Children’s Sermon and We Flourish by Giving, Sermon for February 14, 2016
St. Valentine’s Day February 14th 2016 Christ Lutheran Church
Deut. 26:1-11 Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 Romans 10:8b-13 Luke 4:1-13
Children’s Time: When any of us at home would go on a trip, my brother-in-law, Bill would always say the verse from our Psalm for today: “For God will give the angels charge over you to protect you in all your ways.” (91:11) Then to make believe they were angels, my sisters would wave their arms like wings, so we would keep thinking about our guardian angels watching over us when we drove off.
When they waved their arms it looked funny – but we then knew just what they meant. Can you wave your arms like they were wings while I read the verse? “For God will give the angels charge over you to protect you in all your ways.”
The Psalm begins with our “dwelling in the shelter of the Most High and our abiding in the shadow of the Almighty,” because God is up there watching over us and sending angels, God’s messengers to guard and protect us. God does this without our asking, but God likes to be asked in prayer, so that we are mindful of the angels. Thus, whenever we left the house we had to say a verse from the Bible or read a passage from it. And when we were children we then had to say a prayer in German: Wie fröhlich bin ich aufgewacht/ wie hab ich geschlafen so sanft die Nacht/ hab dank den Vater im Himmel mein/ dass Du uns wollens bei mir sein/ Bleib mit mir auch diesen Tag / dass mir kein Leid geschehen mag. Amen.
How happily I woke up this morning
How soundly I slept all night
Thank you, dear Father in Heaven mine
that you were with me the whole time
and please watch over me today
so no harm can come my way. Amen.
Can we pray that together? Amen.
We Flourish by Giving
Sermon: With such clear texts in the Bible, I do not know how Christians can be anti-immigrants and refugees. We were all immigrants or refugees coming into the new world, except for Native Americans or Africans that we imported shackled to salve ships to buy and sell on auction blocks. That’s the story of African American history. So the children of Israel were told to recite this truth so that we would remember, we were all immigrants; just like they should remember: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor,” who remained a stranger in a strange land. And going down into the empire of Egypt, as descendants of Abraham, they were oppressed by slavery. God heard their cries and they received the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. We received these spacious skies filled with amber fields of grain, from the Red Woods of California to the Long Island shores. We received this mighty continent, which we really stole from the Native Americans – but we live by forgiveness and we need to reach out to those we hurt so much.
Now the Bible also tells us to offer our first fruits, the way they did in a basket…notice how we often still collect the offering in baskets and our offerings allow us to prosper. That is because it requires self-denial to think of God first and remember the church, the immigrants, the refugees, and the poor among us, celebrating the bounty with which the Lord has blessed us.
[Now there is a place for self-affirmation, if someone has always been denied a say-so in one’s own life. And there is a place for raising capital if you start a business to meet the needs of others. But it’s Lent. Let’s consider self-denial.]
Christians flourish in self-acceptance via God’s acceptance by self-giving. The question is, “Why do we prosper when we give?” The answer, It’s because we slam the brakes on our insatiable desires that can really turn into greed. We can’t make ourselves first. God has to be first. We have to care for the widows and orphans, so that the common good becomes our concern. Our egos are a problem, because we could have a billion dollars and still be unsatisfied. Now I’ll give a dollar to a beggar and then see another beggar and I’ll feel: “Oh, no he is going to hit me again! I just gave the last one a dollar.” Then I’ll turn around and spend $50 at a restaurant with my wife. That’s 25 times more that I spent on me than I gave my neighbor. So giving money away, reduces my ego and makes me be able to deny myself. Keeping all my money makes what I have not nearly enough, giving way the tithe, the ten percent, that offering to the Lord, makes me have more than enough and even have something for beggars to spare. I speak from experience.
It is like pruning. I love roses. (Putting roses in my sermon is as close as I’ll get to Valentine’s Day.) We had a gardener who asked if she could prune my rose bushes. I said, “All right.” Then she cut whole stems away! Snip, snip, snip! She was brutal. My heart was bleeding! How could she cut off all those good branches? A short time afterwards, the roses burst out blooming as never before: over 50 blossoms, where there had only been 10 or 20 before, which the deer would eat. They came down the creek into our yard.
At that time in biblical history I don’t know whether they paid tithes and taxes or only tithes. But taxes, when they enhance the common good, also function the same way. Ugh! This hurts, but I have to hear this part too. Taxes can also function like pruning so that we prosper. We don’t seem to remember, but huge tax cuts preceded our great recession. There was so much money on Wall Street, that they were using crazy financial devices and making ever more risky bets to make more and more money. And consider this: If corporations have to give their first fruits, they will be blessed and they will flourish. It’s really counter-intuitive. But it helps them when they are mindful of the common good and do not get all absorbed in their private profits. Filling the needs for the public good is the purpose that makes them flourish.
By knocking money out of the first place in our lives also helps us remember that there are values that money just can’t buy. Check out our second lesson. It is pure Gospel and in the epistle! God bends over backwards to find a way to save us. Having the confession of Jesus Christ on our lips and having the Savior in our hearts, raises us up from the dead. When we believe in Jesus in our hearts, we become pleasing to God; we live our lives in God’s favor, and we become filled and fulfilled by God’s blessings.
When we have not pruned our egos, when we haven’t practiced self-denial, then we can really go out of bounds. Money does not need to be in first place. For some it is sexual pleasure. Think of those priests, who sexually abused children. They fall into the abyss of shame. But when God is in the first place, requiring self-denial, then whoever trusts in him will never be put to shame.
Money has to be knocked out of the first place in our lives. God has to be number 1. And loving our neighbors as ourselves goes along with loving God. Luther said, what your heart clings to and you really rely and depend on is your God. So when we have Jesus on our lips, let’s not have our hearts set on money. Let’s set our hearts on Christ rising from the dead, so that we rise up to live the wonderful life.
With Christ in our hearts with the strength of Christ we can overcome the temptations of money, alcohol, drugs, sex, what have you. They can’t give us the promised life that God provides us. We can get high on the Holy Spirit and there is no hang-over. We get high on the Spirit of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Then with all sinners and saints we can exclaim: it’s so great to be alive! Because the life in Christ is better that the life of Riley, whoever he was! But for that life we have to remember our humble origins, put God into first place. God’s grace provides us the strength to practice the necessary self-denial. Amen.