Stewardship Sermon- October 2, 2016
“Because of You” is our 2017 Stewardship Theme.
Because of you– sounds almost accusatory.
Maybe you have heard those words from your spouse, your child, your parent, or a co-worker. We often use them to put blame on others rather than hold ourselves responsible.
Because of you, that project didn’t get done;
Because of you, I didn’t get enough sleep;
Because of you, I worry all the time.
Because of you and your cooking Robin, my waist is bigger than it should be.
But we gather here this morning because of you– not you or you or you or even me, but the you to whom we invoke both at the beginning and conclusion of our worship service, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Because of you, God the Father and creator, we are blessed in a world that you called good, and was made good for us.
We know our future because of you– Jesus Christ, the way the truth and the life. For God so loved the world that have gave you, Jesus to us, so that we might not perish but have eternal life. Because of you– Jesus– your body broken for us, your blood is shed for us, for the remission of our sins.
Because of you, Holy Spirit, we are gifted with spiritual gifts to be your mind, your hands, your feet, and your voice in the world.
So you see, we enter this month where we think about our talents, our time, and our treasure, because of you O God, the one who provides it all in the first place. It is ours to use, our stewardship of love, in this remarkably short time we have on this earth, and despite what the Pharaohs thought when they built the great pyramids and put so many material goods inside, when your life is over, when you breathe your last breath, it is all released back to the world and others, and we take none of it with us.
So because of you, because of you O Lord, we respond in gratitude, we respond generously, we respond sacrificially, we respond in love, just as you have done and have called us to do.
Because of you, O Lord, we are who we are. And because of you, we have our own “because of you” stories. People who have as the hymn goes “have blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”
Your “because of you” story is a personal one. No one’s is exactly like yours. Think for a moment of the people who have met you and patiently, lovingly guided you in the faith.
Parents, grandparents, and other family members;
Sunday School teachers who spoke the Gospel, even midst our childhood shenanigans and inattentiveness;
Unknown folks who built church buildings, supported church staffs, provided for missionaries; served on councils and committees, made the congregations and communities of our lives what they were and are– Many who have served faithfully and we remember with a smile or even a tear– and others who are now forgotten but part of our faith DNA. Because of them, and now my friends in Christ, because of you.
Today I chose three Scriptures as our readings that are far outside the circle of our three year lectionary cycle. They are because of God, working in people stories and I think each of them become part of our life and our own because of your response.
The Old Testament lesson was the calling of the prophet Jeremiah. Poor Jeremiah, he was a PK, a preacher’s kid, with his father Hilkiah serving as a priest in the village of Anathoth, close enough to the Holy city to see the walls of Jerusalem standing tall in the distance. The story opens with the intimate connection of God with Jeremiah, even before birth, a relationship that I truly believe God extends to us.
Listen to verses 4 and 5–“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Talk about getting a big job without any training and preparation! But as we celebrate in our own Sacrament of Baptism, God chooses us long before we choose him. Jesus said it well later to his disciples in John 15:16- “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit”.
So I think that’s where the Because of God story begins the because of us corporately and the because of you story personally.
Because God chooses us, he also has a plan for our lives. And his plan often works in us long before we think we are ready. When God called Jeremiah, Jeremiah said he wasn’t ready yet. He claimed that he did not know how to speak well and he was only a youth.
Hey God, come back later, and I’ll let you know when. We too can hesitate with our own brands of excuses. I’m too young. I’m too old. I’m too busy. I have to work. I’m retired now. I’m like Jeremiah, I don’t know what to say.
Guess what folks, God is not limited by human weakness, experience or human excuse. God calls you, but he doesn’t leave you stranded in a life storm. He calls, enlightens and equips. He did it to Jeremiah, and does so for us.
Our second lesson from Acts is the conversion of Saul the Christian killer to Paul, the missionary extraordinaire. But today I want us to consider the faithful stewardship of the other main character of the chapter, a new disciple himself named Ananias.
The Lord calls Ananias in a dream and he responds faithfully in the same way we sang a few minutes ago, “Here I am Lord.” Those words tell me that he was open to the will of God. But then Ananias gets the details of his call, and he becomes skeptical.
He is told to reach out to the newly converted Saul and bless him in order for Saul to receive again his sight. What? Saul’s reputation had preceded him. He heard of Saul’s evil, the persecutions, and capturing the people who spoke the name of the Lord Jesus. It would be like you or I called by the Lord in a dream to visit an ISIS leader who had just bombed a Christian Church. Would you do it? How would you feel about that individual?
But the Lord uses this common person to reach out, place his hands on Saul’s head, bless him, and allow Saul to be restored of his sight.
How often do we hesitate because God’s commands and what he wants us to do in this world just doesn’t make sense? Or we think we are incapable? Or maybe that person we are called to help just doesn’t deserve godly love, at least in our own eyes?
But Ananias did it. We are told in Scripture, “He went his way.” The wonderful thing is that “His” refers to God’s way, not the way Ananias would choose. Not the easy way. He met the Gospel task immediately!
I believe that God has a special place for you, for me, and for us as Grace Lutheran Church in his kingdom work. Like Ananias, We might not understand it or even see it at first. It might take time, openness, and prayer. When we finally hear it, we too might feel, Who me? God, you got the wrong guy, the wrong lady, the wrong kid.
We together we might lament, we are just a small congregation!
But know that because of you, there are little glimpses of God’s kingdom right here, right now. God works out God’s purpose, through Ananias of long ago, and disciples today.
God’s word is spoken, God’s love is shared, it happens, because of you.
Finally, our Gospel lesson is a miracle story of great familiarity to most of us, the Feeding of the Multitude. This miracle occurs with the combination of God’s blessing and the giving of all that one boy had. In comparison to Jeremiah and Ananias, we know little about this child carrying five barley loaves and two fish.
Did he just come from the market? Did he have these items to use to barter in a nearby town? Was it his in-kind wages for work that he did? We don’t know. What we do know is his willingness to provide all he had for a Jesus blessing. Even faithful Andrew the disciple recognized scarcity in the midst of such great need. One can image him looking at the vast crowd sitting, listening to Jesus, as he said these words, “But what are they among so many people?”
Because of you, little boy, the food carried in your arms and shared among others became enough and more with the blessing of Jesus.
Because you risked, little boy, many were fed that day both with God’s word and physical nourishment. Because you gave, they were blessed.
And listen to the end of the story, Jesus tells the people, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be lost. So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled 12 baskets.
I imagine that boy returning home late that day with both a few baskets of food in his arm and a wonderful story of faith to share with his family. That’s the way it works for us too. Because of you and your gifts, people are fed in many ways.
Because you share, God is able to bless your work and to multiply it many times over.
Because you take the faithful risk, you return with even more than you started.
I can not count the times where people have freely given of themselves to others in ministry and afterwards said words like these, “You know Pastor, I got so much out of it myself.”
God’s blessing has a boomerang effect!
So today I hope we have heard these 3 faithful Bible stories of faith and let them be characteristics of your own Because of you story.
Because of you, like Jeremiah, regardless of your age and experience.
Because of you, like Ananias, willing to hear God’s call and take on something that seems so difficult.
Because of you, like the boy in the crowd, sharing what you have, as small as it seems– to make great things happen in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Next week, several members of our congregation are going to share “Because of you” stories of individuals or groups who allowed them to grow in the faith and made a difference by their stewardship.
Who in your life might look at you and say, “Because of you”.
All of us have had those people in our lives.
All of us are called to be that person in the life of another child of God.