Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How Did We Get Here? Stewardship

Taking Care                                                                           9/4/16

Psalm 105, I Corinthians 1:1-9

How did we get here?  We’ve been considering the state of the 21st century church through the lens of history.  We’ve lifted up some stories from Western Civilization where biblical values were expressed:  meaning to human existence, wisdom, enduring work and values, being created for community, beauty, correction, authority and progress.  Today, we turn to 19th Century Great Britain for a look at how industrialization changed the world.

For our purposes, I am suggesting that Industrialization provides a warning to the church.  For the church is the steward of God’s message.  We are to be stewards of every expression of the gift of life.  Ultimately, the church, and our individual lives are to be care takers of God’s story.  God’s story is so important that we are to help announce it, model it, proclaim it, even challenge systems that ignore it.  Our focus should not be on our story, but on God’s story. 

Industrialization is a movement from agriculture to Industry as the basis for economy.  It was an era that was born out of an era where farming had become more efficient, and there was more opportunity to pursue other types of work.  The era, started in Great Britain, but quickly spreading throughout Europe, and blossoming in the United States, brought great wealth, but with a cost.

In Great Britain, industry was able to take off because of certain economic changes.  These changes lead to growth in Britain: for example from 1780-1880 there was at least 2-3% economic growth per year. That is every year for a 100 years.  This sustained growth happened in part because of some of the simply amazing technological advancements, as well as the introduction of the railroad and steamboat.  But to simplify the era, industrialization can be described in this sentence:  Bring workers to the machines. 

In the Industrial Age, the factory is born.  Factories are closely built to natural resources of water and coal.

With 20/20 hindsight, the results have not been kind.  Great wealth was created, but at great cost.
Consider some of the negative effects:

*many factories were truly awful working conditions, with dehumanizing and slave like labor in stifling heat and windowless buildings. 


*architecture and town design was mass produced.  Houses and towns were constructed the same way factories were, expediently and uniformly.  There was a complete lack of diversity.   You may have seen pictures of row houses in Great Britain:  street after street of the same looking houses.

*Nutrition and health (infant mortality rate approached 20% in the 1850’s, and there were chronicled height decreases among the working class)

*the growth of wealth was accompanied by the decline of the church tithe (33% was to be given to the work for the poor).  The result is that more needs become state sponsored.

*Increase in disparity of wealth

*Education and voting rights were kept at bay for the large percentages of working poor

There is a final significant harm to the world:  Industrialization and nationalism become connected.  This era of economic growth hastened a competition among the nations regarding, trade, taxes and raising tariffs to keep foreign goods out.  The result is that many nations look inward and not outward. This nationalism particularly shows itself in world war in the first half of the 20th century.  As we look back, Industrialization acts as a bridge between the Enlightenment philosophy of progress and 20th century war (with its technological advancements)

We acknowledge that many of our brothers and sisters throughout history spent much of their life in very difficult working conditions, with a disconnect of enjoyment, pleasure and participation in what they were working for.  They were care takers of their factories mission.  But this mission became oppressive, and dehumanized many. 

Christianity is a different way:  Yes, we should work, and work hard, and sometimes people might have to work hard at jobs they don’t particularly like.  Christians do not have to fall prey to the folly of “more”.  Christians are commanded to keep themselves and their identity rooted in the Lord, and their first job is being care takers of God’s concerns, God’s story in the world.  This is always our first job.

Scripture speaks in other places to the health that comes from putting God first.  Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God, and the other things will be added unto you.  We find purpose when we find God’s will, and there is a tremendous liberty and life shaping aspect of following God’s will.

We are stewards, which is a word for care takers.  We are to take care of God’s desire for the world.  We represent a story bigger than our individual stories.

Psalm 105 shares that we take on the story of Israel. 

--We are to be people who praise the Lord.

--we model strength when we look to the Lord

--we remember God’s saving work for his people

--we remember his promises to patriarchs of the faith

--we watch God fulfill his promises

--we see judgments and pronouncements, we see grace and mercy displayed to the people.  We see life, and death and resurrection. 

--we testify to God’s provision and his saving works.

The forces of Industrialization still attempt to speak to us.  Wealth produced leads to a desire for more wealth.  It is easy to conclude we can compromise spiritual health, physical health, the care needed for the daily living of life, the attention required for details, and encounters, each word, specific actions, every person.  To whom much is given, much is required.

Paul provides good news to the Corinthian church.  God was faithful to them, just as God had been faithful to Israel throughout the generations.  Believers in the Corinth church, like believers gathering as the congregations we are apart of today, had been sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be holy people (set apart), bound together to believers everywhere.  God had enriched the church in every way.  For Corinth that was with all kinds of speech and knowledge—but for Stockton or Titusville, we might be enriched by God in a different way.  God has confirmed the story we speak on his behalf.   We are care takers of a magnificent story of a magnificent God. 

This God has given all the spiritual gifts we need for our work in Christ.  The Lord’s faithfulness will guide the stewardship of these gifts.  God, who is faithful, has called us into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  (1:9). 

When we keep track on God’s story, God provides for all that we need to tell the story.  Telling God’s story requires all of our care, but will also lead to blessing and wholeness. 

We too have been enriched in every way and God has given us every spiritual gift as we wait for our story to receive its triumphant ending:  the Lord Jesus Christ revealed as King of kings and Lord of lords.

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