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Stewardship Sermon at Old Zion 11/12/2006

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22nd Sunday after Trinity – November 12th 2006

1 Kings 17:8-16 Psalm 146  Hebrews 9: 24-28  Mark 12:38-44

 

Stewardship: Believing that God Provides

 

     When Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 – February 18, 1546) looked at the indulgences that the church sold in order to have a source of revenue, he called a foul, and you and I know that that started the Reformation.[1] The church made you do penance for your sins and these certificates were somewhat like tickets for parking violations, except that you purchased them and could do so for a future one. When you purchased indulgences the money that you paid killed two birds with one stone. You paid money to the church as a punishment and the church had a wonderful source of income. The more people sinned them more penance they paid, the more revenue for the church. It was a racket!

     I often compare the indulgence system with the parking ticket system, (with the differences noted above). When the city of Philadelphia gives you a ticket for parking on a Sunday night even until midnight, where most cities do not even charge on Sundays, let alone after 6:00pm, then the city is using so-called parking violations as a source of revenue from the unsuspecting. Cities can get away with that sort of a racket, but the church cannot.

     Luther said that “The true treasure of the Church is the most holy Gospel of God’s grace and glory” (Thesis 62 of the Ninety-Five Theses). That means, not its bank account and any of its other possessions. Some churches own buildings in the center of some cities, which makes them very rich. Some churches and synagogues have Bingo, where the poor are further oppressed, because they often use money from their livelihood when they become addicted to the chance of winning $1,000. Some know how to play with ten cards at a time. In some cases, other churches charge for the pews the members sit in, which makes it like a theater or concert. Those up front pay more than those in back seats. These seats can become very expensive.

     Referring to the Reformation, some Catholics will criticize Protestants saying, “You just wanted a cheap church. What do you think pleases God more, your cheap one or an expensive one?”

     The problem with that criticism is that it misplaces the emphasis on what we do rather than what God is doing for us. It points to what we are willing to pay for, and buy, or what we earn. The Gospel, however, is about the gifts of grace that we receive; that God gives us everything free of charge in an economy of abundance, so that around the Table of the Lord[2] everyone’s cup runs over: we all share and give cheerfully of ourselves, because we are so thankful for all God’s provisions provided for us, if you excuse the redundancy in that statement.

     Thus Luther continues in the 66th of the Ninety-five Theses, “The Gospel is not the net with which to fish for peoples’ money” the way indulgences do, “The Gospel is the net to fish for people” (65). Thus the Gospel should fish for people themselves in order to bring them into the reign of God, the Kingdom of God.

     Now when people are caught in the fishing nets of the Gospel, then you are a fish that belongs to God. Whether you are a big or a little fish, an old or a young one, does not matter, you no longer belong to yourself, now you belong to God. You are now a possession of the Holy Spirit and possessed by and under the influence of the Holy Spirit, you will experience the “freedom of the Christian Person”.[3]

     Luther did not speak about penance and payments that you had to make for punishment; but repentance, just like Jesus did when he began his ministry saying, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near at hand.” Luther’s first Thesis of his famous ninety-five sounded like this: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent!’ he means that the whole live of the faithful should become one of repentance.”

     You can’t put your little finger in the baptismal font and say you are baptized. Your whole self goes into the water, drowns that old sinful, “self-fish”[4] person that you were, and you are raised back up out of the water a Christ, ready to give not only all of your possessions for the Kingdom of God, but even your own body, even giving your own very life away for the Kingdom of suffering love.

     Now you can see how the waters of baptism cover you and you can’t breathe down there. But the Holy Spirit becomes your air and you take a breath of the life of God and then you breathe out the love of God. You inhale the pure oxygen of life that you receive from God and you exhale love that brings about the abundant life for everyone blessed to be related to you, to be your neighbor.

     Then you will experience what Elijah’s poor widow experienced. She had tapped into the inexhaustible resources of God’s provisions. “The jar of meal never emptied and the jug of oil never failed,” because she provided for the prophet first, from the little that she had to keep herself and her son alive. I think I would have balked about giving my son’s provisions away, too (and I have to look into that), but she didn’t. To the holy prophet the widow gave away what would have kept her and her son alive, and behold, she did not die, but lived and found that God was providing for her and her son in a marvelous way.

     Again, Jesus preached, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near at hand.” And later he said: Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things will be added unto you (Matthew 6:33), which implies, that if you seek your own interests first, without considering justice, and then you seek the reign of God afterward, then all these things will be subtracted from you.

     Now it is tempting to speak of tithing and require it as a rule for all members as many churches do. The tithe was instituted at the time of Abraham and required giving ten percent of all your income to the House of God. In the Old Testament, the tithe is required as an offering. It is written in the prophet Malachi, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouses so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of Hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down a blessing” (3:10).

     Now the Gospel does not up the anti, so to speak. It does not say that we now have to give 20%, 30%, or even more. Jesus is not a lawgiver like Moses. We live in the freedom of the Gospel. It invites us, however, to give 100%. But don’t you see? That is because you trust God to provide for you far more abundantly than you can even imagine and conceive yourself. That is why you can be a cheerful giver and you cannot out-give God. The more you give, the more God gives you. As St. Luke says, “Give and it will be given to you, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap – for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (6:38). What a wonderful embellishment to the simple “my cup runneth over” of the 23rd Psalm.

     Haven’t you experienced that many times? Shakespeare wrote a whole play about it called Measure for Measure. He had his eyes fixed on the law, but we are speaking about measuring the Gospel, to which there is no measure. What God gives us is simply overwhelming. It is like they used to say about ministers: the pay is not too good, but the retirement plan is out of this world!

     Perhaps you have to start with the law and say, “I’ll give 10%.” The law is supposed to drive us to the Gospel. In an important sense, learning is of course one thing and life is another. Do not forget the heaven of giving and sharing of the Gospel that the law is supposed to teach you and bring you to. When we were children, whenever we received money, my father would have a little, metal church that was a piggybank, and would say, “What do you do first?” I remember that it was white and had a green roof and like this church it had lost its steeple. (The steeple of our little church-bank had remained in Frankfurt an der Oder with many of our family belongings when we were fleeing the Russians.) And then while my father was holding it, you had to drop a dime or 10% in coins through the slot in the roof. You had to stuff dollar bills into the front. For us children that was fun.

     Now you see to speak about a cheap church or an expensive one is not to the point. Christ paid for us not with money or silver and gold, but with his own precious blood and now we are the purchase of God and we belong completely to God and are God’s children, because of the cross of Christ, and we get our provisions around the table of the Lord, and believe you, me, the economy of our country, of our family, and sometimes, I think, even of the stock market, depends upon the economy provided by God.

     Now the economy of abundance, although it relies upon our faith in God instead of believing in Mammon, the almighty dollar; also stands to reason as opposed to the economy of scarcity, which relies on self interest and selfishness. When we provide for ourselves we never have enough. Imagine how much money we spend on ourselves? And when we get money, we never get enough. Even a million dollars won’t buy everything I want. And if I make a million, then I say, but I want to be a billionaire like Bill Gates. After spending a hundred dollars in a restaurant, I come out and give a beggar a quarter. I say to myself, have I given him too much? And what do you suppose he is going to do with my money? When we give and share we hit our limits very quickly, but when we spend for ourselves, our resources disappear into a sinkhole of selfishness. If we give and share with others as we would spend for ourselves and give to ourselves as we would usually give to others, then the common wealth would result in an economy of abundance. One cannot make a law or a system out of this joyful economy. It can only come about through faith.

     Now importantly, do not identify a particular church with the kingdom of God or your pastor with God. I am made out of flesh and blood and this church too, has a long way to go. I pray to God that I might grow in grace and become more mature and self-giving. Our church also needs to grow in order to proclaim and live out the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in this place. Thank God that we live out forgiveness, that we are Kyrie-Christians, living out of the mercy of God.

     Thus when you are giving to the needy and poor, you are also making your offering. When you share your gifts and talents, that is also part of the 100%. One woman from a former church never could put money into the offering plate, because she was hooked on Bingo and the Catholic church down the street got it, but she brought twelve children to Sunday School. What an offering!

     But stop and consider. Here in Old Zion you can hear the Gospel, the word of life. And stop and consider what your giving says about the measure of your faith. Could you not increase your giving somewhat to your own dear church? Challenge yourself, go through the growing pains, and increase your faith. Remember your church in your will. Increase your giving. You’ll be glad you did. Amen.


[1] October 31st 1517, on the Eve of All Saints Day.

[2] In the House of the Lord or the Reign of God, the Table of the Lord is its joyful economy, its economy of abundance.

 

[3] This is the title of Luther’s best selling pamphlet. It came out in 38 editions in his life-time and was his Magna Charta in view of what he considered the Babylonian Captivity of the Church. (See Peter Krey, Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron, Ph.D. dissertation, Graduate Theological Union, UMI Proquest, 2001).

[4] Perhaps we often remain selfish because it is rather difficult to drawn a fish.

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Written by peterkrey

November 18, 2006 at 3:16 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

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