22nd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 24) LSB #’s 869:1-3, 698, 783
Text – Matthew 22:21
Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, & to God what is God’s.”
GIVING TO GOD
Two men were leaving church one Sunday, and as they started walking away from God’s house, one spoke out in bitter complaint. “We heard it again this morning. We’re supposed to give willingly, give regularly, give generously. Give, give, give! When are all these appeals for money going to stop?”
His friend turned & said, “Bill, do you remember my son Jim? When he came into the world he cost me quite a bit of money. I had to pay the doctor bill & the hospital charges, buy a crib & all the like. Money had to be spent for medicine, food, clothing, & so on.
As Jim grew, expenses increased. When he started school money was required for transportation, books & activities. In due time we were told he should have braces on his teeth. He entered high school, & it took more money to support him, & then he went to college. You can imagine what that cost!
Well, as you might remember, just a few weeks before he was to graduate, he became critically ill. We did everything we could for Jim, yet the Lord was pleased to call him home, to be in the arms of God. Since we buried our son he hasn’t cost us a single thing, not even one penny!” What is the lesson in that story?
Am I only telling it to tear at your heart, & put the squeeze on you for money? Am I that callous & crass? I believe the story is meant to reveal that when we truly value something we don’t mind contributing our money to it. In fact, we appreciate the opportunity to share our hard earned cash with something we do consider worthwhile.
If you get upset with sermons on giving, maybe it’s because, deep down, you really do
not value your relationship with God like you know that you should. When the subject at hand hits close to that ugly truth – fear grips you – fear of having your sinful weakness exposed. Then the “old Adam” in you takes over, & dictates your reaction. With indignation & blustering you attempt to drive the questioning away, from your area of weakness, by the use of anger.
Is that nothing more than a feeble attempt to hide your sinful nature? The Apostle John speaks very clearly to that type of reaction: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, & will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
People, in the day of Malachi the prophet, were taking advantage of the world’s darkness by offering up rotten grain & sick animals as offerings to God. They thought no one would notice a little mildew, or a case of pinkeye, among the thousands of lambs & heaps of grain being offered as sacrifices. How about your offerings?
Are they the 1st fruits & the best of what God has given you? That’s the “old Adam” in all of its unvarnished repulsiveness & truth. That sinful man resides in each & every one of us. One of the confessions we use puts it very clearly, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, & the truth is not in us.” Have you been sitting here making excuses for your attitude?
Deny it as we might; point out all our good deeds as we may, God’s Word speaks very clearly of the filth of even our most righteous deeds. They are but filthy rags in the sight of the Lord. Hopefully that explains for you why so many people are uncomfortable with sermons on stewardship. If you’re included, you are not alone.
It’s because Satan has an exceptionally strong hold on us, in this materialistic society in which we live, move & have our very being. Intelligent, rational & well-adjusted people state that they never appreciated the wealth of this country until they visited some third world
country to experience the poverty that they live in, day after day after day. In order to give freely & cheerfully, it helps to have an accurate perspective on how much God has given to us.
On the other hand, some churches & pastors are focused almost entirely upon money. One Sunday I went to a non-denominational service at a huge facility near our seminary. During a single one hour & twenty minute service, they passed the offering plate four different times. That was a crass & obvious focus on money.
Do you really think God has any desire for those pieces of green paper printed by the United States Treasury? He created the entire universe through simply speaking the words. He’s almighty. He has the power to do & to have anything. Why would He care even the least bit for your offerings? He doesn’t want your money.
Yahweh wants your life & your soul. He wants you to give them freely out of love for what He’s done for you. Look around our culture. Look into the eyes of those who are so frantically busy. Listen to their conversation. Where are they engaging & investing the bulk of their energy & commitment?
Tragically, they’re spending their very soul on that which is thin, shallow & transitory. Think of how many lives are spent in frenzied work & acquisition, all for a moment of entertainment or self-absorption, only to be quickly returned to the frustrations of their day-to-day slavery.
The blessings of sports & hobbies are converted by our culture, yes even by you & me, into a curse when these activities are made the center & goal of our lives. Such idolatry, as with worship of any false god, soon devours & destroys the worshipper. Have you heard this line from a well-known song of a few years back:
“St. Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”
Idolatry destroys! Offering one’s life to the true God brings life. Our Savior re-creates, He builds & He saves, rather than destroys. Satan will take you & suck the life out of you until you’re as dry & lifeless as a skeleton. Jesus Christ longs to breathe new life into you.
The Pharisees, trying to trap Jesus, were concerned only about money & reputation. Is your problem with stewardship sermons due to their focus on money? Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites & tells them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Let him have the money. Give to God what is God’s – your life & your soul, your energy & commitment, your love & your trust.
After all, you’re only returning what He’s already blessed you with in the 1st place. You can’t give what you don’t have, & all that you have is from the Lord. Why is it so difficult to let go & give cheerfully if you’re so self-sufficient? What did you give your life & soul to yesterday? Was it to an idol, or to God? You gave them to something!
In regard to salvation, the only giving that matters is that our Heavenly Father gave His only begotten Son to die for us, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Do you recognize that verse? Many call it their favorite verse in the Bible. If it’s yours, do you live that verse, or is it simply a good luck charm to rub in times of trouble?
If you live that verse, if it guides & directs your day-to-day choices, then you have nothing to fear from giving to God what is His. With the Pharisees, Jesus turns their clever questioning into an opportunity to show that as the Son of God He’s giving back to His Father all of creation in a restored condition. Jesus Himself does the ultimate in giving.
He’s taken on flesh in order to re-create His creation which Adam destroyed through his sin. Through Christ’s death & resurrection He’s begun a new creation & God’s ownership of the entire creation is the foundation for stewardship. That calls for the sort of radical obedience & faithfulness that only Jesus is capable of accomplishing. That’s why stewardship sermons rub us the wrong way, because we’re not capable of living up to them. They hurt our pride. But our Lord & Savior, is capable. For Jesus, questions about paying taxes pale into insignificance.
He is the new covenant, the one where God does everything; where man cannot fail to keep his end of the deal, because man has no end to keep. Jesus has become man in our place. He has kept the covenant in our place. He gives to God what is already God’s, in our place.
That new creation is then given to us, through water & the Word in baptism, through bread & wine, body & blood in the Lord’s Supper. We are to use that new creation to God’s glory, to manage for the benefit of our neighbor. We are the stewards of that new creation, as Adam & Eve were the stewards of the Garden of Eden.
What you put in the offering basket is symbolic of offering your life to Jesus. Our stewardship outside the building is an extension of worship on Sunday, but with the offering we connect the liturgy to our lives immediately. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate & express our love for God. The offering is the place in the liturgy where real life & worship intersect.
So if you have trouble giving an offering of the 1st & the best that God has given you, don’t respond in anger to the threat of having your sin discovered. Freely admit that sin, & then put it in the offering plate. Give your sins to Jesus. Give that sin to Christ so that you may be freed from it. That’s what He died for, that your sins might no longer have power over you.
No matter what you think of stewardship sermons, your life is one of stewardship. You can’t avoid it as long as you’re alive. The question is, “Are you practicing good stewardship or bad? Are you living out the life God has given, or dying on the vine?”
Our Lord died so that you may be born anew every day. In Christ there’s new hope for every day, & He is with us always, to the very end of the age. Each morning Jesus prepares the way ahead of us creating new opportunities for you & me to serve Him & to live in. Amen.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven & earth. He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out & your coming in from this time forth & forevermore. Amen. (Psalm 121 ESV)
 John 3:19-20 NIV
Stewardship 3 – 2017 They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love
Text – 1 John 4:7
Beloved, let us love one another for love is from God, & whoever loves has been born of God & knows God.
Stewards Transformed by Love
Six year old Johnnie comes home from 1st grade, & asks his mother, “Mom, where do I come from?” His mother thought, Oh dear, I wish his father was here to answer this question. She had hoped the question would not come up for a few more years. But, after she had slowly & carefully explained the anatomy of males & females, she asked Johnny:
“Why did you ask?” He answered, “My friend Bobby came from Chicago, so I was wondering where I came from.”
There is also misunderstanding when we talk about God’s love so I’d like to make three points that we need to better understand God’s affection for us. In the epistle reading for today we find our 1st point which is “love begins with God.”
Verse seven of the Epistle lesson says, “Beloved, let us love one another for love is from God, & whoever loves has been born of God & knows God.” By ourselves, we are incapable of loving. But many people consider love to have originated with themselves. If that were true, it would be a very selfish & self-centered kind of love.
Christians know that God is the origin of love. He 1st loved us, & enables us to share that love with others, but God is not only the origin of love. Verse 8 tells us “God is love.” The very nature of God is love. Everything He does & says originates from His love for us. He created us, &, when we fell into sin, instead of giving up on us or destroying us, He set out to redeem us.
He showed His love for us as He sent His Son to pay the sacrifice for sins. He sent His Son into the world to die on the Cross as the propitiation for our sins. In verse 10 we see that propitiation means Jesus was the atoning sacrifice for our sin. A sacrifice had to be made for our sins. Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, & He does that so we might live through Him. Because of God’s love & forgiveness, we have eternal life in His name. So we recognize, “Love begins with God.”
The 2nd major point is that “God’s love has a dramatic effect.” Verse 7 says we are born of God. Through Holy Baptism, we are born again of water & the Spirit, thus becoming children of God. Our old natural birth has been superseded by a new supernatural birth. We have been transformed & changed, because of which you & I are no longer the same person.
We know about the metamorphosis that takes place in a caterpillar as it becomes a butterfly. As great as that transformation is from caterpillar to butterfly, the change that occurs in our lives is much greater than that, because at one time we were lost. Now we are found. At one time we were dead. Now we are made alive.
Once we were enemies of God. Holy Scripture says that now we are considered His dear friends & children. Not only are we born of God, we possess knowledge of God that people who do not believe do not have. We don’t just know about God intellectually. We know God personally & intimately, because we are the recipients of His love as daughters & sons.
The most dramatic effect that God’s love has on us is that we love others, even those we would otherwise hate. Our love for one another is a response to God’s infinite love for each & every one of us. Showing the same kind of selfless, sacrificial love toward others witnesses to the love of our Heavenly Father that He reveals in Christ Jesus.
The Apostle John says it very well: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also out to love one another.” You see, love that is of God is dynamic & explosive. It cannot be & just remain between God & me. The presence of Yahweh’s love in our lives is shown by the way that it
reaches out to others. Love originates with God, & then has a dramatic effect upon us.
Third “Love becomes the distinguishing mark of Christ’s followers.” After Jesus had washed His disciples’ feet, He tells them: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)
Unbelievers recognized Jesus’ disciples by their love. Believers gave evidence to being disciples by their love for one another. When the early church was just getting started, those outside the church would watch how people inside the church treated one another & responded by saying, “My, how they love one another.”
People watching us will see we are Christians by the love we display. The source of our love is Christ’s love for us. He loves unconditionally without setting limits. Jesus loves us sacrificially, & His love for us, not guilt, is what empowers us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus was a living example of God’s love & we are to be living examples of Jesus’ love.
We struggle not to put conditions on our love. In response to that normal sinful attitude, St. Paul wrote in Romans 13: “Owe no one anything except to love each other.” (13:8 ESV) And whenever we talk about love, we have to remember that love is more than simple warm feelings. Love is an attitude that reveals itself in action. Love is more a verb than a noun.
Read the great love chapter sometime, 1 Corinthians 13, & see how Paul describes love: “Love is patient, love does not envy or boast, it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful.” Paul then says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (13:7 ESV)
As we think about love, the kind that originated from God, love that changes us & transforms us, we ask ourselves, “How can we love others as Jesus loves us? How can we prove
that our love is real?” There are many ways, but here are five of them.
1.One way to show our love is by helping others when it’s not convenient. It is easy to help others when it’s convenient in our schedule. If we have to change schedules, are we going to be willing to help?
2.Another way to show love is by devoting time & energy to another person’s welfare rather than our own. Time is precious & often we don’t want to give up time that we reserve for ourselves. Sometimes we draw a line, thinking we’ve given too much. God says He’s given us plenty of time to do what He calls us to do.
3.We can prove that our love is real when we love those we don’t even like. Is there someone who gets under your skin or irritates you so much? Do you know anyone like that? Even if we don’t like someone, God expects us to love them.
4.We can prove our love when we are hurt by others & do not seek revenge or fight back, but instead we forgive them. That is something to see, isn’t it? By nature, when we’re hurt, we want to retaliate. Evidence of our love is that we are forgiving. Because we are loved & forgiven by God, our response can be to be forgiving people.
5.We can prove our love by giving generously, cheerfully & sacrificially. Giving until it hurts; that’s what sacrificial giving really is. This kind of giving is what proves the genuineness of our love. When St. Paul was writing to the Corinthians about the Macedonians who gave so generously to the Christians in Jerusalem, Paul said he can:
“..test you by the zeal of others to see how real your love is.” (2 Corinthians 8:8 NET) You see, love changes our giving from an obligation to a privilege. We are not giving to a budget or giving to anything. We are giving from the heart & from what God has 1st given to us.
Now, these things I’ve mentioned are not easy to do, yet, people notice when we do
them. Please know that you are empowered by a supernatural Being. Jesus calls for something far greater than we can accomplish on our own. Only in Christ, who is supernatural by nature, can we truly be stewards who are transformed by grace, faith & love.
At the beginning of this sermon, little Johnnie was wondering where he came from? Do you know where you are from? Maybe it’s Chicago, like Johnnie’s friend, but ultimately you have come from your heavenly Creator & Father. He is love, & He longs to remove the inward focus of your heart to restore to you the other-centered focus He created human beings to have.
Our Lord created us in love so that we might love each other, & not just love ourselves. Love is probably the most misunderstood of all of God’s blessings. In heaven we will know that blessing fully.
In a few moments, you are going to have the opportunity to worship our Lord through offering back to Him a portion of what He has given to you. Perhaps some of you are not ready to make a financial gift today. Your commitment to being in worship services, Bible studies & prayer are other obvious ways in which we worship our Creator & King.
Whether or not you have a financial offering today, I’d like to offer a prayer because God wants us to be good stewards of all that He has entrusted to us. Let’s bow our heads:
Heavenly Father, we know You are the giver of all good gifts. All that we have comes from You. You are not only the giver of all we have, You’re the owner & have entrusted to us our time, our talents & our treasures. As the offering basket is passed around, we pray that the sacrificial love Jesus demonstrated on the cross would change our hearts for all eternity. Amen.
Now may the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Stewardship 1 – 2017 LSB #’s 915, 568, 566
Text – 2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor so that you by His poverty might become rich.
Stewards transformed by Grace
It had been a hard winter in the Rockies. The snow piled deeper & deeper. The temperature dropped below zero & stayed there. The rivers froze over. People were suffering. The Red Cross used helicopters to fly in supplies.
After a long, hard day, as they were returning to their base, the rescue team saw a cabin nearly submerged in the snow. A thin wisp of smoke came up from the chimney. The men figured those people in that cabin were probably critically short of food, fuel & medicine. Because of the trees they had to set the helicopter down about a mile from the cabin.
They put their heavy emergency equipment on their backs, trudged through waist-deep snow & reached the cabin exhausted, panting & perspiring. They pounded on the door & a thin, gaunt mountain woman finally answered. The lead man panted, “Ma’am, we’re from the Red Cross.” She was silent for a moment, & then she said:
“It’s been a hard, long winter, Sonny. I just don’t think we can give anything this year!”
You have become accustomed to almost relentless asking for money. The salesman who rings at the door, the computer recording on the other end of the phone, the appeal letter in the mail, the panhandlers on the street corners, Girl Scouts selling cookies outside of Walmart & Kroger are all out to get our money. We brace ourselves to say “no.”
When someone approaches claiming they want to help, we become suspicious. There has to be an ulterior motive. St. Paul was traveling all over the world taking up a collection for the poor, distressed Christians in Jerusalem. Usually the mother church supports the mission churches, but there was a famine in Judea, so the economy was suffering & the mother church at Jerusalem needed help. On top of that, Christians were being persecuted, & many of them had lost their jobs. Many of were just barely staying alive. So Paul went from church to church urging the Christians to give generously to support those who were in need in Jerusalem.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Just as you excel in everything… see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians 8:7 NIV) Brothers & sisters in Christ, whenever we talk about grace & giving, we have to talk about God. Grace begins with our Lord. It is a gift we do not deserve, but God is not only gracious, He is giving. He is the greatest giver ever.
What does John 3:16 tell us? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” When He wanted to tell us how much He loved us, He didn’t send a letter, an email, or put it on Facebook. His Son Who was rich became poor to express the love of our Creator for His creation.
Paul was referring to the eternal riches that were His as the Son of God from all eternity. There was & is nothing that does not belong to Him. But for your sake He became poor. Paul said, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” because this was something they needed to keep on hearing.
Writing to the Philippians, Paul put it this way, “Christ made Himself nothing.” Literally He emptied Himself. The Macedonians Christians had very little & the little they had they gave. Jesus had absolutely everything. He was Lord of the universe, & He gave all of it. As Paul told the Corinthians, Christ died so that they could become rich.
Jesus, the God-man, swapped places with us sinners. He underwent the desolation & the deserved punishment of sinful mankind. In return, sinners receive a share in His Sonship & the forgiveness of sins. You see, because of Christ’s poverty, we are rich, but we are not rich by nature. By nature, we are poor. Holy Scripture calls us spiritually blind, dead & enemies of God. There is no goodness of our own. There is no one good – not even one, we’re told in the book of Romans. There is no way for us to gain acceptance with God. All of our efforts fall short, yet in Christ we have become incredibly rich. The slate of our sins has been wiped clean.
Our Lord works all things together for our good. We have eternal riches. That is grace in action. You might say, “Me rich?” You might think, “We get by, but we’re certainly not the 1%.” But we are rich, because Christ became poor. If you question yourself becoming rich, ask God, “How much did your salvation cost?”
Martin Luther reminded us that our salvation was not bought with gold or silver but with the innocent suffering & death of Jesus. That you & I belong to Jesus means that we are rich. We have been bought by Him, with His own blood. Christ chose us so that we could live lives worthy of the Gospel – doing His will instead of ours, seeking His kingdom instead of ours.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:15: “And He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him Who for their sake died & was raised.” How much of every day do you live for God? You see friends, we can live every day for God by remembering that we are stewards. We all are stewards by our recreation in Baptism.
As God’s stewards we are not owners, but managers. Who is the owner? It’s the One who died to rescue His own Creation. We just confessed a few moments ago that we believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven & earth. But friends, He is not only the maker of heaven & earth; He is the owner because He died to erase every last effect of sin in all creation.
Being stewards means that we’ve been entrusted with life & it’s resources. We’ve been given the privilege of responsibly & joyfully managing them for God. We can do that because we are stewards who have been transformed by His grace. We have been changed in heart & mind & soul. We are no longer the same person we once were. Paul says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. He tells us in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good & acceptable & perfect.”
Being transformed begins with thinking of things differently – having a different mindset & attitude. It results in behavior pleasing to God & in accordance with His will – we become givers, not just takers. Giving becomes a privilege rather than a burden or obligation. Our saintly nature does give willingly & cheerfully.
The Christians in Macedonia begged to be part of the offering for the church in Jerusalem. Maybe some of us here have room for growth in our giving. Wouldn’t it be great if, as I announced the offering, the congregation would applaud? During the offering we are given an opportunity to give back to God what He has given to us.
We give back not because we have to, but because we want to give. As we give, we give of our very selves. As St. Paul wrote, “…they gave themselves 1st to the Lord & then by the will of God to us.” (2 Corinthians 8:5 ESV)
A pastor once told of a time his church received a $1,000 check from a member who never attended church. The secretary reported that the man considered the gift as his dues. A year later another check for $1,000 was received from the same man. The pastor went to meet with the man & returned his $1,000 check: “God doesn’t want your money; He wants you.”
Friends, God doesn’t want our money either. He wants us. When we refuse to give ourselves, we are withholding what belongs to God. When we do give ourselves, we give our time. Time gives us the opportunity to serve God by serving our fellow man. Haven’t you wondered why God allowed you to keep on living after He had saved you? We are still here because God has a purpose for us; things for us to do. Many people don’t know their purpose in life. As a giver, we give our treasures. The Bible says, “They gave according to their means.” If the readiness to give is there, the gift is like a pleasant aroma to God. Not all are blessed in the same way, but the gift is acceptable if it is given according to how God has blessed us.
In writing to the Church at Corinth, Paul referenced the example of the Macedonians who gave so generously to the needy Christians in Jerusalem. (2 Corinthians 8:1-9) Because of God’s grace & generosity to them, they were empowered to give even though they lived in poverty. The members gave generously & sacrificially. Paul refers to their giving as an “act of grace.”
In their extreme poverty, by grace, the Macedonians gave “beyond their means.” (v. 3) So eager to give, they pleaded for the privilege of sharing with the needy in Jerusalem. Their giving, while in such a difficult economic position, gave witness to God’s grace in their lives. God’s grace makes it possible for people to have very little & yet want to give generously.
Friends, the word generosity comes from the root word that means “single.” The basic idea is single-mindedness of purpose. It points to the attitude of the giver rather than the amount given. The ultimate source of the single-minded generous spirit is the grace of God that has been given to all whose sins He has washed away.
Generous givers aren’t born that way. That kind of attitude is the result of being reborn, of being changed & transformed. The grace, of God’s unmerited love, that brings salvation to the sinner also inspires a new life of service that includes unselfish, generous giving. To give cheerfully & generously is a gift of God’s grace.
“…though He was rich, yet for your sake [Jesus] became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV) People the world over are looking for a transformational event to make their lives better. Jesus offers that to us by His grace. Amen.
If Your beloved Son, O God, had not to earth descended & in our mortal flesh & blood had not sin’s power ended, then this poor wretched soul of mine in hell eternally would pine because of my transgression. I trust in Him with all my heart; now all my sorrow ceases. His Words abiding peace impart; His blood from guilt releases. Free grace through Him I now obtain; He washes me from every stain, & pure I stand before Him. My guilt, O Father, You have laid on Christ, Your Son, my Savior. Lord Jesus, You my debt have paid & gained for me God’s favor. O Holy Spirit, Fount of grace, the good in me to You I trace; in faith & hope preserve me. Amen. LSB 568:1, 3, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet