Friday, October 13, 2006

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 6:25-34, October 15, 2006

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 15, 2006, Matthew 6:25-34
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD

Grace and peace to you from our Lord an d Savior, Jesus Christ.

Well…  today after church we’re going to talk about and approve a budget for next year.  And whenever we do things like this in the church there’s bound to be some conflict.  There’s bound to be some heated discussion.  It’s because it has to do with our wallet.  Anytime you stick a bunch of South Dakotan’s in a room to talk about money you’re going to get an argument.  There’s an old saying about German people that says if you put two Germans in a room you’ll get three opinions.  I think we are like that when we talk about money.  And don’t forget the old idea that lots of people think, “the only thing the church thinks about is money.”  Well, the budget is about money, and I don’t have to tell you that the budget around the church here has been tight.  In fact, there were a few months I didn’t think I was going to get paid.  But I don’t want you to give money to the church to balance the budget.  I want you to be a good steward of the gifts that God has given you.  So today we’re going to talk about Christian Stewardship but we’re not going to talk about the budget.  You see, Jesus tells us that here in the church we are to be focused on the most important things and He will take care of the rest.  I’m not saying, nor is our Savior, that if we do the right thing the budget automatically fall into balance.  I don’t see that He promises that.  We may always struggle with our budget.  What He does promise is that He will take care of the rest, for our best benefit.  What we need to do is trust that if we struggle to meet the budget, while we are focusing on what’s most important, it’s ok.  I think that’s what Jesus is saying to us here:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34, ESV)

From the very first time I stepped into this pulpit I’ve been speaking to you over and over again about just what Jesus is saying here.  In fact, that last part is my confirmation verse.  Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  What is God’s righteousness?  What is God’s Kingdom?  What is it that we are to seek after?  St. Paul says it very clearly:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2, ESV)

The church, that’s me and you, the Baptized Children of God, are to be focused on Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.  We are to be focused on the forgiveness of sins that comes to us through Jesus Word and Sacraments.  If you’re the kind who wants a mission statement for the church, well Jesus gives us that, too.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)

Baptizing and Teachings.  Word and Sacrament.  Seek ye first, the Kingdom.  That’s what we are to be about.  That’s what we are to be doing.

Ok, so we still have to talk about the budget.  Fine, we’ll do it today after church.  I want you to know that I’m as tempted to worry about the budget as anyone.  After all it’s how my family gets fed.  I’m not immune to worry.  I’m no SuperSaint.  Satan tugs at my heart, too.  You worry about the crops.  You worry about how you’re going to pay your bills.  You worry about your kids getting through school.  You worry about weather they are drinking and driving.  You worry about the double digit Miner county population decline and the empty seats in this church.  You worry… you want things to be the way they used to be… lots of kids running around and full church pews.  And maybe it’s not all wrong to have concerns about these things, except when they get in the way of the Cross.  If we want to get new members into the church to balance the budget, if we want the numbers of worshippers to grow because we want the collection plate full, because we want things in the church to be easy…  well, my brothers and sisters in Christ, that’s a sin.  And it’s easy to get caught up in that sin.  I get caught up in it and so do you.  God may never grant us again a full church, and an easy budget, that’s His call, not mine and not yours.  We just have to get around the idea that if we have it easy, we are under God’s blessing and if we have it hard God isn’t blessing us.  Well, it’s like the hymn just sang:

I lay my wants on Jesus; All fullness dwells in him;
He heals all my diseases; My soul he does redeem.
I lay my griefs on Jesus, My burdens and my cares;
He from them all releases; He all my sorrows shares.
(Lutheran Worship, 366)

How about an example from Luke’s Gospel:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV)

How easy it is to get tied up in the work that’s necessary to keep things going, and miss the main thing.  How easy it is to get tied up in how to pay the bills and forget that the reason we pay the bills is because we come to this place to see the one thing necessary, Jesus.  There’s no better way to put it than the way Martin Luther says it in the Small Catechsim:

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

“That I may be His own” just think about that for a moment.  Jesus Christ came, is born a human being, “that I may be His own.”  Jesus lives on earth, walks the roads of the middle east “that I may be His own.”  He hangs on the cross, and suffers not just the physical suffering of that punishment, but also the spiritual suffering that our sins deserve, “that I may be His own.”  He ascends into the cloud up to the throne of God, the Father, and prays for me there, “that I may be His own.”  He comes here in His Word, in Water connected to His Word, and in His very body and Blood, in with and under bread and wine, “that I may be His own.”  His own to serve Him in worship, with the time that He gives me, with the talents that He gives me, and even with the money that He gives me.  That’s Christian Stewardship.  That’s giving to the church for the all the right reasons.

Maybe I’ll just say it this way:  You and I know that everything is God’s.  He created the world and everything in it, including you and me.  He gives things to you and me to take care of us, and so that we can take care of our neighbors.  I think it’s absolutely beyond my understanding that He then lets us give some of it back to Him and He uses it what we give to give us the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.  It used to be so much clearer.  In the old days, people gave their offerings, not in cash, but in kind.  So piled up in the front of the church would have been hams, and corn and bread and milk and wine.  The pastor would take some of the bread and some of the wine and carry it up to the altar for the Lord’s Supper.  And the gift that was given by God’s people came back to them with the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and life, and salvation.  

Now I want you to stand up and look around you.  You see this church.  It’s a beautiful building, it’s been well taken care of.  We’ve been good stewards of this gift.  What a blessing it is.  I wish you could see through the stained glass to the house that sits next door, you know, that house with the new roof.  I count it as one of the great blessings in my life.  It’s a beautiful house.  It’s been well taken care of.  What a blessing it is to have a place for your pastor to live.  See this font.  I put water in it just for today as a reminder of what happens there.  I wish we had the Lord’s Supper today, too.  But since we don’t I set out the chalice.  In it is some wine.  It’s to remind you also of what God does here through that gift.  

All of this is God’s gift to you… and he gives you a part in taking care of it.  The question you should ask yourselves as you think about the budget and think about how you are going to support that budget is this?  Do you need what God gives you in this place?  Do your friends and neighbors need what God gives in this place?  Do your children and grand children need what God gives in this place?  Does this community, this state and the world need what God gives in this place?  If the answer is “yes”, then recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in you right now.  He’ll guide you in what you can do to support the work that He does here.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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