Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Today is the fifth and final week of our stewardship series, “Managing God’s Gifts.”  Today we learn about stewardship of the greatest gift God gives us: the Gospel.  What is the Gospel?  Quite simply, the Gospel is the Good News that God sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins and rise again to give us eternal life.  There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, with many articles of faith flowing out of it.  However, the basic message of the Scripture is this: no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done or haven’t done in your life, no matter what your religious, ethnic, racial, or economic background is, Jesus loves you and wants to save you from your sins so you can enjoy life forever with him.

The Gospel is a pretty big deal!  That’s why our focus on this Reformation Day is on the stewardship of the Gospel.  That might sound like a strange phrase.  Stewardship of the Gospel?  What’s that about?  Quite a bit, actually!  The New Testament regularly speaks of stewardship of spiritual things.  St. Paul calls himself and his fellow workers “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1, ESV).  He also mentions “stewardship of God’s grace” (Eph. 3:2; cf. 1 Pet. 4:10), stewardship of God’s Word (Col. 1:25), and stewardship “by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4).  In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul speaks of “partnership in the Gospel” (Phil. 1:5; cf. 4:15).  With this in mind, let us think of stewardship of the Gospel as just a way to speak about the way in which God entrusts the message of the Gospel to his people in order to share with others.

Stewardship of the Gospel is another way to speak of our personal responsibility to the Good News of Jesus to our unbelieving friends, family, and neighbors.  I recognize that Lutherans are not famous for wearing our hearts on our sleeves or for being particularly bold in our personal witness of Jesus Christ.  Historically, most Lutherans were descended from stereotypically stoic, northern European stock: Germans, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, and Finns.

I am reminded of some jokes I read a few years ago.  Do you remember the Jeff Foxworthy line, “You might be a redneck if…”?  Well, here’s “You might be a Lutheran if…”

  • You only serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color.
  • You give a party and don’t tell anyone where it is.
  • You think Garrison Keillor’s stories about Lake Woebegone are fact and not fiction.
  • You make change in the offering plate for a ten.
  • You find out a visitor’s name, not by greeting them and introducing yourself, but rather by looking it up in the guest book.
  • You hear something really funny and smile as loud as you can.
  • You dress up as your favorite Reformer for Halloween.
  • You actually think the pastor’s jokes are funny.
  • When you watch the Star Wars movies and they say, “The force be with you,” you cannot resist the urge to respond, “And also with you!”

And the last one:

  • You might be a Lutheran if you sing “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” while sitting down.

Several decades ago, the famous evangelist Billy Graham called the Lutheran Church a “sleeping giant,” and opined about how amazing it would be for the sake of the Gospel if the Lutheran Church were to wake up with evangelical fervor to love the lost like Jesus does (Luke 19:10).  More than 500 years ago, Martin Luther rediscovered the Gospel and preached the Reformation motto of Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone.  But somewhere through the centuries, that excitement about God’s grace got lost as we became more focused on dusty traditions and theological controversies.  In recent decades, Lutherans have become so cloistered, that a recent blog appeared at a popular Christian website with a question about where all the Lutherans have gone.  So in order to be good stewards of the Gospel, we need to shake off our slumber and get moving!  The eternal Gospel isn’t just for you and me.  It’s for all people from “every nation and tribe and language and people” (Rev. 14:6).

My friend and former professor, Dr. David Schmitt, once said that “God never gives me anything just for me.  He always gives it for me to share with others.”  What is true of my stewardship of my time, talents, and treasure is also true of the greatest treasure of all: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Church’s message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is not something just for you or me.  According to Revelation 14, it is for all people: “an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (Rev. 14:6).

At his Ascension, Christ himself declared that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).  I realize that the agency of that proclamation isn’t mentioned, but it would be wrong for us to assume that only the apostles and pastors have the responsibility of sharing the Gospel.  Very few people come to faith simply because they stumble into a church some Sunday or randomly bump into a chatty pastor at a coffee shop—although it does happen!  After all, most of the time we are preaching to the choir.

It would also be wrong for us to imagine some kind of scenario in which God converted somebody miraculously apart from the given means of his Word and Sacraments.  As we confess in the Small Catechism, “I believe that… the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts…” (SC, 3rd Article).

And the way the Holy Spirit called you by the Gospel was by sending someone to share it with you.  As Paul writes in our epistle, people cannot believe in Christ if they have not heard of him.  And they will not hear about Jesus unless someone tells them or preaches to them.  And how will someone proclaim that message unless he or she is sent by the Holy Spirit?  “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  Faith in Jesus comes from hearing and believing the Gospel, not from a lightning bolt zapping you in the heart!

Everyone who comes to faith does so because another Christian told them about Jesus.  And while it’s true that not everyone who hears the Word will believe (cf. Rom. 10:16), if they don’t hear the Gospel, they will most certainly never believe.  Faith comes by hearing!  Somebody needs to share the Good News of life and salvation in Jesus Christ.  Perhaps, for you, it was your parents bringing you to Baptism or teaching you the Ten Commandments and Apostles’ Creed at home.  Maybe it was a teacher in a Lutheran parochial school.  It may have been a classmate or coworker who invited you to go to church or offered to pray for you during a difficult time.  It might even have been a complete and utter stranger.  My point is this: the Gospel didn’t come to you on its own; somebody had to share it with you.  Somebody had to be a manager—a steward—of God’s gift.  For you to believe, God raised up somebody else to pray, preach, share, invite, or reach out.  That’s what stewardship of the Gospel is all about.

The Gospel is a gift to share.  The Gospel grows when it’s given away.  But stewardship of the Gospel begins with you first receiving God’s wonderful, inexpressible gift.  As I said before: the Gospel isn’t just for me and you.  But still is for you!  Repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name are God’s gift for you.  The faith that comes by hearing the message of Christ is for you.  The eternal Gospel is for you.

Whenever I preach on stewardship, I try to emphasize that God is the Ultimate Giver.  (Last week I called him The Cheerfulest Giver!)  “Every good gift and every perfect gift” comes from our heavenly Father (Jas. 1:17).  “God so loved the world that he gave…” (John 3:16).  What God gave more than anything was the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  Someone has called this Bible verse, John 3:16, the Gospel in a nutshell.  Remember: “God so loved the world” means GOD SO LOVES YOU!  This is the Good News the world needs to hear.  And it’s the Good News we need to share as good stewards of the Gospel.  To God be the glory!  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of T the Holy Spirit.  Amen