October 23, 2022
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
Matthew 22:37 ;1 Peter 4:4-5;9-10
We begin today a stewardship series, which often in church translates into raising money, which is an unfortunate mischaracterization. Steward is one of the most important words in the Bible that describes our primary identity as human beings. The word steward means manager. God calls us to manage all that God gives us.
We see this in the first chapter of the Bible…“So God created human beings…blessed them, and said, “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge…” (Genesis 1:27-28 GNT) This doesn’t mean we can run the earth the way we want. It means we are given the responsibility to manage creation the way God wants. We are called to steward everything God gives us.
But here’s the paradox about stewardship. You don’t have to be a person of faith to be a steward. Regardless of our faith or lack of faith in God, we all have resources in life to manage. We have our bodies, our souls, our minds, our relationships, our possessions, our potential, and more. Whatever we think about God, we are managing what we have. We make decisions everyday about the way we want to manage and use what we are given in this life. And the way we manage our resources says everything about what we value and believe about life.
In fact, this is sort of an inverse way of examining our beliefs and values. If you looked at how you manage your resources—again, not just your money, but everything you have from your body to your relationships to your time—what does it say is most important to you? That’s a really helpful question. If you look at how you take care of yourself, where your money goes, where your time goes, etc, what does that say is important to you?
Our stewardship tells a story, and somewhere in that story it reveals what we love most.
So this year’s series is going to be different from any stewardship series I’ve done. Its called Love to the Third Power, or Love-Cubed. The idea from a conversation I had about a month ago with Brady Whitton, the pastor of First UMC in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He described a series he did at his church based on Jesus great commandment, “You shall the love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
There are three loves being described here—love of God, love of neighbor and love of self. As I listened to him I thought how this strikes at the heart of stewardship, because stewardship is about love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” Loving and giving go hand in hand. To talk about stewardship is to talk about what we love most, and to be healthy and live well, is to love God, love others, and love ourselves. And I want to invite us to do the three things every day Brady Whitton invited his congregation in Baton Rouge to do:
--Do one thing every day to cultivate intimacy with God.
--Do one thing every day to serve someone else.
--And do one thing every day that is good for YOU.
Now, because for a lot of Christians that last one can be the hardest to practice, that is where I want us to start this series, with the Love of Self. SO let’s hear our scripture reading for this morning…
One of the most counter-intuitive messages to the Christian faith is to love one’s self. We are taught that our number one goal is to love, and we should. And then next is loving others. Both of these usually involve a lot of stuff we are to do. So that giving attention to ourselves feels almost anti-Christian. Even if we allow this thought, it might be okay as long as it comes last. But a genuine love of God should deepen a love for ourselves, and and a love for others should be an outcome of loving ourselves.
This passage from first Peter is one that describes the church. Peter reminds people how significant they are by helping them see themselves as part of God’s holy temple. But, of course, the temple is not the focus in the New Testament. The church isn’t a building, it’s people. And really appreciating what Peter has to say comes down to understanding his words in a personal way. So let’s think about how God wants us to think about ourselves using some of Peter’s words.
First, You are a chosen people. You are chosen! You are wanted. You are sought after.
Remember being in elementary school during recess when you played games like kickball. The teacher would pick two captains who would take turns choosing players. And often it would come down to the same people who got chosen last. I remember a teacher who one time chose as the captain a kid who was regularly the last one picked. Now he got to be captain. Who was the first person he chose? The captain who never picked him, because what happened for the next few minutes is the former captain would whisper in his ear who he needed to pick next. Because for a few minutes he was in a position to feel important. The highly favored kid needed him. At least for a few minutes he got to feel special to someone whose acceptance he always wanted. Of course, as soon as the game began, he was a nobody again. But for a few minutes he could experience acceptance.
The desire to be accepted by others is a powerful force. When we don’t feel it, we can become depressed or withdraw from people to avoid any further feelings of disapproval. Or sometimes, we can so overcompensate to the point of arrogance and bravado that distances us from others.
But God wants us to know, that in God’s eyes we are accepted. God chooses us.
In the New Member class we talk about three identities of being a Christian: a child of God, a disciple of Christ, and a Servant. And I usually spend the most time talking about the first one, because it is often the hardest for people to accept. We will work on being the other two—being a good follower, being a good servant, but without the first identity, of feeling accepted as a child of God, the other activities become a way of trying to earn approval. And that is treadmill that never stops.
John Quincy Adams served with distinction as president, senator, congressman, envoy to European powers, along with numerous critical roles in the American Revolution. But at 70 years old he wrote: “My whole life has been a succession of disappointments. I can scarcely recollect a single instance of success in anything I ever undertook.” (Charles Sell, Unfinished Business, Multnomah, 1989, p. 233.)
The search for significance can be a depressing journey if it doesn’t start with believing what God says about us. And if you ever doubt it just look at the cross and understand that what that symbol means is God looks at you and says, “You’re to die for you!” That’s how valuable you are to God.
Something else Peter says, “You are living stones.” Peter is talking about the stones of the temple. The temple was the place of God’s dwelling. When the temple was first bult by King Solomon, the cloud representing Gods presence was so thick the priests couldn’t do their work. Still to this day, the stones of this ancient temple mount are believe to contain the divine presence.
On our recent trip to the Holy Land, two Sundays ago we visited the Western Wall, the only accessible point to the ancient Temple of Jerusalem which Jews can get to today. (picture) This is sacred territory. This is the nearest Jews can get to the stones that are connected to the Divine Presence of God. So people put prayers in these stones. They touch the stones as they pray because this connects you to God.
Peter says we are living stones. God made us with a right fit to be a part of spiritual temple that holds the presence of God. God wants to dwell through us. We each have a fit, a right fit God uses to communicate God’s presence.
The other day our staff had a luncheon and we were each invited to share what books we’re reading right now. I was at a table with Crystal Hensley, our Specials Needs Ministry Coordinator. She shared a books she’s reading called, My Body Is Not a Prayer Request:Disability Justice in the Church. It is about a woman who has suffered neurological disorders throughout her life and what it was like not to fit in at schools and even church. She writes as a Christian to talk about what God says about our bodies and how we are all created with purpose and ability to make a difference. Just because we are created different doesn’t mean we aren’t created just as God would have us. We all are made to make a difference.
I believe the Apostle Peter would have been glad to write an endorsement for a book like that, because this is what Peter means by living stones. It sounds like a contradiction. Stones aren’t living. They are dead. Sometimes that’s how we feel. Dead. Useless. Invisible. But God wants to give us life, life that comes from God living in us, using us.
For my devotions right now I am using a Two-Year Devotional Bible that divides up the entire Bible into daily readings for 2 years. I bought my copy at the Half-Price Books store because I am cheap. So someone else, or others, have used this book before me. There are only three things written in pencil by a previous owner. The readings start Day 1 with Genesis one, and someone wrote in pencil, August 14, 2006 “First Day of School.” I thought, how neat, a student had this Bible before me. The second writing on the next day, “August 15, 2006.” The last thing written in this Bible is on Day 3 where the story is about Adam and Eve hiding from God in the Garden of Eden. It says, “I try to hide.”
I just wonder about the young person who had this before me. Did that person find any hope? Did these pages help him or her find encouragement in God? Because God would want them to know, God comes looking for us. God never forgets about us. God wants us to be found, and noticed, and worthy, and useful.
And so one last thing to note in Peter’s words, and honestly we could spend hours probing all that is said in these verses and the implications for us, but just one other observation. Peter says, “You are a Royal Priesthood.” This builds on the idea of being a living stone. Peter turns the analogy from the temple that contains God’s presence to the ones who served in the temple. Priests did two things:
1. They could go directly before God. They could stand in God’s presence.
2. They represented God to the people. They had the responsibility of communicating God’s presence to others. It was their job to help others know they are accepted, forgiven, blessed.
The Latin word for priest is “bridge.” Peter says we are meant to be God’s bridges to the world. We find our acceptance and value is allowing God to use us to be a bridge to those who feel hidden and lost and unworthy; those without hope and maybe without the hope of finding hope.
You see, loving yourself is not about being selfish. It is not about making the world revolve around you. Just the opposite. It means understanding that you are found worthy by God to be God’s royal priest, God’s bridge to others. And the only way we can share worth and value is to know that ourselves.
Loving our own lives is actually what makes us lifesaving to the world.