Monday, November 14, 2011

Sermon for 11/13/11 "Prepare for the Coming Lord"

SERMON “Prepare for the Coming Lord” audio link May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh Lord my rock and my redeemer (Ps. 19.14). Amen. I’d like to remind you very briefly about the details of our Gospel reading today. There’s a man, a very rich man. He’s going away on a journey and plans to be gone for a very long time. We can tell from the return that two of his servants get on the investment that it’s a very long journey. So this master puts his servants into positions of stewardship. He expects them to care for his business while he is gone. They are to act as good stewards, caring for matters according to his desires and his principles. When we have a trustworthy steward we can know that everything will be taken care of. We have no reason to doubt it. I have an example of stewardship in my older daughter, who isn’t here, so I can say something about her without embarrassing her too much. This daughter of mine spent many years learning what I valued and what I didn’t value. As she grew in responsibility and Christlike character I saw in many ways that I could trust her. There came a time when, though still in high school, there were some responsibilities I wanted her to take on. One of these situations took her on a pretty long journey to a different state. I wanted to be sure she had what would be required to accomplish what she was doing. In addition to her car and her personal effects, she had authority to use a credit card of mine. She knew that there would be problems if she acted irresponsibly. When she had a difficult decision to make she would consult with me. In other instances she acted as I would want her to act without a need to ask me. Generally she showed herself to be a good steward and was quite trustworthy. She was able to give me a more detailed account of what she had done than I actually wanted. She accomplished the goals I had in mind. This is what a steward does. So we go back to our parable. God, the very wealthy master, has gone on a journey. Since the day of Jesus’ ascension into heaven until now, he has been “away.” Though he is with us always, according to his promise, in Word and Sacraments, we have been entrusted with stewardship over his affairs on earth. What has our Lord given to his Church? He’s given us all the resources he desires us to use. He’s given spiritual gifts to his people, most notably described in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. And he’s given some people as spiritual gifts described in Ephesians 4 and elsewhere, particularly the people he describes as bishops, elders, and deacons. How do we use these gifts God has given us? Do we put them to use with the reasonable care the first two stewards in the parable do? One who has been entrusted with a lot makes wise investments and doubles the investment. The other who has been entrusted with less makes wise investments and also doubles the investment. These people have put God’s gifts to work. They are praised by the master upon his return and they enter into his blessing. But what happened to the one who took the gift, still a big gift, and buried it to keep it safe? We know what can happen to something we bury in the back yard, don’t we? Could it be endangered there? Could it even be destroyed? It certainly could. We may think with today’s investment market and interest rates that we’re safer putting money in our mattresses. But nobody is going to insure both our mattress and its contents in case of fire. They might replace the mattress. They won’t believe that you had your life savings stuffed inside it. Those things we take and hide rather than using them are out of circulation. They aren’t any good to anybody. When we show our master that we have not used what he provided for us he will be displeased. We have not been good stewards. He is the kind of master who uses his property. Going against that is bad stewardship. It’s violating the principles of God to take his gifts and prevent others from receiving blessing through them. So here we start seeing what we are about today. God has given us gifts. He has given us enormous gifts, gifts of the Holy Spirit, people sent by God, the gifts of Word and Sacrament. And he has given them to us to use them in our society. In these last days, as we look to our Lord’s coming, how will he find we have used what he gave us? Have we invested what he left us with? Have we hidden it? Will he grant us rewards? Will he condemn us out of hand as bad stewards? May he be pleased in his coming. Now at this point in the sermon you might be asking yourself what I want you to do. It’s a fair enough question. If you know me well you’ll know that I really don’t want to tell you what to do. I always hesitate because I don’t have a particular “thus says the Lord” about specific behaviors here. Our Gospel passage speaks in more general terms than that. And I’ve seen people hurt, and hurt badly, by the idea that they need to pray a certain way or read the Scripture a certain amount so God will be pleased with them. I’ve known people who have a tremendous burden of guilt laid upon them because of the amount of money they are able to give, or what they are not able to give. I’ve known people who have been taught that if they don’t go on short-term or long-term missions or go to youth conventions, or respond in worship in a certain way they are missing the mark and don’t have God working in their lives. So I’m not going to tell you any of that. Here’s what I am going to tell you. Our Lord has given you and me his perfect Word – not only the written Scriptures but also the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, to be with us and to dwell in us. We sum these gifts up with the shorthand “Word and Sacraments.” We are pleasing to God as we, by faith, are good stewards of these gifts. And every last one of us is guilty of neglecting the Word and Sacrament. Every one of us is guilty of being more interested in other things than the things which God has revealed to us through the Word. How many of you know the divisions of the football, baseball, or basketball leagues better than you know the promises God made to the different tribes of Israel? How many of you can list the ways you can score in football but can’t list all the commandments of God? How many of you know more about the history of your favorite political candidate than you do about the life and times of Jesus? How many of us decide to read the Scripture for a couple of hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon? How many of us decide to watch a movie or read another book and would find the idea of picking up the Bible in that way completely foreign? We are all guilty. Did I just tell you that you should only read the Bible? No. Did I just tell you that you should read the Bible the same amount you read other things? No. Did I just tell you that we show ourselves as good and interested stewards of God when we are interested in his priorities and in what he has revealed to us? Yes. How does that play out in our lives? It will be different for each person, but every last one of us can purposely take the Scripture more seriously. What about the Sacraments? Do we truly believe that God is delivering forgiveness, life, and salvation in baptism and in communion? Do we really believe that these are God’s promises for us? Do we really believe that when we gather around the Lord’s Table he is there to nourish our faith? Do we take this life in him seriously? Or do we find ourselves guilty of looking to our mortal life, life in this sin-cursed world, and deciding it is the best one we have? Do we truly realize that when he has proclaimed us forgiven we are forgiven? Do we realize that he does have the words of life? Do we yearn for the opportunity to receive communion? Do we eagerly look forward to seeing God implant faith into the hearts of others at baptism? These are gifts God has given us. And as good stewards, we are to see them as our Lord sees them. When our Lord comes back, may he find us faithful, occupied in using his gifts, bringing his blessing to every nation through faith in his name, abiding in his Word, rejoicing in his Sacraments. Lord, find us faithful, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.

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