Stewards of God's Children

June 13th, 2012

A Sermon on Genesis 22:1-18 and Matthew 25:14-27

Our younger daughter Claire’s middle name is “Moriah.” Not Mariah (with an A) like Mariah Carey, but Moriah (with an O), like “the land of Moriah” in the text we just read from Genesis. Moriah is a mountain and corresponding valley in Israel, which according to Scripture was the site of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac.

It’s a disturbing story to our modern sensibilities. After making Abraham wait and wait and wait to see the fruit of God’s promise that he would be the father of many children and indeed a whole nation—Abraham’s wife Sarah finally has a son, Isaac. They are overjoyed, as any parents would be, even more so because Sarah was 90 (just a little bit over the hill). Isaac was born and was expected to be the key to Abraham’s fatherhood of a great nation... and then comes this strange story we read in Genesis.

“Take your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him up as an entirely burned offering there on one of the mountains that I will show you.”

You can imagine Abraham’s reaction. What? Kill my child and set him on fire as an offering to God?

Abraham didn’t have the privilege of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, like we do. I guess he didn’t know that sacrificing kids on an altar would be a big, bad thing down the road, a practice distinguishing the heathen Canaanites from the Israelites. God’s people don’t sacrifice their children on altars!!

And yet Abraham agrees to do it, going so far as to tie Isaac up and rear back the knife to stab him. God steps in a the last minute and tells Abraham to kill a ram instead.

With such a disturbing story, you may be wondering why my husband and I would name our daughter after it.

It is a scary story. No one wants to think about the possible death of a child. But to me, the story is really about the fact that all things belong to God. We are tempted to hold on tightly to things we love. We know this is wrong when it comes to physical possessions—houses, cars, a special piece of sports memorabilia, a really nice pair of shoes... But we also have to be careful about holding on too tightly to the people we love, including our children.

It’s hard not to claim “ownership” of our children. When they’re small, the fact that you and your partner “created” them is astounding and overwhelming. The fact that these little creations end up having ideas, opinions, behaviors (and misbehaviors) of their own is shocking at first. For some parents, I imagine it is even hard to accept when adult children go their own way.

The fact is, our children are not really our own. They belong to God. And the term we use for someone who manages, oversees, and has responsibility for things belonging to someone else is a steward. We call financial giving “stewardship” as an acknowledgement that our money is actually God’s, and that we are just giving it back to him. It’s the same with our kids. We are stewards of these lives that are entrusted to our care.

What does that mean, exactly? We can’t give one-tenth of our kids to the church, like we do our income. Maybe if you’re that family from “Nineteen Kids and Counting,” you could send two of your kids to live in the church basement, but I’ll keep my two kids in one piece, thanks.

Being stewards of our children means acknowledging that they don’t belong to us. It means raising them to know whose they really are, and helping them understand their true identity as a child of God. It means holding them loosely enough for them to follow God for themselves.

My baby Claire is already seven months old. They grow so fast. She’s sitting up now, eating solid food, and scooting herself across the floor at a pretty good pace. Pretty soon, she’ll start getting teeth in, and I’m going to be really sad. There’s a little part of me—you can probably relate—that wishes kids would stay small forever.

I could easily feel that way about Claire. She’d stay all baby-cute and cuddly. She’d stay dependent on me. She wouldn’t get obstinate or rebellious or defiant. (We’re getting a taste of that with our three-year-old. It’s definitely tempting to want to hang on to that little baby sweetness.)

But then I remember that my job as a parent is not to keep my kids cuddly, dependent, or compliant. My job is not to keep them small. (Sheltered for a time, maybe, and my girls' daddy would probably want that time to be even longer than I do!) But not small. We can’t stop them from growing up, and growing up is what they are supposed to do.

Our job is to help them grow up well.

We read a section of Matthew’s gospel commonly known as “the parable of the talents.” In it, a wealthy man goes on a trip, leaving three servants as stewards of his property. He gives them each a certain amount of money. The first two invest the money so the master has even more money when he comes back.

The third servant, however, buries the money in the ground. He’s afraid of losing it, or having it stolen, or maybe of making a bad deal if he even tries to invest it. He’s afraid of the master’s reaction if he were to lose the money, so he hides it.

He holds it.

He protects it.

And in doing so, it doesn’t grow.

The servant tells his master, “Look! I kept your treasure safe! I kept it just the same as when you gave it to me.”

Our children are like those treasures, entrusted to us by God not for the purpose of putting in a bubble or freezing them in time, but to grow. As good stewards of our children, we invest in them. I might be tempted to keep Claire swaddled up or butter the floor so she never learns to walk, but I wouldn’t be doing my job.

Instead, we teach them to walk. We teach them to say “please” and “thank you.” We teach them to give thanks to God and to show compassion for others. We teach them to solve problems and think creatively so they can make an impact on the world. We teach them to find their passion and pursue it for the glory of God.

I’ve been pregnant twice (we have two kids) and I’ll admit it, I LOVE being pregnant. I know some women dread the weight gain, the swelling, the fatigue, the morning sickness, the back pain, and so on. I had more than my share of throwing up, I’ll tell you. But I still LOVE being pregnant. So much, in fact, that after having Claire, I tossed around the idea of being a surrogate.

One of the things that gave me pause about that idea, though, was the concern: what if I didn’t like the way these other people raised the child I helped them have? I would be complicit in creating, forming an emotional attachment to, and feeling some element of ownership over a child, only to hand him over with no guarantees that he would be treated well or taught the same values I would teach my own children. How could I trust that they would do it “right”? (That is, my way.)

As I self-righteously wondered these things, it struck me that God hands his children over to us every day, with no guarantee we’ll do it right. In fact, it’s a pretty safe bet we’ll do a lot of things wrong. And yet God still trusts us with this monumental task.

It’s interesting in the parable we read, that the reason the third servant hid the money and didn’t invest it, is that he feared the master. He said, "Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed. So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground.”

It’s hard to be a good steward when you’re acting out of fear. When we’re talking about stewardship of our money, we don’t give out of fear, but out of love for God and gratitude for all we have. So when we parent, let’s parent out of love, out of gratitude for this amazing gift and responsibility. Let’s parent with the understanding that every thing we do with and for our kids—from changing their diapers to changing the oil in their first car—is part of a sacred task that is honoring to God.

Today is Father’s Day, so it’s a fitting day for dads to reflect on and celebrate their important role. Moms had their day last month, of course, but let’s not forget that we all have a responsibility to be good stewards of the children in our midst.

During college and my early twenties, I visited a lot of different churches, trying to find a good home. I worshiped in Baptist, Methodist, nondenominational, Episcopal, and Disciples of Christ churches in four different states. And in all that church-hopping, I witnessed A LOT of baptisms and baby dedications. I just had a knack for being there when these things happened, even at churches I visited only once.

In many of these churches, the congregation vowed to help nurture the person in the Christian faith. Being a visitor, I generally didn’t know the people being baptized, but I repeated this vow as well. At first, it was just because that’s what you were supposed to do. But after a while, I started to see these vows as part of a greater commitment to nurture all children—all people—in their journey of faith. Because wherever I go, there is some small chance that any person I meet could be one of those children I vowed to support in the Christian faith.

There was a book I remember reading as a kid—I can’t remember the title, but you may know the story. A king and queen had a baby, and all their subjects were thrilled that the royal child had been born. But instead of raising the baby themselves, the king and queen arranged for their child to be raised by a family in the town. The townspeople didn’t know which child might be the prince or princess, so they started treating all the children with love and kindness, just in case the child they were talking to was the king’s child.

Fortunately, we don’t have to hedge our bets. We know who the king's child is. Every child in this church and this community—every person you meet—is a child of God, the King of the Universe. So love them, treat them with respect, nurture their faith, and work for a world that looks more like our true home—the kingdom of God.

When the master, the king, checks in to see how well we’ve cared for and invested in the world and the people we’ve been given, what will he see? A steward who fearfully hid his treasure in the ground? Or stewards who did all they could to grow these treasures in a way that brings honor to the one who truly owns it all?

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