Psalm 89:1-2, 11-14
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 29, 2023
A pastor preached a stewardship sermon about how, because we owe everything we have to God, God owns everything we have. One rich church member disliked the idea that he owned nothing, including what he’d worked so hard to get. So the next day he told the pastor to visit him in his swanky office at his booming factory. Before they sat down, he took the pastor on a tour of his huge new warehouse. “So,” he said, “are you telling me all this doesn’t belong to me?” The pastor smiled and said, “Ask me that a 100 years from now.”
We leave this world just as we entered it: with no possessions. In between, God entrusts some of His possessions to our responsibility that we might develop them into something still more beneficial to His world, something that advances their Creator’s purposes of love, justice and witness to the good news of Jesus.
The Swiss company Patek Philippe makes luxury watches that last forever and can cost over $100,000. It once ran an ad campaign with this slogan: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe; you just take care of it for the next generation.”
From the biblical perspective, that’s the case with everything we think we “own” – whether it be our time, talent, energy or money. We just take care of what doesn’t stay ours and do our best to make it a lasting blessing for the next generation and the fulfillment of God’s eternal purposes.
Today’s Psalm is attributed to “Ethan the Ezrahite”, a musician David appointed to lead public worship. The Psalm is a prayer of praise thanking God for “your steadfast love” and “your faithfulness” while recognizing that “the heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it”. The thought behind this Psalm is that every good thing we enjoy comes from God, returns to God and belongs to God every minute.
The first step in righteous stewardship is to embrace the reality that God owns everything and that thus we are without anything to call our own. Everything we have is a possession of God’s which God has given to us to manage on His behalf for a while. Why, we don’t even own those things we’ve worked hard to get! After all, they once belonged to God alone; and we were able to work to get them only because God gave us the strength, the stamina and the opportunity to do so. We don’t own what we owe to God!
The second step in righteous stewardship is to resolve to manage that part of God’s possessions He’s entrusted to our care in such a way that it blesses as many others as possible: our neighbors, our God and, yes, in the end, ourselves.
If we appreciate God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, we want to devote all we are and all we have to doing that. Moreover, if we believe that God in His steadfast love wants to bless everyone as much as they’ll let Him, we’ll believe He’ll bless us all the more by our devotion to sharing with others what of His He has shared with us.
Pastor Ed Young once preached a sermon named “Skittles”, referring to the popular kids’ candy. The sermon centered around what happened when one Friday he took his family to a high school football game. In the third quarter his little daughter Landra asked for money to buy a treat. He handed her a $10 bill, and she came back with a big bag of Skittles. As he watched her devour them, he asked for some. “No!” she replied, “They’re mine!” “But, Landra, I only want a couple.” She pulled the bag away and repeated, “They’re all mine!”
Ed quietly mulled over her response. First, he thought, she wasn’t bearing in mind that he’d bought her the Skittles she couldn’t buy herself. Second, she wasn’t bearing in mind that he was much bigger than she and could forcibly grab the bag and eat all the Skittles himself if he wanted to. Third, she didn’t understand that if she ate all those Skittles herself, she’d be throwing up before the game was over. Fourth, she didn’t understand that her Dad could have gone to the concession stand, put 300 bags of Skittles on the credit card, and supplied her with more Skittles than she could eat in a year. Fifth, she didn’t understand that she’d all the more enjoy the Skittles she loves if she shared them with those she loves.
Ed then mused about how God blesses us all with Skittles of one kind or another which we couldn’t get on our own, and then asks us to share some of them with Him and others. If we refuse Him, saying, “They’re mine,” we show as little understanding as Landra. We’ve forgotten that God bought them and they’re His Skittles, that He passed them on to us as a gift of grace, that He could take them all back in an instant if He wanted, that He could rain down upon so many Skittles that we’d get sick by eating them all, and that we’ll enjoy them more if we pass them around to others.
It is thanks to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness that we have the riches of His grace at all, that God lets us keep as much of them as He does, and that He’s eager to give us even more – as long as we don’t let our greedy gluttony make us sick but share our Skittles for all to enjoy. It’s also thanks to His steadfast love that, when we see ourselves as those without anything of our own and yet share freely, we end up better off than we would’ve been had we hogged them all to ourselves.
Randy Alcorn experienced how this works firsthand. The “possession” he most valued in life was his personal library of books. He had thousands upon thousands of books and only lent them out reluctantly; and, when he did, he grew very upset when they were returned late or looking mistreated.
In prayer it came to him that God wanted him to give his personal library to his church to start its own library. He obeyed, but at first it felt as painful as having a kidney removed for a transplant. But when he’d visit the church library and see all the names of those who had checked out his books, he rejoiced to realize that in giving up his books to God He blessed to be investing in the lives of others. And that felt so much better than keeping his books to himself that he only regretted not giving them to God earlier.
Randy generalized this lesson to apply to everything else he had viewed as his own, including his time and his money. Upon accepting that everything belongs to God and that he’s without anything to call his own, Randy felt greatly rewarded in blessing everyone he could. May we feel that way too as we generously give God His own: that is, our stuff, time and money!