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Being a Steward



Pastor James Clarke’s sermon for Sunday, October 30, 2016. This is the forth and final sermon on Stewardship for 2016.

I love this Church. As with people, churches have a story, character and spirit. When I came here in 2010 the mood was not so good. Numbers were down.

Our appointment system in the Methodist Church does not allow for much choice for clergy. Even less for clergy couples. We want to believe that the Bishop and Cabinet deliberated long and hard and decided that I was just the person for Cedar Cross.

But honestly, the reason I was sent here was because there were two churches close enough for Paula and me.

I have told people that if I was still a Presbyterian, I doubt I would have applied to come to Cedar Cross.

One really has to believe that the Spirit of God is involved in the process.

It is usually in retrospect that we see that, of course…

So… a little retrospective:

When I got here I was blessed with Mike Scott as an SPRC chair. Soon followed by Derek Wood. Do we all know how gifted and dedicated is Derek Wood?!

And then I remember at Annual Conference before coming here, Tom Albright, a previous pastor and Geoff’s dad, told me about a guy who had been at Marysville, who had just moved to our area and would be attending

Cedar Cross. And he had some talent.

Are you kidding me?!

Brad Davidson is incredible! And again, not simply for his talent, but for his dedication.

Did you know that Brad and Dan Church both play in the band and sing in the choir every week! What would the men’s section be without their devotion.

Anyway, we were able to start the Praise Band and keep two services.

And not many people were coming to the 1st service back then, in spite of how great the band was. We were lucky when we had 25 people at 8:45…

Sunday school only during the 2nd service. So we changed the schedule, which was hard for some people at first, but it allowed me to teach Adult Sunday School. And for people to go to both services.

Last week we counted 85 at the 1st service and 90 at the 2nd service! That’s pretty balanced, right?

We have over 50 people participating in Adult Sunday School.

I also felt blessed when I first came here with Taryn Oestreich. You remember Tayrn… Fast talking, organized, high energy Taryn kept things rolling at Church Council.

And Diane Van Dorn was there to take over after Taryn and Ron moved. And Diane is involved in so much: Worship, LS&D, and preaching!

And what can we say about Larry and Larry? States and Allen, respectively……… well, most of the time. What devotion and hard work from them!

How many times have I heard asked: “Who do I call about that?” “Larry.”

“Yeah, which one?

Both Larry’s by the way, would like to retire from their positions. Not so that they will stop being who they are as people committed to the church… But it is time for someone new to step up…

Geoff and Katie had already been leading the youth for about 10 years, when I came.

And Jen Hoeber was there to take care of the Children’s Program.

And now we have Katie Rugg! Talk about organization and energy!

But of course it isn’t just that. She loves this Church and we can all feel it from her. She loves the children too. We are so blessed to have her!

I have to also mention the youth. It’s hard to get young people to see the Church as a place to give to. When they are young they usually consider church as a place that offers a program to them. But in this group, the youth came for each other, not just for themselves.

And what can we say about Jocelyn Matheny?! She’s so active now at the church in Ellensburg while attending Central Washington.

And then we decided to become a Reconciling congregation, because of the energy and devotion of all on that committee, chaired by Linda States.

Throughout my ministry I had always wanted to be a part of a Reconciling Ministry. It was wonderful to feel the vigor and zeal of these people, and to end up with a vote of 184 -4? That was a spiritual thing!

Ellen Morehouse and I have a standing meeting on Tuesdays! Ever since coming here Ellen has been about everything: Vitality, Lay member to Annual Conference, Fair Trade, SPRC, Stewardship, Church Council…

It takes a village.   I well know what has happened at this Church, and it is not about me…

It’s about all the Stewards of this Church!

Look at Dina Alberts so committed to teaching Sunday school, working at teen feed every month, reading scripture and now the chair of Children’s Ministry!

Or Mark Wilder, playing in the band, serving on the Vitality Committee, and working on our website.

And I’ve only named a few!  Please feel included because it really isn’t an individualistic thing, it’s a spiritual thing and the Spirit is always working through us. None of these people would have been able to do what they have done without everyone else doing what they do.

In the last chapter of his book, Defying Gravity, Tom Berlin discusses becoming a steward.

He discusses the story of Joseph, abandoned by his brothers, old into slavery. But took care of, Potiphar, his master’s wealth, until accused of seduction by Potiphar’s wife. He was thrown into prison, and there interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh. Eventually rising up in Egypt to manage the wealth of the whole Empire and was reconciled with his brothers.

And throughout the story Berlin says:

He honored God with his personal integrity… demonstrated that he was trustworthy… did not wait for better circumstances;He simply offered his best to the world and to God.

A few things that define a Steward for Berlin:

An understanding that everything belongs to God that life isn’t about accumulation but distribution. Not owning but caring for. That life is about offering ourselves to God and in that vein to others. That there will always be sacrifice for there to be generosity and love.

Do we ever really take seriously the words of Jesus?

For those who want to save their life will lose it. And those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

And finally, and ultimately, stewardship isn’t something one DOES It’s who one IS. That is to say, it’s about being rather than doing.

To be a Steward isn’t just to decide to give, it is to transform ourselves into people who by our very nature are generous.

This concept is a bit alien in our current world, isn’t it?

In our economic system we are not considered Stewards. To be a steward would not grow the economy, would it?

For that to happen we have to be consumers, and owners We need to accumulate wealth, if possible, to reach the ultimate sainthood, by becoming a “job creator”.

The world does not see us respectfully as persons of intrinsic worth – worthy at birth. We are valued for how we function in the economy. Do we buy enough? Call us “homo econonomis.”

This is our default identity in the world.

And this identity lives itself out by saying to us, if you make money and buy a lot you are wonderful, if you work at some social service agency, make very little and live frugally, you’re practically a second class citizen.

I keep telling Aaron he needs to get a Sunday off to come to Church wo he can experience support he doesn’t receive in the world at $13 an hour.

As I said last week, I know we are all enjoying the election…

I feel certain this election will be analyzed for years to come, and one of the things that will be scrutinized will be “character.”

I had a conversation with a family member this summer, who said that we should leave out the extraneous stuff about sexual liaisons, emails, improprieties – all the stuff about the persons and stick to the issues.

I told him I disagreed. I am also fed up with the name calling, misrepresenting, the tone of competition and degrading the other. I also would like to see more rational discussion about issues.

But I also know that we elect persons…. And not just platforms. Character, or spirit does matter. We don’t simply elect people who have ideas and carry out policies. We elect people with stories that effect actions.

It isn’t just about what a candidate DOES, it is about who he or she IS.

And another question I would ask of candidates, not directly, but for myself, is, is this person a Steward?

Is this person someone who understands that everything belongs to God? Understands that life is about giving ourselves to God? Understands that there is sacrifice involved in being a steward.

Which candidate understands that life is about growing in grace and going on to perfection, or is this candidate homo econoimus?

Is this person’s focus on the accumulation of wealth? Owning and consuming?

We need Stewards in our world, not owner-accumulator-consumers, particularly in the leadership of our country, and our state, and our community.

In the end, it all comes down to who we want to be?

It’s all about identity.

Which forces in the world do we want to move and shape us? Greed? Hatred? And racism? Or simplicity and generosity? Which kingdom do we want to be a part of? The kingdom of selfishness or the kingdom of God?  Who are our heroes?

The poor person who becomes rich by beating down others, or the rich person who gives it all away?

What do we value? Is it all about me? Are we just owner-consumers? Do we understand that everything belongs to God? That meaning comes not from having stuff, but in giving our lives to God? That sacrifice is a part of the road to perfection in love?

Who do we want to be? Because it is who we are that decides what we do…


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