Christian stewardship is, at bottom, the conviction that everything we have (our stuff, our time, our money ... even our lives themselves) are all gifts from God and thus belong to God.
Lots of people in our culture talk about "self-made" men and women, by which they mean people who have worked hard and pulled themselves up into success by their own strength and effort. We Christians respect those stories, but we do not choose to think about our lives in that way. If anything, we are God-made people: We are created by God, and whatever success we achieve in this life is ultimately a credit back to that creating God--who loans us the abilities and time, talents and strength to labor and love and live.
When you look upon your life in this way -- given by God, owned by God, blessed by God -- then giving to others in need, giving to the church's common ministry, and giving to efforts God nudges us to give to ... these become easy efforts, glad gestures. We give with a grateful, cheerful heart, because we know God is behind it all anyway.
So our theme for tomorrow - memories - is not really about memories, per se (like going to the beach, or your favorite childhood toys, etc.) but about our memory of God's faithfulness to us in the past. This includes the specific ways God has blessed you in your particular life, but it also includes those larger, all-encompassing blessings that are gifts to all of us even if we cannot yet see them as such. This world to live in; food and air and water; families to raise us; crops to feed us ... each of these, God's global gifts.
And of course, as Christians, the superlative gift that blesses us all (and which we remember each week in our gathering and sending) is the gift of Jesus as Christ. That he is a part of our history, our shared story, is our biggest clue that God loves us, that God wishes us well, and that this same God is willing to do what it takes to set our lives and the world to the right.
This is good news, because at 17 (or consider my Ella, only 4) you may say to yourself ... "I'm not certain I have any specific memories of God's blessings in my particular life." And yet, one could say that our Lord Jesus--his life, his dying, his rising--is a part of your memory, because through baptism and through your faith your are connected to HIS life, HIS story, HIS blessings. That's the mystery and blessing and burden of faith.
So stewardship (our taking care of the gifts of God in our lives) begins not with guilt (I guess I HAVE to give) or obligation (I guess I SHOULD give) but with joy (I know I CAN give ... back to God ... to those in need ... to God's church). If we think of our lives as solely our own, in that self-made sense, we are likely to be stingy and selfish. If we think of our lives as immeasurable gifts from a loving God, then we are likely to be generous with what we have. After all, we know it is a gift to us in the first place.
Consider this metaphor: When I was in high school, I might have been tempted to say to myself: "Geez ... my parents ... nothing but a nuisance and a drag with their rules and regs and expectations. I'm moving out on my own." But had I done that -- moved out on my own -- I would have quickly discovered all of those things they were doing for me that I had not really considered or taken seriously: food, roof over my head, an allowance, a sense of right/wrong, help when I was sick, encouragement when I was down, etc. It would surely not take long for the absence of these generous gifts, and the challenge of producing them by myself, to call me back home.
So upon moving back in, I would therefore be moved to live in a certain new way under their roof. I would be more grateful for all of the sacrifices they make for me, more aware of the costs they incur for me, more loving toward them and more appreciative of the fact that countless bodies around the world do not enjoy even one third of those gifts. In other words, I would seek to be a better steward of their many gifts -- both obvious and subtle -- that they give to me every day.
It is not so different with the Christian life. We are sometimes tempted to "go out on our own." "Who needs faith, what with its high expectations, commandments, and demands." But a little while on our own, absent the faith, hope, and love the undergirds our living, we are likely to come back to God with a fresh sense of gratitude for all that God for us on a daily basis -- if we would but open our eyes to see it.
So when we remember God's faithfulness in the past (as Israel is reminded to do in the Old Testament passage for tomorrow - Deuteronomy 9:7-18), we are again made aware of all that God has done for us, and we are nudged and prodded and called to live differently in the future -- with joyful hearts, with an eye toward those in need, with open hands and not tight fists.
Has there been a time when you took someone or something (or even God) for granted for awhile, only to realize the hard way that your life would be very different, likely a lot less, were it not for that person, that gift, or our God?
What are some of the specific ways you can look back over your life, and your family's life, and see God's gifts and blessings to you? What would your life be like had these gifts (people, things, time, etc.) not been given to you and your family by God? What decisions could you make in the future to make certain God know you are grateful for them?
Who is a Christian you know (in your family, neighborhood, church, etc.) who exudes gratitude? What do you know about their story that points to how God has blessed them? What do you learn from watching how they live their life?
Challenge us along these lines.