The Foolish Stewardship of the Wise Men There is a bit more content in the audio, and I deviate a bit from the written words at the end. – Gil
On Wednesday, another year passed into history. 2013 was a year of transition for us, and we have faced and overcome some fairly significant challenges. We had the normal growing pains of learning a new leader’s style and I got to learn how to begin meshing my leadership style with the culture of Clackamas Park Friends Church. Conflict happened, and rather than brushing it under the rug or being passive aggressive, we as a body faced into it and learned that the sources of our conflicts were miscommunications rather than attempts to hurt each other. There have been a few hiccups, and we still have plenty of growth areas to work on, but I have to say that I appreciate the grace and poise with which this church is navigating this time of transition. You have done well, and we are stronger for it. The only questions we have looking forward are the same questions being faced by many churches, and those center around how we steward what God has entrusted to us. To help us think about our stewardship of the many gifts God has given us, I would like us to look at and consider the wise men who came to visit Jesus a couple of years after he was born.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matthew 2:1-12
Let’s start by looking at what the word stewardship means and implies from a biblical perspective. A steward in the time of Jesus was the equivalent of a property manager today. They were slaves entrusted with the daily operations of a wealthy household, managing the resources of that estate according to the priorities and goals of the owner. When we consider that cultural context we find that biblical stewardship is caring for what belongs to the Lord and using the Lord’s resources as Jesus himself would use them. It is not maximizing personal profit or personal goals, but is instead seeking first the kingdom of God and his way of being and doing what is right. That means maintaining an open line of communication with God to discern the use of resources, and acknowledging God’s ownership of everything we have. A few scriptures that tell of God’s ownership are:
1 Chronicles 29.11 Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.
Psalm 24.1: The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it
Psalm 89.11: The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it—you have founded them.
There are many more verses throughout the scriptures, but I want us to keep very firmly in our minds that everything we have has been entrusted to us by God for his purposes.
The three Magi or wise men or kings were the cutting edge minds of their time. These men would be like the chief engineers and mathematicians of our day, and they did the riskiest thing they could possibly do. They left everything behind to pursue a star. These men had great wealth, and they needed it to provide for their long journey, they had power and authority, their opinions were sought out by the mighty and powerful of their homelands. Would they have that same power after a journey of years? Would they survive the journey that was leading them into a contentious region of the brutal Roman Empire? These men were risking 100% of what was in their care on a star that wasn’t behaving in a normal fashion. These men had to have some understanding of the Jews, and it is theorized that they had access to the writings of Jews who had not returned from the Babylonian captivity. They had to know something about a coming of a Messiah, so when they saw a star just hovering to the East and worked their calculations and researched what signs and what events might be heralded in the East, they found reference to the prophecies of the Jewish Messiah. These men then gathered the money and entourage they would need for the journey. They were going into dangerous lands and were carrying gifts of value to properly honor the newborn king, so they probably had some retainers and guards with them. They had a tough balance to strike as well, they had to have enough people with them for safety and to be taken seriously by whatever ruler they were visiting, but they didn’t want to show up in Roman territory with something that could be mistaken for an army. This journey would be the riskiest thing any of them had ever undertaken and their own advisors had to be asking questions about whether this was a wise use of their resources.
The wise men had an answer to those questions and that answer has become the Good News that we all have received. “The Son of God has come and the light of God draws us to him.” The wise men threw all of their energy and talents into what they felt called to do and leaving behind what was needed by their families they saw that the eternal cost of not following was higher than the monetary, emotional and political cost of following. They understood that their positions, wealth, and influence were given to them so that they could follow this star in response to God drawing them to his son. Is that really any different for us? Everything we have has been given to us for a purpose and I am going to have to speak for myself here, but I don’t always use what I have been entrusted with for God’s purposes. All too often I find myself using what I have been given for my own benefit, to fill my own desires, rather than to advance the purposes of Jesus, my Lord and savior. I ran from God’s call on my life for more than 15 years before finally giving in. I had used my gifts of building connection with people to benefit my bank account, I used my financial gifts for my own pleasure, my cup ran over and right straight to my gut with nary a slip twixt cup and lip. Did I still praise God and tithe and all that stuff? Yes, but God got the leftovers, not the first fruits. God got a couple hours a week, a little more than 10% of my income, a few prayers here and there, maybe even a peek into the bible once in a while. But I was following rules for the minimum necessary and used them to avoid real relationship. Then God brought me to a Friends Church in Northeast Tacoma that was pastored by Stan Thornburg. God used Stan to stop me and put in a place where I was intentionally listening for God’s voice. Let me tell you, if you are satisfied with your life and happy with its direction, don’t stop and listen for the voice of God. Over a period of time, the voice of God stripped away my illusions and his call on me to serve his people as an assistant to the Good Shepherd rose up again. I left my fairly lucrative career, went to seminary, and surrendered the direction of my life to God’s hands. I finally learned that the best act of stewardship is to trust God with everything I thought was mine and allow him to reorder my priorities and life to fit his purposes, and I have to admit I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been in my whole life.
In following God’s call I, like the wise men, still make the mistake of operating according to my culture’s assumptions about how things are supposed to operate and made some poor decisions of my own. The wise men made the assumption that the king would come to a ruling family, took their eyes off the star and went straight to King Herod. God had to redirect the Wise Men to Bethlehem, and when they got back on the right track the star reappeared. I am going to speak from my own experience here, but when I lose sight of God’s presence and am struggling with what God might be calling me to do it is usually because I have allowed my focus to shift off of God and his purposes. We each might be able to speak to that experience, but as we look at a new year I would like to encourage you to take the example of the wise men to heart. What priorities are directing your decisions? What ways are your decisions reflecting the priorities of the kingdom? How are you stewarding all that God has placed under your care? How are you stewarding the gift of salvation God has given us to share? Let us pray.