October 24: Restore (4/4)

October 24: Restore (4/4)

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Audio of scripture reading and sermon only

Sermon: Restore

Other messages in this series:

Scriptures: Genesis 33:1-17; John 21:1-19

True or false: stewardship is all about money? Answer: False.

The word itself—stewardship—means ‘taking care of something.’ By this definition, a steward is one who takes care of whatever it is they’re responsible for. But there’s a little more to it than that. And that’s because the core meaning of stewardship is protecting and, at times, expanding assets which belong to another. By this definition, then, a steward is one’s who’s responsible for taking care of and protecting someone else’s stuff. For example, these days, an executor of an estate or a durable power of attorney function as a steward in that they’re responsible for overseeing and managing someone else’s property, or their financial and/or medical affairs.

Did you know this concept of stewardship was built into Creation itself? It’s found in Genesis chapter 1. According to the Judeo-Christian Creation story, everything in our world was already in place when God finally called humanity into existence. And when that happened, we were given the important job of stewarding everything God had already created and put into place. Here’s how Genesis 1:26-28 describes it:

God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.” God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground” (emphasis added).

According to Genesis 1, you and I were created for the purpose of taking care of God’s property. God made the world, and so it belongs to him. You are I are its stewards; we have the responsibility of caring for the world to the best of our ability. And yes, this means things like doing what we can to minimize pollution; to implement best-practices when it comes to farming and soil management; and to create and follow policies which strive to make our world a safe and enjoyable place for everyone to live.

So, all of this is to say, when we talk about Christian stewardship, we’re talking about protecting and, at times, expanding assets which belong to God. And one of the tenets of our faith is that the world and everything in it belongs to God. Now, the “everything in it” aspect of the world includes not only the stuff of creation—people, animals, water, land, etc.; the thing we can see and touch—but also the means by which all those things relate to one another. And most important among those relationships is the relationship between persons. I think the manner in which we human beings relate and connect to one another, both individually and en masse, “belongs to” God. When we do it well—treating persons with respect, showing grace, serving them with humility—then we’re being good stewards of the gift of those relationships. And in so doing, God is glorified. On the flip side, when we allow ourselves to preserve and maintain those broken and sinful aspects of our relationships with others, then we’re being poor stewards of the gift of those relationships, and God’s not glorified.

This is the thinking behind the title for today’s sermon, Restore. The main purpose of this particular stewardship campaign is to help you identify those aspects of your personal life story and, yes, your money story in particular, which has gotten out of alignment with God’s story of [spiritual] freedom and liberation so that you can consciously realign yourself with God. Each week gave you an action to take in order to get to that point. Weeks one and two focused on our personal money stories.

Week 1: Remember. I encouraged you to “remember” God’s actions of mercy and grace, and then to apply those truths to your own broken stories.

Week 2: Release. I encouraged you to release and let go of those elements of your money story which have prevented you from fully living into God’s story.

Week 3: Reimagine. Last week our focus shifted to our congregation’s money story. I tried to help us reimagine the nature and purpose of our shared ministry. It was my hope that we might begin to understand that “the moral to [our congregation’s money] story” is that it’s our purpose to provide for people in ways that our current system fails to provide.

Remembering God’s story leads to releasing the unhealthy aspects of our own stories, after which we’re able to reimagine something new for ourselves.

This brings us today, in which we’re called to consciously and proactively restore ourselves (through the power of the Holy Spirit) to a life of faithful and God-honoring stewardship. And it’s my contention that practicing faithful stewardship has the power to heal those broken parts of our individual spirits; and it can help us restore relationships with others, including many of the people who live in the immediate vicinity of our church building.

Let’s take a look at two stories in the Bible where the restoration of a personal relationship with another got them back into alignment with God’s story of wholeness, which then allowed them to live into God’s purposes. The first is about the brothers Esau and Jacob, fraternal twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah whose relationship broke down relatively early in life. Like many fraternal twins, they were unlike each other in most ways—physically, emotionally, and their personal interests and skills. Three main factors contributed to the collapse of their relationship. The first was Jacob’s selfishness and shrewdness, which he used to his own advantage and to Esau’s disadvantage. In one situation, Jacob “stole” his Esau’s legal birthright (which meant that he, not Esau, would inherit their father’s property upon Isaac’s death), and in another instance, Jacob tricked their father into giving him, not Esau, his final life blessing. For Esau, losing his father’s blessing was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. He made it known that upon their father’s eventual death, he would hunt down and kill his brother, Jacob. Fearing for his life, Jacob bolted and never looked back.

painting of Jacob and Esau hugging in reconciliation
Italian School; The Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau; Walker Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-reconciliation-of-jacob-and-esau-97058

Fast forward twenty years. Both have built up lives of their own and haven’t seen each other the whole time. Jacob now has a large family and a huge flock of his own. And as it is, he’s decided to move his family and everything he owns to a new place, and the place he’s heading is close to where his brother, Esau, lives. When Esau catches wind of this, he gathers together a group of people and heads out to meet Jacob. When Jacob hears that Esau’s on his way out to meet him—with a group of people—he assumes his brother is about to exact the revenge he swore he get twenty years earlier. So, Jacob does everything he can think of to appease his brother’s anger which, to his great surprise, was not necessary. Because during that intervening time, Esau had forgiven Jacob. When they finally met face-to-face, Esau informs his brother that despite the fact that he’d lost their father’s life blessing, he nevertheless led a very blessed life and had everything his heart could ever want.

On the surface, it looks as though Esau and Jacob’s relationship has been restored. But a closer reading of the story reveals that the restoration was only 1-sided. Esau has fully forgiven Jacob, but Jacob doesn’t fully trust his brother’s favor toward him to continue for long, and so he makes excuses to avoid traveling with Esau’s company, and he further evades Esau’s attempt to put his own men among Jacob’s bands.  Finally, instead of following Esau at a distance to Seir, which he told his brother he’d do, he instead goes to Succoth and then to Shalem. At some point after their encounter, when it was clear that Jacob had headed in different direction than he said he would, Esau must have realized that his brother had never stopped his practice of deceiving people, which meant that he still lived life distrusting others. To a degree, he was still living into those broken and sinful aspects of his relationships. But the same was no longer the case for Esau. For reasons we’re not told, he must have taken a long hard look at his broken relationship with his brother and decided that that wasn’t going to define him. And so, he let go of that resentment, which enabled him to fully love his brother. While Jacob wasn’t fully restored to Esau, Esau on the other hand was able to relate to Jacob in a manner which reflected the power of restoration.

The second story from the Bible is when Peter’s relationship with Jesus is restored, again through the act of giving and receiving forgiveness. Most of us know the back story. Before the events which led up to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, Peter publicly declared that he’d die for Jesus. But within days, when given the opportunity to follow-through on that promise, he reneged and instead denied even knowing Jesus three times. After the third denial, Peter realized what he’d done and immediately grieved his failure. Luke tells us he wept bitterly (Luke 22:62).

Image of Jesus and Peter walking and talling on the beach
Jesus asking Peter if he loves him

Fast forward a few weeks. The resurrected Jesus is enjoying some fellowship with his disciples on the beach when he pulls Peter aside and three times asks him, “Do you love me?” to which Peter responds each time, “Yes, you know that I love you!” (John 21:15ff.).  And each time Jesus calls him back into relationship with himself and ministry as his disciple. “If you love me, Peter, then feed my lambs…take care of my sheep…feed my sheep.” Three times Peter denied Jesus, and later on, three times he affirmed his love for Jesus. The relationship was restored, and fully cemented on Pentecost, when Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and stood up and preached to a crowd who’d gathered to see what the commotion was all about. In response to his first sermon, three thousand people professed faith in Jesus Christ.

These two stories invite us to think about the role of restoration in our own lives. Off the top of my head, I could name at least a hand-full of times when the conscious and intentional restoration of a broken relationship was very healing for me—and the other person. I know I’ve told you this story, but it’s still a good example. So, for those who haven’t heard it, as a family, we kind of joke about it now, but one time, when Rachel was 4 or 5 years old, we were traveling back to Mackinaw City from a day in Ontario and became so frustrated with Rachel’s prolonged complaining about a Barbie we’d just bought her that we both lost it. We were on the Mackinac Bridge when it happened. One of us threatened roll down the window and throw the Barbie over the Bridge. Immediately, you could see from the look on her face that we had just crushed her spirit and filled her little heart with fear and anxiety. Yes, she stopped complaining, but we could also tell that if we didn’t make amends, that would leave a huge scar on her heart. And so, when we got home we sat her down and apologized as best as we could to a 4 or 5 year old. As God is my witness, that apology restored a broken part of our relationship with Rachel that we’d created with our anger. Had we not done that—had we maintained our “right” to verbally scold her for her disrespectful behavior toward us—I’m certain that deep down that would have had a negative consequence on our relationship with her.

We’ve been empowered by the Sprit of God to take up the same work given to Peter: to look out for, take care of, and protect the people God cares about.

If stewardship can be thought of as the protection of those things which belong to God but for which we’ve been given responsibility, then I say we have the important task of protecting and keeping healthy our relationships, because those relationships truly are a gift from God. And guess what? One of the relationships we have in this world is with the people in our community and our neighborhood!

In response to being restored to the fold, what did Jesus invite Peter to do? He invited Peter to spend his life looking out for, taking care of, and protecting people.

Friends, we’re just like Peter. Like him, we’ve been forgiven, and by God’s grace we’ve received unto ourselves that healing forgiveness. And in response, we’ve been empowered by the Sprit of God to take up the same work given to Peter: to look out for, take care of, and protect the people God cares about. And if there’s one cross-section of humanity that God cares the most about, in biblical terms, it’s the “widows and orphans.” The people on the fringe, often overlooked and underserved, who have little-to-no power or influence, and who are often the least able to fend for themselves.

Our story must include them. Serving them and inviting them into relationship with us and relationship with Jesus Christ. If we look around, it’s easy to see that our own faith community is by and large socio-economically homogenous. For the most part, we look the same and talk the same and, yes, smell the same. We come from similar life backgrounds and have the same basic life experiences. This makes me wonder if there’s an aspect of our church’s relationship with the community at-large which is broken and needs restoration, or simply non-existent. Either way, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that both we and the community in which we live might experience some transforming healing by the Holy Spirit were we to intentionally work to be in relationship with those who, quite frankly, are not just like us.

As you consider your own money story, when it comes to your giving, my hope is that you’ll be motivated by a desire to actively participate in a ministry which seeks to affirm God’s sacred image in each and every person out there and, above all, is committed to the mission of developing new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ. I hope that as you consider how you’ll support this church’s ministries for 2022, you’ll include in that a commitment to regularly pray for our church, especially our leaders and staff, that they would be faithful in their service. And I hope that as you faithfully live into your support in the year ahead, in whatever manner that support looks like, you will also commit to growing and maturing in your own relationship with Jesus Christ and your relationships with the people you know and love.

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