July 6th, 2017
Last Sunday stewardship was our focus, illumined by the unlikely example of a less than reputable asset manager (Lk 16:1-13).
Stewardship is not such an old word that we have to consult a dictionary for its meaning. But it gives off that sense of a by-gone sensibility that the best way to understand it is to see it in action.
In this week’s Backstory, I’ve got three very different places, people, and enterprises to illustrate the concreteness of stewardship–one I mentioned in the sermon, and two others.
The first is that amazing group of adolescents who live in a city practically built on a land-fill. At the invitation of a local musician, these kids have scavenged what others have thrown out and re-purposed the trash into what can not only be tuned, but what can turn everyone in earshot toward beauty.
They’re known as the Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura (The Orchestra of the Recycled Instruments of Cateura). There is no one like them, and they are a modern day parable for us all about stewarding things, lives, and art.
The second look at stewardship comes from a voice we’ve only been recently introduced to, but who apparently has gained quite a following in recent years. His name is Dr. Jordan Peterson. He’s a Canadian psychologist and university professor who, while reared in a Christian family, did not find the Christian faith credible or compelling until he spent years studying the underlying causes of human atrocities. So great was his disillusionment in humanity’s capacity for unrestrained evil that he was driven to re-consider religious faith as a reasonable answer to that tragic feature of human nature. I don’t see him being invited to address the General Assembly of the PCA anytime soon, but his is a voice worth hearing.
Here in a talk to college students (that at times gets a bit salty) he shares an encounter that led him to an insight about making small, incremental changes over time. Think of it as stewarding the problems we see within and around us so that we become less “wretched” and more hospitable to ourselves and our world. That sounds like the project we call sanctification. Granted, he speaks of it in this setting as a self (and world)-improvement plan without reference to spiritual guidance or help (though if you were to press him, he would surely advocate for belief in the the Logos who holds all things together). But I think if you listen to his exhortations through the lens of Christian faith, of which he has become an exponent in other settings (see above), the effort to walk in greater wisdom is one that implicitly relies on walking in greater faith in the One who walked with utmost wisdom, faith, and love. Listen to his suggestions and then feel free to comment if you want.
Finally, Francis Chan is a name you may be more familiar with. Formerly the pastor of a quite large congregation in Simi Valley, CA, Chan abruptly left that pastorate several years ago to serve at first overseas and then later back in the US as a member of a collection of house churches
Chan didn’t leave his growing, thriving church–what some might consider of the “mega” variety–for anything untoward in his life, or because of intramural tension among the leadership. Rather, he left on the basis of, from his perspective, a failure of stewardship. A humble student and gifted teacher, Chan saw Cornerstone Community grow to a church in the thousands. But he saw that phenomenon of large swaths of people gathering to hear him each Sunday as a disproportionate focus on his gifting, to the exclusion of cultivating the gifts of everyone who came to listen and learn.
In his first letter, the apostle Peter writes, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1Pet 4:10). For Chan, unless every member of the community he pastored was having their gifts noticed, named, nurtured, and nudged into service, neither he nor the church were being proper stewards of all those aptitudes and affinities properly called gifts.
Chan told that story at a gathering of Facebook employees recently. You can watch his talk below, or read a summary of it here.
As we said in the introduction last Sunday’s sermon, we have nothing that is ours; all has been entrusted to us for a season and purpose. All is from Him and for Him (Col 1:16). Our communion with Him rests on His grace to us. But does not our experience of that communion in large part consist in our stewardship of all that’s been put in our care?
O, Lord, grant that we might birth beauty from what is ashes, untangle the knots of our own hearts and those of the world by help from your Hand, and be freed to water the wonder you’ve shed abroad as fervently as we labor to nurture what of your love lies within.