Sermon delivered Sunday, November 15, 2009 at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH. If you would like to hear the audio version of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 1:4-20; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
What is the Human Condition?
Good morning, St. Andrew’s! Today we conclude our series of sermons on stewardship. You recall that we define stewardship as involving more than just our care of money. God has created humans to be stewards of his creation and this means we must be stewards of all his gifts, not just his material blessings. In this sermon series I have talked about the importance of our stewardship of time and prayer because how we spend our time and the state of our prayer life (or lack of it) reveals what we think about God and the kind of relationship we have with him. Last week I talked about our stewardship of hope and its cognates, trust and faith, because we Christians have been given a wonderful hope in death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Today, I want to tie this all together by talking about our stewardship of the Gospel and what that might look like because our stewardship of the Gospel contains all these elements.
We don’t have to look very hard to know that we live in a broken and fallen world. Read the news on any given day and you will find all kinds of awful stories and bad news on multiple fronts. Then we have our own lives that are filled with more than our fair share of disappointments, hurts, failures, and alienation. If we are honest with ourselves, we quickly realize how easy it is to fall into despair and hopelessness if our earthly lives and biological existence is all there is. Perhaps some of you are there right now.
Where is God’s Grace?
But thanks be to God that our earthly lives and biological existence is not all there is to life. We Christians have been given a wondrous and life-changing gift in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a free gift offered to every human being, and we are expected to be good stewards of that gift so that God can use us to spread his Gospel to a broken and hurting world that is desperate to hear real Good News and to have real hope. This Good News and hope are based on the Source and Author of all life, rather than on some human idea or solution.
So what is the Gospel or Good News for which we are called to be stewards? The writer of Hebrews tells us in today’s Epistle lesson. The Good News is that in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, God himself has done something once and for all about the intractable problem of human sin and the alienation it causes. In Romans 1:1, Paul reminds us that the Gospel is from God, and not a man-made concoction. Therefore it is trustworthy and true because God is trustworthy and true. The Gospel reminds us that God loves us so much, he took on our flesh and bore our punishment on the cross so that we can be declared not guilty in his sight. God suffered and died for us so that we might live with him forever.
The Gospel is based on faith and its cognates of hope and trust. There is a present and future dimension to the Gospel as is indicated in Hebrews today when the writer talks about our seeing “the Day” approaching and to which Mark points in today’s Gospel lesson. Both, of course, refer to Christ’s Second Coming, but I want to focus on the present dimension since we will be looking at the future dimension of our Christian hope during Advent.
What God has done for us on the cross means that we humans are freed from trying to do the impossible: earning our salvation. God has taken care of the problem of evil and sin for us on the cross and until he comes again in glory to finish the work he started, he has promised to give us his Holy Spirit, who will help us become more like him and strengthen and assure us in our struggles and infirmity. We simply have to accept God’s wondrous offer of grace and live accordingly in hope and trust. The monkey’s off our back. We are freed to respond to this awesome love with joyful obedience and thanksgiving because God has given us everything we need to grow in our relationship with him in this life and the next.
Where is the Application?
So how are we to be good stewards of the Gospel? First, we must know exactly what the Gospel is so that we can be ready to share it with others when opportunities present themselves, and so that we can draw on its power to sustain us in our own weaknesses and adversities. This means we need to be reading our Bibles regularly so that God can help us begin to learn and know the unfathomable power, depth, and riches of the Gospel to help us live faithful and joyous lives. This doesn’t mean we are going to be perfect or happy all the time. Rather, it reminds us who our Daddy really is so that we can have a real basis of hope in our lives, even in the most dire of circumstances. Consequently, we need to heed the admonition in today’s Collect to, “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Scriptures so that we can hold fast to our hope that is ours in Jesus Christ. Is your knowledge of Scripture helping or hurting your stewardship of the Gospel?
Second, and related to the previous point, our stewardship of the Gospel must be based on a real hope and trust in God’s promises, not in our own abilities. In other words, we must live our lives as hopeful people, in part, so that we can be a witness to others. If you heard me preach last week, you heard me contrast the biblical notion of hope versus our own use of the word. When we use the word hope, we tend to mean wishful thinking as in, “gee, I hope I get lots of presents this Christmas” or “gee, I hope Fr. Kevin doesn’t preach one of his usual long-winded sermons so that he makes us late for Sunday brunch again” (yeah, like that’ll happen anymore this week than it did last week).
However, the NT writers, especially Paul, used hope differently. The Greek word the NT writers use for hope, elpis, means to have a sure and certain expectation that something is going to happen; it does not mean wishful thinking at all. We can see this illustrated quite nicely in today’s Scripture readings. In the OT lesson, we see a childless and despairing Hannah pray to the Lord so intently that Eli thought she was drunk. Why would she have been praying at all if she did not have hope in the power of God to manifest his blessing in her life by giving her a son?
In today’s psalm, we see hope manifested in multiple ways. The psalmist asks for God’s protection and delights in God’s presence in his life. His heart is glad and his body rests secure in the knowledge that God will not give him up to death. He trusts God to show him the ways in which he wants the psalmist to live.
In the Epistle lesson, the writer talks about having confidence to enter into God’s presence because of the blood of Jesus. Without that sure and certain hope, who among us would dare even try to enter into God’s presence?
Last, in today’s Gospel lesson, we have to look a little harder but we see hope manifested in Jesus’ urging his disciples (and us) to not be alarmed, even in the midst of havoc and disasters. If there were no basis of hope behind this, Jesus’ statement would be completely absurd. In all these examples, the lesson is clear. Our hope, in part, is based on knowledge gained from previous experience with God. We have to let him show himself to be trustworthy.
Likewise, as Christians and stewards of the Gospel we are called to live our lives in hope. This does not mean we are going to be immune from all of life’s problems. Instead, it means that we have power to deal with them because we know God has acted decisively on our behalf because he really does want us to live with him forever, and because we have his Holy Spirit working in us to remind us of our hope.
The Apostle Paul serves as a wonderful example of this kind of hopeful living. In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, he talks about the hardships of his ministry. In doing so, he reminds us that although we are perplexed, we are not in despair; hard pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Luke puts these statements in context in Acts, when he tells us that Paul’s ministry was met by beatings, riots, persecution, and imprisonment. Sounds like a great time doesn’t it? But here we see Paul living his life in hope. He understands that his relationship with Christ is life-giving and transformative. He recognizes that his hope will not make him immune to all that can go wrong in life, but rather will give him power to overcome all of life’s wrongs. The power is not his, but rather the Lord’s, who loved him and claimed him forever. We don’t have to be ordained ministers nor deal with the kinds of hardships and persecution that Paul did to be good stewards of the Gospel. We simply need to trust in Christ, our hope, and draw strength from it to live our lives faithfully. How are you allowing your hope to show through in your life?
Third, our stewardship of the Gospel must be fed by an active prayer life. Prayer is where we enter into an ongoing conversation with God. We bring to God our hopes and fears, our thanksgivings and sorrows, and our petitions and intercessions. We listen for God’s voice and guidance so that we can learn his will for our lives as well as our daily marching orders.
We see the necessity of prayer poignantly illustrated in today’s OT lesson. Hannah was in despair over being childless and she had to endure the insults of Elkanah’s other wife. In the midst of her agony, Hannah went to God in prayer and asked for relief. She did so, in part, because she trusted God and knew that he had the power to deliver. Likewise, when we are in our most desperate moments, we must turn to God in prayer with the kind of hope and trust Hannah had. Yet that hope and trust must not be tied to a specific outcome we desire, but rather on what God desires for us because we trust that he loves us and is working for our good rather than harm. This is not easy for us to do because we like to play god and think we know better than he does. When we learn to really desire his will in our lives and trust him even when some of our prayers are not answered as we wish, we become living testimonies to the power of the Good News in our lives. How does your prayer life manifest your stewardship of the Gospel?
Fourth, our stewardship of the Gospel must manifest itself in holiness and service. We are God’s called out people, his holy people. We are made holy by the blood of Christ, not our own merits, and we have the Holy Spirit living in us, helping us to become more like Christ. This inevitably manifests itself in a life of service and a keen desire to please the Lord who loved us and gave himself for us. Does this mean we will be immune to failure? Hardly. Think of your relationship with your best beloved. We love the person and desire to please him or her. Yet we do not always do so, do we? Does that mean we do not love the person? No. It means we are cracked pots, capable of making mistakes. We must be careful not to take this analogy too far, but I think it illustrates the fact that just because we do not always do the right things, doesn’t mean we do not love our Lord or desire to please him. That, of course, would be making it all about ourselves when the Gospel reminds us that it is all about what God has done and is doing for us. However our service manifests itself, we do so because our Lord commanded us to serve and because we have trust that even in the midst of our weakness and imperfection, his Holy Spirit is slowly but surely transforming us into his very image and helping us do the work he calls us to do. How does your service reflect your stewardship of the Gospel?
Fifth, we are to be good stewards of the Gospel by sharing it with others as opportunities arise. I am not talking about going out and knocking on people’s doors. I’m talking about developing relationships with others and when the context permits, sharing our hope and faith with them by telling them what God has done and is doing in our lives. This doesn’t mean sugarcoating our lives or trying to paint ourselves in the best possible light. On the contrary, it means getting real with others and sharing how God is helping us deal with our real hopes and fears, how God is helping us live holy lives, even though we are cracked pots. For you see, the Gospel is about God’s great love for us and what God can do in and through us, not about some half-baked human solution to problems we cannot ever hope to solve on our own. Do you have the kind of relationship with God that makes you want to share with others?
Last, as today’s Epistle lesson reminds us, we are to be stewards of the Gospel together. God will use our fellowship to help us in our weakness and to help others in theirs. Never underestimate the power of the human touch or the ability of the Lord of the universe to work in and through those who love him to help them live their lives with joy, peace, and contentment. I was reminded of this just this past week when we visited our financial advisor. This fellow is a faithful Christian and he reminded me to keep a Gospel perspective of life as I was allowing the fear of old age and possible infirmity to cloud my perspective of how to live life. Are you guarding your stewardship of the Gospel by becoming part of a small group of faithful Christians?
So how might our stewardship of the Gospel look like in the lives of God’s saints? This past week, my beloved expressed concern about me not appearing to be very happy and what that meant regarding my faith. I reminded her that there is a difference between joy and enjoying something, between happiness and contentment. There is a lot going on in my life that has the capability of beating me down and causing me to lose heart and hope. I have an infirm and struggling father-in-law. I have a grieving wife. My relationship with my kids is nominal and I watch them drift about without a firm Anchor. I watch several of my small group members struggle with issues in their lives, and my intercessory list gets longer and longer each week; a lot of you are hurting.
Moreover, I lament over my own sins and how I don’t seem to see much improvement, causing me to question how much I love the Lord. These things are real life issues and have a negative effect on me. But like Paul, I am perplexed but not in despair because I have the Gospel and its power living in me. I remember that it is not about me, but about God’s power. I have friends and family who love me and who remind me of my hope in Christ. I have Scripture to remind me that God is faithful to his promises. I have God’s very Spirit in me, helping me in my struggles, reminding me that I am not immune to those struggles, but have his Power to help me overcome them. He also reminds me of the bountiful blessings I enjoy. And so there is a contentment in me that keeps me from falling into despair and helps me remember Whose I am. I certainly don’t “enjoy” watching the brokenness in my world, but I have power to overcome it, and I am willing to share this with anyone who will listen. That, I believe, is trying to be a good steward of the Gospel.
We have been given a wondrous gift in Jesus Christ. The God of this magnificent universe created us to have a relationship with him. He has taken on our flesh and died for us to make it possible for us to have the kind of relationship we enjoyed with him before the Fall. He has blessed us with his Holy Spirit to help us become more like him and to strengthen us in our darkest moments until he comes again in glory to finish the work he started. And he has promised us that there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from his love. Nothing. That’s good news, folks, now and for all eternity. Will you embrace it and be a good steward of it? I pray you will.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.