Acts 5:1-11 / Exodus 13:11-18 / Luke 8:1-3
Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them[a] out of their means.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town with an ambitious mission. Their Achilles heal is their finances, and although it’s hard to pin down, there is something unsettling about their stewardship of treasure. The kingdom of God is like a young couple with children who are blessed with good jobs, life is going reasonably well, and they love their church. They appreciate their pastors, they attend Divine Service two or three times a month, and they give on an occasional basis. They would like to give more, but they do not have financial peace in their own household. For several years now, they have been spending more than they are making, and their credit card, vehicle, and mortgage debts are overwhelming them on a regular basis. When they realize that the pastor is about to preach the annual money sermon, their hands begin sweat and their feelings of failure begin to rise, and they cry out in their hearts for the peace of God to rule with regard to their personal finances and their desire to give in a generous and sacrificial way to a mission and ministry they believe in.
(Sermon notes in bulletin and on screen) Today is the third in a series of three sermons on how to manage in a faithful way our Christian vocations. 1) Time, 2) Talents, and 3) Treasure. Peace with regard to our treasure begins every day with a look in the (mirror). In our second lesson for today, we are studying the frightening story of Ananias and Sapphira, who from all outward appearances believed in the mission and ministry of the early church. They gave in a generous and sacrificial manner, but with deceitful hearts. They had every right to retain their property, but they sinned by pretending to offer it all. In so doing, they offended Almighty God, Who had in fact offered up His one and only and beloved Son to be their Savior. Their hypocrisy is the first sin recorded in the New Testament Church’s history. God made an example of them by striking them down dead on the spot, and we do well to learn from their example. If they had looked in the mirror that morning, they would have found at least two serious stains on their soul. Hypocrisy and flawed motives.
The first lesson we want to learn today is that peace with regard to stewardship of treasure begins with a look in the mirror. Looking for (hypocrisy). Am I loving my God with my whole heart and soul and mind? Am I loving my neighbor as much as I love myself? Am I pretending to be somebody I am not? Have I swerved into selfishness or carelessness with regard to my treasure? Looking for flawed (motives) The highest and purest motive for giving is in response to the simple fact that Jesus Christ loved you enough to live for you and die for you and rise up again for you and ascend into heaven for you and rules all of heaven and earth for you. Your sins are forgiven and heaven is yours, and therefore you give. Any motive for giving other than that one is less than pure. Flawed. (Including giving out of a sense of duty, giving in order to please God, giving so that the church can pay bills, giving because life is going well. I’m not saying those motives are entirely wrong, but the flaw in each one of them is that there is an earthly condition attached to each one of them.) This morning, we would bring all of our hypocrisy and flawed motives to the cross where we find that Christ has paid for every bit of that with His own life. Where we find the peace that the world cannot give, only Jesus.
Second, Peace with regard to our treasure increases as we move from a “have to” mentality towards a (“get-to”) attitude. In today’s Old Testament lesson, the Israelite families were required to consecrate their firstborn human and animals to God, as a way of remembering that God had spared their firstborn in the great Passover and Exodus event. Once a year they were to set aside 7 days of eating unleavened bread as a way of remembering how they were privileged to get out of Egypt and were not to take time to let their bread rise for the journey. Once a year, it was the duty of the head of the household to tell the story to the entire family, how the strong arm of the Lord had delivered them out of slavery. All of their firstborns were to be redeemed with the bloody sacrifice of a Lamb – pointing forward to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This yearly festival was God’s way of helping His firstborn son- the nation of Israel- not to forget all the benefits of being who they had been declared to be. They were required by law to give in a regular and sacrificial manner, as a way of remembering and never forgetting on their way to the Promised Land.
Moving towards the Promised Land as we remember the (slavery) from which we have been delivered. In every one of our days, we do well to think of ourselves as strangers and pilgrims here, on our way to a place far better. Never do we want to forget that the body of Christ has been broken for us, that His blood has been shed on our behalf. And so we come often to that meal where our sins are in fact forgiven, where our faith is in fact strengthened, and where our hearts are in fact changed. Where our mentality of “have to” is changed to a “get-to attitude.” Where we think of our giving to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ not only as a duty, but privilege. Not so much what I should do as my fair share, but what I get to do, in proportion to how I have been blessed.
(New Testament giving is new and it’s different.) Moving towards (hilarious) giving as we count the privileges we are enjoying. In II Corinthians 9, Paul writes that “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, nt reluctantly, or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. The Greek word translated “cheerful” is actually the word “hilarion” from which we get the word hilarious. It brings a smile to my face whenever I remember a very active and generous leader from the first congregation I served, who said on several occasions when the church needed to have a special offering that “we’re gonna have to cough up some more money.” What would it look like / feel like if our giving in this place was hilarious? (The last time I laughed in hilarious fashion was this week, when a friend posted on FB a video of about 20 examples of people waking up friends and family in rude fashion / tieing firecrackers to feet, putting snake in face, putting on a mask and starting up a chain saw). How could the Holy Spirit move us towards that kind of hilarity? From a “have to” to a “get-to” attitude? As we count our blessings, list our privileges and prosperity on paper and in our minds and fix our eyes on our #1 joy – our debt has been paid / we are free to spend our days serving and giving just for the fun of it all.
Third, Peace with regard to our treasure is all about (Jesus). In our Gospel lesson for today, we find it recorded that as Jesus and the 12 men disciples went through the cities and the small towns proclaiming and bringing the Good News of the Kingdom, some women traveled with them and provided for them out of their means. Many women, not just a few, actually. Mary Magdalene is listed first as one from whom Jesus had sent away seven demons. The same Mary who witnessed the agony of her Master’s crucifixion. The same Mary who lingered at His tomb with so many tears mixed in with hope. The same Mary who called Him Teacher and held onto His resurrected body with all of her heart, until Jesus sent her away to tell the men disciples that Christ was risen. We can imagine that Mary Magdalene and the other women supported Jesus not just with an occasional gift, but with regular and generous and sacrificial and cheerful, and dare I say, hilarious fashion?
True and lasting peace, whether it has to do with the stewardship of time or talents or treasure, is all about Jesus. It’s all about spending time with Him and His Body the Church. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Faith comes by eating and drinking at the Holy Supper. Faith comes by being still and knowing that God is God. Faith comes by looking at our souls in the mirror in daily fashion, throwing ourselves on His mercy, by receiving all that He wants us to have, and by praying again and again these two prayers: 1) Draw us (closer), dear Jesus! 2)O Holy Spirit, help us to (mature!)
The author Nelson Searcy has written a book encouraging pastors to help their people to be moving up the scale from occasional to systematic to proportional to extravagant, and to do so always in response to the mercies of God. The mercies of God, you see, are not just once in awhile, but new every day. The grace of God is daily and it’s freely offered and it’s generous, and more than that, it’s extravagant. This author urges pastors to speak to their people in a regular and passionate way on the subject of giving. When I don’t do that, dear friends, I do you a dis-service. That giving is an important measure of Christian faith and should not be shoved off to the side. Certainly not the only marker of Christian faith, but an important one. As we end one church year and begin a new one by the grace of God, your pastors urge you to mark this day, this very day, as a day of moving one step forward in the stewardship of our treasure.
The kingdom of God is like an occasional giver who prayed, Lord Jesus Christ, I confess that my response to your faithfulness has been hesitant and inconsistent. Draw me closer, hold me tighter, and move me one step forward toward giving that is regular and thoughtful and in response to all that You are and all that You have done and all that You are doing.
The Kingdom of God is like a systematic giver who prayed, Lord Jesus, I admit that I have often given was left over instead of first and best. Draw me closer, hold me tighter, and move me one step forward toward giving that is in direct proportion to the abundance with which you have blessed me.
The kingdom of God is like a proportionate giver who prayed, Lord Jesus, I could do far better than I am doing. Draw me closer, hold me tighter, and move me one step forward toward extravagance. That I could be like that sinful woman who couldn’t stop crying in the presence of Jesus, who couldn’t stop herself from wiping your feet with her hair and who couldn’t stop kissing those same feet and pouring out expensive perfume as a measure of her gratitude. Lord Jesus, draw us closer and hold us tighter.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town with a big mission where more and more of God’s people are beginning their days by looking in the mirror and searching their hearts. Their language of doing their duties and “we have to do this” is giving way to a language of privilege and opportunity and “we get to serve and it’s an honor to give.” And at the end of the day, they find themselves more and more resting in the promises of God and laying their heads down on their pillows in peace.
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