1st Sunday of Advent – 2015 LSB #’s 352, 341, 336 v.1-2
Text – 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, & how you turned to God from idols to serve the living & true God, & to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
OUR TWO-MINUTE DRILL
A close NFL football contest is exciting to watch, especially near the end of the game, especially right around the two-minute warning. The two-minute warning goes back to the NFL’s earliest days when fans & coaches could not look at the stadium clock to see how much time remained. The official game clock resided on the referee’s wristwatch.
So the NFL instituted a two-minute warning; the referee would stop the clock & let both teams know exactly how much time remained.
In the 1960s, the stadium’s clock became the official game clock, but the league didn’t want to do away with the two-minute warning. It had become a strategic part of the game & helped build excitement, even as it offered networks an opportunity to sell more commercials.
As a result, every NFL team today has what they call a two-minute drill. It’s a bold, accelerated series of plays that are designed for those urgent moments right after the two-minute warning. 1 Thessalonians is a book that has a lot in common with the two-minute warning. In it Paul repeatedly states that world history is almost over.
The time is short. The game is on the line. It is time to implement the two-minute drill. So what does that look like for people who follow Jesus? Paul lays it out in 1 Thessalonians 1:1–10. He begins through encouraging us to REST IN GRACE.
“Paul, Silvanus & Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father & the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace & peace to you. . . We continually remember before our God & Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, & your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 3–4)
Yes, history is coming to an end. Christ will judge both the living & the dead. Every human being will appear before God’s judgment throne. But that does not mean that you need to panic. It is not time to freak out. We don’t have to have our 19th nervous breakdown. Paul is telling us to rest in grace. What does that look like to one of God’s children?
We are “in God the Father & the Lord Jesus Christ.” One of St. Paul’s most frequent expressions is the phrase “in Christ,” & life in Christ means that you have grace & peace. God has chosen you. Believe that & rest in it. But there’s more.
Life in Christ brings with it faith, love & hope. That’s a triad St. Paul reiterates in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 & then famously in 1 Corinthians 13:13. Faith draws us closer to God. Love draws us closer toward one another. Hope draws us toward Christ’s 2nd coming. Rest in peace.
As St. Paul lays it out for us, the 2nd part is to WITNESS TO OTHERS.
“You became imitators of us & of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia & Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia & Achaia; your faith in God has become known everywhere.” 
The time is short so we can’t waste it on unimportant stuff. To make the most of every opportunity during their two-minute drill teams often employ a no-huddle offense. That’s what the Thessalonians are doing. They’re making the most of every opportunity. That means one thing – witness to others. What does their witness consist of?
In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 Paul calls it “the gospel.” This gospel, preached in Thessalonica,
according to Acts 17:6, turned the world upside down! Why? According to Acts 17:7 there is another King – Jesus! According to 1 Thessalonians 1:6 this gospel didn’t just change the people’s talk. It changes their walk. The word “imitators” in Greek is mimetai, from which we get the English word “mimic.” They mimicked Paul & the Lord.
Last month I saw a man in the grocery store & noticed that he was wearing a baseball hat with the name “Jesus” on the front. I asked if he was a believer & I’ll never forget his answer. “All day long.”
You see, it isn’t programs, or stained glass or a parking lot that gives a congregation a credible testimony. It is our willingness to allow the gospel to change us into people who mimic, indeed imitate, our Lord “all day long.”
1 Thessalonians 1:8 says, “The Lord’s message rang out from you.” The Greek word for “rang out” is execheta, from which we get the English word “echo.” An echo repeats what is originally spoken. Our witness echoes the Words of God. We don’t need to create our own witness. God simply wants us to echo what He has already said.
A bee’s stinger is only 1/16th of an inch long. The rest of what you feel is enthusiasm! This is what we need for our two-minute drill! We need enthusiasm to invite others to embrace our loving Lord, & to be changed by Him!
As St. Paul continues to diagram it for us, the 3rd part is to TURN FROM IDOLS. “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living & true God.” 
Thessalonica was only 50 miles from Mount Olympus – the supposed residence of the Greek gods. If you lived, then, in Thessalonica & were going to plant crops you would pray to the god of the harvest, the god of soil, & the god who brought rain or sun-shine. If you were going on a business trip you’d pray to the god who provided safe travel & to the god who offered favor in business dealings. But when the Holy Spirit opened the Thessalonian’s hearts to the gospel, they realized that all their idols could not offer a real solution to their greatest problem. They discovered that their greatest problem wasn’t their harvest & it wasn’t their business dealings.
Their greatest problem was that they had offended a holy & just God. Yet Paul tells them that Jesus poured out His blood to forgive them; rose on the 3rd day to embrace them; & is coming again to restore them. Those words of Paul also apply to you.
To illustrate our need for Jesus, this story has been told: A man from another country visited the United States & when he returned home someone asked him if Americans worshipped any idols. He said, “They have three. In the winter they worship a fat man in a red suit. In the spring they reverence a rabbit. And in the fall they sacrifice a turkey!”
Unfortunately, we have way more than three idols in our culture. It may be a lover. It might be a Lexus, our labor, or our leisure time. Two-minute drills do not have time for competing opinions. We certainly should not have time for competing gods. St. Paul admonishes us to turn away from our false idols, & allow Christ to change how we live.
Part 4 of the Apostle Paul’s layout is this – WAIT FOR CHRIST. “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.”  This is where the analogy between 1 Thessalonians & the NFL two-minute drill comes to an end. In a close game football teams don’t know if they’re going to win or not.
That’s not us. We do know the outcome. There’s no doubt about it! Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come.
It’s like this. There was a duck hunter in the wide-open land of Southwest Georgia. Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke & realized the terrible truth; a brush fire was coming & he would not be able to outrun it. So he lit a fire to burn the brush where he was. When it had cleared a good-sized piece of land, he stood in that circle of blackened earth, waiting for the fire to come. The fire came near but it swept over & around him.
When Jesus returns the judgment of God will be like that fire – powerful & destructive. If you & I stand in the burned over place we will be saved. So where, you ask, is the burned over place? You will recognize it as the foot of the cross. The wrath of God was poured out there. All our sins have been cleared away in that spot, & so there we stand.
When a person realizes that time is short, their plans change. Just ask any NFL coach. Better yet, just ask the Apostle Paul! Amen.
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates! Behold, the King of glory waits. The King of kings is drawing near; the Savior of the world is here. Life & salvation He doth bring; therefore rejoice & gladly sing. To God the Father raise your joyful songs of praise. Redeemer, come & open wide my heart to Thee: here, Lord, abide! O enter with Thy grace divine; Thy face of mercy on me shine. Thy Holy Spirit guide us on until our glorious goal is won. Eternal praise & fame we offer to Thy name. Amen.
 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13–18; 5:1–10
 1 Thessalonians 1:6–8
 1 Thessalonians 1:9
 1 Thessalonians 1:10
Thanksgiving – 2015 LSB #’s 895, 732 v.1-3, 5-6, 806
Text – 1 Timothy 6:17-19
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous & ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
THE PROBLEM WITH THANKSGIVING
A wealthy man from Texas liked to give special gifts to his dad on Father’s Day. One year it was lessons on hang gliding. Another year, the father received the entire collection of Willie Nelson songs. Last spring the rich Texan felt he’d topped all the other years combined. He bought a rare kind of talking bird.
Besides speaking five languages, this fowl could sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” while standing on one foot. The talented bird cost $10,000, but the Texan felt it was worth every penny to honor his father. Dad would never forget his Father’s Day gift from this year!
A week after the gift arrived, he phoned his father anxiously waiting to hear what he thought of the present: “Dad! How did you like the bird?” “Fine,” said the father. “It was absolutely delicious!” You might guess it was the wealthy Texan who never forgot that Father’s Day gift. It ended up being a $10,000 turkey.
But that’s what all of us are hoping for with tomorrow’s meal, isn’t it – that it would be absolutely delicious? I suppose you’re also hoping it costs a bit less than 10 grand. I would guess that parents especially, are hoping for a Thanksgiving in which the whole family is able to be there, the children get along & everyone appreciates the time they spend together.
We never know when those opportunities will end, so when they do, if we’re caught unprepared, people can end up with nothing but regret over what they shoulda, woulda, coulda done. The same is true, only worse, with our spiritual opportunities. Hell will be one endless cycle of shoulda, woulda, coulda. If only… The true problem with Thanksgiving is not how much the bird cost. The problem is that the focus too easily ends up, & remains, on nothing more than the meal, or the family time together. Family & meals are very important, but they are not so imperative that they should overshadow the One we are to be thankful to.
“…charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” Those are the instructions of St. Paul to his protégé Timothy, & to every under shepherd of Christ who has ever followed Him.
Pastors are to encourage the members of their congregation & community to set their hopes on God, & on Him alone. Everything else in this life will eventually fail – even fond memories of Thanksgiving holidays, where all the family was there & everyone got along. Memories can be beautiful, but they cannot nullify or erase the evil that happens in this world.
Pastors need to focus our hopes on Jesus alone because our sinful nature twists & corrupts every single blessing that our heavenly Father bestows upon us. Apart from the promises that Christ has made, & that Christ has kept, nothing survives this world undammed.
If you look at the evil of terrorism in our day, nothing of this world can erase the damage that was done to the victims or their families. The answer has to come from outside this world. It must come from a place that is untarnished & unbroken. That’s why the only-begotten Son took on human flesh to enter time & space for the purpose of re-creating this world.
That program is in place. It is happening right before our very eyes, even though we cannot see it. The father of the wealthy Texan did not see a talking bird. He saw one to provide a meal. His vision was too narrow to see anything more than that. Our vision also is too narrow. We see blessings as something to consume. We see them as a commodity to be used.
We totally fail to see blessings from God as a sign of the relationship He has with us.
When you have to tell a child to say thank you for a gift they’ve totally missed the importance of the relationship, & are solely focused upon the material thing they have received. On the other hand, when someone, whose friendship you value, gives you a gift the thank you comes easily & spontaneously.
That happens because you value the relationship as much as, or more than, the gift. In those circumstances, no reminders are necessary. However, Christians celebrate Thanksgiving precisely because reminders are often necessary. Just a casual look at our nation & its culture makes that perfectly clear.
As a country, we have been blessed beyond measure. Yet, as a culture, we are increasingly moving the God of the Bible, & His teachings, out of the picture. More & more of the noise we hear is making it clear that a large number of people in the United States do not want to be reminded of the relationship our heavenly Creator longs to have with us.
For that reason, our celebration of Thanksgiving, as a reminder of whence all blessings come, is more important than ever. And because it is more important the devil is working diligently to divert our attention away from our Father in heaven.
Satan is glad to have us put way more emphasis on the delicious meal than on Christ. He is delighted to have us place more importance on the gathering of family than on Christ. Lucifer can’t wait for us to tune in to the Thanksgiving Day parades, or to the football games, if either of those move the Holy Trinity to the sidelines of our celebration.
In years past it was not uncommon for families to pray together before their meals, & again after the meal. In the families of both my parents, no one was supposed to leave the table until after the prayer of thanks, which wasn’t given until everyone was done eating. To us children it was annoying because we wanted to leave & play as soon as we finished stuffing our face. Though we weren’t thankful to God at heart, the rule was enforced because it was part of our instruction. Now in my later years I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of that training. If our parents had not enforced the rule they would have been robbing us of that future blessing.
In Proverbs 15:32, God tells us the reality of what’s going on behind the scenes: “Whoever ignores instruction despises himself…” If we are failing to give thanks to God, every day of our lives, it’s because we despise our very selves.
So our celebration of Thanksgiving is first & foremost meant to remind us of the incredible relationship we have with the Lord of the universe. And in that relationship, Psalm 121 describes the attitude that our Lord desires most of all for each of us: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” (Psalm 121:1 KJV)
Fond memories are important, a good meal is nice, family & friends certainly are a blessing, but eternal life does not come from any of those. Healing from terrorism does not come from any of them. Our sins are not forgiven & erased by those blessings.
Unless we accept, trust & believe in the relationship Jesus created for us, as He was born on Christmas Day, no matter how sincere, our celebration of Thanksgiving will not last for eternity. With Christ, our thanksgiving will never end.
The problem with Thanksgiving is this – we can fake it, even though our heart is not in it. True thanksgiving is a matter of the heart, just as faith is. You can go through the motions of faith & you can go through the motions of Thanksgiving, but God is not fooled. It’s the problem Jesus highlighted in the Gospel reading from Luke 17.
All ten lepers were healed, but only one of them recognized the relationship Jesus had created with him: “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return & give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Rise & go your way; your faith has made you well.’” (Luke 17:17-19 ESV) I want to highlight that Jesus did not say, “Thanking Me has made you well.” Rather, it was the Samaritan’s faith in Jesus that gave him, not just healing, but eternal life. That Samaritan’s new found relationship with his Savior was at the root of his genuine & spontaneous thanksgiving.
It is that life-giving faith, created in us by God’s Spirit, which St. Paul is encouraging when he tells us not “…to set our hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” If we do that we will be rich in good works, generous & ready to share, storing up treasure for ourselves as a good foundation for the future.
That future is heaven! It is paradise for all who believe in Jesus as Savior from their sins. The only other future is hell, which can hardly be described as a future at all. The difference between the two is vast & monstrous. In this life we cannot comprehend it. By the time we do grasp, in the next life, it will be too late. The decision will have been finalized.
Back to the problem with Thanksgiving: like the rich Texan’s father, we fail to see all the possibilities to use our blessings in God-pleasing ways. We see food as something to consume. We see money as something to spend. We see time as something to be used for our own benefit. We view saying thanks as something we’re obligated to do, rather than as an act of love.
Because our nation has been so tremendously blessed, we pray that our heavenly Father would enable us to survive the abundance of what He’s given. St. Paul wrote to Timothy because the people he was shepherding thought that religion was a way to become wealthy.
Paul reminds them that since this life, & world, is corrupted & broken, we are to find our true riches, our true satisfaction in God & in the life to come, which will be life as our Creator meant it to be. There’s nothing evil in wanting to enjoy a delicious meal, but that can fly in the face of reality if God has a different plan. His plan is always best, even if it fails on many occasions, to line up with our ideas. This text is always relevant, because in every generation the church is plagued, more or less, by those who teach that religion should be used in attaining earthly riches. They appeal to the lower nature in man maintaining that we should live right in order to be blessed with earthly gain. That is the problem Paul is dealing with in our text.
Christ teaches us that we should live right as a response to the love He has given to us. We should live right, because that is how our godly nature desires to live. We are to live right because that is who we are – children of God. Listen then to St. Paul’s words to the church at Philippi, as he describes the Christian life that God has given to us:
“For God is working in you, giving you the desire & the power to do what pleases Him. Do everything without complaining & arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked & perverse people. Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain & that my work was not useless.”
May God bless each one of you with the wisdom, the insight & the knowledge to receive with thanksgiving whatever blessings He bestows upon you – tomorrow, & in all your days to come. And may God bless you such that you can tune out the “noise” of this world, & keep your heart & your eyes focused on Jesus. Amen.
All depends on our possessing God’s abundant grace & blessing, though all earthly wealth departs. They who trust with faith unshaken by their God are not forsaken & will keep a dauntless heart. If my days on earth He lengthen, God my weary soul will strengthen; all my trust in Him I place. Earthly wealth is not abiding, like a stream away is gliding; safe I anchor in His grace. Amen.
 1 Timothy 6:17
 1 Timothy 6:17
 1 John 3:1a
 Philippians 2:12-16 NLT
Stewardship Three – 2015 LSB #’s 803, 894, 507
Text – Luke 10:37
Go & do likewise.
The Joy of Sharing God’s Blessings
God’s Word for today comes from the Gospel reading in Luke 10, the very familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable doesn’t stand on its own either. It is encased within the story about a lawyer who wants to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. We’re going to look at the story which Jesus told the lawyer in today’s context.
Heading off to work you see a man who clearly needs help. Everyone else is driving by. And, you notice he’s part of a group of people who’ve been openly hostile to you & your family. But you stop, patch the guy up using your own very expensive supplies (oil & wine in the story), take him to a hotel where you give him more care & attention for the rest of the day & overnight.
The next day, you give the hotel manager two days’ wages to keep caring for the man, with the promise you’ll pay more if it’s needed. Jesus wraps up the story with these words: “Go & do likewise.” So we ask, “Could you? Would you?” I don’t know about you, but this seems like pretty advanced Christianity to me. This is world-class-level kindness.
How can we hope to be like the good Samaritan? Remember, Jesus is talking to a lawyer who wants to know how to earn his way into heaven. Jesus tells this story in response to make it clear that he cannot. That’s really the point Jesus is making. It is impossible for the lawyer to earn his way into heaven. The same is true for you, & for me.
There is only one true Good Samaritan. Can you guess who that is? Yes, in challenging the lawyer, Jesus was also pointing out the true way to heaven – through Him alone. Jesus is the one Who meets each of us on the road of life in this broken world. We aren’t beaten down by robbers. Instead, we are dead in our own sin. And by that sin, we proclaim ourselves to be God’s enemies, openly hostile to His ways. Yet Jesus stops & brings us to His Father for care. The innkeeper needed money to care for the man, but our Heavenly Father demands something much more. He tells His Son the price He must pay to give us life. Jesus willingly suffers & dies on the cross of Calvary to restore us. That’s the real story of the Good Samaritan.
So how does this tie in to our Stewardship Series, “The Joy of Generosity”? Today, we’re talking about the Joy of Sharing God’s Blessings. Where does the Good Samaritan fit into that? That’s actually quite easy. This parable is also a picture of the perfect steward. The Good Samaritan is blessed with many things, & he uses them all to help his neighbor.
He takes the time needed to make sure the man is on the road to recovery; uses his skills & abilities to provide care for him; & God has given him material goods — wine, oil, a donkey, money — which he uses to help the man. Time. Ability. Money. It’s the complete picture of a good steward. Like I said before – world-class.
The Good Samaritan is what we would call a FULLY DEVELOPED steward. Next, we’re going to talk about how God moves us toward that goal. But first, I want to talk very openly & honestly about stewardship, & my first open, honest statement is this: we don’t talk enough about it.
We might emphasize it for three weeks every year, & there are references here & there to giving back to God, or serving, throughout the year, but it’s possible to be doing more. We can emphasize the truth that spending some of our time, serving with our abilities, giving money to God’s church is not a once-a-year conversation, but rather, a vital part of the Christian walk.
It is our way of life. Our daily rallying cry should be, “go & do likewise.” Our giving is also part of our worship of God. And in this Sunday service, God gives us His gifts. Even in our faithful giving, God still out gives us. He does amazing things with our offerings of time, abilities, & money. And through our giving, He works within us as well, bringing us joy as He moves our hearts away from ourselves, & closer to others. Growth is really what it’s all about. Stewardship is not a once-a-year reminder that our church requires money, time & abilities in order to share the Gospel & care for others.
Stewardship at its heart is a way God helps us to grow spiritually. At the same time, it’s a measure of our spiritual growth that we can understand about ourselves, because simply put, giving our blessings away requires that we trust God. So growth is what it is about, & when I think of growth, I think of personal training, running or weightlifting.
Have you seen the new commercial with Aaron Rodgers? Yeah, the same QB who lost to the Detroit Lions a week ago. Hans & Franz tell Aaron Rodgers they’re going to PUMP <clap> him up! And they put him through all kinds of exercises while they insult his weakling arms. Then finally – he IS pumped up! Boom!
Thirty seconds, & he goes from weakling to massive. We know that’s not the way it really works. In the real world you lift smaller weights, then go to slightly heavier ones, & on & on. You can’t have enormous muscles right away by going straight to the largest weights. Likewise, you can’t spend life on a couch, then get up one day & run a marathon.
First you walk, then you jog, & on & on. Longer & longer distances, until eventually your body is ready to handle the world class-stuff. It’s like the time a man asked a personal trainer about getting in shape. He expected a daily training regimen; switching between weight lifting & aerobic activity – different machines, different types of weights, perhaps a diet, as well.
You know what she said? “Why don’t you just start walking around the neighborhood at lunchtime?” The man thought it would be hard to get started, because he had this goal in mind – a perfectly fit body, limitless energy, strength & flexibility. A world class athlete was the goal, but it was better for him to focus on the next step, rather than the finish line. Start walking, & when you see improvement, it will encourage you to go to the next level. And so on, step by step, by step. It’s great to have a personal trainer – someone who knows what it takes. Someone to yell instructions at you until you succeed, right?
That doesn’t work any better than having a pastor who yells at you all the time, but how about someone who’s been there & done that? Someone who can model the right path to follow? Someone who will join you as you work & struggle, who will always be there to encourage you. That’s the kind of personal trainer we want.
It’s is true for our stewardship training, as well. Jesus has been there, done that. He promises to be with us, to encourage us & strengthen us, to equip us for work in His kingdom. He is moving you & me toward the goal in the story of the Good Samaritan. It is the goal toward which we all strive as the redeemed children of God.
If you see your life as God’s steward to be far, far away from the Good Samaritan, don’t let that cause you to lose heart & give up! Just focus on the next step. Some of us here are only getting off the couch. Others are running marathons in terms of their stewardship. Look at where you are now, & go just a little farther.
Lift a slightly heavier weight. Pick up your pace from a walk to a slow jog. Then watch how God works through your increased generosity to bless you & others. He will bring you the joy & the motivation to go to the next step, if you aren’t actively tuning it out.
Our sinful nature cringes at the thought of stewardship. It is not generous, but selfish. It is our saintly nature that appreciates the blessings God gives, & it is our saintly nature that loves to share them, finds joy even, in sharing them. In this way, our rallying cry becomes something like this: “Grow & do likewise!” Grow in the grace of giving. Grow in generosity. Grow in your spiritual life – become more & more like Jesus. No matter where we are in our stewardship walk with Christ, each of us can take a step closer to the ultimate goal which God has shown to us through His Son, the true Good Samaritan.
God wants all of us to be like Jesus, using our Baptism, His Word, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, fellowship with one another, & our stewardship – all these things He uses to make us more like Christ.
Let’s pray: Lord Jesus, we want to be more like You. We want to be truly selfless with all the gifts You’ve given us – our time, our abilities, & our money. Lord, work through us by Your Holy Spirit to take the next step as we seek to “grow & do likewise.” Work in us so we are blessings to each other & to the world around us. By Your grace alone, so, too, we know that we will be blessed beyond measure. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts & minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Stewardship 2 – 2015 LSB #’s 861, 842, 851 v.1-2, 4
Text – Matthew 25:20
And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.”
THE JOY OF MANAGING GOD’S BLESSINGS
Before we start in earnest, please look at the wall & the verse projected there – Matthew 24:3. I know that’s not the sermon text, but it is where you will need to be.
This is the 2nd week of our Stewardship Series, “Experiencing the Joy of Generosity.” Last Sunday we looked at the great joy we experience through the blessings & gifts God bestows upon us. We especially looked at the joy we have because of Jesus’ life, death & resurrection. Combined, they bring to us the most precious gift of all: eternal life in heaven.
In fact, we came to realize that this is the very definition of joy: Life eternal in the presence of God. That life began, for many of us, with our Baptism. Today we’ll think about Experiencing the Joy of Managing God’s Blessings. I’m sure for most of you that brings to mind the time, talents & treasures cliché that we’ve heard so often.
Maybe you expect we’re going to mine the Bible for helpful hints on how to live effectively in this world; how to manage the time God has given us since none of us seem to have enough. How do we manage our talents so that they are used effectively & productively? If we do well, can we be blessed with even more as the Gospel lesson may seem to imply?
Is it possible to manage our money so that we know how much we should be giving to God, how much we should be dedicating to the future, & how much we can in good conscience use for our own pleasure? Those are common questions, but we aren’t going to talk about any of them.
We are going to talk about your heart, & we’re going to talk about others – heart & others. What do those have to do with The Joy of Managing God’s Blessings? For starters – absolutely everything; actually, they are all that matters. For you find Joy in Managing God’s Blessings only when your heart is right. Your heart must be dedicated to using what God has entrusted to you for the furthering of His kingdom & the benefit of others. If you’ve been managing things mostly for yourself, no wonder you’ve never experienced joy in stewardship.
The devotions for this week will help because in one way or another, they point to the heart, to our attitude toward God. Is it pointed to God’s kingdom, & pointed to others? Listen to these quotes from the devotions:
Each devotion, in one way or another, points to the heart, to God’s kingdom, or to others. The sermon text & OT readings for today do the same thing. If you recall, the text for today is from the Parable of the Talents:
A master goes away & entrusts his servants with differing amounts to manage from his estate, (really huge amounts). When the master returned, the two servants who had received the most returned to their master double what they’d received, & they were rewarded with even greater amounts to manage. The servant who’d received the least returned to the master exactly what he had received, explaining how he feared the master & took precautions to assure that none of the assets were lost. The master rebuked that servant as wicked & slothful & took away even that small amount he had given him. He then gave it to the servant who already had the most, casting the wicked & slothful servant into outer darkness.
The application in our lives seems obvious. In fact, I will read the application right from the study notes in the Lutheran Study Bible:
“Our relationship to God & the world is one of stewardship. We’re to use everything entrusted to us in such a way that it benefits God’s kingdom. Though modern people often have far more material & technological means than any previous generation, they often use these tools selfishly. An unfailing promise attaches to faithful stewardship: if we use the things entrusted to us for God & His purposes, we will be blessed here & in heaven.”
That’s a solid application. We can, & should, walk out of here today looking for ways to use those things God has entrusted to us for His purposes. But it may be that a lot of us don’t understand the full impact of that application. It may be that we tend to focus on the obvious, but wrong, object in the parable.
What if the parable is not primarily about what we do with the talents? I believe it was Dr. Gibbs of the seminary in St. Louis who suggested that this parable is not about what the stewards DID with the talents entrusted to them, but rather it is about their ATTITUDE toward the master, their relationship with the master. In other words, what if this parable is about your heart?
Look at the Bible verse on the wall. It’s the beginning of a long discourse by Jesus. Today’s gospel reading comes near the end of this long talk. The discourse begins at Chapter 24:3 & ends with the close of chapter 25. It’ll be helpful to understand the big picture Jesus is talking about before & after He spoke this parable, so let’s look at the headings:
The context in which Jesus spoke this parable is all about the last day, the end of the world, Jesus’ return. Looking at the parable in that light opens up a brand new possibility, or at least changes the emphasis, of how we apply the parable. Now we can look at it like this:
Viewed in this way, the parable cuts through the fog of all our works & looks directly at our heart. There is a difference between the two types of servants & how they used the talents the master gave them, but the reason they used those talents differently is because of the difference in their hearts, because of the faith or lack of faith in their heart when they used those gifts.
Our stewardship of God’s gifts is also a matter of the heart. It is a matter of faith—faith the Holy Spirit creates within us, faith that allows us to be reshaped into God’s will – that will of God for us which we lost sight of in sin. And what is God’s will for us? God’s will is that we would “love the Lord [our] God with all [our hearts] & with all [our souls] & with all [our minds], & that we would love [our neighbors] as [ourselves]” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Sound familiar? We usually think of those words as the summary of the law, & indeed they are. But we must also understand that the law shows us who we really are, what God created us to be, what His will is for you & me. The Law is not His demand of us, but the perfection He wants for us. In other words, the law reveals what it means to manage God’s blessings as He intended.
Did you hear the OT reading? God asks Solomon what he would have the Lord give to him. Solomon asks for wisdom & knowledge to govern God’s people wisely. Solomon, about to embark on the massive task of managing our heavenly Father’s gifts in this world, asks that he be able to do that for the benefit of others, & for God’s kingdom.
Listen then to God’s response: “Because this was in your heart…” What did Yahweh do, He went straight to Solomon’s heart. By God’s grace, in Solomon’s heart was a love, a concern for God’s kingdom & for others. This is the key. This is what was lost in the Garden of Eden – God & others. That loss has given us our knee-jerk reaction against the concept of stewardship.
In the Garden of Eden, God set mankind to be the steward of what He had created. Adam & Eve did that with no thought of themselves. They loved God with their whole heart & soul & mind & they loved each other & all of God’s creation as themselves. They managed God’s creation for the benefit of that creation.
But with sin, their focus turned inward – upon themselves. Our love for each other, & all God’s creation, became instead a love first for me, myself & I. God’s gifts are no longer managed for the benefit of others, or God’s kingdom, but for self. That inward focus has been hard to shake. Actually, of ourselves we cannot shake it at all.
It’s only through the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ, through faith in Jesus that the Holy Spirit works in us, that we are able to begin to love God truly with our whole heart & soul & mind, as well as to love others as ourselves. So where does that leave us? What are we to do if we truly find Joy in Managing God’s Blessings? When our heart is dedicated to using what God has entrusted to us for the furthering of His kingdom & the benefit of others, what are we to do?
We know we cannot do this ourselves. But through the faith that God works in us, through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, we are empowered to place God & others first. We still fail constantly, but are also forgiven constantly.
It might appear simplistic, but it is our Lord’s design that daily immersion in God’s Word, partaking of the sacrament, going to Bible Study, praying, speaking with others about Christ, through these the Holy Spirit continually regenerates our soul.
The more we are focused on God, the more He focuses us on others. The more we are focused on others, the more we understand the joy of managing God’s blessings for all. When Jesus returns, each of God’s children will be made perfect in their love for Him, perfect in their love for others, perfect in their management of Yahweh’s gifts for the sake of His creation.
That is going to be an eternal life of ultimate joy. Amen.
Come, O Christ, & reign among us, King of love & Prince of Peace; hush the storm of strife & passion, bid its cruel discords cease. By Your patient years of toiling, by Your silent hours of pain, quench our fevered thirst of pleasure, stem our selfish greed of gain. As you, Lord, have lived for others, so may we for others live. Freely have Your gifts been granted; freely may Your servants give. Yours the gold & Yours the silver, Yours the wealth of land & sea; we but stewards of Your bounty held in solemn trust will be. Son of God, eternal Savior, source of life & truth & grace, Word made flesh, whose birth among us hallows all our human race: by Your praying, by Your willing that Your people should be one, grant, O grant our hope’s fruition: here on earth Your will be done. Amen.
 Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible (p. 1639). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
Stewardship 1 – 2015 LSB #’s 609 v.1-4, 915, 609 v.5-7
Text – 1 Corinthians 4:7
The Joy of Receiving God’s Blessings
The text for today’s sermon comes from the Epistle reading in 1 Corinthians, specifically verse 7, which reads: “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
Before we unpack this verse, let me take a moment to highlight what we’ll be hearing over the next three weeks. This series of sermons will revolve around – “Experiencing the Joy of Generosity,” & the weeks are broken into three separate aspects of the Christian life.
This Sunday it’s the Joy of Receiving God’s Blessings. Next week will center on the Joy of Managing God’s Blessings. On the 3rd Sunday we’ll learn about the Joy of Sharing God’s Blessings.
There’s a lot of joy coming in the next three Sundays. So let’s make sure we take a minute to understand fully what that joy is – how the heavenly Creator sees it. Many people consider joy & happiness to be the same, or at least very similar. On the surface that may sound accurate, but if we compare happiness to joy we learn of significant differences.
Differences in Meaning
Happiness is an emotion in which we experience feelings ranging from contentment & satisfaction to bliss & intense pleasure.
Joy is stronger, but less common than happiness. Witnessing or achieving selflessness to the point of personal sacrifice commonly triggers joy. It can be described as feeling spiritually connected to God or to other people.
Differences in Cause
Happiness comes from earthly experiences & material objects. Joy comes from spiritual experiences, from caring for others, from gratitude & thankfulness
Differences in Effect
Happiness shows itself in the person through an outward expression of elation. Joy shows itself in the person through an inward peace & contentment.
Differences in Time Period
Happiness is temporary, based upon outward circumstances. Joy is lasting, based upon inward circumstances.
There’s a wonderful quote in the devotions that are available for next week as a way of reflecting on this sermon. If you’re going to use them, some copies are available as you leave the service this morning. Please read them during the next two weeks so that your heart & mind will be prepared for the sermons to come.
The quote is from Epicurus, the Greek philosopher: “If you want to make a man happy, add not to his riches but take away from his desires.” We’ll modify what Epicurus said to this: “If you want to make a man happy for a short time add to his riches, but if you want to make a man joyful, content & at peace take away from his desires.”
There are some similarities between happiness & joy, but also significant differences. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Happiness is not. Joy is present even in sorrow, but we cannot be happy when we are full of sorrow. Happiness is being elated, & you cannot be elated in grief. Joy is having peace & contentment. We can be at peace & content even in sorrow.
Hold on to that thought because we’ll come back to it later. Now let’s return to the text for today from 1 Corinthians. The book was written by St. Paul, at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to address practical issues the church was dealing with. They had many struggles going on: sexual immorality, lack of unity, issues with marriage & idolatry. Doesn’t that list sound familiar? You & I deal with the same issues of sin that the church in Corinth wrestled with.
Another issue Paul speaks to is how the Corinthians had turned the Lord’s Supper, a wonderful means of God’s grace, into a drunken party. They even segregated people for the meal based upon their economic status. They did not know how to receive simply, humbly & joyfully this gift God was giving them in His Holy Supper.
Paul does not mince words when he points this out to them. He asked them: “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 ESV)
True, yet tough words, that are not only for the Corinthians. They definitely apply to our world today. Our people are great at seeking & receiving happiness, especially when that comes in the form of material riches, but our world is not very good at receiving blessings with joy, especially those blessings that remove desires instead of building wealth.
Many people, maybe even a large number here, look at worship in a completely opposite way than God would have us look at it. It is instinctive for us to see worship as something we do – a time for us to give back to God, sharing our time, our offerings & our songs. Doesn’t that sound right? However, that is not what worship is.
Worship is not about us doing the giving. After all, even our best responses are rather puny. Instead, the worship service is primarily about us doing the receiving – receiving God’s gifts, His blessings & His means of grace. Our heavenly Father’s response is never puny either. Almost everyone confuses things when it comes to what role worship plays in our lives.
Earlier in today’s service you received God’s forgiveness in His absolution. As I preach you are receiving God’s Word, & shortly after this you’ll receive the very body & blood of Jesus, along with life & salvation, in holy communion. Please be aware of this & what you are receiving, because stewardship also is greatly misunderstood. I believe, if we are truly honest with ourselves, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to cringe when the word stewardship enters our ears. We think, “Here come those sermons on how we should give our time, our talents & especially our money to God.” That is not what stewardship is.
Don’t you think of stewardship as giving to God with a special focus on material things? That is not stewardship. Stewardship begins & ends with our realizing what God has given to us. “…for God so loved the world that He gave!” Our heavenly Father has done the giving, His one & only Son. Joy, peace & contentment come from that. Period.
A pastor wrote about his confusion regarding what stewardship is. Here are his words:
“After 8th grade & Confirmation I went through high school & college years falling away from the church. I was somewhat involved, but honestly, it was rather hollow & I was really just going through the motions.
Then in the mid-1990s my one & only big brother was diagnosed with cancer & that rocked my world. One time after visiting him in the hospital I was headed home, but rather than going home I stopped at church. I knelt in front of the cross, & I prayed like I had never prayed before. And part of that prayer was my confused attempt at stewardship.
I tried to make a deal with God & said that, if He would heal my brother, in turn I would get more involved & would start tithing. I thought that stewardship started with me giving rather than me receiving what God was giving me.”
Happily, I can report that his brother is doing great & has been cancer-free for over 10 years. But, even more important to him, than the happiness he received in the news that his brother was well, is the joy & the peace & the contentment that he truly has now in understanding what he received from God on the cross.
That’s the reason that when the author of this sermon goes up to preach, he takes the time to kneel in front of the cross. It reminds him of what Jesus has given to him. Realizing what God has given to us is the source of our joy, but that realization doesn’t mean all Christians will always be happy. That’s important for us to realize as well.
Remember what we spoke of earlier – you cannot be happy when you are sorrowful, but you can have joy even in sorrow. Some weeks, our church experiences sorrowful times. Sometimes we are attending more funerals than baptisms. A baptism, of course, is a joyful event. Funeral days are definitely not happy times, but they can be joyful times for those who believe in Jesus as Savior.
Even in the sorrow of saying good-bye to a loved one, there is joy, contentment & peace in knowing what God has given them: life everlasting with Jesus.
Some time ago in the news two stories appeared side by side. They had huge similarities (like happiness & joyfulness), but had stark differences too. The stories were about two young women; both were suffering with inoperable brain tumors.
One, whose name was Brittany Maynard, had recently been married when she received her diagnosis, so she & her husband moved to Oregon where there is a “death with dignity” law. On November 1st, 2014, Brittany took some pills that her doctor had prescribed so that she would die, & she did.
The story next to that was about Lauren Hill who was a young lady diagnosed with a brain tumor as she was entering college. On November 1st, the same day Brittany died, Lauren played in her first & also last college basketball game, which she organized to serve as a fund raiser for building awareness of cancer research.
The game was televised on national TV, received a lot of press coverage, & raised significant money for research. Hearing about both of these stories, the words of the sermon text may echo in our ears: “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?”
We can see something different in Lauren Hill. We can see in her a person who recognizes the gift of life she’s received & is a joyful steward of that gift. One last comment I would like to make is this one pointed squarely at me. Sometimes, as a preacher, I need to remember the gift that all of us have received. That gift is the Gospel, the salvation we have through Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross & His resurrection from the grave.
Some pastors try to leave you at the end of the sermon with a way to apply the message to your life, & in doing this they emphasize what should be done, or what we should work towards. It’s a noble goal, but what that does is leave you with the Law, rather than with the Gospel. It leaves us with what we should give, instead of with what we are meant to receive.
Reading through all of 1 Corinthians we find St. Paul’s approach to be this: Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the letter to the church at Corinth ended with St. Paul pointing us to the cross of Jesus Christ.
When you come forward in a few moments to participate in that foretaste of the feast to come, together with the angels & archangels & all the company of heaven, be aware of the grace-filled gift that is given to you, a gift that you are receiving literally in the shadow of the cross where Christ died for you & for me.
From 1 Corinthians 15: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, & the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is the Gospel! Amen!
Today Your mercy calls us to wash away our sin. However great our trespass, whatever we have been, however long from mercy our hearts have turned away, Your precious blood can wash us & make us clean today. Today Your gate is open, & all who enter in shall find a Father’s welcome & pardon for their sin. The past shall be forgotten, & present joy be given, a future grace be promised, a glorious crown in heaven. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet