Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Greatest Stewardship Sermon Ever Preached

Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
November 15, 2009
Mark 13:1-13

The words Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel reading may seem to have nothing to do with stewardship. But they have everything to do with stewardship. What He speaks here isn’t the greatest stewardship sermon ever preached, but there is a greatest stewardship sermon ever preached. I’m sure you will agree with me that it’s not this one you’re hearing.

Jesus’ sermon here puts things into perspective for us. That’s what a good stewardship sermon does. That’s what every sermon should do. The disciples look at the temple and are focused on the building. Jesus’ focus is on the Church. He’s telling them that all they see will be no more at some point in time. When they want to know when this will be He re-focuses them on what’s important. See that you’re not led astray. There are so many things that can capture our attention. Many of them good things. But if those things are our focus then we miss Christ.

We have a beautiful building ourselves, even if somewhat modest. We’re grateful to have the sanctuary we have and the facilities we have at our church. But if our focus in our little congregation is not on Christ then it doesn’t really matter if we have a shack or a cathedral. This building will one day be destroyed but the Church will remain forever. It’s natural for us to focus on the building. The upkeep of it. The costs associated with it. Where the money will come from to keep the building and facilities maintained and the salaries paid.

Jesus’ perspective is much broader than that. That doesn’t mean He doesn’t concern Himself with money. After all, He gives us money, just as He gives us everything else. He gives us our minds, our abilities, resources, possessions. His perspective concerns all these things. He is concerned with our lives. How we spend our time. How we use our abilities. How use our possessions. And, as everyone expects to hear in a stewardship sermon, how we use our money.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus paints a bleak picture of what will happen. This is one reason this is such a good message for stewardship. With our concern for balancing the congregational budget and wondering where the money is going to come from, a pretty bleak picture can seem to be before us. If we even casually look at the picture Jesus paints in the Gospel reading we will readily see that His is a much bleaker situation than what we see before us in our congregation. And yet, the picture He paints in the Gospel reading is exactly that of our congregation, because we are part of the Body of Christ; we are members of the Holy Christian Church. What He describes is what is ahead for us as Christians and as a congregation that is part of the Holy Christian Church. Our small congregational budget is a drop in the bucket in light of the realities of the End Time tribulation we will face.

That’s all good and well, of course, but we still have a budget to balance and approve. On Saturday reality hits in what we will vote on in our Voters’ Meeting for the coming year in how our congregation will spend the money we have for the furthering of our congregation and its mission.

Since we’re going to get very specific at our meeting on Saturday, let’s get very specific here. Treat your money the way you ought to treat everything else in your life as a Christian. It’s all God’s. He owns everything, He’s given you what you have so that you may glorify Him with it and serve others with it. You do this with your time. All the time you have is God’s, you don’t get to keep some of it for yourself. Use it all to His glory. And even though some people think it’s not very spiritual or godly, yes, this means that when you’re watching the Charger game you are glorifying God. He has given you all things in His creation for you to enjoy. The problem isn’t with us enjoying His gifts, it’s with our sinful flesh wanting to use them in ways that are sinful. So if you put your sports, or whatever you enjoy doing, above your responsibilities as a father or child or employer, then you’re not using what God has given you to His glory.

This also is the case with your abilities. He’s given you talents. If you use them simply to gratify your sinful desires then you are taking what God gives you and treating them as if they’re purely for you and not in gratitude toward His love for you. There are many ways you can use your time and abilities to serve others. One of the things we do as a congregation is do things that we otherwise could not do on our own. Can you imagine what the Holy Christian Church would be like if every Christian tried to go it alone? In a Christian congregation you receive the help you need in hearing the Word of God, receiving the Lord’s Supper, and encouraging one another to live as God would have us live. Use a portion of your time in reading and studying the Word of God by yourself daily and weekly with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Be here in God’s House to receive the Gospel and the strength you need in the Lord’s Supper.

This puts perspective on the one that’s often hard to talk about—money. Look at your money in the same way you look at your time and your talents. You don’t give some of it to God and the rest is all for you. It’s all His. The really weird thing about it is that He doesn’t need it. He owns everything. But then again, He doesn’t need your time and talents either. He gives us all of these things for our benefit. We use them for that and recognize also that we have it all from Him to serve others.

Maybe the reason we often have trouble as Christians when it comes to money is because time and our abilities are intangible. If a friend calls you up in the middle of the Charger game it might be easier to pull yourself away to help him than it would be to write a check off the top of your paycheck to the Church, because that hits you where it counts. In this age of DVRs it’s easy enough to record the game, but if I give a certain amount of money off the top to God, what will happen if I don’t have enough to pay the bills at the end of the month? What happens if there’s an unexpected emergency?

Perhaps the reason the Bible gives tithing as a guide for giving to God is because the pocketbook is what hits us the most. It’s the one we worry about. It’s the one we want to hold on to the most. We often readily give of our time and abilities, but want to use our money for our own enjoyment. But the beauty of God’s guide in tithing is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, greedy or content, good with money or don’t have a clue about finances. Tithing isn’t based on how much you have, how much you think you need, or what you know. It’s based simply on a percentage. That percentage, ten, is a guide in order to help you understand whose money it is you’re dealing with. Since it’s all God’s and He has all things and therefore doesn’t need anything from you, the percentage you give to God is to help you see that everything you have and everything you do is from Him and for Him.

If you’re not giving ten percent there’s no better time to work toward that than now. Making the jump from two percent to ten may be a shock. But God is patient. Working toward it over a period of years is far better than giving a paltry sum to God and thinking that all the rest is yours. If you’re giving ten percent you’re in a great position to realize that God gives you what you truly need, that you have nothing without Him. That, as Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than receive,” moving beyond ten percent will bring you to the realization that God is in the business of blessing us and blessing us abundantly.

When it comes to our congregation and we ask the question, Where is the money going to come from? well, the answer is, of course, God. And the way He gives that money is by giving it to us and we giving a portion back to Him. Being a congregation is tough. Being a Christian is tough—giving of your time, your abilities, your money. It may be tough for you to add some time to your schedule to serve those who are in need. Percentage giving may not be easy for you—working toward ten percent if you’re not there and working beyond it if you’re already there. But in the midst of the bleak picture Jesus paints He gives hope: the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Jesus’ sermon in the Gospel reading is not a stewardship sermon, per se. But it is the same thing He always does, and that is preach the Gospel. And when Jesus preaches the Gospel, He preaches Himself. When all else fails, you still have Jesus. When everything around you crumbles, the cross of Christ remains. When the world is going to hell, and for that matter, hating you because you cling to Christ, you still have Christ and His salvation. That’s why He preaches Himself in this sermon as He always preaches Himself. The sermon Jesus preaches in today’s Gospel reading is not the greatest stewardship sermon ever preached. Historians could search every sermon ever preached by anyone, including Jesus, and wouldn’t be able to say, “There it is, the greatest stewardship sermon ever preached!”

But the greatest stewardship sermon ever preached exists. It is, in fact, alive and well. It is, in fact, constantly being preached. It is nothing other than the Gospel. It is Jesus Christ Himself, who He is and what He has done for the salvation of the world. It is His life, suffering, death, and resurrection for the sin of the world. It is our Lord and Savior working actively in His Holy Christian Church and in our lives in and through Baptism, preaching and Absolution, and His Holy Supper.

In a few moments we’ll be coming to the altar to give our commitment forms and offerings. Even a few moments later we’ll be coming to the altar again, this time to receive. It is only by the mercy of Christ, His life and death and resurrection, His giving of His body and blood for our forgiveness that we have anything and can do anything and give anything. Stewardship is really that simple: Christ living and working in your life to bring you eternal life so that you may rejoice in Him and serve Him. Amen.


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