Stewardship Through Service
By The Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A little boy attended Church with his Grandfather one Sunday. Grandpa’s church had beautiful stained-glass windows. Grandpa told his grandson that the windows contained pictures of Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke, Saint John, Saint Paul, and whole lot of other saints.
When he got home, the boy told Mom and Dad all about it. Dad, wanting to be funny and curious about what his son had learned, asked, “What is a saint?” The boy thought for a minute And then replied, “A saint is a somebody the light shines through.” (1)
I’ve always thought that was a pretty good definition of a Saint. Who are your saints? Who are the people in your life who let the light of God shine through them for you to see. We’ve just taken time to remember those folks who have played an instrumental part in your lives and faith. Were they one of your saints?
I will never forget Grace Little. Her first name described her spirit and her last name described her stature. She was a rather small woman with a big heart and an even bigger spirit. Every time the doors opened, Grace was there. Not because she had to be but because she wanted to be. She loved the Lord with every ounce of her soul. She loved working for the Lord and thought it a privilege to help set up or clean up or just attend any function at the Church. So, Grace was always there.
Grace was on a very fixed income. Grace was a retired school employee. She had run the High School Cafeteria for years. With what little that paid and her Social Security, Grace didn’t have a whole lot of money. I know exactly how much Grace received each month because Grace tithed.
Not only did she tithe but Grace always gave a memorial gift to the Church when someone she knew died. It was never much, only Five Dollars, but it was every bit as blessed as anyone else’s gift.
Grace’s offerings didn’t stop there. Whenever there was a Potluck supper or luncheon, Grace always brought two dishes: a home made chocolate chip pecan pie and a hash brown casserole. Everybody liked the casserole so much and Grace brought it so often that everyone started calling it Grace’s potatoes.
For a long time, no one knew that Grace’s pie was a chocolate chip pecan pie. They all thought it was mincemeat. And I was the only one who took any. Grace would always leave the leftover pie in the refrigerator for her pastor to snack on the rest of the week. That is until Coach found out what kind of pie it was.
But Grace’s greatest act of stewardship, service and sacrifice were her birthday and anniversary cards. This was Grace’s love and passion. We printed a list of the birthdays and anniversaries in our newsletter. Grace would send everyone a birthday or anniversary card. We tried to help her by giving her boxes of generic cards. You know the 100 for Two Dollars kind. Grace wouldn’t take them. Grace delighted in going to the card shop and selecting cards just for each person. She prayed for them while she was selecting them and while she was filling them out. And then when she mailed them.
All of her spare money went for this project. He kids would send her extra money to help with the air conditioning during the summer, Grace used it to buy more cards. One of the young girls in the church gave Grace a wonderful gift one year for her birthday. She gave her two rolls of stamps.
Grace had a huge impact on the life of that Church and on my life. When Grace died, they found her, lying in bed. Her Bible was open and laying on the bed next to her. It was obvious she had just been reading it. And her hands were folded in prayer.
When her children came, they found three months worth of birthday cards. The cards were already addressed, signed and dated. You see, Grace would pencil in the date that the card needed to be mailed under where the stamp would go, so that everyone would get their card on or before their birthday.
Grace’s family honored their mother by mailing all of those cards. They took time to add a little note to each one explaining that Grace had picked out the card for the person before she died. Grace died in June. Both of my sons received birthday cards in July.
What made Grace so special? Grace did what the Pharisees in this passage didn’t do. Although she was one, Grace never thought of herself as a Saint. She only thought of herself as a steward and a servant. Grace let the light of God shine through her. And when she did, lives were influenced and changed.
A. Like Grace, we’re called to let the light of God shine through us by being good stewards and servants. The dictionary defines “steward” as “one employed to manage domestic concerns for a household or one appointed to supervise the provisioning and distribution of food and drink.”
The religious leaders of Israel were called to be stewards of the faith. They were called upon to supervise the “Soul Food”, if you will, of the Israelites. However, they became more like the pompous, arrogant butlers of Snob Hill, portrayed in the movies. You know the kind I’m talking about, the servants who take on an air of importance because of who their employer is. They look down their nose at everyone else. When in reality they are doing the same work as the busboy and serving line worker at Pancho’s All You Can Eat Mexican restaurant. The work they’re doing is just in fancier surroundings for people who have a whole lot more money.
The Pharisees forgot their purpose. They forgot to make sure they were being the leaders God called them to be. Instead they became obsessed with their role and how they looked in public. They loved to be praised for their prayers and for their robes and worship accouterments.
How many of you have ever watched the British comedy “Keeping Up Appearances”? It’s on PBS, channel 13 late on Sunday nights. It’s about a family by the name of Bucket, but Mrs. Bucket wants desperately to be someone of importance and puts on all kinds of airs. She insists that her name be pronounced bouquet not Bucket. As you can guess, every week she is put in her place. And that’s what Jesus did with the Pharisees.
B. He reminded them that Stewardship isn’t about appearances, it’s about actions. Stewardship isn’t about money. Stewardship is about an attitude. Stewardship isn’t even about how we spend our money, it’s about how we spend our lives.
A good steward spends their life loving God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength. And loving their neighbor as their self. If you put God first in all things, and love your neighbor, then you can’t think less of someone else if you love them as your self, can you. If you love them as your self, then they are equals. And as equals, then you can do like Jesus did and serve them.
A. You see, true stewards become servants. Stewards who are faithful are servants because they know what is expected of them. And they haven’t lost perspective on things. Stewards realize that they are in charge of what has been given them. That’s what the Pharisees realized. And they wanted everyone else to know it, too.
Servants realize that what they have really isn’t theirs but is a gift from someone else and they are simply holding it in trust.
Someone who understood that completely was a woman who died recently, Ninety-one year old Osceola McCarty. She probably won’t be remembered by very many people of power, position or substance but she WILL be remembered by the ongoing impact she continues to make on the lives of students at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Had it not been for her selfless gift, probably none of us would have ever heard about Osceola McCarty. You see, Osceola McCarty was a washer woman. She washed other peoples’ clothes all of her life. And every week, she put a little aside in a savings account. Her banker told that was a wise thing to do. So, she did. After awhile, she had quite a bit of money and her banker suggested she invest it. So, she did. In the summer of 1995 she did something unheard of, she donated $150,000, most of her life savings to the University of Southern Mississippi to help students get an education and have a better life than she did.
Her unselfish gift inspired others to give as well. And some six hundred people have added over $330,000 to the original scholarship fund. And her gift is what inspired and prompted Ted Turner to give his Billion Dollar gift to the United Nations.
Osceola McCarty was a servant all of her life. She worked for everyone else. Yet she became a leader and an inspiration through being a good steward of what God had given her. And, she knew the love of God. She found that God took care of her quite well. Her servant attitude helped her to leave, not just a gift, but a legacy that will touch lives for a long time. (2)
B. And one of the great truths of the faith is that servants usually become saints. It’s not something they strive for, it’s just something that happens. Servants simply strive to serve God.
It’s funny how children instinctively know that. I’ll never forget Morgan, a little girl in one of our former churches. She was about four. Mom and Dad were just starting to teach her about giving. As the ushers came down the aisle with the offering plates, Morgan asked her mom what was happening. Mom told her, “They are taking up the offering, and when they get here you can put your quarter in the offering plate.”
Morgan replied, “But this quarter is for Jesus.” Mom explained how, by putting her quarter in the offering plate she was giving it to Jesus. And she told about all the ways in which her gift would be used for God’s work. As the plate came down her pew, Morgan carefully put her quarter in the plate, then turned to her Mom, and loud enough for everyone in the whole congregation to hear, asked, “If that money is for Jesus, why wasn’t there more in the plate?”
Morgan understood the purpose of stewardship. she understood that all that we give is for Jesus. The basic tenet of stewardship is that all that we have is from God and IS God’s. We are simply the stewards, those put in charge of that which God has given us.
Like Louis said, some of us have been given 30 bushels, some have been given 60 bushels and others have been given 100 bushels. Stewardship has nothing to do with how much we’ve been given. But it has everything to do with what we do with and how we handle what has been given to us.
Being a good steward and a good servant doesn’t have to cost anything. Let me tell you about “Eight gifts you can give that don’t cost a cent.”
The Gift of Listening. But you must really listen. No interrupting, no planning your response. Just listening.
The Gift of Laughter. Clip cartoons. Share great articles and funny stories. Your gift will say, “I love to laugh with you.”
The Gift of Affection . Be generous with appropriate hugs, kisses, pats on the back, and handholds. Let these small actions demonstrate your love for family and friends.
The Gift of a Written Note. It can be a simple “I love You” or “Thanks for your help.” A brief, handwritten note may be remembered for a lifetime, and may even change a life.
The Gift of a Compliment. A simple and sincere, “You look great in red,” “You did a super job,” or “That was a wonderful meal” can make someone’s day.
The Gift of a Favor. Every day, go out of your way to do something kind.
The Gift of Solitude. There are times when we want only to be left alone. Be sensitive to those times, and give the gift of solitude to others.
The Gift of Good Cheer. The easiest way to feel good is to make others feel good.
Jesus reminds us to be humble and to be servants of all. These eight things will help us do that. We’re called to be good stewards of all the resources God has given us. Resources like time and talents; our family; our jobs; our spiritual lives and our money.
Good stewards are never pompous and arrogant. Good stewards are always servants. And servants usually become saints. Are you headed for sainthood? Be a good steward. Be a good servant. Let the light of Christ shine through you. Respond to God with Stewardship through Service and you’ll probably make it.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
2. Based on a story by Gracie Bonds Staples in the Life section, Fort Worth Star Telegram, Sunday, October 10, 1999.
3. The Abingdon Guide to Funding Ministry (Electronic Edition), by Donald W. Joiner & Norma Winberly, (Abingdon Press, 1996)
Copyright 1999 Billy D. Strayhorn. Used by permission.