The landowner in our parable expects his share of the harvest. He provided the land, planted vineyard and supplied the winepress. For us, it is a version of what Luther says in his explanation of the first article of the creed:
God provides me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all I need from day to day.
And in the explanation of the 4th petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther lists all that God provides for us.
Daily bread, includes everything needed for this life, such as food and clothing, home and property, work and income, a devoted family, an orderly community, good government, favorable weather, peace and health, a good name, and true friends and neighbors.
We don’t provide these for ourselves, it is God who provides them for us. And Luther says that because God provides me with all this, “Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey God.“ But like the tenants in Jesus’ parable, we claim for ourselves both the resources God provides and the fruit that God expects to harvest through our lives. Like the tenants, we pretend that God is dead by the way we ignore God’s hand in our lives and God’s claim on the fruit of our labor.
Faithful stewardship recognizes that God provides us with resources and responsibilities. We like to think the resources are rewards or something we earned or provided for ourselves. We take credit for what has come from God. And God provides so many resources! God gives us management not only over our time, talents, and financial resources; but also over the opportunities and the connections and the many circumstances of our lives. We live in a country where there is freedom, prosperity, education, and concern for the “common good.” Law and order, roads, schools, rules for commerce and fair trade, parks to preserve the beauty of creation, libraries, and an economic safety net are all resources God provides for us in this place, so that the fruit we bear might be a source of blessing for the world.
Stewardship also includes the responsibilities God entrusts us with. This includes caring for our own personal well-being and that of our families; it incudes caring for our neighborhoods and communities; it includes establishing the “common good” for our state, our nation and for people throughout the world; it includes caring for creation; and it includes spreading the good news of God’s abundant love and grace for all people everywhere. The thing about stewardship is that it is not just about how I support the ministries of the church, but it is the way we live our whole lives – everything we have is a resource from God for our stewardship and everything we do bears fruit for the well-being of the God’s world.
Yes, Because God provides us with so much, we know that we are blessed – and we are blessed so that we can be a blessing. That is the theme for our stewardship emphasis this year – blessed to be a blessing. And how do we pass on the blessing? A recommendation I have long heard for faithful stewardship is the 10 – 10 – 80 rule. Give away 10%, save 10%, and live on the remaining 80%. And the question is: “where does your tithe go – the 10% you give away?” What part of that goes to the church, what part of that goes to other charities, and what part do you keep for yourself? I challenge you to think about it that way. And then I would encourage you to pray and ponder about how you might make adjustments in your life so that you don’t need to keep for yourself a portion of the tithe that God urges you to give away. Certainly for some, it is very difficult to give away 10%, because I know that there are people who have to choose between buying needed prescriptions and buying food. And for people in those circumstances, it is important for you to use the resources God gives you to tend to the responsibilities in your own home. But for many, I believe, you can be challenged here to grow in your giving as a sign of thanks to God – to grow in your giving so that you can be a blessing.
And the real gospel here is that God, the landowner, is persistent. And even when we rebel against God’s ownership of all that we have, God does not give up on us. Because the crucified and risen Jesus is the true vine in God’s vineyard, and he is also the vine dresser (Jesus always seems to turn into some kind of mixed metaphor), but he takes our dead branches and he grafts us into the resurrected and living vine that is himself, and we are given new life so that we can faithfully bear the fruit of the kingdom.
May you feel the life of Christ flowing through you so that you can be the faithful stewards God calls you to be – blessed to be a blessing. Amen.