“STEWARDS OF THE FAITH”

MATTHEW 28:16-20

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            Seven Sundays ago I begin this sermon series with two hopes.  First, I hoped that by the end of the series we would see ourselves as stewards.  I began the series by asking a question:  “When God thinks of you, what five words come to mind?” and I answered the question by naming the five words: Loved, forgiven, gifted, disciple, and steward.  I also said that I doubted if the word “steward” popped into our minds when we thought about ourselves, but I hoped that by the end of the series that word would describe how we see ourselves.

            My second hope was that we would see ourselves as stewards of more than money.  My hope was that by the end of the series we would see ourselves as stewards of the earth, stewards of our bodies, stewards of our gifts, stewards of our time, stewards of our character, stewards of our relationships, and stewards of the faith as well as stewards of our finances, and today we conclude our series by looking at our being called by God to be stewards of the faith.

            Does the name Wilfred Funk ring a bell?  If not, here’s a clue.  A dictionary.  Do you place the name now?  Yep, he was the editor of the Funk & Wagnalls dictionary, and at one time someone asked this purveyor of words to list the ten most expressive words in the English language.  Here’s what he came up with ...

 

            The most bitter word is alone.

            The most tender word is mother.

            The most tragic word is death.

            The most beautiful word is love.

            The most cruel word is revenge.

            The most peaceful word is tranquil.

            The saddest word is forgotten.

            The warmest word is friendship.

            The coldest word is no.

            The most comforting word is faith.

 

            You may take issue with his list, nevertheless we are going to turn our attention to Wilfred Funk’s most comforting word of all time: faith.  And more importantly we are going to delve into what it means being a good steward of the faith.

            Before we do that, however, I want to take a brief detour.  Did you know that in Scripture there is practically no effort made to describe faith?  Outside of a brief fourteen word definition from Hebrews 11:1, I know of no other biblical definition of faith.  And even there, faith is defined functionally, not philosophically.  Listen to how the author of Hebrews defined it:

 

            Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

 

            The Apostle Paul also takes a stab at defining faith.  In Ephesians he writes, “Faith ... is a gift of God,” and in Romans he tells us, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  So, the author of Hebrews describes faith operationally, how it operates, and Paul describes where it originates, but neither give a definition of the essence of faith.  In light of that I appreciate the words of Thomas Kempis who said, “I had rather exercise faith than know the definition thereof.” 

            So, since the Bible spends little time defining it, neither will I, other than sharing how a missionary named John Paton defined it.  Many years ago Paton began to translate the New Testament into the language of the indigenous folk he was trying to bring to Christ.  During the course of his work, Paton discovered that there was not native word for “faith.”   One day, as he struggled to resolve this translation problem, one of the indigenous tribesmen came into his office, tired from a hard day of physical labor.  The native flung himself on a chair, then stretched out and rested his legs on another chair.  Laying himself out full-length on the two chairs, he said something about how good it felt to lean his whole weight on those chairs.  Instantly, John Paton noted the word for “lean one’s whole weight on,” and he knew he had discovered the indigenous word for “faith.”

            That’s faith.  When things get tough, we lean our whole weight on Christ.  When things get crazy, we lean our whole weight on him.  Faith is leaning on the teachings, the person, the promises, the power of Jesus Christ.

            OK, the short detour is over.  Let’s turn back to our text for today.  The resurrected Christ calls the eleven - there used to be twelve, but Judas checked out - to a mountain in Galilee.  Some think it was the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.  Some think it was the Mount of Transfiguration, but Matthew doesn’t specify the specific mount.  All we know is that Jesus called the eleven together and told them to do three things with their faith.  If we want to be good stewards of the faith, we will do the same three things.

            First, we will go.  Verse 18,

 

            All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, go therefore ...

 

            Good stewards of the faith go.  They don’t sit, they go.  The don’t recline, they go.  They don’t stand, they go.  That is to say, good stewards get the word out about Jesus Christ.  They don’t wait for people to come to them, they go to people.  I love the words of a man named C.T. Studd, a brilliant young Englishman who gave away a fortune so that he might go to the forests of Africa.  Here’s how he described himself.  He said,

 

Some like to dwell

within the sound

of Church and chapel bell.

But I want to run a rescue shop

within a yard of Hell.

 

            Where did C. T. Studd. get his philosophy?  He got it from Christ.  He got up and went.  Contrast his philosophy with what happens in most churches.  Most church members sit and don’t go.  I think of a football coach’s obituary in the New York Times.  The obituary explained how in 1924, coach McCracken earned a spot in football lore.  Any football fans here?  Anyone ever hear of Coach McCracken?  He coached Lafayette, not exactly a football powerhouse these days, and do you know what he brought to football back in 1924?  He brought the huddle to football.  Hearing that Penn State had scouted his team’s previous five games and had memorized their offensive signals, he told his players not to signal the plays at the line of scrimmage, but to go back behind the line of scrimmage, huddle together, and in secret, tell one another the next play.

            What does this have to do with being a good steward of the faith?  Well, a Yale professor put it well.  He observed, “Many congregations look like a football huddle: you know that a very important conversation is going on, but all you ever see are the behinds.”

            Second, a good steward not only goes, but also a good steward makes.  Makes what?  A good steward makes disciples.

 

            Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

 

            Note how Jesus did not say, “Make church members.”  He said, “Make disciples.”  There is a big difference between membership and discipleship.  A disciple is one who follows Christ, who takes Christ seriously, but that is not necessarily the case with all church members.  I know this may surprise you, but did you know that some church members only worship occasionally?  Did you know some church members have not opened their bibles in a month?  Did you know that some church members do not contribute financially to the cause of Christ?  I hate to tell you these things, but it’s true.  Not all church members are like you.  There is a big difference between making disciples and making members.  The church is interested in membership, but Jesus is interested in discipleship.

            A number of years ago when we lived in Florida, we had a carpenter build in some book shelves and an entertainment center in our family room, and the most remarkable thing happened when we met with him for the first time.  He didn’t have a resume, but instead he had pictures of other bookshelves and entertainment centers he had built.  He said, “If there is something here you like, I can take you over to the house so you can see it in person.”

            That, by the way, is what a good steward of the faith can do.  He or she can point you to people that they have made into serious followers of Jesus Christ.  When God asks us, “Have you been a good steward of the faith,” we can say, “Here you be the judge.  Here’s someone I have taught about you.  Here’s another.  How’s the quality of my work?” 

            Finally, a good steward of the faith, remembers.  Verse 20,

 

            And, remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.

 

            It must have been a staggering thing for these eleven humble Galileans to be sent forth to conquer the world for Christ.  I suspect as they listened to the words, “Go,” and “Make,” their hearts failed them.  How were these hicks from Galilee going to turn the world on it’s ear, but no sooner were these two commands given, then a promise followed.  They were sent out, as we are sent out, with a greatest task in the world, but they also went out with the greatest presence in the world.

            Remember the famous missionary David Livingston?   Livingstone completely lost contact with the outside world for six years and was ill for most of the last four years of his life.  Henry Morton Stanley who had been sent to find him by the New York Herald newspaper in 1869, found Livingstone in the town of Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika on 27 October 1871, and greeted him with the now famous words "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" to which he responded "Yes, and I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you."

            Anyway, when asked what had sustained him all these years on the mission field, he said it was this promise that Jesus made to the eleven and ultimately to us, “And remember I am with you to the end of the age.”

            It was also said when Livingstone’s wife died in Africa, he helped prepare her body for burial, and he helped make the coffin, and he helped lower her in the grave, and he helped cover the coffin with earth, and then he opened his New Testament and he read this promise, “And lo I am with you always to the end of the age,” and after he read these words he turned to his African associates and said, “Jesus Christ is too much of a gentleman not to keep his word; let us get on with the task.”

            What did Livingstone do?  He leaned his whole weight on Jesus and then he went and continued making disciples.  Go.  Make.  Remember.  Amen.