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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz

Aug 14, 2016  SERMON ARCHIVE

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today, we begin our stewardship program Stewards Transformed by Grace, Faith, and Love. For this week, our focus is on stewards transformed by grace. The text is from 2 Corinthians 8:1-15.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack."

We begin in the name of Jesus, AMEN

It had been a hard winter in the Rockies. The snow piled deeper and deeper. The temperature dropped below zero and stayed there. The rivers froze over. People were suffering. The Red Cross used helicopters to fly in supplies.

After a long, hard day, as they were returning to their base, the rescue team in a helicopter saw a cabin nearly submerged in the snow. A thin wisp of smoke came up from the chimney. The men figured those people in that cabin were probably critically short of food, fuel, and medicine.

Because of the trees they had to set down about a mile from the cabin. They put their heavy emergency equipment on their backs, trudged through waist-deep snow, and reached the cabin exhausted, panting, and perspiring. They pounded on the door and a thin, gaunt mountain woman finally answered.

The lead man panted, "Ma’am, we’re from the Red Cross." She was silent for a moment, and then she said, "It’s been a hard, long winter, Sonny I just don’t think we can give anything this year!"

Admit it. You’ve have become accustomed to people’s relentless asking for money. The salesman who rings at the door, the computer recording on the other end of the phone, the appeal letter in the mail, the panhandlers on the street corners, and the Girl Scouts selling cookies outside of Walmart and Hyvee are all out to get your money. You brace yourselves to say "no."

And then, when somebody approaches claiming to want to help you, you become suspicious. There has to be an ulterior motive.

The Apostle Paul was traveling all over the world taking up a collection for the poor, distressed Christians in Jerusalem. They were in need of help. Usually the mother church supported the mission churches, but there was a famine in Judea, so the economy was suffering and the mother church at Jerusalem needed help.

On top of that, Christians were being persecuted, and many of them had lost their jobs. As a result, many of them were just barely staying alive. So Paul went from church to church urging the Christians to give generously to support those who were in need in Jerusalem. Paul said, "Just as you excel in everything…see that you also excel in this grace of giving" (8:7).

Stained Glass Baptism Window

Friends, whenever we talk about grace and giving, we have to talk about God. Grace begins with God. Grace is the gift He gives to us undeservedly. It is unmerited on our part. But you know God is not only gracious, He is giving. In fact, He is the greatest giver ever.

John 3:16 tells us, "God so loved the world that He gave is one and only Son that whoever should believe in Him shall have every lasting life." He gave His Son and that is an expression of His love. When He wanted to tell you how much He loved you, He didn’t send us a letter, an email, or put something on Facebook. He sent His only Son. His Son Who was rich became poor. Paul said, "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Yes, this was something they already knew, but something they needed to keep on hearing. To describe the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul used the term rich and poor. He applied these words to Jesus. He was rich, Paul reminded them. He was referring to the eternal riches that were His as the Son of God from all eternity. There was and is nothing that does not belong to Him. But for your sake He became poor. Paul reminded them that he was referring to what Christians today call Christ’s state of humility.

Writing to the Philippians, Paul put it this way, "Christ made Himself nothing." Literally He emptied Himself. Jesus had absolutely everything. He was Lord of the universe, and He gave it all. As Paul told the Corinthians, He died so that they may become rich. Jesus, the God-man swapped places with sinners. He underwent the agony, desolation, and the deserved punishment of fallen mankind. In return, sinners receive a share in His Sonship and the forgiveness of sins. You see, because of Christ’s poverty, you are rich.

But you are not rich by nature. By nature, you are poor. Scripture says that you are spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. There is no goodness of your own. There is no one good—not even one, Paul says in Romans. There is no way for you to gain acceptance with God. All of your efforts fall short.

But in Christ you have become incredibly rich. You have forgiveness of sins. The slate is wiped clean. All things now work for your good. You have eternal riches. Friends, that is grace in action. You are rich.

You may say, "Me rich?" You might say, "We get by, but we’re certainly not rich." But you are rich, becomes Christ became poor. If you question yourself becoming rich, just ask God, "How much did your salvation cost?" Martin Luther reminded us that our salvation was not bought with gold or silver but with His innocent suffering and death.

Friends, we are rich and to be rich means that we belong to Him. We have been chosen by Him. We have been bought by Him, by His own blood. To be rich is to live for Him. Doing His will instead of ours. Seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:15: "And He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him Who for their sake died and was raised."

How much of every day do you live for God? You see my friends, you can live every day for God by remembering that you are stewards. We are all stewards by creation and our recreation in Baptism. As God’s stewards we are managers not owners. God is the owner. We just confessed a few moments ago that we believe in God the Father, almighty maker of heaven and earth. But friends, He is not only the maker of heaven and earth; He is the owner because He has never given up ownership.

Being stewards means that you’ve been entrusted with life and life’s resources. You’ve been given the privilege of responsibly and joyfully managing them for Him. You can do that because you are stewards who have been transformed by God’s grace. You have been changed. You’ve been changed in heart and mind. You are no longer the same person you once were. Paul says that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.

Romans 12:2 tells us, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Being transformed or changed starts with thinking of things differently. And it results in behavior that is pleasing to God and in accordance with God’s will. In accordance with God’s will, you become givers not just takers. Giving now becomes a privilege rather than a problem or obligation. You begin to want to give willingly and cheerfully.

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

In the text we learned that Christians in Macedonia begged to be part of the offering. How often have you, the people here at Bethlehem applauded when we collect the offering? I asked that because I’ve heard of a congregation that did applaud when an offering was collected. Wouldn’t it be great if, when I announced the offering, the congregation would applaud?

A pastor told me about a time when his church received a $1,000 check from a member who never attended church. The pastor’s secretary said that the man considered his gift as his dues. A year later another check for $1,000 was received from the same man. The pastor later met with the man and returned his $1,000 check.

The pastor told the gentleman that "God doesn’t want your money; he wants you." Friends, God doesn’t want your money; he wants you. When you refuse to give yourselves, you are withholding what belongs to God.

When you give yourselves, you give your time. Time gives you the opportunity to serve God by serving your fellow man. Have you ever wondered why God allowed you to keep on living after He had saved you? You are still here because God has a purpose for you. God has things for you to do.

Today, there are daily devotions on each of the tables that are available to read during this week. I’d like to read a paragraph from this coming Friday’s devotion.

In writing to the Church in Corinth, Paul referenced the example of the Macedonians who gave so generously to the needy Christians in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:1-9). They were empowered to give because of God’s grace and generosity to them. Even though they lived in poverty, the Macedonians gave generously and sacrificially.

Paul referred to their giving as an "act of grace" (vs. 6). By grace, the Macedonians in their extreme poverty gave "beyond their means" (vs. 3). They were so eager to give that they pleaded for the privilege of sharing with the needy in Jerusalem. Their giving, while they were in such a difficult economic position, gave witness to God’s grace in their lives. God’s grace makes it possible for people to have very little and yet want to give generously.

Friends, the word generosity comes from the root word that means "single." The basic idea is of single-mindedness of purpose. It points more to the attitude of the giver rather than the amount given. The ultimate source of the single-minded generous spirit was the grace of God that had been given to the churches of Macedonia. Generous givers aren’t born that way. That kind of attitude is the result of being reborn or being changed or being transformed.

The grace of unmerited love of God that brings salvation to the sinner also inspires a new life of service that includes unselfish, generous giving. To be able to give cheerfully and generously is a gift of grace. The grace of giving means, "For the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich."

In a sermon on generosity, Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, the sainted speaker of the Lutheran Hour, said, "I’m not afraid to talk about money because all that we have belongs to God including our salvation being bought through the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." To that we say, "This is most certainly true."

Truly, Christ is Risen.

Luther Rose

 

Christ Is Risen
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