Stewardship: Selflessness (Solomon)
1 Kings 3:4-28
Matt 6:9-10, 19-21
We are in the third week of a five week sermon series on Stewardship. Last week we talked about how a steward is someone who takes care of things for someone else. In the Christian tradition, we believe that God has given us all things. We are stewards of ourselves, our time, our talents, and our treasures (both money and things). We are also stewards of our responsibilities and our relationships. Last week we talked about how being a good steward means caring for ourselves, our time, our talents, our treasures, our responsibilities and our relationships with integrity. Today we will talk about stewardship as it relates to selflessness.
Being selfless in the Christian tradition does not mean neglecting ourselves or doing harm to ourselves. It means following Jesus, not our own desires. It means putting God at the center of our lives, so that God is our compass and nothing else. This is why, in Matthew 6, verses 9-10, when Jesus is teaching the disciples to pray, he says, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The whole orientation of the Lord’s prayer puts God first and foremost in our minds, and then asks, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When we think of all that God has given to us, ourselves, our time, our talents, our treasures, our responsibilities, and our relationships, our first prayer for our stewardship of it all should be, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
We see this approach to stewardship in our passage this morning about Solomon. Solomon is the king who succeeded David. At the beginning of his reign, Solomon received a request from God. Some interpreters think this may have been a test for Solomon. In verse 5, God appeared to Solomon in a dream “and God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.’” If it was a test, Solomon certainly passed it. In verse 9 he asks for the wisdom to discern between good and evil so that he could govern the people well. That is a selfless request. Solomon could have asked for riches, for military victory, etc., but he asks for the one thing he needs that will benefit his people the most. God recognized that and said to Solomon, starting in verse 10 where it says, “It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you.’”
God says that because Solomon asked for the wisdom to discern between good and evil, a selfless request that benefits his people, God also gives him wealth and honour. Now, Solomon did not perfectly govern or use the wealth God gave him selflessly throughout his reign. (https://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_podcast.aspx?podcast_id=1063)
But, even though he was not perfect and made mistakes in his life, his selfless request from God is still an inspiring model to us when we think about the stewardship of all that God has given to us. As Solomon contemplated the kingdom he inherited from his father, David, and the numerous people in his charge, his first instinct was to ask for wisdom to govern them well. When we think about ourselves, our time, our talents, our treasures; when we think about our responsibilities and our relationships, have we ever asked for wisdom in how to take good care of it all? Have we lifted all of those gifts from God back up to God and said with our whole hearts, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Have we approached our stewardship from the perspective of being servants of God’s will and God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? I think that often we approach our stewardship as if we are masters of all that God has given to us instead of recognizing that we are servants of God in our care of it. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
As I was reading around the Lord’s prayer as it appears in Matthew, I noticed that it is sandwiched between a passage about giving, and this passage we read about treasures. Connecting the Lord’s prayer with stewardship is something that Jesus was trying to do according to the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus said this in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” One of the things this means is practicing the spiritual discipline of generosity by giving money to support the ministries of the church, but that is only part of it. What this means on a broad scale is that if we are going to store up things for ourselves, that we should store up the currency of heaven and not stuff for ourselves. If our treasure is the currency of heaven, then our hearts will be found there, too. What is the currency of heaven? What does it look like for God’s kingdom to come on earth?
In Galatians 5:22-23 it says, “The fruit of the Spirit [in other words, the currency of heaven, evidence of the presence of God’s kingdom on earth] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things,” it says. If we are going to store up things for ourselves, we should store up these things, these treasures of heaven. Jesus means that if we are going to fill our lives with things, we should fill our lives with these things: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Because where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. If we store up these treasures of heaven, then they will fill our hearts and they will overflow into everything that God has given to us. When we think about caring for all that God has given us with selfless stewardship, when we think of ourselves, our time, our talents, our treasures, our responsibilities, and our relationships, do we care for them with an overflowing abundance of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Where our treasures are, there our hearts will be also. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is so important for us to be thinking and praying about, especially now. We saw last weekend what hate can do. The shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh hit close to home for me because we lived in Pittsburgh for 7 years, and frequented Squirrel Hill. I didn’t know the people who were killed, but I know people who knew them. I know people who spoke at the Memorial Service last Sunday and I know Rev. Susan Rothenberg whose protest of Trump’s motorcade went viral. I grieve with the worshipping family at Tree of Life Synagogue, and I grieve with the people of a city that I love and a country that I love. The hate crime itself was terrible, and the hate that motivated it was truly disturbing.
There were many inspiring and hopeful responses. The Memorial Service, the way that Jewish doctors and nurses cared for the shooter, and the special logo that the Pittsburgh Penguins used that includes that star of David and the slogan, “Stronger than hate.” But, an undercurrent of hate boiled over in response to Susan’s protest which was very disturbing. Regardless of what anyone thinks about her protest, the vitriol that followed it was unwarranted. As Rev. Sheldon Sorge, General Minister to the Pittsburgh Presbytery put it when he was writing about the video about my colleague, Susan, “The pent-up anger this has revealed is astonishing. Susan’s protest has had the effect of a breach in a dam, and the torrent of hate-filled speech it has unleashed is vast and truly alarming. Something is gravely wrong in our society, and the church needs to display an utterly alternative way of handling our differences.” This only one instance of many in which this has happened; it happens from the right, from the left, and from the middle. Hate has been given permission to overflow out of people’s hearts. Where is our treasure if hate overflows out of our hearts?
The Briarwood Book Club read the book Stolen Beauty in October which is a historical fiction novel based on the real lives of Adele Bloch-Bauer and Maria Altmann. Maria’s portion of the story takes place in Austria when the Nazis took over. The shooting at Tree of Life brought the rise of the Nazis to the forefront of my mind; that part of the book seemed apt when we discussed it last week. This story has also been turned into a movie and the actress who plays Maria, Helen Miren, added a line to the movie which was, “I have to do what I can to keep these memories alive, because people forget - especially the young.” We are forgetting that hate led to the Holocaust. We are forgetting that hate is poison that rots our hearts and destroys our communities. When we forget the horror of the rise of Nazism that led to World War II, we also forget how people opposed it, not in kind, but by bringing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to combat the evil around them. We forget how people were stewards of their time in history with selflessness. We forget examples of “an utterly alternative way of handling our differences.”
The 1936 Olympics were in Berlin, with Hitler in attendance and the Nazis rising to power. American Jews were not allowed to win medals that they earned, but one German athlete decided to respond to the hate of the Nazis with selfless stewardship. Luz Long was a long-jumper. He was competing against an African-American long-jumper named Jesse Owens. Owens fouled his first two jumps. Long, in defiance of Hitler, befriended Owens and gave him advice: start his final jump a few inches before the jump line. Owens took his advice and managed to qualify. During the competition, Owens won gold and Long won silver. Luz Long practiced selfless stewardship, by using his talents, his time, and sacrificing his gold medal to help Owens. He brought love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to that moment in those 1936 Olympic games. As we think of treasures on earth versus treasures in heaven, Owens said this about Long, “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn't be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War II.” Long’s friendship with Owens was an overflow of the treasures of heaven, more valuable than gold.
And while Long could not stop the outflow of hate from the leadership of his country, he never stopped practicing selfless stewardship of what God had given him. Before he died he wrote one last letter to Owens, requesting that Owens go to Germany. He wrote, “Someday find my Karl, and tell him about his father. Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we not separated by war. I am saying—tell him how things can be between men on this earth.” Owens fulfilled that request and became close friends with Long’s son, Karl, even becoming best man in his wedding. Long practiced selfless stewardship, passing on the treasures of heaven to his son through Owens.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to practice stewardship with selflessness. We are called to follow Jesus. We are called to store up treasures in heaven in our care of all that God has given to us. We are called to live lives that overflow with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Do we bear these fruits of the spirit as we care for ourselves, our time, our talents, our treasures, our responsibilities, and our relationships? Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.