Luke 2:22-38; Psalm 130
By Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
When tragedy strikes, when trouble comes, when life disappoints us, we stand at the crossroads between hope and despair, torn and hurting. Despair cements us in the present; hope sends us dancing around dark corners trusting in a tomorrow we cannot see. Despair says that there is no place to go but here. Hope says that God is waiting for us someplace else. Begin again.
Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B., The Psalms: Meditations for Every Day of the Year
Jesus Comes ... to those who wait
It is time for true confessions here. I want to see a show of hands. How many of you, at some point in your life, have ever snooped and found out what you were getting for Christmas before you were supposed to know? I think I was in the 6th grade when I looked under my parents bed and found a little box with a watch that I was going to get. It was fun to snoop and I was proud of myself for finding it, but Christmas morning was a bit of a let-down. It is the waiting, the anticipation, that makes the fulfillment even better. In our Scripture lesson this morning we heard the stories of two people who waited for many years. Let’s look at these stories.
According to Jewish law, forty days after the birth of a baby, the parents were supposed to go to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice. The sacrifice was to purify the woman after childbirth and to offer the child to God. Mary and Joseph went to the Temple to offer their sacrifices, and while they were there they met two people who had been waiting for the Messiah.
The first person was Simeon. Luke tells us that Simeon was a good man who was waiting for the Messiah to deliver Israel from its bondage. At some point, earlier in his life, the Holy Spirit had told Simeon that before he died he would actually see the Messiah. At the same time Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple the Holy Spirit led Simeon to the Temple to see Jesus.
Last Sunday I was down by the Coffee Café, right before Sunday School started. Becca Wiley was holding her daughter Harper, who is about 8 months old. I stuck out my arms to Harper, not really expecting her to come to me, but she did. She trusted me. So did Becca. Becca doesn’t know how many kids I’ve dropped on their heads. Imagine what Becca might have done if a total stranger came up and tried to take Harper. That is what Simeon did with Jesus. He walked right up to Mary and took Jesus in his arms, and prayed. “Thank you God for showing me the Messiah, the one who will bring salvation to all your people. Now I’m ready to die.” That is a rather odd thing to say about a child. I imagine that Mary and Joseph were a bit overwhelmed by this. Luke doesn’t tell us how old Simeon was, but from his statement that he was ready to die, he probably was an old man, who had waited for many years for God’s promise to be fulfilled.
The second person who waited to see Jesus was Anna. Luke tells us that Anna was as prophet who was a very old lady. She had been a widow for many years. She was at the Temple all the time, worshipping, praying and fasting. After Simeon had seen Jesus Anna came up and began to praise God for the redemption that Jesus would bring. Simeon and Anna both waited and finally saw the Messiah. Jesus comes to those who wait. [5:00]
Let’s be honest – we don’t like waiting. It raises our anxiety level and makes us uncomfortable. We may not like waiting, but we get a lot of practice at it. That doesn’t mean we are very good at it. We live in a fast food society that does not want to wait. We want our food, our answers, our results, our spiritual maturity, right now. Yet we wait – at the post office, for test results from the doctor, in lines at the grocery store, at the hospital. Waiting is an inevitable part of life. We can’t choose not to wait. What I’d like to suggest this morning is that we can learn and grow through our waiting. Let me suggest two lessons we can learn from waiting.
First, waiting teaches us to choose to hope that the future is in God’s control. Waiting is not a choice. You can’t change the fact that you have to wait 26 days until Christmas. If you are driving into town and the tunnels are backed up, there isn’t much you can do about it. You are going to wait. However, as you wait you can choose your attitude. As you wait you can choose to be bitter and angry, or you can choose to have hope and excitement, anticipating something good.
Luke tells us that Simeon was looking forward to the consolation of Israel. Simeon looked to the future and expected it to be good. He anticipated a wonderful future. Simeon had no idea what the future would be like, or what Jesus would be like as Messiah. The only thing he knew was that he would see the Messiah, and he trusted that God would make the future better than the present. Simeon chose to have hope that the future would be good.
Winston Churchill planned his own funeral. It was at St. Paul’s Cathedral, in London. After the benediction there was a bugler high up on one side of the dome. He played taps, signaling that the day is over and Churchill’s life had ended. Then another bugler, on the other side of the dome, played revile, signaling that a new day had just begun. For Winston Churchill this was a sign of the hope he had in the resurrection and in eternal life. Churchill expected, and anticipated, that the future would be better.
We all wait, for many things. As we wait let us choose hope. Choose to trust in the goodness of God. Let us anticipate that our future, both here on earth and ultimately in heaven, will be good, because it is the future that God has planned for us.
There is a second lesson that Simeon can teach us. True peace comes through seeing Jesus, through being in a relationship with Jesus. At some point in Simeon’s life he had a powerful spiritual experience. The Holy Spirit came to him and revealed that before he died he would see the Messiah. I can’t imagine anything quite like that – God speaking clearly and directly to him. Yet it didn’t bring Simeon peace. He found peace only when he saw Jesus. “Master, not you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30). Peace comes from seeing Jesus. Jesus is the source of our peace and our salvation.
Think of the news from this past week: the Grand Jury announcement in Ferguson and the riots and looting that followed; the continuing Ebola crisis; wars and terrorism in the Middle East and other places throughout the world. Just thinking about those stories raises our level of anxiety level. Add to that the level of emotions that have been stirring in this church and the issues in your own personal lives. We desperately need peace and we look for it in all sorts of ways. Friends, the peace that we long for is found through seeing Jesus, through a relationship with our Lord and Savior.
A sociologist went on an expedition with a group of mountain climbers. He observed that there was a direct relationship between the amount of cloud cover and the level of contentment. When the sky was clear, when there were no clouds and the climbers could see the mountain peak, the team of climbers worked harder, they got more done and enjoyed themselves more. When the clouds covered the peak and hid the sun, the energy level of the climbers was much lower. They were more sullen and selfish. They fought amongst themselves more.
There is a lesson in that for the life of faith. When we take our eyes off Jesus, when we focus on ourselves, on our problems or our weaknesses, we end up bickering with one another. We don’t experience peace. We must keep our eyes focused on Jesus. Peace comes from knowing and seeing Jesus.
Life is filled with waiting. Some of you are waiting for this sermon to be over. Others are waiting for Christmas. Some are waiting to see family and friends over the holidays, or even just to hear from them. Some are waiting for lab reports from the doctor or to hear about the job you are hoping to get. Some of us don’t even know what we are waiting for – we just have a general sense of restlessness. As we wait let us choose to wait with hope, trusting that God is in control. And above all, let us wait for the moment when we will see Jesus and receive his salvation.
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By Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
“The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful, and has nobody to thank.”
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
“If the only prayer you say in your whole life is “Thank you” that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart
His Love Lasts Forever
Before Max Lucado became a popular Christian author he was a missionary in Brazil. He tells the story of going to a funeral on a hot summer day. In the middle of a crowded chapel was the casket of a woman who had been killed in a car accident. Her name was Dona Neusa. She had a son named Cesar, who was one of the first members in Max's church. Cesar and his sister, and several other family members were standing around the casket, weeping openly and comforting each other. There was another young lady standing with the family, very dignified and elegantly dressed, yet she didn’t look like she belonged. She was taller than the others and had much darker skin. She stood there without weeping, neither comforting, nor being comforted, by the others. Her name was Carmelita. I’ll tell you who she was and why she was there after we look at our Scripture passage this morning.
Psalm 107 is a Psalm of Thanksgiving. It has a clear structure. It starts with an introductory call to give thanks – verses 1-3:
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
The key word in this introduction is steadfast love. Sometimes it is translated love or mercy. It is one of the classic Hebrew words used to describe God – chesed. God’s chesed includes his feelings of love for his people. God loves us. God even likes us. But God’s chesed is more than just his feelings about us. It is also an action. Chesed includes what God does for us. God fulfills his promises to us. He protects us. He feeds us and keeps us alive. God saves us.
I want your help as we try to remember God’s chesed, God’s love. Every time I say “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;” I want you to respond, “His love lasts forever.” Let’s try it. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;” “His love lasts forever.”
After the introduction there are four stanzas. Each stanza follows a pattern. First, there are some people who have a problem. Second, these people cry out to God and God helps them. Finally, the people who have been helped are called to give thanks for God’s steadfast love.
The first problem is that some people were lost in the desert. Look at verse 4:
Some wandered in the desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.
The desert can be a beautiful place, but it can also be dangerous and scary, a place you could die. The people who were in the desert ran out of food and water – they were hungry and thirsty. They were also lost – they couldn’t find their way to a town where they would be safe. The desert felt like a god-forsaken place. But it wasn’t. God was there. And because of God’s steadfast love he delivered them. They couldn’t find their way to the town, but God led them on a straight path into the town. They were saved. Therefore they were called to give thanks.
I hope that no one here ever gets lost in a desert. And certainly as we think about Thanksgiving Day, most of us are not going to be hungry or thirsty. Yet, we’ve all had times when we were lost, if not literally, then spiritually. We lose our faith. We lose our hope. We lose our sense of God’s presence and love. We’ve all experienced emptiness. Our hunger is emotional or vocational. Our thirst is for relationships or peace. We know what it is like to be lost and afraid, to be spiritually hungry and thirsty. Jesus is the one who fills us up and satisfies our hunger and thirst. Jesus is the bread of life who says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). Jesus is the living water who says “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me” (John 7:37). “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;” “His love lasts forever.” [7:00]
The second situation involves people in prison. Look at verse 10:
Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor; they fell down, with no one to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he shatters the doors of bronze, and cuts in two the bars of iron. (Psalm 107:10-16)
3000 years ago prisons were far worse than they are today. In most prisons in the ancient world, if you did not have someone on the outside to take care of you, bringing you food and bribing the guards so that they didn’t beat you, you probably would not survive. Notice, in this second situation, why these people were in prison – sin. They had rebelled against God. They had ignored and despised God’s words.
These people who were in prison cried out and God saved them. God brought them out of darkness. He broke the chains that held them down. He shattered the doors of the prison and set them free.
I don’t know if anyone here has literally been in prison – I hope not – but all of us have sinned and rebelled against God. We’ve all experienced darkness. All of us have areas in our lives in which we are held captive by our sins and by our past. There are things in our lives that keep us from loving and obeying God. We are helpless against them and they keep u fromliving in God’s love, joy and peace. The good news for us is that Jesus is the light who shines into the darkness of our lives. Jesus is the one who died on the cross for us so that our sins might be forgiven. Jesus is the one who sets us free from anything that might keep us from God. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;” “His love lasts forever.” [9:45]
The third problem was sickness. Look at verse 17:
Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. (Psalm 107:17-22)
These people were so sick that they almost died. They cried out and God saved them. God healed them and brought them back to life. They are called to respond with thanksgiving, but also by telling others what God has done for them. “Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy” (Psalm 107:22). If God is at work in your life, share it with the rest of us so that we might be encouraged and inspired.
The ancient world didn’t know about germs. They thought disease was caused by sin. Today we understand that sickness is caused by germs, though we can’t completely ignore the possibility that sin is involved. Either way – when we are sick or when we are aware of sin in our lives, we are invited to cry to the Lord, who heals our sickness, who forgives our sins and gives us eternal life. This isn’t a promise that if we believe and if we pray, we will never get sick or die. It is a promise that no matter what our problem is God always welcomes our prayers. God always forgives our sins, and that even sickness or death can’t take away God’s love. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;” “His love lasts forever.”
The fourth stanza is interesting. Some people are caught in a storm on the ocean. Verse 23:
Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity; they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to humankind. Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. (Psalm 107:23-32)
Anyone who has been caught in a hurricane knows the destructive power of creation, and the fear that goes along with it. “Their courage melted away in their calamity; they reeled and staggered” (Psalm 107:26b-27a). Notice that in this situation the problem is not caused by sin. The people were going about their business and God brought a storm.
The storms of our lives may be cause by our sin. But they may not be. Sometimes in life storms happen for no apparent reason. We may never know why something happens, but in our storms we are invited to pray, to ask for God’s help. The storms of our lives may be physical, emotional or spiritual. You receive a diagnosis of cancer. The phone rings in the middle of the night – there has been a car accident. You go through a divorce. You lose your job. When a storm comes into your life, cry out to God. Call to him for help.
I love the story in the New Testament of the time Jesus and the disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus went to sleep. A storm comes but it doesn’t wake him up. How can he sleep as the waves batter the boat and water comes in? Do you remember what wakes Jesus up? The disciples cry out for help. He wakes up and calms the storm. Jesus is the one who will save us from the storms of our lives. When he does “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;” “His love lasts forever.” [16:00]
Twenty years before the funeral of Dona Neusa, Cesar and his family had visited a small town in the center of Brazil. While they were there they met Carmelita. At that point she was a seven-year-old orphan, living with poverty stricken relatives. Her mother was a prostitute. She never knew her father. Dona Neusa had been moved by Carmelita’s story. She knew that unless someone intervened, Carmelita would probably have a terrible life. To survive she might even need to become a prostitute like her mother. Dona Neusa was filled with compassion and invited Carmelita to come back with her and become part of her family. One day Carmelita had no love, no home, and no family. The next day she had all three.
At the end of the funeral everyone filed out of the chapel. Carmelita stayed behind by the casket. Max watched Carmelita from a distance. She stood at the side of the coffin, tears silently streaming down her face, saying goodbye to the woman who had given her life, who had given her hope for the future, who had given her love. Through her tears Carmelita spoke two words, “Thank you. Thanks you. Thank you.” “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;” “His love lasts forever.”
As you know Thursday is Thanksgiving – a day for giving thanks. The truth is we ought to give thanks every day. However, here is my challenge for you, and for me. Sometime this week I encourage you to get a piece of paper and write down ten things for which you are thankful, ten ways that God has blessed you, or ten ways that God has answered your prayers. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;” “His love lasts forever.” [19:00]
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By Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
You’ll never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have. Wilderness survivors find refuge in God’s presence. They also discover community among God’s people. Max Lucado, “Facing Your Giants”
One of the classic Presbyterian theological statements came out of the Shorter Catechism in the 17th century. “What is the chief end of man?” Or, to put it into modern terms, why do humans exist? What is our purpose in life?
Do you remember the answer? “The chief end of man, our purpose, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This morning I want us to think about the first part of that answer – to glorify God. What does it mean to glorify God? How is God exalted?
There was a medical missionary in a small field hospital in Africa. About every two weeks he had to take a bicycle trip, through the jungle, to the closest city where he would buy supplies. It was a long enough trip that he had to camp out, in the jungle, half way there and half way back to his village.
The doctor went home on furlough, and talked at his home church in Michigan. He told a story of how one time, as he got near to the city, he saw two men fighting. One of them was very badly injured so the doctor treated him. As he bandaged his wounds the doctor witnessed to him, telling him about Jesus. The doctor then went into the city, got all of his supplies, and then returned to his village.
The doctor then told the people about his next trip to the city, two weeks later. The doctor saw the man he had treated. The man came up to him and said, “I know you are a doctor, and that you carry both money and medicine with you. Last time you were here, after you bandaged me, my friends and I followed you into the jungle. When you set up your camp we had plans to kill you and take your drugs and your money. However, when we got to the campsite there was an armed guard, with 26 soldiers protecting you.” The doctor laughed and said, “I don’t have an armed guard. I was all by myself.” The young man insisted that he and his five friends had all counted. 26 armed guards. He said, “When we saw them we were afraid and left you alone.”
At that point, a man in this doctor’s home church stood up and interrupted him. “What is the exact date you were on that trip?” The doctor thought for a moment and told him. The man continued, “The night you were camping in the jungle it was morning here. I was headed out to go play golf. I put my clubs in the car and then I felt an urge from the Lord to pray for you. It was such a strong urge that I called a group of my friends together and we met for prayer.” Then he turned to the church and said, “Would those of you who prayed with me that day please stand up.” They counted and there were 26 men standing.
“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth” (Psalm 57:5).
For several years work had been very stressful. As the economy had struggled so had the business. Many of his co-workers had lost their jobs, but so far Turk had been spared. He had seniority and didn’t think that his job was in any danger. Thursday afternoon everyone was called into a meeting. They were told that the business was shutting down and that tomorrow would be their last day. And so, at age 49, Turk had to figure out what was next. How would he support his family? “I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me… Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth” (Psalm 57:2, 5)
Daniel lived in Babylon with the Israelite exiles. The king of Babylon was a man named Darius. He appointed 120 satraps to rule over the kingdom. Then he appointed 3 administrators who supervised the satraps. Daniel was one of those administrators. In fact, he did such a good job that Darius planned to promote him above all the satraps and above all the administrators. All the other leaders got jealous of Daniel. They decided to try to get rid of him. Unfortunately, Daniel was such an honest man that there was no way they could accuse him of doing anything wrong, unless it had to do with his religion.
Finally, they came up with an idea. They went to King Darius and said, “O great King, you are the greatest king ever. You are above all. We think that you ought to make a law, that for thirty days no one can pray to any god, except you.” Darius liked the idea – people worshipping him – so he passed the law.
Daniel learned about the law, but he continued to pray, as he always did, three times a day, to Yahweh, the God of the Israelites. The satraps told the king, and Darius knew he couldn’t go back on his law, so he threw Daniel into the lion’s den. And so Daniel prayed. “Be merciful to me, O God, for in you my soul takes refuge… I lie down among lions that greedily devour human prey; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues are sharp swords.” Daniel trusted God, and God delivered him. “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth” (Psalm 57:1a, 4-5). Daniel was delivered.
Terry & Sue waited anxiously in the hospital room with Ashley, their four-year-old daughter. Dr. Greensberger walked in with a somber look on his face. He sat down, looked them in the eye and asked, “What do you know about leukemia?” He explained a little bit about it, and what the treatment plan would be for Ashley. Terry and Sue heard the words, but they didn’t really register. Their minds were spinning. Their hearts were overwhelmed. And so they prayed. “Be merciful to us, O God…. In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by…. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth” (Psalm 57:1, 5).
We could tell stories all day of people who needed God’s help, people whose lives were threatened, whose dreams were shattered, whose relationships were torn apart and destroyed. People who, in their time of need, prayed. And sometimes God saved them. Let me share with you one more story from our Old Testament lesson, Psalm 57.
This psalm has an introduction. In my Bible it is written in italics. “To the leader.” The Psalms were used in worship so these guidelines for the worship leader. Then it says “Do Not Destroy.” No one knows for sure what that means. It may be the name of a song that these words go to, or just the theme of the psalm. “Of David when he fled from Saul, in the cave.”
David was a loyal servant of Saul. He was best friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan. He served in Saul’s army, leading troops in war against Israel’s enemies. Saul got jealous of David and tried to kill him. David had to run away to save his life. At least twice, as he was running away, David hid in a cave. One of the times he was in a cave he was with a handful of men. Saul and his army were just outside the cave. Saul came in to the cave and David’s men nudged him and said, “Now is your chance. He’s right here, kill him before he kills you.” But David would not do it. He knew that Saul was the Lord’s anointed and so, rather than taking the matter into his own hands, he trusted God to protect him. “In you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge. I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me. God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness” (Psalm 57:1b-3).
Psalm 57 is a prayer for God’s help. It suggests that anyone who is struggling with life, in any circumstance, is invited to pray the psalm and ask for God’s help and protection. Notice that the Psalm alternates between asking for help and praising God, between describing a struggle and celebrating God’s deliverance. “Be merciful to me, O God… He will send from heaven and save me… I lie down among lions that greedily devour human prey… Be exalted, O God, above the heavens… They dug a pit in my path, but they have fallen into it themselves… I will give thanks to you, O Lord” (Psalm 57:1a, 3a, 4a, 6b, 9a).
So how do we exalt God? How do we give God glory? What would that look like for you? My guess is that most of us think about glorifying God by doing something great for God. If you are a musician you might think about singing, or writing or playing a beautiful piece of music, something that will touch people and draw their hearts to Christ. If you are into crafts that might involve making a beautiful piece of art, a needle point or painting a picture or some sort of woodworking project. For those of you who like to serve other people, maybe down at the food pantry, glorifying God might involve helping a person that you know needs the food and appreciates your work.
I dream of preaching a sermon that will be so powerful that a renewal will break out in the church and spread out into the community. I imagine that many people here dream of turning this church around so that hundreds, maybe thousands of people are coming to the church. However, the question becomes who will be glorified – God or me? There is nothing wrong with our hopes and dreams unless there is something overtly sinful about them. They may be good, but I would suggest that doing great things for God may not be the best way to glorify God.
I wonder if maybe God is trying to teach us that it is in our weakness and in our struggles that we exalt God. We exalt God, not so much by doing great things, but by turning to a great God. We exalt God by praying and asking God for help, and by trusting that God will help us.
Paul knew this as well as anyone. Our passage from 2nd Corinthians is one of my favorites. Paul had spiritual experiences that are beyond what I can even imagine. In the verses before the ones Sara read Paul described having visions and revelations from God. He talked about being “caught up to the third heaven.” But God also gave him a thorn in his side – no one knows what that is – but it keeps Paul from doing the ministry that he wants to do. It keeps him from being able to live the fully abundant life that he wants. So he asks God to take away the thorn so that he can do more great things for God. God’s answer is “No. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We glorify God by asking for God’s help and then by trusting that God will help us. Whenever we turn to Jesus for help, whenever we trust in Him, God is exalted. No matter what your situation is, whether you are physically in danger, grieving the death of a loved one, worried about your job or your kids, struggling with depression, dealing with domestic violence, going through a divorce, or any other problem, when you pray, when you ask for help, when you trust in God, you are exalting God and giving God glory.
“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth” (Psalm 57:5). I invite you to exalt God, by singing this song. It is a statement of faith that no matter what is going on around us, we trust in God.
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Proverbs 11:24-28; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9
by Doug Marshall
Theme: On top of supporting the local church and its ministry, there are at least two reasons we should give:
1) Giving shows our thankfulness to God for all that God has given to us;
2) Giving helps us grow in faith as we are forced to rely on God’s provision.
Thought for Meditation:
The stewardship question is not really how much will we give. The stewardship question is how we spend what we have been given. Ann Weems
One of the best tests of religion is to find yourself in church with nothing less than a $50 dollar bill in your wallet. Unknown
Why Do We Give?
In the next day or so you should receive a stewardship letter from the church. There is a pledge card in the letter that we hope you will fill out and bring back to church next Sunday, which is Dedication Sunday. Today is Stewardship Sunday, which means that this is a stewardship sermon. Sometimes it’s called the tuberculosis sermon. I’m going to ask you to “cough it up.”
One pastor was talking with a man in his congregation. The man told his pastor “I want to tithe. I want to give 10 percent of my income to my church, but it’s hard. When I first started out in business I only made $50 a week, but I gave $5 to the church every Sunday. When I started becoming successful and my weekly income rose to $500 a week, I gave $50 to this church every Sunday. Then I started making $5,000 a week, and I really struggled with giving $500 every week. Now my business is really booming and I’m making $50,000 a week and I just can’t bring myself to give $5,000 to the church every week.” The pastor said, “Why don’t we pray about this?” The pastor began to pray, “Dear God, please return this man’s income to $500 a week so he can tithe…”
I know that as soon as the preacher says he is going to talk about money there is a natural tendency to tune out and prepare for a 20 minute nap. I’ve done it myself, though not normally during my own sermons. I’m also aware of the moral dilemma that every pastor faces when he or she preaches about money. The more you give to the church the better I look, and I know that my salary depends on your giving. I can’t change that dilemma.
Here is what I propose, before I get into this message. I want to give you two promises and one personal statement. The first promise is that I’m not going to focus on giving to the church. Whether you give all your offerings to the church or split it between a variety of places isn’t what really matters. It takes money to run the church – to pay salaries, to maintain the facilities, to pay for heat and lights, as well as to pay for the programs and the mission of the church as we share God’s love and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. You that, so I’m not going to emphasize that, but I don’t want to downplay that either.
The second promise is that this will be a short sermon. If you have tuned out and are preparing for a 20 minute nap, you are going to be disappointed. This sermon won’t be anywhere near that long. Finally, the personal statement is this; I don’t claim any moral superiority in the area of giving. I am tempted by materialism and money as much as anyone else.
In other words, I’m preaching to myself as much as I am to anyone else. With those three ideas in mind, let me share with you three reasons to give. Over the last two weeks we have heard two members of this church share a little bit of their own story, why they give. I want to thank both Ron Schermerhorn and Joe Udvari for their comments. Here are two reasons why I think it is important to give.
The forst reason that we she should give is that giving money is one of the best ways to show our thankfulness to God. I want you to fill in the next word for me. “God so loved the world that he gave.” Everything we have is a gift from God. He gave us everything – our family, our friends, our abilities, our material wealth, our salvation – all of it is from God. You and I can’t out give God. You will never give enough so that God owes you something. That is what grace is all about. Grace is the center of life and giving. We don’t give so that God will love us. We give because God loves us. Our giving is response to the fact that God has given us everything. Our giving is a way of saying “Thank you” to the One who has given himself to us.
In one of Max Lucado’s books he tells the story of the time he went to a coffee shop in Rio de Janeiro. Rio has an orphan population of hundreds of thousands of kids. To survive they have to steal or beg. One day as Max walked to a coffee shop a young boy tapped on his arm and said, “Pao, Senhor? - Bread, sir?” Max took the boy into the coffee shop, ordered a cup of coffee for himself, and something to eat for the boy. They boy looked up and down the counter and picked out a pastry. Normally these children who were begging would run off right away, but this little boy came back and said, “Obrigado - thank you.” He stood there, shuffling his feet, and again said, “Muy obrigado - thank you very much.” Then he ran out. Max was overwhelmed by this boy’s thankfulness. His heart was filled with joy. He wrote these words. “If I am so moved by a street orphan who says thank you for a piece of bread, how much more is God moved when I pause to thank him for saving my soul?” When we thank God, for both our blessings and our struggles, God is moved. God is filled with joy. Our giving is one of the best ways of saying thank you to God who has given so much to us.
The second reason why it is important to give is this – giving helps us to grow in our faith. In the Old Testament there was an offering called the firstfruits. When the first harvest of the year started coming in, probably in June, the people were called to take the first part of their crop, the firstfruits, and offer it to God. At the beginning of the harvest there is no guarantee that the rest of the harvest would be enough. It might be ruined, or fall short of what was needed, or something else might happen to it. To give the firstfruits of your crops was an act of faith, faith that God would provide.
The same principle can be found in the idea of giving God our best, not our leftovers. It is giving to God before you know you have enough. If your income is $50,000 a week, there isn’t much sacrifice in giving $100 a week to the church. You will still have enough left that you don’t need to worry about buying food, keeping the heat on, or paying for your vacations. However, when your income is only $20,000 a year, that is less than $400 per week, giving $100 a week is going to be a challenge. It takes incredible faith to give generously. When we give, when we give generously and sacrificially, we will grow in our faith, as we learn to trust in God.
Eugene Peterson tells the story of a family of swallows he saw one day. There was a mama and a papa bird, and three chicks who were just learning to fly. These three chicks were on a branch that stuck out over a lake. Mama stood right next to them, on the inside of the branch. She started edging her way out toward the end of the branch, pushing her chicks toward the end. The first one got to the end of the branch and fell off. Somewhere between the branch and the water he stuck out his wings, and could fly. Mama kept pushing and the second chick fell off the branch. He stuck out his wings, and could fly. The third chick was stubborn. He really pushed back hard, but mama was bigger. The chick got right to the end, loosened his grip on the branch, twirled underneath the branch where mama couldn’t push him. Papa flew on to the branch and began to peck at his feet. He protested, but eventually let go, stuck out his wings, and began to fly. Then Peterson makes this amazing comment.
“The mature swallow knew what the chick did not – that it would fly – that there was no danger in making it do what it was perfectly designed to do.
Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have talons and can grasp a branch securely. They can walk; they can cling. But flying is their characteristic action, and not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully and beautifully.
“Giving is what we do best. It is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth… some of us try desperately to hold on to ourselves, to live for ourselves. We look so bedraggled and pathetic doing it, hanging on to the dead branch of a bank account for dear life, afraid to risk ourselves on the untried wings of giving. We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried. But the sooner we start, the better, for we are going to have to give up our lives finally, and the longer we wait, the less time we have for the soaring and swooping life of grace.”
Brothers and sisters, giving is what we were made to do. We give as a way to say thank you to God. We give to grow in our faith and trust in God, who gave us himself.
We give Thee but Thine own, Whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone, A trust, O Lord, from Thee.
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Psalm 8; Romans 5:6-11
November 2, 2014
Thought for Meditation:
Creation discloses a power that baffles our minds and beggars our speech. We are enamored and enchanted by God’s power. We stutter and stammer about God’s holiness. We tremble before God’s majesty… and yet we grow squeamish and skittish before God’s love.
I am flabbergasted by the widespread refusal across this land to think big about a loving God. Like nervous thoroughbreds being guided to the starting gate at Churchill Downs, many Christians bray, bridle, and bolt at the revelation of God’s all-embracing love in Jesus Christ. Brennan Manning, “The Ragamuffin Gospel”
Crowned With Glory and Honor