Trinity 18, 2015

 

The Epistle. 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

The Gospel. Matthew 22:34-46

Pledge Sunday

 

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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 

 

Because I’d like to take today’s sermon in a slightly different direction, we will not only touch on today’s lessons, but also on some other passages that you are all familiar with.

 

We are nearing the end of the year and also nearing a New Year.  It is incumbent upon the pastor to not only exhort the people to righteous living and sin avoidance…..to Gospel centered living and world-centered avoidance….He is primarily charged to call the attention of the people to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ…

…What Christ has done for us in His dying for us, atoning for our sins, and rising to life again for our justification and eternal life.

 

But part of the exhorting role of the pastor, is to remind the people of certain obligations that are laid on all Christians…the pastor included.

 

On pages 72 and 73 of our Book of Common Prayer, we find the Offertory Sentences as they are called.  The rubrics on the page before tell us that after the sermon, the Priest…shall return to the Holy Table, and begin the Offertory, saying one or more of these Sentences following.

 

At the 8:00 service it is done this way.  At the 10:00 the choir sings an offertory anthem.

 

There are 16 sentences the Priest can choose from.  Most are from the 66 books of Scripture.  A few are from the Apocrypha but still remain in the spirit of the undisputed books of the Bible.

 

 

And these Scripture Sentences are there as exhortations to us to recall to our minds the obligation we have to the Church and ultimately to God…. that we are to acknowledge that all things indeed come from God….and all that we have is His…and He has a rightful claim on all of what we have….and that we are obligated to realize this and when the time comes at various points in our lives, we are to be ready to give as we are able and give cheerfully and with a spirit of thankfulness.

 

The sentence that I would like us to look at today is on page 73 of the Prayer Book.  It is from Deuteronomy chapter 16. 

 

“Ye shall not appear before the LORD empty; every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God which He hath given thee.”

 

If we turn to that verse in the Bible we find its fuller context.  It reads this way:

 

 

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17 ESV)

 

No change in meaning here, but certainly clarification.  The fuller meaning first.

 

In the Old Testament, God commands through Moses’ writings that there were to be three pilgrimage feasts wherein the males, most likely the adult males, were to appear before God in the central sanctuary.

 

One of the requirements in many Near-Eastern treaties was that the vassal or lesser king would appear before the suzerain or greater king and pay tribute for his protection.

 

 

Jewish men were to appear before God these three times of the year to signify that Israel was a covenant community.  There they affirmed in a collective manner their faith in and allegiance to God.

 

God had redeemed Israel out of slavery in Egypt.  He provided for them in abundance.  Now it was time to acknowledge that in a substantive way.

 

As Christians, we do not have a central sanctuary in which we all come to celebrate what God has done for us.[1]  There is no one place that all Christians are to come to offer praise and thanksgiving to God and to receive His gifts.  We do, however have our own individual Churches where we do such things.

 

So each was to come with his gift and offer it to the LORD.

 

Calvin says, “God would indeed have a gift presented to Him by each individual, as a symbol or earnest of their subjection;

and, although this legal right has ceased, yet its substance is to be retained, viz,. that those only are true servants of God who do not boastfully make a mere empty profession, but effectually testify that they acknowledge Him as their King.”[2]

 

And this is key to moving to the next level of this text.  We take this passage here from Deuteronomy, understand its immediate context, and then see how we might apply it faithfully to our more modern situation.

 

Though the practices of the Old Testament have ceased in this case, the spirit of them remains our obligation.  Only true servants of God testify that they acknowledge that they are His and He is their King, by not making mere empty professions, i.e. lip-service, but with a real and substantial offering from what they have received from Him.

 

Hence the placement of this passage as an Offertory Sentence. 

So when we hear that we are not to appear before the LORD empty handed (as New Testament, New Covenant people of God)but are to bring or give as we are able according to the blessing that God has bestowed upon us what does this mean for us?

 

The actions, or the response to hearing the Gospel by the Christian as subject to God, are to be those of”

a love for God,

an awe and reverence for God and…

an obligation to God.

 

And again, this is the response that the Good News of the Gospel is to bring out in us. 

 

Each week or at least on a regular basis, we bring that offering before God in monetary form. Why do we do this?

 

We do it because we have from the Old Testament practices nd example of it.

It is from the New Testament we have a continuation of it in the form of the people of God bringing to the worship service alms and oblations. 

 

The Oxford Commentary on the Prayer Book says it this way.  “The offering of our alms and oblations is a representative token of the churches use of God’s bountiful gifts of creation, with which he has blessed and enriched us for the benefit of our human needs. It symbolizes in the face of world’s selfishness and greed, the witness and sacrifice of the church… In asking God to receive these gifts and hallow them by taking them up into the redeeming oblation of His Only Son, the church performs not only an act of dutiful stewardship but also lays itself under a searching judgment. For the offertory demands of us not of convenience, easily spared, but a real sacrifice, and offering before God of a life of labor and a use of property that is devoted and costly according to His will.”[3]

 

Jesus tells us today (and we hear this exhortation each week) that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our mind.  This is the first and great Commandment.

 

Though heart soul and mind is mentioned, this is not simply a contemplative love toward God that we think on but do not act on.  This is not simply thinking on the great love of God toward us, meditating on this truth and yet not acting in response to it.  It is an outpouring on our part in the form of gratification for all that He is and all that He has done for us.

 

It is an affirmation that all that we have has come from Him and we are obligated to see it that way and be ready at a moment’s notice to turn anything and everything over to Him…..

 

…to be ready at all times in heart, soul and mind…the entire person’s will is to be subject to God.

 

Our alms go directly to the furtherance of His Church and its mission.  Our pledge card says (taking a line from the Prayer Book, p. 291) that the duty of all Christians is not only to pray and work for the spread of the Kingdom but to give as well.

 

Heart, soul and mind means that the entire person is to be engaged in the work of the Church and the spread of the Gospel and that is done in many ways, including the alms and offerings…the financial offerings of God’s people.

 

The Old Testament people as we can see in that first verse from Deuteronomy, was a command from God to the people that this was their duty.  They did not have a choice.  And it is not because God in any way needs our financial assistance.

 

God says in the Psalms, “The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof,

              the world and those who dwell therein,

       for he has founded it upon the seas

              and established it upon the rivers.”

(Psalm 24:1-2 ESV)

 “…every beast of the forest is mine,

              the cattle on a thousand hills.

       I know all the birds of the hills,

              and all that moves in the field is mine.”

(Psalm 50:10-11 ESV)

 

 

God does not need anything from us, but at the same time as we see in that Old Testament account, He still commands that we do in fact bring an offering and come into His courts.

 

It is good for us that God works this way with us.  If He placed no demands on us, how much further would we stray? 

We can see in our every day lives proof of this.  We all know the Commandments of God….some know them by heart, but they still don't have the power to stop us from breaking them.

 

So for God to require of us a sacrifice so small as to give of our treasure….after all that He has done for us….we can do no other.

 

Paul’s section from 1 Corinthians today.  He says near the end of the lesson.  He says that God “….will sustain us to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV)

 

We have been called into the fellowship of the Lord Jesus Christ by God’s grace.  Not our own doing.  But by God’s gracious and effectual call.

 

Since He has done such a great and loving thing for us, should we not in return show ourselves grateful?

 

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.



[1] Currid, J. D. (2006). A Study Commentary on Deuteronomy (p. 301). Darlington, England; Webster, New York: Evangelical Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Bingham, C. W. (2010). Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony (Vol. 2, p. 472). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Oxford Commentary on the Book of Common Prayer.