20 November 2011
The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Pentecost XXIII – Thanksgiving Sunday – Stewardship Sunday
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8, I Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30
From the Book of the Prophet, Zephaniah:
The prophet wrote, The great day of the Lord is near…. A day of wrath…a day of darkness and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom….
From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians:
The apostle instructed them and instructs us regarding the coming Day of Judgment saying; Put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation…. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us…. therefore encourage one another and build one another up….
From the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
Speaking words of harsh judgment on the man who had buried his money in the ground, the Master said, you wicked and slothful servant…you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming, I should have received what was my own with interest…cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness….
Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
This inspiration for many of my sermons comes from conversations that I have with various people – some of them church people but most of them only casually involved with church life, if involved at all. This is most certainly a part of the evangelical mission entrusted to every clergyman – and to every Christian as well. Proclaiming the crucified and risen Christ is our job.
Now, most of the people with whom I discuss the Christian faith and religion participate in church life only on special occasions – the occasional baptism, confirmation, wedding or funeral. Some may attend at either Christmas or Easter but for the most part, these most important Christian holy days have become for them secular holidays. So even Christmas and Easter do not automatically get honored.
Today we celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday. We remember our faithful Pilgrim founders who came to this new world to establish a new life in a new land where they could practice their style of Christianity free from governmental harassment or interference.
When they arrived on these shores after so many years of such struggle, persecution and suffering, the first thing that they did was to kneel on the beach and give thanks to God for His providential care and for their new life in this new land.
We follow the Pilgrim example of gratitude as we observe Thanksgiving Day – a national holiday established for the specific purpose of giving thanks to God for the blessings of our lives and for this free country. Gratitude to God functions as part of the faith foundation for the practicing Christian – gratitude for salvation in and through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as well as for every other good thing that comes to us.
But for the casual Christian or for the committed secularist, thanksgiving to God holds little or no meaning. It has no importance. In the unredeemed faith of the secularized mind, every good thing that we see as a blessing is for them an entitlement. And when they fail to get what they want when they want it – usually at someone else’s expense – their response is anger. Anger instead of gratitude functions as the motivating force in life.
Any perceived injustice is God’s fault. They will say to me, If there is a God and if He’s good, then He would not let this kind of thing happen. In other words, they pass judgment on God. And they punish Him by not believing in Him. Then they spend the rest of their lives promoting and defending their belief in the non-existence of God. But that’s another sermon entirely. Ironic for sure, but nonetheless the way it is for so many angry people.
In these many conversations, whenever I even hint at the divine judgment let alone of the wrath of God of which the Bible speaks frequently, they will most certainly say, Give me a break!!!! Like, how could you be so stupid to think that there’s some kind of divine judgment. (And stupid is the most frequently used word. They assume that some one who believes in God is stupid.) Of course, if you believe as they do, well then you’re smart. Do you see my point? Although they pass judgment on God, the idea that God will pass judgment on them – well, that’s ridiculous – and stupid.
So much of the current disbelief in God and the fashionable disdain for Christianity especially in the realm of the pseudo-intellectual academic elites is intimately linked to modern socialism. Modern socialists demonize successful people, see financial profit as a grievous evil and condemn anyone who works hard, makes money and supports himself and his family. Link financial success to Christian commitment, and you have the greatest of all evils in their eyes.
It’s interesting how the socialists will use scripture and some part of our Christian history to claim justification for their cause. For instance, the very first church – the church in Jerusalem – was a socialist – indeed, a communist community. All the members had to sell all that they had, put the money into common wealth in support of the community and own no private property. Any money earned had to be put into the common wealth used to support the members of the church.
The problem was that others who worked for a living – not full church members – had to continually contribute as the commonly held wealth created no other wealth for the sake of ongoing support. Now, this was not perceived as a problem since they expected the return of the Lord on the Day of Judgment at any moment. They would have no need for money, houses or land. But when the Lord did not return as soon as they expected, all kinds of problems resulted.
Perhaps they should have learned from Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. The servants who capitalized on their monetary trust received praise from the master. But the unworthy servant who failed to capitalize his money lost it all. And in the process, he incurred the divine judgment.
Truly, a small socialist / communist community can survive – witness the many monasteries and convents throughout church history – but only on the gifts of the capitalists. A capitalist is here defined simply as one who works and carefully invests his money so as to create more money. If the capitalists fail to make money and offer support to the community, the socialist / communist community dies – even the Christian socialist / communist community. Despite our Lord’s clear instruction to create wealth and share it properly – as charity but not as entitlement – some people just do not get it. They demonize financial success and glorify financial failure.
For the first few years of their life in Plymouth the Pilgrims operated on a socialist economy. Like the Jerusalem church, they found that the lazy took advantage of the hard workers and the hard workers had no motivation to work as they fruits of their labors were taken to support the freeloaders. Eventually, quoting St. Paul when he said of the freeloaders in the various churches in the ancient world, He who does not work, does not eat, the Pilgrims changed their way of life.
The socialist model had failed, in Plymouth as it had in Jerusalem – and as it does everywhere it’s tried. So in 1623, houses with garden plots were established. Private property and self-sufficiency replaced the failed socialism and the settlement prospered. Over the next several decades, with more and more settlers arriving, the Massachusetts Bay Colony became one of the most successful and prosperous parts of the British Empire. And eventually, with the full exercise of free-market capitalism, this nation became the richest in the whole world and in all of human history.
Although much of Scripture glorifies those who give up everything in this life including material comfort and wealth in order to properly serve God as a part of their Christian walk, they voluntarily give that up. For them material well-being functions a barrier to their understanding of their vocation.
But the Bible also bears witness to those who capitalize on their divinely given gifts and maximize their material condition for the sake of faithfulness to the same God who may call others to renunciation. For the rich young ruler, for whom his wealth is barrier to a good relationship with God, He says, Sell all that you have give the money to the poor and come follow me. Following Jesus Christ is the most important part of the account. But the rich young man who valued his wealth more than his relationship with God – well you get the point.
Judgment falls on the wealthy who love their wealth more than they love God or who make money in an immoral or unethical manner. But the same judgment falls on those who being blessed, fail to maximize their blessing. For the rich young ruler, giving up his wealth would honor and glorify God. For the unfaithful servant, increasing his wealth would have offered the same divine honor and glory.
Today is for us at Trinity Church, Stewardship Sunday as well as Thanksgiving Sunday. The two really do go hand in hand. Without a doubt, the proper motivation for supporting the church of Jesus Christ is the gratitude in our hearts for the great gift of salvation. I use those words every Sunday as we dedicate the offering. We should give, as St. Paul recommends, cheerfully and not by force. We should be glad to do so, finding deep spiritual satisfaction as we give of our material substance.
And substance is the key word here.
We give out of our substance – not out of our excess or give to God our leftovers. No. We give to God in support of His church first – we take the Biblically established tithe – 10% – and dedicate it to Christ. Then we work out the rest of our budgets. God first. In our finances as well as in any other part of our lives, if we put the Lord first, everything else begins to fall into place.
As God instructs us through His prophet, Malachi, saying, Bring the full tithe…and see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. so we should set this principle first in our lives.
And one last word about judgment. No one knows when the day of the Lord will arrive. Scripture bears consistent witness to it as a dreadful day when anything evil will experience the wrath of God. But as St. Paul tells us – and I paraphrase, we are not destined for that wrath but for salvation in and through Jesus Christ who died for us. Thus we can live our lives in faith, in hope and in love – not in anger or fear like the secularists and other non-believers. And he tells us to encourage one another building each other up in greater faithfulness.
And that’s our job until He comes again.
You will be receiving a stewardship letter in the next few days. Think about and most importantly, pray about your pledge. We will dedicate our tithes and pledges on Sunday, December 11th – the 3rd Sunday in Advent.
And one more one last word about judgment. We may say, More judgment! Give us a break! Well, God has given us a break. But not only a break, He gave us THE break. The break is the broken body of Jesus Christ. In His sacrifice, He breaks the power of the wrath of God – and breaks open the gates of heaven and the Kingdom of God.
With this in mind, let us pray.
Heavenly Father, bless us with truly grateful hearts. Defend us from the assaults of the secularists who subvert from within and our enemies who terrorize from without. Deliver us from deception, false hope and bad faith. Restore this nation to the greatness that you intend. And cause us to be agents of your Truth, living our lives in your
hope, in holy love and in true faith that we may honor and glorify your Son,
the crucified and risen Saviour of the whole world,
Jesus Christ the King,