"Stewards of Faith"
John 11:1-45

By Fred Johnsen
Teaching Parish Seminarian Student

As your teaching parish student part of the class requirement is to preach a couple of times at Trinity. While looking at some dates I could preach, Pastor Brie and I decided that today would be a good choice. Since it's Stewardship Sunday and stewardship is a good thing, I thought, "Sure OK. Sounds good."

A number of days later between studying Systematic Theology and Reformation History, I actually looked at the texts. What I said was anything but, "Sure, OK. Sounds good." As I held today's texts in my hand I wondered, "What in the world does this have to do with stewardship?

We have Old Testament text speaking of a valley full of dry bones with Ezekiel running hither and yon prophesying, as the Lord commanded. We have a psalm where David or perhaps one of his contemporaries waits upon the Lord's forgiveness and redemption. In the Epistle text we have a short discourse on being of the spirit rather than of the flesh.

And now we come to the Gospel - the familiar story of Jesus raising Lazarus despite his friend being dead four days. I wondered, what is one to do with these texts when looking at stewardship? Unlike the parables of The Ten Talents or the Wise and Faithful Servant, there is no mention of vineyards or households or money. If we take the traditional view of stewardship as watching over forms of earthly wealth then these texts seem to have little to do with holding in trust that which God has given us. But stewardship is more than watching over buildings and bank accounts. It's about wisely using all that God has given us. Unfortunately, when we look at all the gifts God has entrusted to us, the most overlooked gift is the most important. It's the gift that gives meaning to everything we are and everything we do as Christians. It's the gift of faith.

Luther saw very clearly that faith was a gift from the Lord. In the words of Luther's Small Catechism explaining the third article of the Apostles Creed, Luther states, "I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called through the Gospel, enlightened me with the gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith."

Theologian Gerhard Forde has defined faith as trust in God. In today's Gospel reading Jesus says: "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die will live."

In the original Greek text, in which the New Testament was written, the word for "I believe" can also be translation as "I trust." Too often we confuse faith in God with believing in the existence of God, but true faith begins when we fully trust in him to provide and protect.

In today's readings we don't see a simple belief that God exists, though this truly is part of our faith, but we see examples of trust in what God says and what God can do.

In our Old Testament reading Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy so that the bones of slain Israel would receive the spirit and then by receiving the "breath of God" would thereby receive new life. Ezekiel having faith in the Lord prophesied as commanded and the Lord delivered as promised.

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus shows us a great example of his trust in the Father when he doesn't immediately go to Lazarus, for he knows that Lazarus has not been abandoned, just as none of us will be abandoned. Jesus tells us:

"This illness does not lead to death."

So, what does it mean to be good stewards? For this we must leave the confines of Lectionary and look at the Parable of the Talents. In this story a man entrusted his three servants with specific sums of money in the form of silver "pounds" or "talents." Two of his servants are good stewards and return twice that of which they had been entrusted. The third servant fearing his master's wrath wrapped his talents in a napkin and did nothing with what he had been given. Because of his fear, he failed to be a good steward and in his failing, the master took everything. "I tell you," the master said "To everyone who has, more will be given, but for him who has not even what he has will be taken away."

As the parable shows, being a good steward is more than simply storing away earthly wealth. To be a good steward one must use wisely that which has been given in order that the master may profit. But, if we are to be good stewards of the earthly gifts, we must first be good stewards of the heavenly gifts of love, compassion, charity and especially faith. Without faith, fear will paralyze us and we will not be good stewards of all that God has given us.

We must not allow fear to dominate the use of what we have been given. We must not allow fear to keep us from reaching out to others despite the risks that might be involved, both financially and otherwise.

When we fail to exercise this gift of faith, fear rushes in. We fear that we will not add another zero to our bank accounts. We see good stewardship as growing nest eggs, but too often those nest eggs never hatches. We wait for a "rainy day" to use that which we have been given and we fail to see its usefulness while the sun is shining brightly.

How many well-intentioned councils, committees and boards within the body of Christ have failed to be good stewards of the earthly gifts because they failed to be good stewards of faith?

It is truly the work of Satan who deceives us and fills us with fear. He tells us that God cannot provide; God will not provide. He tells us that we must be God and; we must provide for ourselves. He tells us that we do not have enough and that we need to get more - just a little more. But that little more never comes. For fear of losing our ten talents, we wrap everything in a napkin.

Too often, if we act, we do so out of fear rather than trust. We do not embark on a project or program because we fear we will not have enough or that resources might be needed elsewhere. Satan has infected the church with the business model of Cost-Benefit Analysis. Too often we allow ourselves to be held captive by the Bottom Line.

But if we are wise stewards of our faith and we exercise this faith there is nothing we will fear. Again, we need to look at the words of Luther in his bold confession regarding faith. "Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times."

We must put our full trust in God, not to receive faith, but in response to having received it. To those who focus on the works of man, growing faith by simply trusting God might seem foolish, as foolish as the Cross seems to those who are lost, but through trusting in God, our faith will grow and from that faith he will be glorified.