Friday, March 09, 2007

Matt.6.25-34 Consecration Sunday Resurrection Lutheran Church, Sioux Falls, SD

Matt.6.25-34 Consecration Sunday Resurrection Lutheran Church, Sioux Falls, SD

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

My brothers and sisters in faith at Resurrection Lutheran:

It’s my privilege to be here and bring you the Good News of Jesus Christ today. Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today as you celebrate Consecration Sunday. I bring you greeting from one of the oldest congregations in the district, your sister church, St. John’s, Howard.

You have asked me here to talk to you about stewardship. Whenever we talk about stewardship in church we can be a little bit uncomfortable. That’s because one important part of Christian stewardship is how we handle the money the Lord has given us, particularly how we support the work of the church. Whenever we talk about giving to the church it strikes us very close to our hearts… right in our wallets. Also, we know that whenever we talk about money there’s bound to be conflict. You know how the saying goes, stick a two of South Dakotan’s in a room to talk about money you’ll have 3 opinions on how it should be spent. And don’t forget the other old idea that lots of people think, “the only thing the church talks about is money.” Well, we’re going to talk about Christian stewardship today because congregations that never talk about Christian stewardship end up always talking about money.

We do have to talk about money in the church, because the church needs to pay its bills. You have a beautiful building to pay for. The city doesn’t provide you with electricity and water for free. You pastor has hungry mouths to feed. He needs to be paid for the work he does here. St. Paul says:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18, ESV)

These needs are all a part of giving to the church. But we don’t give to the church because the church needs the money. We don’t give to the church so that the church meets its budget. We give because as Christians, we need to give. We give because we have a need to rely on God, and God alone, in everything. We give because God is the gracious supplier of all our needs.

When we don’t have a proper view of stewardship, when we spend all our time talking about money, we are missing the most important thing we are to be talking about in Church. You see, Jesus tells us that here in the church we are to be focused on one thing 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 anywhere in Scripture. Your church here may always have some struggle with its budget just as you struggle with your budget at home from time to time. What Our Savior does promise is that He will take care of us. He promises that all things happen for our benefit.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, ESV)

Jesus wants us to trust Him. He wants us to realize if we struggle to meet our budget, while we are focusing on what’s most important, it’s ok, because in that struggle we learn to be dependent on Him. Jesus says it in this way in Matthew Chapter 6, which is the text I have chosen for our meditation today:

“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)

Today the part of this text that I really want to focus on is: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. There are some questions here that I think come up when we look at this very short and simple passage. What is God’s righteousness? What is God’s Kingdom? What is it exactly that we are to seek after? St. Paul says it in a very clear way:

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. That’s the message, the Good News, that we are to be about, proclaiming to the world. If you want a mission statement for the church that talks about that very thing, well Jesus gives you one of those, 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 when we talk about doing this work of the church, baptizing, teaching, preaching, etc. it’s only natural to talk about the financial means the church uses to do it. When we talk about the money the church needs to carry out its mission, it’s easy to be tempted to worry about making ends meet. It’s only natural as a caring human being. Your pastor isn’t immune to worry. I’m not immune to worry. You are not immune to worry. At home you worry about paying your bills. You worry about getting your kids through school. The same thing happens at church. Although being a small church has many advantages that you love, being a mission congregation means that you don’t have the resources of an established congregation. So you worry about where the money is going to come from to pay the bills. You worry about how that is going to effect your mission to reach out with the Gospel. It’s not all wrong to have concerns about these things, except that is, when these things and these worries get in the way of the Cross. I would not be fulfilling the office that God has placed me in, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if I didn’t tell you that when that happens it is 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 this church to have all the resources of a larger church. He may never grant that this church have an easy time meeting its budget, but that’s His call, not mine, not your Pastor’s, 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 struggle we don’t have God’s blessing. Well, it’s like the hymn:

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, Christ Crucified. 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 comes, 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. His own to serve Him with the time that He gives me. His own to serve Him with the talents that He gives me. And even His own to serve Him 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. It is 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. You’ve been good stewards of this gift. What a blessing it is. See this Baptismal font. I had water put water in it today just as a reminder of what happens there, a reminder of the lives that have been brought into the family of God. Look on the altar and see the chalice. In it is some wine, and near it bread, where very soon Our Lord will come to us in His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Let that also 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 it. The gifts that you give He gives to you. The question you can ask yourselves today, as you think about the gifts that God has personally given you and how you are going to support what he does here 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.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33, ESV)

He’ll guide you in what you can do to support the work that He does here. He’ll provide you with all you need to do the work He has for you to do out there. Amen.

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

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