Reflections on Stewardship
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Scripture: Genesis 2:4b-15
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Transcipt is below:
Now, I know that many of you might be expecting a sermon about the disciple Thomas and his journey from disbelief to belief following Christ’s resurrection. However, our eastertide series starts at the beginning. At creation. Our eastertide series also starts with a question: Where are you from?
If I were to answer simply, I might say I’m from Knoxville, or East Tennessee, or just Tennessee.
If I were Adam, newly formed in the Garden of Eden, I might say that you were “from the earth” molded into man by the Hands of God. Throughout the next few minutes, I hope you’ll think about your answer to that question: where are you from, too.
Looking back at the conclusion of our Scripture:
the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
I think that that is one of the most clear and direct lines that we get in Genesis. There’s no long genealogy, or cast of characters to keep track of, or moments of creation to attach to a particular day. There is simply God, human creation, the earth, and a charge to keep it.
To be good stewards of what has been entrusted to us. To raise livestock and vegetation. To take only what we need and to save the rest. To imagine some future people, and choose to live and work in a way such that there is something left for them.
Despite how clear and direct that charge is, I think it’s really hard for many of us to practice that. Many of us live lives that are very distant from the kinds of connections to the earth that make stewardship like the kind in Genesis more real. Our fruits and vegetables are planted and harvested by hands that aren’t our own, often frozen and stored for months at a time so that we have year-round access to them, transported from thousands of miles away, and then appearing at a grocery store near you.
I love buying fresh fruits and veggies at farmers markets. I accept that the cost is a bit higher than what I might pay at the grocery store-- all in an effort to support folks who I think are responsible and intentional caretakers of the earth. Caring for the earth in ways not unlike my grandfather has for most of his life.
Pivot to Grandfather
He often repeats the simple mantra by which he lives his life: I just trust in the unchanging hand of God. And with his own hands for the better part of more than half a century, he has raised livestock and vegetation; he has taken only what he has needed, and not wasted the rest.
In addition to rabbits, pigs, and livestock, he raised tobacco and tomatoes-- in fact he was one of the first farmers to grow tomatoes in Greene county, tennessee. And in an interview a few decades ago, he noted that he started planting an acre of tomatoes, and quickly realized that that was far more than what he and his family could successfully care for; so the next year he planted only half an acre-- and yielded much better results.
I tell you this story, because it is a part of my longer answer to the question: where are you from?
I tell you it too, because alongside my grandfather’s farming is his faith. A long time sunday school teacher at a small United Methodist church sitting on top of a small hill that you get to by driving down a two lane road, then turning left and driving up a gravel path is a big part of that answer too.
How do you keep a small, rural church in existence for more than a century? You find good stewards.
How do you maintain a church, a fellowship hall, a cemetery, and a memory across four or five generations? You find good stewards.
And this is where I think that the beauty of the charge in Genesis best illustrates its breadth: We are called to care for the things that support us, and nurture them so that they might one day support others.
And, on some level, we get that. How many of us have a well-loved “hand me down” a quilt, or a jacket, or a book-- some piece of jewelry from an older relative?
How many of us invest a bit more money in winter boots or a winter coat because we hope that it will last longer-- be effective longer-- support us longer?
We do this with housing and cars too. But church is where it gets hard. There’s sort of an awkward thing in society where we’ve decided that churches are a place that should just make do with what they have-- and that they should never be explicit in saying “hey, this thing-- this institution that you like-- in addition to volunteer roles, it takes money to exist.”
And, yeah, it’s awkward and uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make it any less true. In a world where many of us no longer practice “tilling and keeping” in the agricultural sense, we have to adjust our definitions and actions to fit the context in which we find ourselves, so that we can still be accountable to the charge to be good stewards.
How do you keep a small, rural church in existence for more than a century?
How do you maintain a church, a fellowship hall, a cemetery, and a memory across four or five generations?
How do you effectively support the life and ministry of a congregation?
You find good stewards.
You ask folks to think about where they’re from, who and what has shaped them and their lives.
You ask folks if they think those things should be around in the future for other people to count as part of their origin story-- as part of the framework of their lives.
And, assuming that the answer is yes, you ask them whether they might like to contribute to such a project.
You ask them if they feel called to be good stewards.
And you do all of this, so that one day, when someone is asked the question, “where are you from,” rather than giving the simple answer of “I’m from this place” they might instead say: I am from the dust from the earth and the breath of God. I am from the stewardship of a committed sunday school teacher. I am from the work ethic of a man who raised tobacco and tomatoes, rabbits and pigs, so that my mother and her siblings could live a good life. I am from a mother who learned that work ethic and passed it to her children. I am from the dreams of folks long ago who so thoroughly believed in the call “that they may all be one,” that they formed a whole new denomination in dogged pursuit of that goal. I am from Tennessee, on land stolen from the Yuchi and Cherokee. I am from good stewards-- and I hope that I might one day be one too.
So as you reflect on that question: where are you from and upon what you might be called to do in this stewardship season, I leave you with the words of my papaw: to trust in the unchanging hands of God, and with part of a speech by Paul harvey, a radio broadcaster who was a speaker at the 1978 Future Farmers of America convention:
God said, "I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop their mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark."
It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners; somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant
and tie the fleece and strain the milk and
replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work with a five-mile drive to church; somebody who would bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing…
So God made a farmer.
May we all be like farmers in the journeys of our lives. May we be good stewards of what we love. May we accept the call to till and keep and give our gifts in service of creation.