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On this last Sunday of the church year, we Christians joyfully proclaim Christ Jesus as King. We say he is both our king and king over the whole world.
The Gospel reading for today, however, reminds us that Jesus is a very different kind of king than our world is used to. Jesus was mocked for being weak and for dying. Many thought he was a failure. Many still do. But Jesus rose from the dead. Death could not hold him. His death was just a step in his path of victory. And because Jesus overcame death we know that he is a greater king than any other. He is the king who leads his people into life beyond the grave. And, he is the king who brings more peace and healing in this life than any other as well.
As we think of the peace and healing that Jesus our king brings to us in this life, we are reminded that one of the ways he does this is through his teaching. Jesus teaches us many things. Today, in addition to celebrating Christ as King, we at St. Paul’s are remembering how Jesus teaches us to be good stewards.
There are many statements and examples from the life of Jesus which we could examine as we think about being good stewards. But this year we are focusing on how St. Paul took the teachings of Jesus and shared them in his letter to the Philippians. Our theme comes from verse twenty of the first chapter of that letter, where Paul says: “with full courage, now as always, Christ will be honored in my body.”
Two Sundays ago, as our theme was being introduced, I emphasized the importance of living with full courage, much as the saints of the church lived their lives with courage.
Last Sunday, Pastor Lehrer urged us to consider our bodies in being good stewards. He explained that stewardship consists of real, physical acts of help and assistance as we give for the sake of showing love to God and neighbor. Our giving is to be more than just warm thoughts or kind words. We give in concrete ways—of our time, talent and financial treasure. We explored how the 5th and 6th commandments should be considered in this light, and we recalled the story of St. Martin of Tours as he shared his coat with a stranger in need.
This Sunday I would like to highlight the one remaining thought from our theme verse that we have yet to explore—the importance of honoring Christ. When we are good stewards we are giving honor to Christ. And at the same time, honoring Christ is an essential part of being a good steward.
When Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians, the joy he felt toward them burst forth abundantly. One of the reasons for Paul’s joy was that the Philippians had learned an important lesson about Christian stewardship. They had learned that good stewardship includes giving toward the work of the Gospel.
In our second reading today we hear Paul commending the Philippians for their giving. His words to them obviously convey a message of gratitude. And yet, there are important words of teaching here too. As we consider these words of Paul for our own stewardship purposes, I’d like us to note three points.
First, Paul notes that their giving is a “partnership” with him. They gave of their financial means to help Paul in his mission efforts. Some of that money would go for Paul’s needs. However, more of it would be going to the mission. Note how Paul words this: you “entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving” (v. 15).
“Partnership” is a very important word in the New Testament. It is a verbal form of the word “koinonia” – usually translated “fellowship.” To work together in partnership for the common cause of spreading the Gospel is true Christian fellowship. Good stewards set aside a part of what God has given them and pool these resources together with others for doing this work. At St. Paul’s this month we are trying to consider the way God has gifted each of us and then pool these resources together in the best possible way—partnering with one another in reaching out to our community with the Gospel.
Secondly, Paul tells the Philippian Christians that another benefit of giving is the blessing which is received by the giver. In v. 17 he says: “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” Paul says that God credits people who give. He blesses them—giving them an increase—in the ways he knows to be best. Great fruit comes from God when people give according to his commands.
In our first reading today, from Malachi, the prophet notes that the people have been disputing this claim from God. The people have said: “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts?” Malachi speaks against this faithlessness of the people. He even tells them that God invites them to challenge Him. He says (starting in v. 10): “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”
Thirdly, Paul notes that the gifts sent by the Philippian Christians for partnering in missions were “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (v. 18). Here Paul ties Christian giving to the Old Testament practice of offering sacrifices. Such sacrifices were commanded by God—sacrifices of essentials like livestock and produce; sacrifices of certain non-essentials too. Sacrifices were made for sin, for feast days, for times of blessing, for times of need. As you may know there were a lot of Old Testament sacrifices commanded by God.
The command to continue these many specific sacrifices of the old covenant was not carried over into the new, but the general expectation that people would sacrifice in honor of God remains. Christian giving is not just a means of offering charity, nor is it a means of strategically employing one’s resources for a cause that is good. Christian giving is a means of sacrificing for the sake of God’s glory. God doesn’t need our gifts. Offerings of faith are a way of worshiping him. They are “fragrant, acceptable and pleasing” to God. When you give a gift to further the name of the Lord you are engaging in an act of worship.
This last teaching of Paul from chapter four echoes well our theme verse from chapter one. When we are good stewards and make our sacrifices to God, we “honor God in our bodies.”
I think most of us know what it means to honor someone. It can be an act to draw special attention to something, as when an honor guard watches over a memorial like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It can also be an act of giving, as when a guest speaker receives an honorarium for the work performed. And, it can include obedience and respect, as when the fourth commandment tells us to “honor our father and mother.”
The word Paul uses here in his letter to the Philippians, which we translate “honor,” actually has a very specific meaning. It means to “make great.” “Megalunein” is the Greek. We recognize the root word “mega.” This word, which is not the common word for “honor,” is only used a few times in the New Testament. Its most famous use is by Mary. When Mary is told that she will be giving birth to Jesus, she sings a beautiful song that begins: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” She honors God by proclaiming him to be great. And soon after she did this, the joy spread – for in the very next verses we are told that her relative Elizabeth becomes pregnant too – and the people “magnified” the Lord with her.
The only other use of this word in the NT, besides these accounts in Luke and here in Philippians, is in the book of Acts as the church grows and spreads. In Acts 5 the people magnified the apostles because of the amazing work that was done. In Acts 10 the believers magnified God because the Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles. And in Acts 19 the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified because of great miracles being done in Ephesus by the apostle Paul.
When we give our gifts to the Lord through his Church we are honoring the name of Christ—magnifying his holy name so that more people will know of the peace, healing and eternal life he brings.
You may have heard the story of the church who was trying to raise money for its building fund. One Sunday the pastor came out and said: “I have good news and bad news about the money for the building fund. The good news is… God has given us all the money we need to build. The bad news is… the money is still in your pockets!”
At St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, the pastors don’t claim to know whether or not there is enough money in people’s pockets to do particular projects in the church. And we realize that people need to keep a certain amount of money in their pockets for present and future expenses. The same goes for keeping back time and talents.
But, we also know that money, time and talents can become treasured possessions of ours instead of resources for the furthering of God’s purposes. We are reminded of the parable Jesus once told about the man whose business did well, and instead of giving back to the Lord he decided to build bigger barns to hold all of his new possessions. Whether done out of a sense of pride or out of a sense of fear, holding back from the Lord God is a temptation for all of us.
In our reading from Malachi, God talks about his “treasured possession.” God’s treasure is not that which he has stored up for himself out of pride or fear. Rather, God’s treasure is you—his beloved people, who he desires to save. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.”
God’s mercy is great. God’s love is great. We who receive his love and trust in it are God’s treasured possessions. Therefore, we can give of ourselves freely and joyfully. We can partner with others and offer sacrifices of praise. We can honor God through our giving knowing that God will provide for us and even give an increase.
Through the giving of Christ Jesus, we are given peace, healing and eternal life. Through our giving, let us honor Christ as King. In the name of Jesus, amen.
Epiphany 5 Sermon
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