Who's the Owner?

Posted 4/22/2018

Scriptures: Genesis 1:31-2:4; Psalm 24:1-10

“In the beginning…God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). We’ve all heard this start to the Scriptures. We all have heard the account that lists, day-by-day, God’s acts of creation. And, all arguments over such things as the length of the days and whether or not evolution is true, the basic claim of Genesis 1 is a very simple one: God created… That is, everything that is is all God’s work.

And that is also the claim of Ps 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” When it comes to the question, “Who’s the owner?” Scripture tells us it really doesn’t matter what it is we are talking about, it is all God’s.

We hear throughout Scripture witnesses to this reality such as that found in Ps 50, where we read: “For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine. … the world and all that is in it is mine.” (Ps 50:10-12).

Yet what does it mean to say God is the owner of everything? The first, and most significant thing it means for you and I is we are stewards. We are the stewards, not the owners, of all we have and all we are. God has made everything we own and God has made us. We are not really the owners of what we “possess,” we are simply the managers on behalf of God.

We are simply managers of what God created and owns. In other words, no matter how much we may like to believe ourselves to have “earned” what we have, it all really belongs to God. No matter how much we like to think we have “made something of ourselves,” it is God who made us to begin with and we belong to God.

We don’t own the world. We are only managers — or stewards — of God’s world. And if that is true, the real question we need to ask isn’t “what have you made of yourself?” but “what kind of manager are you?”

1. Are you a manager who recognizes that all you have and all you are comes from God as a gift or do you think you own it all? As I just said, the real question isn’t “what have you made of yourself?” but “what kind of manager are you?” It is so easy to forget that we are simply managers, not owners. 

But such a forgetfulness is both dangerous and potentially “deadly.” In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells a parable about tenants of a vineyard who refuse to give their portion of the produce of the vineyard to the owner. In fact, they finally seek to seize the vineyard for themselves. As we heard this refusal to recognize the true owner leads to their death. 

To forget that we are merely stewards and not the owners leads to our death. It leads to our death as we strive harder and harder to gain ever more of the world’s resources and find our souls dying in the process. It leads to our death as we seek to control a world that is beyond our control and find our peace dying in the process. It leads to our death as we find ourselves bearing the burden of the world on our shoulders in the mistaken belief that it is all ours and find our lives to be anything but truly living. 

In contrast, when we recall we are but managers — stewards — of God’s world, we allow room for God to work, and no longer have to be in control all the time — or even much of the time. We trust God to provide, and no longer have to frantically strive to get more and more. We discover peace and life.

2. Are you a manager who seeks to both preserve and make fruitful God’s good creation? In Genesis God blesses his creation, telling it to “be fruitful.” While in the context of Genesis 1, this means primarily reproducing and expanding in numbers; in the context of our stewardship of the earth today it means making sure that the ongoing life of all the creatures of earth is assured. It means making sure we, like God did in Genesis 1, provide an environment where all creatures of God may thrive. To, as Genesis 2 says “tend God’s garden.”

To forget that we are merely stewards and not owners leads us to abuse and potentially destroy the earth. Yet in such destruction we eventually discover our own destruction, for we are dependent upon the creation for our own sustenance. To destroy creation is to destroy the very food, water and air we need. It is to make earth uninhabitable for ourselves. It is to see the world as only something to be used for our own benefit, not something to be tended and cared for.

In contrast, when we recall that we are but managers — stewards — of God’s world, we seek to work for the benefit of not only our own lives, but the lives of all that is within creation. We seek to ensure an environment where all plants and animals — everything God has created — can grow and flourish. We see the world, not as something created only for our own benefit but as a good creation in its own right.

When we truly understand that “The earth is the Lord’s” we know that we, all we have, and all that is is God’s good creation. We are clear that God is the true owner of everything. We know ourselves to be not the owners of our own lives or of the world, but simply stewards — those entrusted to care for all God’s good gifts.