A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, November 10, 2013
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Today’s text contains the theme for this year’s stewardship campaign – “Found Faithful.” Actually the New Revised Standard Version we read this morning says “found trustworthy.” Trustworthy doesn’t carry the same theological weight that the word faithful does, but it still makes Paul’s point about the deep and abiding connection that is an essential element of good stewardship. Giving grows, at its best, from that faithful, trusting relationship we hold with the God in whom we live and move and have our being, and in the Christ who leads the way to God.
The theme “Found Faithful,” while a good one for a stewardship campaign is not exactly what Paul is trying to say in this passage. Paul is concerned about the Corinthian church, about its divisions, about its backsliding, about its failure to live into the gospel as he had so carefully laid it out for them. He also was feeling a little defensive about the way some of the Corinthian Christians had bad-mouthed him in the process of doing church their own way.
“Think of us this way,” he says of himself and Apollo, “as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” As apostles, as missionaries, as people who had given over their entire lives to the building up of the body of Christ, they were entitled to a little respect. And writing to a group of people who would understand the steward’s role in the maintenance of a well-run Graeco-Roman household, the vision of a trustworthy or faithful steward would be a standard they could all affirm and easily embrace. So the moral is a simple one, Paul and Apollo have been trustworthy, faithful stewards of the body of Christ and the mysteries of God, so should the Corinthian Christians be, so should all God’s children, Christ’s followers, be in all places and all times. That means us, folks. Through thick and thin, joy and pain, good times and challenging ones, through it all, we are called to be faithful followers of Christ and trustworthy stewards of the reign of God.
Now our stewardship theme is further spelled out in terms of three areas in which we might be found faithful. First, the people who developed these stewardship materials suggest that we need to be “Found Faithful in Little.” I like this emphasis. We are all familiar with Jesus’ saying about the way the big old mustard bush grows from the tiniest little seed. We remember that day in Sunday School when we were given a little seed to plant in a paper cup. We were to water and nurture it in hope that it would grow into some sort of recognizable plant. If we were patient and caring and faithful, the experiment worked more often than not. The illustration became a living thing.
The developers of the program use John’s account of the feeding of the 5000 to illustrate this aspect of the theme. 5000 men, not counting the thousands of women and children who accompanied them, were gathered on that hillside to listen to Jesus. They were so enwrapped in the grace of his words and the power of his presence that they lost track of time. Their stomachs began to growl; they realized they hadn’t eaten all day. But there was no McDonald’s or Burger King or Subway on the corner.
Jesus turned to Philip and asked, “Where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat?” Poor old Philip, caught off guard by the question, finally manages to sputter, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Of course, his economics are spot on. It’s a hopeless task that Christ has set before him. But Andrew, who is perhaps a little less practical than Philip, suggests to Jesus that there is a boy present with a boy-sized lunch of five small barley loaves and two little fish. “But what are they among so many people?” Well, you know the rest of the story, when Jesus blesses and breaks the bread there is enough to feed the crowd with 12 baskets of leftovers (John 6:1-21).
Hermann Weinlick tells this story about the importance of keeping faith in small ways. He writes, “My sister had been recently widowed and was now living alone, more than a thousand miles from me, the relative with whom she had the most contact and closest relationship. She asked me to do her a favor: to send her an email every day. I said yes and did what she asked. This was a little thing—often only a few words, sometimes something forwarded that I had received from someone else, sometimes about a conversation with a friend, sometimes about what I was doing. I did it for about a year and a half, until her death.” He concludes, “Life is made of little things. We are shaped by little things, little things that add up” (Hermann Weinlick, “Companion Resource for the ‘Found Faithful’ Stewardship Emphasis,” p. 19-21). Found faithful in little can make a world of difference in the life of an individual or family or community in which there is need.
Then we are reminded to be “Found Faithful with Much.” As we are capable of being faithful stewards in little things and small ways, we are also people who have been blessed with much. Surely this is evident when we think of the resources we have, living where we live, compared to folk in the rest of the world. Think today of those in the Philippines and Vietnam or Balasore Technical School or even our neighbors on the other side of the freeway. We are called to be faithful servants of Christ and trustworthy stewards of the reign of God with the much we have been given.
Here we might draw on the parable of the talents as recounted by Luke. “Well done, good slave, because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities” (Luke 19:17), because you have proved faithful with much, I will give you more. So says the king to the servant who has taken all that she has been given and made it worth so much more.
The problem I sometimes have with this parable is that the servants who do well seem, at least partly, motivated by the fact that their master is a harsh and demanding man. They respond in fear. In the economy of God, I would rather think that I might give much for my faith because what I have has been given to me in faith. I take that with which you have entrusted me, O God, and multiply it in the joy of being your faithful servant and trustworthy steward.
Herman Weinlick again writes of the parable, “We usually think of this parable of the talents as about money. But it is really about much more. It is about the varied gifts God has given to all of us and how they can multiply when we put them to work.” And he concludes, “So much of Jesus’ words and his life with his closest followers is about reminding them of how much they can do, how much they can be used by God in continuing the work of Jesus in bringing God’s healing and reconciling touch, when they are faithful stewards of what God has given them.”
Then there is “Found Faithful with All.” Here we are reminded of Matthew’s stories of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).
God’s reign is of such value that it is worth risking all to invest in its coming. Those who are faithful stewards of all they have will know the joy of God’s gracious welcome into that realm. The money, the stuff, the material resources we accumulate are nothing compared to the treasure hidden in the field or the pearl of great price that is God’s reign on earth. It is worth everything.
Once more Weinlick tells this tale. “I have two friends who, in different cities, lead intentional communities: persons who live under one roof, share space, share income, and try to minister in their neighborhood. They do this because they understand all things as a gift from God. They do this because they are trying to live in solidarity with their neighbors who are poor or homeless.” Ironically this is may be precisely what that treasure in the field, that pearl of great price, the kingdom of heaven, looks like, if we have eyes to see.
Writing also of the early church described in Acts in which “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32), Weinlick says, “…such communities, both in the first century and now, remind us that we are responsible, as stewards, to be faithful, to use well all that we have, including money.” “We give thee but thine own, whate’er the gift may be; all that we have is thine alone, a trust, O God from thee.”
So we are in that season of the year when we are asked if we will be found faithful – in little, making the most of the smallest resource that we have; with much, sharing from our abundance with those in need; with all, recognizing that all we have and are is rooted and ground in the grace and generosity of God who made us in God’s own image with that same possibility of grace and generosity. Will we be able to claim, with Paul, that we are faithful servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries who have been found trustworthy? For with the blessings we bless, we will be blessed. Amen.