What does stewardship mean?
It is impossible to drive anywhere in Bermuda without looking up and seeing a church spire or tower, usually with a cross at the very top. These highly-placed crosses are a symbol and reminder of the sovereignty or reign of God over both us and all creation. The cross represents Jesus Christ who was and is God, and John, writing in his gospel describes Jesus as being ‘the Word’, the very expression or articulation of God. He puts it like this, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God… and nothing was created except through him.” The cross, representing God, reminds us that we are part of a much bigger story — the story of God in the world — and as we are made in the image of a creative God, it means we are creative too, and our purpose is to use our God-given creativity to be co-creators with God in the world. There is a word for this purpose and it is stewardship.
The church has distorted this wonderful creative view of what it means to be a human being and a co-worker with God in the world, with many a preacher asserting that the purpose of faith is to, “get to heaven when we die.” The real message of God to humanity in the world is to bring heaven to earth in the here and now. If the purpose of faith is to aim for pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die, why did Jesus put so much emphasis on right living? It is because creation matters; people matter; the world matters; and you and I have a vital role to play.
We might not be familiar with the word ‘stewardship’, however, in our modern world we are familiar with the word ‘conservation’. Conservation literally means the act of preserving, guarding, protecting, and keeping something in a safe or entire state. It implies that we need to conserve what we have, and conservation is vitally important in an age where we as a species are decimating the planet and squandering its resources. We absolutely need to conserve what we have, however, the biblical view is that we are not only to be conservators of creation but also to be stewards of creation.
Stewardship means to both conserve and to enhance something. For example, if you are a good steward of money, you do not just put it in a bank and protect or conserve it, you invest it. Jesus used parables to get this message across and one of the parables he told was about the parable of the Ten Servants. It makes for some pretty extreme reading and you can find it in Luke’s gospel, Chapter 19. It is a salient reminder that we are all going to be held responsible for our stewardship, including conservation, of the world and all that is in it.
Therefore, as stewards of creation, we are to protect and enhance creation. We are not just to take from the world or maintain the status quo. We are called to create a world in which all creation will thrive. In fact, this is the ideal to which many, if not all conservationists aspire, and quite right too. Could any job be more holy?!
However, it is not just conservationists that are called to be stewards of this world. We are all called to be stewards of creation — every single one of us — including you, and creation includes every inanimate and living thing. For example, every time you help the poor, listen to someone, or “do the good deeds that God has prepared for you to walk in,” you are being a steward of creation. The goal, if you will, is to find out what your unique contribution will be, and to develop and use your God-given gifts and talents to fulfil God’s will for your life as part of God’s bigger story in the world.
I love this definition of church — a group of people journeying together to fulfil God’s mission in the world. Isn’t that wonderful?
Today, we are on the cutting edge of history — “His story” — God’s story in the world of which we have a central part. We have been handed over stewardship of creation from God and it has been passed down from generation to generation. This is our shift. This is our time. This is our moment. Every single one of us needs to assess how we live and have our being in the light of our mandate from God — how we consume resources, how we conserve them, and how we enhance the world around us.
So, next time you glance up at a cross on a church spire, let it be a reminder that you live and work in the shadow of the cross — that you are part of a much bigger story and that you have a vital role to play.