Life is a Trust

Luke 12:48

48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Last Sunday in the introduction to my sermon I brought to you a question that James, the half-brother of Jesus, asks in the 4th chapter of his New Testament epistle when he says, “What is your life?”  He answers that question by using an interesting metaphor.  He says: “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes,” an obvious reference to the brevity, uncertainty, and unpredictability of life.  And then I mentioned some other metaphors that people have come up with to describe their lives, like a roller coaster ride, a journey, a puzzle, and a deck of cards where you have to play whatever hand you’re dealt.

Well, since then I’ve given some more thought to those metaphors and I’ve come up with a couple of others that you might be able to identify with.  For example, how about this one: Life is sometimes one giant masquerade party.  Do you have any idea what I mean by that?  So often we wear masks when we’re out in public so that people can’t see what’s really going on inside of us.  Someone asks you how you’re doing and you reply, “Great!” when in fact you’re dying on the inside.

Or how about this metaphor: Life is a race.  Do I hear any Amens to that?  Do you ever feel like when you put your shoes on in the morning you’re actually putting on running shoes as you dart and dash your way through the day – getting yourself ready, getting the kids ready and off to school, getting to your job on time, meeting all the demands and deadlines that that job brings with it, hurrying home to grab a bite to eat at suppertime, then maybe helping the kids with their homework or heading to church for a meeting or going the fitness center for a good workout, until finally you collapse into bed at night, completely exhausted from the marathon that you’ve been running all day in the hopes that you can get maybe 5 or 6 hours of sleep so you can start the race all over again the next day.

Well, it’s kind of fun to think up these metaphors that try to answer the question, “What is your life?”  And while last week we used Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 10:13 to primarily explore the metaphor that life is a test, I want to spend our time this morning taking a look at another metaphor that the Bible uses and that is that life is a trust.

This concept begins with one very basic understanding.  And that is that God is the owner of everything.  Ps. 24:1 puts it this way: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  In I Chron. 29:14 David acknowledged this fundamental truth of life when he declared to God: “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”  What that means, my friends, is that our time on earth, our energy, our intelligence, our opportunities, our relationships, our resources, and everything else we have are all gifts from God that he has entrusted to our care and management.  In other words, we never really own anything during our brief stay on this earth.  God just loans these things to us while we are here.  It was his property before you arrived and it will remain his property after you depart, at which time he will loan it to someone else.  You just get to enjoy it for a while.

Remember when God created Adam and Eve, he placed them in the midst of that beautiful garden, but not just to sit around all day and do nothing.  Rather in Gen. 2:15 we’re told: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”  So the first job God gave human beings was to take care of God’s stuff on earth.  And guess what, my friends?  That role, that responsibility has never been rescinded.  It is one of the purposes we are to fulfill as we live what we’ve been calling in this sermon series a good news life in a bad news world.  Everything we have, everything we enjoy, everything we are is to be treated as a trust that God has placed in our hands.

Makes me think of many years ago when my family and I were living in Naples, Florida, one couple from our congregation allowed us to stay in their beachfront condominium for a few days.  It was located just north of Naples at Ft. Myers Beach.  It was something that I’m sure we could have never afforded at the time, so we really appreciated it and enjoyed it immensely.  They told us to use it like it was ours, so we did.  We sat out on the balcony that overlooked the Gulf of Mexico.  We watched their TV’s.  We used their refrigerator, their microwave, their cooking utensils, their dishes, and their bath towels.  And because we knew all along that it wasn’t really ours, we took special care of everything.

Well, sadly we are living in a culture right now that often times says, “If you don’t own it, you don’t need to take care of it.”  Those of you who have ever had any rental property could probably share some interesting stories that would reflect that way of thinking.  But Christians live by a higher standard.  And that standard says that because God owns it, I must take the best care of it that I possibly can.  In 1 Cor. 4:2 the Apostle Paul drives this point home when he says: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”

Often times in the church we distinguish between 3 types of blessings that God has entrusted to us.  I call them the 3 T’s: our time, our talents, and our treasures.  So let me ask you, my friends, how well are you doing at managing those areas of your life.  Let’s start with your time.  We’ve already talked about how easy it is to fill our days with an endless run of activities and busyness that our time becomes a very precious commodity.  And sometimes we even pride ourselves on how much time we spend doing those things, especially when it comes to our work.  Pastors are notorious for this and I have to confess that I’ve been guilty of it myself, sometimes even neglecting my family in the process.  And though I still struggle with balance in this area, the one thing that has been the greatest comfort to me is that not even Jesus met all the demands that were placed upon him.  In Luke 5:15-16 we’re told: “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.  But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  

Now let me ask you, my friends.  If Jesus needed to spend time alone and time away from the hectic pace of life that dogged him everywhere he went, what makes you think you can get by just fine without doing the same?  Now I know what some of you are thinking, “But you don’t understand, Pastor.  I’ve got all these things to do and all these people clamoring for my attention.  I’ve got bills to pay and deadlines to meet and kids to chauffeur and clothes to wash and groceries to buy.”   I know… and I know it’s tough.  And sometimes I think all we need is permission from someone to just sit down, relax, and catch our breath.  So by the authority invested in me as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I now authorize, deputize, and give you permission to slow down, to say no at times, to not even think you can do it all, and to follow the example of Jesus who managed his time so wisely.

There! Does everyone feel better now?  By the way, an interesting thing happened while I was working on this part of my sermon.  I had an e-mail come in on my computer, so I checked to see what it was.  I couldn’t believe it.  It contained a story that fit so well with what I was writing about that I just had to include it in my sermon, even though it will lengthen it by a couple of minutes.  Read “The Brick…” (see at the end of this sermon)

Well, let’s move on to the 2nd of the 3 T’s, namely, our talents.  God has entrusted each one of us with talents and abilities, or what the Bible calls spiritual gifts, which he then expects us to use in ways that are pleasing to him and that benefit his kingdom.  I Peter 4:10-11 puts it this way: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”

Now of course this brings up the question, what is your spiritual gift?  And I would like to answer that question with another question.  What are you good at doing and what do you enjoy doing?  What do you find easy to do that others may find difficult to do?  Maybe you’re good at writing or speaking.  Maybe you’re good at working with your hands, at fixing things.  Maybe God has blessed you with a beautiful voice or the ability to play a musical instrument.  Maybe you’re good at working with numbers or at relating to toddlers or teens.  Maybe you’re a great cook or you love to entertain people in your home, what the Bible calls the gift of hospitality.  The list of spiritual gifts is endless.  The key is to take whatever gift or gifts you have and use them not for your own selfish purposes or self-promotion, but in ways that are pleasing to God, that glorify him, and that benefit others.

And that takes us to the final of the 3 T’s, namely, our treasures.  This is where it gets tough because oh how we like to hang on to our treasures.  Martin Luther once said that the last part of a person to be converted is his pocketbook.  And I believe there’s a lot of truth to that because while we are more than happy to receive all the spiritual blessings that Jesus earned for us and that God loves to shower upon us – his forgiveness, his grace, his salvation, and so on – we are often times less than willing to return a proper and pleasing portion of our material blessings to him for his use.  Yet we know that we can’t take it with us, right?  I always used to tell people that you’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul, but then someone sent me this picture in an e-mail…

And yet it’s true.  We can’t take any of our earthly possessions with us when we die.  Remember the book of Ecclesiastes that we looked at a couple of weeks ago in my sermon.  Well, in chapter 2, verses 18 and 19, wise old Solomon writes: “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.”

So since we can’t take our money and material possessions with us, why not use them here and now to bring glory to the One who not only gave them to us as a trust in the first place, but who gave us far more than that when he offered up his own Son Jesus Christ on the altar of Calvary’s cross as the supreme sacrifice and payment for all of our sins.  And I want to take this opportunity to commend many of you for doing just that.  Every October when we set our budget for the coming year, I have to confess I get a bit anxious as I wonder how in the world we’re going to meet that budget.  And yet, thanks to the generosity of so many of you, we somehow to do it over and over again.   In fact, we are one of the few churches I know of that doesn’t really struggle financially.  Praise God for that!  Praise God that so many of you have been managing your money wisely and well so that you can give so generously to him.  May we all continue to do so in order that the work he gives us here at Salem Lutheran might never be hampered or hindered because of a lack of financial resources.

So last week we learned that life is a test.  Today we found that life is a trust.  Two weeks from today we’ll discover that life is a…rather than me telling you I guess you’ll just have to come to find out as we continue to explore how to live a good news life in a bad news world.  Until then, may the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding keep your hearts and minds firmly anchored to the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ, at all times.  Amen.

The Brick

The story goes:

A young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something.

As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick smashed into the Jag’s side door! He slammed on the brakes and backed the Jag back to the spot where the brick had been thrown.

The angry driver then jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, “What was that all about and who are you? Just what do you think you’re doing? That’s a new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?”

The young boy was apologetic. “Please, mister…please, I’m sorry but I didn’t know what else to do,” he pleaded. “I threw the brick because no one else would stop…” With tears dripping down his face and off his chin, the youth pointed to a spot just around a parked car. “It’s my brother, “he said. ”He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair and I can’t lift him up.”

Now sobbing, the boy asked the stunned executive, “Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt and he’s too heavy for me.”

Moved beyond words, the driver tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He hurriedly lifted the handicapped boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and dabbed at the fresh scrapes and cuts. A quick look told him everything was going to be okay. “Thank you and may God bless you,” the grateful child told the stranger. Too shook up for words, the man simply watched the boy push his wheelchair-bound brother down the sidewalk toward their home.

It was a long, slow walk back to the Jaguar. The damage was very noticeable, but the driver never bothered to repair the dented side door. He kept the dent there to remind him of this message: “Don’t go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!” God whispers in our souls and speaks to our hearts. Sometimes when we don’t have time to listen, He has to throw a brick at us. It’s our choice to listen or not.