John 15:9-17, Matthew 25:14-30
Good morning – it is great to be back home, after being away for quite a while. I bring greetings from our siblings from all over China. I want to wish all our mothers – both biological and spiritual, and other mother figures a Happy Mother’s Day.
Today, we continue on the series based on Brian McLaren’s book, We Make the Road By Walking. This week’s chapter is “The Uprising of Stewardship.” i must warn you i would be continuing from Rev Yap’s sermon – i will be trying to Comfort the Afflicted, and Afflicting the Comfortable. Perhaps, one reason why many people feel that my sermons (and Rev Yap’s) are scolding sermons is because we here in Singapore, in FCC, are pretty comfortable. If we do things right, keep our heads low, we are likely to come out pretty alright in our lives. But is that it? Is that our calling?
Today I will preach from two passages – one from the lectionary, and another I feel fits the topic of “stewardship.”
15:9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’
26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
What is stewardship? Stewardship is about what we do with what we have been given. The two parables i have shared, one from the gospel according the Matthew and one from the gospel according to Luke should be familiar to some of you. There are many more parables about stewardship that Jesus told. What is Jesus trying to teach us?
For some folks, maybe you have been taught that stewardship is about financial giving to the church. I don’t think that’s what Jesus is trying to say. Jesus is talking about giving of your life, your all to God. When Jesus was asked if they should pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus asked for a Denarius. Then he asked “whose likeness and inscription is this?” (The Greek word here iseikon – likeness / image) They answered “Caesar” and Jesus replied “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
We often miss Jesus’ point here. We miss what is not said. Jesus hidden message is this – If Caesar’s likeness/image is imprinted on the Denarius, and we render that to Caesar, what is God’s likeness/image imprinted on? Yes! God’s likeness/image is imprinted on us! And what are we to do? Render to God things that are God’s – we are to give of ourselves to God.
I remember the old days when we were starting out. When we were spending our time in the desert, before settling down. We always had stewardship duty for the cell groups – but do you know that back then, in our days in Yangtze, we had to vacuum the floor, we had to wash the toilets? My cell group had probably the highest number of PhDs in the church then – we had 3. And we all washed the toilets, scrubbed the floors together. None of us ever wondered, “Why am i doing this?” I am grateful to see and learn from my leaders like Peter and Jerry what it means to serve. What it means to get our hands dirty, and find joy in serving.
Now that we have moved into a much, much nicer place, now that we have someone cleaning up after us, have we taken things for granted? Sometimes, i still have to clear up coffee mugs left all over church after service. Have we become complacent, and has this church become somewhere we come to be served, instead of serving? Have we taken up the mentality of a consumer? Has this consumerist culture that pervades the world shaped us and all that we do? Has Christianity become another thing we consume? Is it coming to church about how good we feel after Sunday service? Is our primary concern during Sunday service, where are we going to have lunch, what are we going to have for lunch, where are we going for coffee after that? If that is the case, we need to wake up.
Sometimes, folks only learn the true value of what they have when they lose it. I hope we don’t have to lose everything before we value what we have. I hope we don’t take things for granted.
Gary shared, “We seem to be even emptier these mornings when we start our services. There is no thirst in the sound of our worship. As our ministries grow, working across ministries seems to be even a greater challenge and even knowing what each other are doing is challenging.”
Many of you, particularly the worship team, would have noticed that I often do not sing during worship. I don’t sing because I am listening – I am listening for what is going on in the hearts of those in the congregation.
I was very moved by the worship during the Chengdu retreat because I heard their hearts yearning for God. The 80 of them sang a lot louder that all of us here. For many of them, this is the first time they were worshipping with other LGBT folks, this is the first time they were worshipping as their authentic selves. They were, finally, worshipping in spirit and in truth. That yearning, that desire moved me deeply. What about us? Have we taken things for granted?
I hear comments like Today’s worship isn’t that good,” “Today’s sermon was another scolding sermon,” once in a while.
What you get out of worship, out of the entire service, is what you bring to it.
i do not measure worship by how good the worship team was for that day. i listen to the entire congregation, and listen if we are pouring out our hearts, if we are really in it.
I am concerned about how we are going – Gary has shared with the board his concern – He wrote, “Are we taking things for granted as a church? Are we too comfortable? Are we serving ourselves? Are we more interested in our convenience or our comfort? Have we become thin-skinned and thick-hearted (instead of becoming more thick-skinned and thin-hearted)? Are we loving each other less? Are we loving God less?”
I want to ask – Are we waiting for someone else to do it for us? Are we waiting for God to do it for us?
We are all given gifts – some of us are given 5 talents, some of us given 2 talents, some of us are given one. What are we doing with them? Are we putting our talents to work, or are we just burying our talents in the ground?
Some of you not familiar with FCC will think that we are so terrible and so out of touch with reality. I want to say we are not that bad – there are amazing things we are doing in our community just that there are not enough people on board doing them.
I am very proud of Dirty Hands, who have adopted 1 ward in the Institute of Mental Health and go down there to talk to the patients there twice a month. They have also adopted the elderly households who live in the vicinity to help them clean their homes, and more importantly provide company and a listening ear to them.
I am also proud of the cell group Zion, who started the Charity Café to raise funds for different causes. The Charity Café I am most touched by was the one they did for the Transgender Day of Remembrance – they wanted to do cook for the transgender folks who are invited to join us. They wanted them to know that we care, and they can call this place home as well.
Perhaps we have taken things for granted. During the retreat, we had a session of foot washing to demonstrate what it means to serve and be served. It was a very moving experience and many people were in tears. There are folks who felt that they did not deserve to be loved, that they were not worth to be loved, and they were not able to allow people to love them, to serve them. I invited one of them to come forward and for me to wash his feet. I invited, and I did not coerced – though I was very persistent in my invitation. I held on to his hand and I did not let go until he walked up with me to the front. And as I washed his feet, he cried.
We do foot washing every year during Maundy Thursday, and we didn’t have such an experience. I don’t think that it is because we don’t understand its significance – but we have abundance of love and acceptance here. Most of us are quite reconciled with ourselves, and have come to embrace who we are. But let us not take that for granted.
I have been personally challenged on this trip as well. I have always thought that my Chinese is bad. I have thought that this is Rev Ouyang’s call to serve the LGBT Christians in China, not mine.
At the Amplify two years ago in Hong Kong, due to a mixup, my workshop which I prepared in English was listed as a workshop done in Mandarin. About 20 participants came in, one of them a Caucasian. I asked if he needed me speak in English, but he replied that he spoke Mandarin. And so I conducted my workshop in Mandarin and it went well. A few days later, Rev Silas Wong invited me to be part of a panel for a press conference and I had to speak in Cantonese. That went well too – and Rev Ouyang told me after the press conference that I could actually preach in Cantonese. That was a prompting – I realized that I had been running away by saying that I lack the language skills to serve. But I actually could do it. So I took these two years to hone my language and yes, it took some effort, but I gave my first sermon in Mandarin and that was a miak-length sermon. (for those of you who do not know, that’s about an hour long)
I was very moved by the hunger they had – many of them don’t have a church to go to. Most of them attended small groups similar to how we started off with Safehaven. For some of them, there isn’t even a group in their city – all they had were online groups on Wechat or QQ.
One brother from Guangxi asked during a discussion – how can I start a group? I am willing. His “I am willing” moved me – and I told him that his three words “I am willing” is half the work done. Are we willing?
Are we happy to gather on Sunday and celebrate what we have, while grudgingly giving to this community? Do you give away a tenth of your resources? Your time? Your energy?
Brian McLaren writes.
“Stewardship applies to all areas of our lives—how we use time, potential, possessions, privilege, and power. Whatever we do, we try to give it our very best, because we work for Christ and not just for money. We want no part of dishonest or harmful employment, so if necessary we change jobs, or we work for reform so we can stay in our current jobs with a clear conscience. As we are being transformed personally, we seek to transform our economic systems from corrupt to ethical, from destructive to regenerative, from cruel and dehumanizing to kind and humane. We believe this pleases God.
When it comes to how we spend our earnings, stewardship means living below our means. We do so by dividing our income into three parts. First, we determine a percentage that we will use to provide for our needs and the needs of our families. That’s just basic decency. Second, we determine a percentage to save, since wisdom requires foresight. Even ants know to save some of their summer’s work to get them through the winter. Third, we set aside the largest portion we can for God’s work of compassion, justice, restoration, and peace. Some of this third portion goes to people like Paul, Silas, and Timothy, who lead and serve the ecclesia springing up around the world. Some of it goes to members of the ecclesia who are in need—the sick, the widows, the orphans, the elderly, and those who have lost their homes, their land, and their work. Some of it goes to meet the needs of others near or far—as an expression of God’s love and ours. That’s what stewardship is, really: love in action.
Paul always reminds us that nothing has any value without love. That explains why money is so deceptive. It deceives people about what has true value. You cannot serve two masters, Jesus taught. If you love God, you will hate money, because it always gets in the way of loving God. If you love money, you will hate God, because God always gets in the way of loving money.
It is foolishness to live above your means. It is selfishness to spend all your money on yourself. It is godliness to give—to produce a surplus that is used for the commonwealth of God, which is an uprising not of greed but of joyful generosity and creative stewardship.”
We are given seeds – are we going to scatter and sow, or are we going to hold on to them? Do we give God the denarii (our finances) yet not give of ourselves? How do you say I love you to God? Will you give to God what is God’s? Will you give of yourself, will you surrender? Will you lay down your lives? Or are we waiting for someone else to do it first?
I preached on the five loaves and two fishes when i was in Chengdu last week. I felt that they are the afflicted who need to be comforted. But today, i think i need to afflict the comfortable. What are you going to do with the six loaves and three fishes you have been given, people of Free Community Church?