Making a Sacrifice to Love and Follow Jesus *

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This recording is intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.

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Hebrews 9:24-28

I know we had our Stewardship Sunday a few weeks ago… and I know that most of you have already turned in your estimate of giving cards… thank you for that. But this year, I’m having a hard time leaving the idea of Stewardship and wondering what it means for you, me and the church. What it means in our faith as a spiritual matter. And maybe it is a good time to speak of stewardship when the pressure is off your wallet.

I don’t know why it has stayed with me longer this year. I think it may be the economy… knowing how hard it is on many people (10% unemployed)… wondering what giving was like for many of you during hard times. For many I know it is sacrificial giving and faith based. You are giving sacrificially out of an income that may feel uncertain to you. It is a stretch. Some of you are giving inspite of an unknown future. That is called faith based giving. It speaks powerfully to me and is a witness to your faith. I was wondering how you learned to give and why? My own understanding has grown and developed over the years.

My first lesson in giving came from my parents. When the offering plate was passed around, they would give me a quarter to place in the plate. To be honest that was the only lesson on stewardship I received in my home growing up. And that gift was not sacrificial-my parents gave me the money… it didn’t cost me anything. Thinking back, I’m glad everyone didn’t give a quarter or a dollar in the plate. The church would never have survived on that! We could not have paid the utilities-much less paid for staff, programs and mission! But if I learned nothing else, I learned at a young age that part of belonging to the Christian community included giving something and supporting the church. Even if it was a quarter a week or about $10.00 a year!

Then as I grew up in many ways… I began to think deeper, I listened to many stewardship sermons. The one I remember most was “The Money Sermon” by Dr. Stoffel. That was his title every year. He was just being honest. My memory of his basic message was this: The church needed your money… to support the mission of the church. God had all the money in the world. It was there in our pockets. If you want the church to grow in mission and ministry, it will require money.

Along the way, I heard people talk about tithing… percentage giving… as biblical and spiritual acts of faith. I believe in tithing to be sure. I hope you are moving to the tithe as your guide in giving. If you couldn’t tithe this year… maybe you are making steps. Tithing for most of us is both sacrificial and faith based. Though it represents 10% of income… for those who tithe, it is more than tipping God. (Truth be told, we tip waiters more than we tip God anyway.) No- those who tithe do so as an expression of their faith.

But I want to be clear… that I’m wondering not about the dollar amount as much as the spirit or faith behind giving. I don’t think the Widow in the widow’s mite story gave nearly as much as the wealthier members of the temple were giving. Yet she is the one who Jesus sees as the model.

She reminds me of the story of a Pastor in Atlanta who says he received a very unusual financial gift at the time of stewardship dedication.The gift was a money order made payable to the church in the amount of $5, along with a personal note of gratitude. The pastor thought it was some kind of a joke. Who sends a money order for $5 as a stewardship pledge to the Presbyterian Church?
In the note, the woman named Lillian from Washington, DC wrote of how much the church meant to her. She believed in the mission and ministry of the congregation and it gave her great joy to send her offering. The note was hand-written, clearly written by an elderly person who had difficulty writing. No one in the church seemed to know who she was. Each year for 10 years she sent a $5 money order with a similar note of gratitude. Then, a couple of years ago, the pastor received a phone call from the coroner’s office in Washington. Lillian had died and listed the congregation and the pastor as her ‘next of kin’. She had lived and died in a government sponsored retirement home with no possessions or money to speak of. The coroner simply wanted to confirm who she was. 1.

What motivated her giving? What motivates your giving? And mine?
Is it to support the church? Is it to pay my dues like we do to Rotary or the country club? Is it to pay God off for my sins? (a sort of Protestant penance) Is it based on how much I like the preacher or how I feel about the church right now?

I understand all of that… but let me share with you the reasons I have found most compelling.

First, sacrificial giving is a sign of gratitude. Everything, belongs to God… and God has given me everything in my life. How do I say thank you? Giving is one way.

Several years ago a Kenyon woman joined a Presbyterian church. Her name was Lydia. She told the pastor that she loved the congregation, but she really missed aspects of her home church, especially parts of the worship service. The pastor asked what she missed most and this is what she said:”I miss the offering. In Kenya, we would sometimes dance down the aisles during the offering. We didn’t have much o give, but what we did have we gave with joy. What a privilege to give back to God!” she said. 2. Talk about joyful, grateful sacrificial giving! [I wonder if the widow in Jesus’ story felt that way… I think I know. ]

Second, giving is an expression of loving generosity. You know, it is easy to say, “I love you God”. But giving of money, self and time is where I see it at work the lives of so many of Kirk members. You know, I can say I love you to Sharon all I want…. but occasionally it is a good thing for me to show it… and sometimes that costs me something. I know it costs Sharon something all the time. Giving is an expression of loving generosity.. We say we love God and Christ… so we give. It is not that complicated.

Third, for me, giving is something disciples are called to do. You say you will follow Jesus… but the words are sort of empty until you put them into action, don’t you think. James saw it that way when he said, “faith without works is dead”.

I was moved by Warren’s story of Joe Maxwell last week, telling us about an elder … his mentor who was a saint to him. He talked about his commitment to Christ with his whole life! Following Jesus was clearly not an extracurricular activity. It guided his life and sacrificial giving and living as he taught Sunday school… preached in churches… did mission in the congo… devoted his life to being a disciple of Jesus Christ… became a mentor to people like Warren. Warren would not be who he is today without the sacrificial, living example of Joe Maxwell- disciple of Jesus Christ.

Being a disciple is hard. No one, even Jesus ever said it would be easy. Jesus tried to warn the crowds that before they decide to follow him, they should count the cost. Following him will be great…but it will involve sacrifice. So, I think giving is simply something disciples are called to do.

Giving… that’s where my mind has been going these days. Giving was something that was very much on the minds of the Jewish people and the early Christians from the beginning. The Jewish faith is a faith where giving is central to their identity. And they had their reasons as well.

The giving they knew was often called sacrifices. They brought first fruits to God… they brought, according to the prophets… burnt offerings… their best sheep…goats and bulls… their harvest… before the altar of the Lord.  They brought some of these sacrificial gifts as an offering for sin. They knew they offended God… they knew that they broke God’s heart… they wanted to make it up to God… so they brought gifts. (Have you ever tried to make it up to someone by giving a gift to them? Then you understand).The prophets of course worried about whether the gifts were becoming a substitute for following God. Were people only paying off God? “What does God want?” said the prophets… Not your burnt offerings or rivers of oils, they said. God wants you- your life.

The writer to the Hebrews knew full and well how the system worked… the sacrificial system. Read the book and you will read quite a bit about the blood of goats and bulls… becoming purified before the living God… you’ll learn about the priests who make sacrifice after sacrifice on behalf of the people… how the High priest once a year went into the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement … to make peace with God. It was quite a day of sacrifices and giving… there was a morning offering… a personal sin offering… an incense offering… there was a scapegoat offered – a goat sacrificed that would bear the guilt of the people… (hence where we get the name scapegoat)… there was offering of rams…and an evening offering. And you thought we had a lot of special offerings! That was all in one day!

In many ways, the faith had been built on a sacrificial system of giving to God. One main motive was to ask God to forgive us.

But the writer to the Hebrews says that God also has made a sacrifice… God gave something near and dear to God … gave someone that makes that system obsolete. God has done more than talk about love…God has given his best gift… his own son… a sacrificial offering for the sake of a sinful world. How does John say it?, “God proves his love for us in that while we are still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Hebrews points us to Christ as the one who made the ultimate sacrifice of love… that renders the old sacrificial system… the old reasons to give obsolete. He has turned the old system upside down:

Hebrews says it in a language those first Jewish Christians would understand:
“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again as the High priest (does)… but as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself…. So Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin (he’s already done that!) , but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

I think the writer of the Hebrews wants to make us very aware of the sacrifice Christ made for us. Talk about your sacrificial giving. Sort of makes tithing look easy. Talk about love… there is love on display for the world to see. Ever wonder if God loves you… if God can forgive you… ever wonder if you have to do anything to make it up to God? Wonder no more. God loves you more than you will ever know. Christ made the ultimate sacrifice… giving his life that you may know the peace and joy of forgiveness…that any relationship with God that has been damaged to our sense of sin and guilt may be removed thanks to the sacrificial giving of Christ.

Tom Long, in a commentary on Hebrews, describes a conversation with a church member early in his ministry. He was unpacking his books in his new church when a knock came as his door. A quiet voice wondered if he had a few minutes to talk. Tom waved her in, moved a stack of papers off the chair and invited her to sit down. She wasted little time in sharing why she had come. ‘I know I shouldn’t feel this way, ‘ she said after the briefest of introductions,’ but I just don’t think God can ever forgive me.’ She said she wasn’t sure, only that she had a strong, though unfocused sense of being judged by God, that she was unacceptable to God. Tom says, “We began to talk about her experiences, her feelings, her faith… Tom tried to understand what was going on. He tried reflective listening… but it got him no-where… he tried asking a direct question, ‘What do you think you have done that God cannot forgive?” The person was a devoted mother, a loyal wife, a committed church member. She had never robbed a bank, did not have a hidden addiction, and no shameful secrets to bear.  ‘I don’t know” she said earnestly. She could not name her stain, could not identify what she had done to displease God. Still she was certain of her guilt and the wound would not be healed. Tom says, “that woman with her pained experience of guilt is just the sort of person Hebrews had in mind when the author wrote this sermon to the Hebrews. He was writing to a congregation trying to offer pastoral care and comfort to a people worn down by a religion (with endless sacrifices) that does not seem to heal, fatigued by the burdens of a conscience that will not be cleansed.

The writer seems to say, let go- let go of those burdens, Christ has born them for you. Christ has made the complete sacrifice for your sins… so you can be free of your guilt and be free to love God in a new way.

I think that is one reason Jesus sacrificed his life for us… in order to set us free. Free from guilt and free to love God in a new way. So that all of our lives, including our giving, becomes a sort of thanksgiving gift to God: As an expression of my gratitude and love for God… I give not just my money… but my life to this God… seeking to live in a way that loves and honors Jesus Christ as his disciple.

Today I’d like to close with a new song I learned a few weeks ago that captures this message well for me. It is a Scottish folk song that speaks for an adult offering himself or herself for baptism… speaking of a person who is not perfect, but grateful… who out of love, desires to follow Jesus.

Were I a perfect child of God
Whose faith was deep and love was broad,
Not doubtful, guilty, worn or flawed,
I’d gladly follow Jesus.
But I’m a child of what I’ve been,
Estranged by much I’ve done and seen,
Afraid to show the love I mean,
Unfit to follow Jesus.

Yet, God, who knows me first and last,
Who’s seen my best, my worst, my past,
Has shown his love intense and vast
By meeting me in Jesus.
For Christ, though killed at Calvary
By sins like mine and folk like me
Has risen, forgiven and set me free,
Made fit to follow Jesus.

Then sprinkle water on my brow
As, in this place, I make my vow
To own and love my Savior now
And give myself to Jesus
God grant me what I still require
That I, in others , might inspire
The hidden hope, the deep desire
To love and follow Jesus.