fix it. So, you know, you can be part of the 99 who need no repentance. Wait, that’s not right…

This is what happens when we don’t start with Jesus. With what’s right. If we did, we’d see the truth. This place is already a treasure. Not because of the walls or the programs, or any of the other things we brag about. This place is a treasure because there are sinners here. That’s what the Lord thinks is so valuable that He leaves behind heaven itself just to seek. Us. The sinners. The lost sheep. Jesus sees us sinners as the treasure worth seeking. You are what’s truly valuable here, because Jesus is the good shepherd who loves you enough to seek you out. The reason this place is special is because this is where He’s doing it.

Don’t start with what’s wrong. Start with what’s right. Jesus. Who conquered sin and death without your help, and who seeks the lost, even when it’s you. He sees us as worth dying for. Worth seeking. Worth pursuing.
Jesus is the good shepherd. Not you. But He has sought you. He has put your idolatry on His shoulders and carried that cross to Golgotha and there He died for you. Your sins are forgiven. Your idolatry. Your fear. Your ego. Jesus died for you. And that Jesus is here for you. Today. This is where He promised to deliver, through the Holy Spirit, the gifts He won. He is present in the word. The cup. The font. There is more joy in heaven over this. One sinner drowned with Jesus and raised with Jesus in the font. One sinner carried from death to life on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd. Forgiven. Saved. Alive in the Lord. To carry you to the resurrection even as He carried your sins to the tomb.

God is here. Sharing a meal with sinners. God is here for you. To wipe away tears. So this place is a treasure, and you get to be a part of it. You get to receive Jesus here. You get to sing with the angels and all the saints in heaven here. Whatever is wrong, and I’m not saying that there isn’t anything wrong, Jesus is here for you to forgive, comfort, and save. That’s righter. Do you think there’s anything you could do to keep the Good shepherd from His sheep? Do you think so much of yourself? Rejoice. God’s got this stuff under control. The gift is that He wants you to be a part of it.

Start there, and you’ll understand stewardship. The angels singing over the sinner Jesus brings to repentance. That’s stewardship. They were living in their vocation and serving as God gave them. It didn’t add any to the kingdom, but it never needed to. It just pointed to what the king has done and found joy. Jesus is the good shepherd. He’s got it under control. The angels just got to rejoice.

It’s the same down here. God’s got everything under control. You get to be a part of it. It can’t add any to the kingdom, but it never needed to. We just get to point to it, as God has given us to do and find joy. We get to rejoice and live in our vocations. That’s stewardship. Some of you make sure it looks so beautiful here that you can walk in and be reminded that God is actually here in a meaningful way. Some of you give to make sure the pastors don’t starve or have to work second jobs and have to tell someone laying on their deathbed, sorry, I’ve got work my real job today. All of us sing along with the angels today and help teach the next generation it’s ok to sing hymns in church that point to the Shepherd. There are a million little things you do here and I thank God for you. Each act is part of the angels’ song. The rejoicing in heaven.

It’s all a gift. We know what’s out there. The sinners burdened by their flesh, by the devil, by the world, and by death. We know where to point them. We know what’s in here. Peace. Jesus, the Good Shepherd. So we do what we’ve been given. We do stewardship. Not because we make this place better, but because we see Jesus here, we hear his cry, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the lost.” So we do. We point at that in our vocations. The king is here for sinners. For you and for me. To forgive us and save us. In your time, your energy, your gifts, your hymns, and your prayers, you point to what the king is doing here for sinners, and all of heaven points along. Rejoice.

stewardship isn’t about what’s wrong, but what’s right.

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