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Taking Care of What You Have
October 29, 1978

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

GENESIS 1:26-28 PSALM 8 MATTHEW 25:14-30

What if someone walked along today or tomorrow and gave you a million dollars to take care of, do anything you want with it, but he's going to come back someday to reclaim it. I remember when I was young, I used to have a big fantasy. I love to spin daydreams. I fantasized about some obscure Norris back in England. I like to read English murder mysteries by Agatha Christie. I used to daydream that somebody named Norris would find me out of all the people on the earth, take me over to England, give me a big estate, and say, “Take care of it.” What would you do? Take care of an estate with sharecroppers, all those beautiful gardens the English are supposed to have, make a profit, envision what a good life where everybody would be happy.

What if an owner of an estate asked you to manage it? Well, this fantasy is true. It has happened. You have been given such an estate. Listen to Genesis 1:26, God said, “Now we will make human beings, they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over the fish, the birds and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small.’ So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, blessed them and told them to have many children so their descendants will live all over the earth, and bring it under their control. ‘I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals. Out of all that I've made, I have put you in charge.” Some of the other versions use words like “rule over”. The King James Bible and The Revised Standard Version use the word “dominion”.

We read in the Responsive Reading from Psalm 8 that we have been given dominion over all of God's creation. We are the managers, we are the caretakers, we are the stewards. Stewards and stewardship are old words. I like the word “manager”.  I think it may have more meaning to you and me. We are the managers of all that God has made. This whole estate is yours and mine and we manage it on behalf of the owner, on behalf of God the owner. Look  at what God has given you to manage—the air, water, soil, people. Look at the particular estate God has given you—your property, your job, your family, your time is given to you by God, the owner. Your relationships—family, friends— all have been given. Your talents, your abilities have been given to you to manage, to take care of on behalf of the owner. 

If I were given an enormous  estate back in England, the first question I would ask is, “What are the terms of the management? What's expected? Under what rules do I operate? Under what rules do I function as manager? For what am I going to be held accountable by the owner?” Let's look this morning at what are the terms of management that God entrusts to us. What are those terms? What are those conditions? How do we take care of all that we have? 

One of the terms of management is that you and I need to make a conscious decision to be the managers, then we need to make a conscious decision to accept the responsibilities of management; otherwise we're drifting; otherwise we're probably exploiting, we're probably misusing. And we will be held accountable by the owner, as we heard in the parable which Jesus told, and you know what happened to the guy who didn't do it right? He got thrown out in the dark where he wept and gnashed his teeth. That's the accountability factor. If we don't consciously accept the decision to be managers and consciously understand what the terms are, we're drifting. And we may be doing it all wrong. We may be destroying. In fact, as we look at humanity on the face of this earth, it seems to me that we have a paramount interest in destroying rather than in managing. We have that power. The meaning of Genesis, the meaning of creation, is that you and I have the power to destroy it. We have the power to take care of, or we have the power to destroy. If you've been watching “The Long Search” on television—those excellent presentations on different religions. In the one on Judaism, the famous author, Elie Wiesel, was asked why he was a Jew, why he was a practicing Jew. One of his answers that really impressed me was, “I don't want it to stop with me. All the centuries of Judaism, all that's gone on before, all my people, all my ancestors, I don't want it to stop with me.” 

You and I have the power to stop it. You and I have the power to destroy this earth physically in this generation with all the weapons we have. You and I have the power to destroy civilization. By not keeping our society on the highest level possible, by not keeping our educational system strong and vital, by not keeping our churches strong and active, we have the power to destroy civilization. It would only take one generation to bring destruction of morality, of society, of civilization. It would only take one generation. You and I have the power to stop it. 

So what are the terms? “Destroy” has often been accepted as our task. The word “dominion”, the word which the Good News Bible translates as “power over”, the Jerusalem translation says “conquer”—the word is “radah” in Hebrew. Maybe it was an unfortunate choice for the word “radah” means to “trample”, to trample down, to conquer. When used in reference to nature, it's understandable considering what it meant in that ancient day. Nature can be very hostile, especially the nature of the Near East. For humanity to survive, they needed an attitude of conquering, of subduing, of subjugating, of bringing it under control, so that nature could be used. 

But we, especially in western civilization, have carried that idea too far. We've carried it to the extent that we think we have the right to do anything we want with the earth. So our air is yellow, our water is dirty, our animal life is becoming extinct, our ocean is dying because we've ravaged, we've raped, we've assaulted, we've destroyed. Contrast that attitude towards caretaking, towards managing what God has given us. Imagine a manager who ravages. rapes and attacks. Contrast that attitude with the American Indian. The American Indian’s attitude towards all that God has given is to cooperate, live in harmony, learn the laws and rules of nature and fit into nature rather than forcing nature to fit into their style of life. Granted that the American Indian did not do too much in technological advancement. The American Indian style of life didn't do too much to further Western civilization, but perhaps there is a happy medium between conserving and improving. 

Management is to take care of all God has given and what it means is a balance between conserving and improving—conserve, take care of, protect our earth, take care of our soil, our land and our water, protect what the owner gives us to manage so that something is handed on to the future generations. The role of insurance in our own private lives is to protect our property, protect our life, protect our estate, so that when we die, it all doesn't go to the government. A wise manager conserves and makes a will. It's amazing how many people do not have wills, who have not laid down in black and white what they want their property to do after they die. If you and I don't decide, the government will and they take a huge chunk out of it for the privilege of deciding. A wise and careful manager protects and makes plans for the future generations to take care of what God has given us. There is a balance between conserving and improving.

In the parable read this morning, three people were given things to manage. Three people were not given equally for life isn't like that. One was given five, one was given two, one was given one. It was not equal, It was not an equal management, but each had something. The first two doubled the original investment, and they were commended, honored and rewarded. The last one returned just exactly what had been given. He was the conservative one, the one who wanted to protect, but he made the owner very angry. His error, in trying to protect, gave back to the owner what was originally given without any improvement. 

Mandated to us in managing all the God has given is to improve it— invest wisely, improve the relationships you've been given, improve the marital relationship, improve family relationships, improve the property, the wealth you have been given, improve the community we've been given. As good managers we are to be working in our community to make it the best community it can be., 

We are called to improve God's church, improve the ministry of the church. We are the managers. God has called us into this particular fellowship, housed in this particular building, and has given us a task to do. God called St. Paul's Church into existence in this community and we are to improve it. We are just not to take care of it, conserve it and protect it, we're to improve it. We are to improve it through our time, our programs and financial support. Last year I challenged us to improve our giving by following a plan to look at one’s giving and to improve it by at least 1% a year. If one is giving 3% of one's income, raise that 1%. To jump up to 10% in one leap is a big jump. Make a plan and raise it little by little to improve your ability to give, to improve your investment in the church. That is still a good challenge. I know some of you did that. 

You and I are the managers. God has given us the earth. God has given you your personal wealth. God has given you your relationships. God has given us the gospel. God has entrusted to us the gospel, the church, the means by which people are redeemed. God has given that to you and to me. What an awesome responsibility to manage—to take care of it, to improve it, to extend it, to increase it, to multiply it. That’s our task. Someday the owner will hold us accountable. Some day, the owner will say to us, “How did you do? Did you double it? Or did you try to keep it the way it was? How is your church? Now that you are done managing it, how is your church? Is it alive? Is it active? Is the attendance increasing? Is its membership growing? Is it feeding the hungry? Is it reaching out in ministry? is it helping people with their heart problems? Do the lonely have a place? Is there a refuge? How is your church?” How did you do as managers?

© 1978 Douglas I. Norris