Sunday, August 23, 2015

What does the Lord require of you? a sermon on offering for Zion Lutheran, August 23 2015
















Readings
Micah 6:6-8
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Psalm 40:1-11
I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.
Happy are those who make
    the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
    they would be more than can be counted.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”
I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.
Do not, O Lord, withhold
    your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    keep me safe forever.
2 Corinthians 8:9-15
For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
“The one who had much did not have too much,
    and the one who had little did not have too little.”

Message    (Listen along)

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

So you at Zion have been in the process of working through different parts of the service, and talking in the sermon about the parts, their traditions, where they come from.  Today's focus is on the offering.  So everyone just bust your wallets ... no, no, I'm just kidding.  I did tease Pastor Meta, I said, "so you're going to have the guest preacher talk about money, that's how you want to set this up..."  (laughter)

But I hope you heard in the readings that have been laid out today that offering is about more than money.  That is where I want to find our home today, in this sermon: that there is something more that God asks from us and for us.

We have these beautiful examples in these three different scriptures.  We have Micah, Second Corinthians, and the Psalms.  Micah is a prophet.  He writes from a place that is troubled.  The Jewish people for a long time have understood their offerings to God as having many different functions.  They need to give from the first fruits of their harvest, to give back, to give thanks.  They need to give a tenth of whatever grows, to say, "God, you are the one who gave the growth.  You are the one who truly feeds us."

In addition, the Jewish people have understood that there need to be offerings to take the place of their sins.  When they make mistakes, when they fall short of the glory of God, they must turn over food and sacrifices from their own belongings, to fill in the gap that has come between them and the promises that God wants for them.

And Micah, the prophet, looks at this and says:  "But wait.  Where is the line?  How far does this go?  Does God really want oil, and sacrificed cows, or even my firstborn, to make up for my sin?  Where do I stop and say, 'I've given enough'?"

Where Micah lands is in saying what God wants is for us to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God.

Paul, on the opposite side of the biblical timeline, somewhere in the first century, maybe in a prison maybe in a tent somewhere dictating to a scribe, is talking to the church in Corinth, a church he started.  He is answering their questions but also pleading with them and saying:  "There is a church in Jerusalem that is suffering.  They need help.  You are a church in abundance.  It is possible that God has called for you to help them."

Paul is writing to a community that is in a lot of transition, just like Micah's community.  Paul is saying, "I know you are a new church.  I know some of you are Jews, and you are used to giving at a certain place and a certain time and in a certain way.  I know some of you are Greeks, and Romans, and other Gentiles, who have not been part of a worshipping community in this way.  This is new.  Let me explain to you what it is like to live into this new community that lives in the grace of God."

Then we have the psalm.  The Psalms is this interesting book of the Bible that collects a hundred and fifty poems and songs -- sometimes they are laments, sometimes they are praise, they are always prayer.  And this particular psalm is talking about worship from the heart.  Not about worship that follows a perfect ritual, but worship that rises from true hope.

All of our writers today are talking to people in transition, who are wondering "What does it mean that God wants something from me?  What does that look like?  What if God wants too much?  What if I can't give enough?  What does God require of us?"

And so Micah's words reverberate through the many hundreds of years, saying, "What God wants is to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with your God."

To do justice.  To recognize where limits are.  To not ask more from people than they can give.  To recognize when people are suffering.  To admit when we, painfully, have taken part in that suffering.  God calls us to do justice.  To apologize when we have done wrong.  To make amends when we have made mistakes.  And to call wrongdoers to account, to speak love to power and say, "There are people hurting.  We must do something different."  It looks so different for each person and each congregation to do justice.  But God calls us to that relationship being restored, between us and between God.

What does the Lord require of us?  To love kindness.  To forgive ourselves.  To forgive others.  To live in the hope that looks like love.  To lay our own burdens down, to be kind to ourselves, to say "I will not carry this pain and hold on to it in a way that makes me resentful or bitter, but I will learn to let it go."  To love kindness towards yourself and towards others.  To love the kindness that God offers every day.  To believe that there is a place that we can live where it's no longer about racking up the perfect points or offering the right sacrifice or worshipping with absolute righteousness, but to live into God's kindness, every day.

What does the Lord require of us?  To walk humbly with our God.

Humbleness is a tricky word.  We've come to recognize it often as a beating down of the self, a bowing of the head.  But the core of being humble is being honest.  It is not about beating yourself down, lowering yourself.  It is not about raising yourself up, above others.  It is about being honestly who God made us to be, nothing more and nothing less.  To be humble is to be truly ourselves, to admit our messy mistakes but to celebrate our great joys, to be honestly ourselves before God and before each other.

What does the Lord require of you?  Not oil, not sacrificial cows, not your firstborn.  Not to give, as Paul says, until you are under pressure and uncomfortable.  What does the Lord require of you?  To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

And the church, at its core and at its best, calls us to this.  That is why we gather, in the hope that we will be continually brought back to justice and kindness and walking honestly with our God.  To a place where we give -- our talents, our treasures, our hopes, our prayers.  A place where we give up -- our resentments, our pain, our anger.  Not out of fear and shame and guilt or concern about the jeopardy of our salvation but because we are free.  Because God has said, "You are free."

What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly and honestly with your God.  It is a different kind of offering.  It will look different in different times and places.  It is not a hard and fast rule, like bulls and oil and tithing.  It is a transformation of the heart that God is working at in you every day.

When we come to our time of offering today in worship, and the basket passes you -- can you give money? Of course.  But remember too when it passes you that God asks for so many other things.  For you to let the love of God knock at your heart.  For you to offer up your pain, your mistakes, your sin, the oppression that you live under or that you have caused for others -- to offer that up and let it go.  And to give into the world instead justice, and kindness, and honesty.

What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with your God.  Amen.

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