Archive for November 8th, 2015

Living the Consecrated Life

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Pentecost 24B, November 8, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

“Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” [1 Kings 17:9]

For some of you here this morning, the scripture readings all point to one conclusion: The pastor is going be preaching on stewardship, or giving.  If that is the conclusion you reached, well you’re not entirely right, but you’re not entirely wrong either.  You see our message is on living, and not giving.

This morning, our message will speak God’s words of faithfulness, which will in turn cause our hearts to trust in His care for us.  And that in turn will lead us to live a life set apart to glorify God as we praise Him and serve our neighbor.  So, in a sense this is a stewardship message, that will move us to live a consecrated life for God, but not the kind of life that some so called “evangelist” might define it, with the  words “Name it and claim it” behind their message; no our message comes directly from the heart of God.  It’s He alone who speaks to  our hearts, not sinful men, and He alone gives us faith and courage to follow and believe what He says in His Word.

In our Old Testament reading (1 Kings 17:8-16), Elijah the prophet is given yet another test from God in trusting His Word and taking action that is born out of faith. The test from God isn’t meant to trap Elijah, but to prove to Him that God will always provide.  God will do what He says He will do.  But God’s testing of Elijah’s faith, or His strengthening of faith, didn’t stop there.  God also spoke to a poor widow woman who had a home and family, and no more resources to provide for it.  The world was in the middle of a famine and this poor woman only had enough flour to make one last meal for herself and her child.  She must have been wondering, “Is there a god, and if there is does that god really care?”

And this is exactly the place where the living God proves that He is real and He does provide for those who receive faith and trust Him.  Through Elijah, God would also test her faith.  God’s promise to her was simple: the bowl of flour and the jar of oil will not be exhausted until the famine is over.

When Elijah spoke the promise of God to the widow, she heard and believed.  She passed God’s test of new found faith by preparing the bread for Elijah.  The widow acted as though the flour and oil would last forever.  And that is the very essence of faith; the widow trusted God’s Word.  “Faith is being certain of what we do not see”. [Hebrews 11:1]

Does God still look for examples of that faith today?  Yes!  But how, how is that kind of faith even possible?  Only by the Word, the promises of God; only when the one being blessed by the promise of God is trusting in the promise.  What promise?  Well there are many great promises that God makes in His Word, but the greatest of them all for sinners like us, is the promise of complete and total forgiveness of sins.  Have you claimed that promise?  Are you truly trusting that God has done that for you?  If you have then it should completely redefine your life.  It should change you in the very core of who you are and why you are living in this sinful world.  Has it; has it really changed you?  Well, let’s put it to the test.

We just sang the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be” (LSB 783) right?  Do you really believe the Words we sang in vs. 5&6?   “Take my will and make it Thine, It shall be no longer mine; Take my heart, it is Thine own, It shall be Thy royal throne.  Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store; take myself and I will be ever, only all for Thee.”  If God were to ask you right now if the life that you were living is a good example of your appreciation for all He has done for you, and an accurate representation of your trust and love for Him, would you be embarrassed?  If you’re honest with yourself, I think you already know the answer.

Ok, I know the message is getting a little uncomfortable for us this morning; that always happens when the Law of God begins poking and probing into those secret and protected places.  And what does God want us to see in all of this poking and probing?  Well, the quality of our faith of course.  He is always looking to test our faith, so that He can strengthen it.

When Elijah was sent to the widow to be cared for, God was already preparing the widow’s heart to be God’s caregiver for Elijah. When the man of God came and spoke the words, “Do not fear” God was through those very Words giving faith and courage to the woman so she could hear what came next: “make for me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”

Now, those are challenging words, in fact they are impossible words for anyone on the brink of starvation.  It is an all or nothing proposition.  You would have to be a fool to believe those words, unless they were God’s Words.  You see God’s Word always provides faith to believe the promise within the Word.  What was the promise?  That she would never lack!  It was not Elijah saying that, but God speaking through a true prophet.  She knew who Elijah was; she knew he was the real deal.  So the question that God was asking her was not if she trusted Elijah, but if she trusted Him.  God’s Word provides faith and it provides courage; God’s Word and not the word of men.

Earlier I referred to the phony evangelists and preachers who are known as the word of faith preachers.  Some of them use the slogan, “Name it and claim it!”  Or as I like to say, “Blab it and grab it!”  When they speak about seed money and sowing for blessings of wealth and prosperity, they really mean it; the only problem is that they’re talking about their own wealth and prosperity and not yours!  They aren’t preaching the gospel of forgiveness but the gospel of redistribution of wealth, from your hand to theirs.  These are the type of phonies that Jesus was talking about in our gospel reading this morning (Mark 12:38-44), listen: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers.”

Today, we might say beware of the prosperity preachers, who like to walk around in Armani suits wearing Rolex watches, expensive jewelry, living in lush million dollar homes, and driving around in a new Mercedes Benz.  You know who they are don’t you?  Where ever they go they want everyone in the community to notice them.  They are the ones who will use wonderful sounding prayers intended to manipulate you and take your last penny, with the promise that God will bless you.  Baloney!  Jesus says that those kind of phony preachers will receive great condemnation!  He tells you that for a reason; He wants you to take your heart and eyes off of the promises of men and instead focus on the promises of God.

After Jesus condemned the scribes, He called His disciples to His side, and He asked them to look at a poor widow who was putting a penny in the offering. After the widow deposited her offering, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Like the widow in our Old Testament reading, God worked within the heart of this widow with the penny to give everything and then trust in His care and blessing.  It was God who did that and not sinful man.  Why did God ask them to give everything?  So that He could be praised, not so the preacher or even the giver could be admired.  What was the reward for the widow’s giving?  Stronger faith; faith to know and experience God’s care and love, even in the middle of hard times.

Now at this point, many of us are asking ourselves this question, “Could I do that; could I give everything if God asked me to?”  The answer is simple; yes you could if God willed it!  But the truth is friends; the kingdom of God does not rest upon your obedience or lack of it.  God doesn’t need your time, talent, or treasure to build His kingdom, but He does invite you to use those things and be a partner in seeing that kingdom grow.  Why?  Because all that you have is from God; it’s a trust from Him, a tool that God wants to use to test and strengthen your faith.  But faith in what?  Faith in God’s faithfulness; faith in His forgiving heart, which speaks to you forgiveness of sins… the gospel of Jesus Christ!

It was Jesus, the Son of God who appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin (your sin), by sacrificing Himself upon the cross.  And just as it is appointed for (each of us) to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sin of many (yes, even your sins dear baptized, He) will appear a second time, not to deal with or punish our sins, but to save we redeemed and baptized sinners, who completely trust in His life, death, and resurrection as being done for us and in us, as we are eagerly waiting for Him to come again to bring us into paradise restored. [Hebrews 9:26b-28]

How much of our time, talent, and treasure does God ask us to give to Him?  All of it, everything we have, but when we realize this truth, He also takes away the fear of not being able to call it our own.  You see, He gives it right back to us, and then He asks us to hold onto it for Him, as a trust; something that has been consecrated, that is, it has been set apart as holy, and it is to be used in service to our Lord Jesus Christ and our neighbor.  God asks us to be responsible with our lives and to use them to further the spread of the good news about Jesus Christ and His Kingdom of grace.  He asks us to hold onto our treasure with an open hand so that He can take of it as He sees fit.

How much should you give?  I do not know; that is between you and God, but I do know this, you don’t decide to become a steward after you have a good job.  No, Christian stewardship demands that we take good care of our time talent and treasure, what ever it is, simply because we have been commissioned by Jesus to manage those things, how ever much or little of those things we have right now, and we do it simply for God’s glory and the spreading of His kingdom of grace one forgiven sinner at a time.

You see, we are all stewards; the only question is whether we are good stewards or bad ones.  I know that God is always testing our faith so that we will get better and better at trusting Him and believing that all we have is His alone, a trust from God to us.  May He continue to give us faith to believe this truth and also faith to embrace a consecrated life, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!