Stewardship Series ~ in three parts: “Prepare Our Hearts, O God”
July 11, 2021 part 1: Prepare Our Hearts to Offer Thanks to You, O God! Ezekiel 36:25–27
(#2. Ten Bags of Gold Relate to the Plate, Mal. 3:10 #3. What Do You Mean, “Sacrifice” ?! 2 Cor. 8:3–5)
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Today we are beginning a short sermon series on ‘Stewardship’. Often, we talk about ‘stewardship’ as being how we use our lives in service to God; and that stewardship involves our ‘time /talent /&treasure.’ The stickiest part of those three is the ‘treasure’ part. So, that’s what we’ll explore. There is an insert in the bulletin which shows our theme for ‘part 1’,
along with a Scripture reading from Ez.36, which says: ….[read]
Our theme thought is: ‘Prepare Our Hearts to Offer Thanks to You, O God!’
Think about 2 toddlers sitting by each other playing with their toys. Then one child reaches for a toy of the other: *what does that other child do? She will grab her toy & pull it close to keep it away from the other. And if the one child should happen to succeed in getting the other’s toy, *isn’t there a fuss to get it back? *Did anyone have to teach the child to react that way? No. Holding & keeping things for ourselves comes naturally. Our trouble is,
our nature is spoiled from what it should’ve been. Keeping things for ourselves comes from the old sinful nature we’re born with.
That sinful nature at work in the toddler still lives-on in adults. That sinful nature can show up when you prepare your offering for church. When you leave the house to go to church, do you think: ‘oops, I wonder if I have anything to put in the offering plate?’ That would be a ‘leftover-offering.’ Or when you plan out your monthly budget, and think that if there’s something left at the end that’s your offering. That’s also a leftover-offering.
From what you know of God & the history of God’s people, *is He looking for just our scraps or crumbs? Another way to ask that is: when you think about your ‘thank-you’ offering to God for all that He gives to you, *do we think He’s only worth a few remnants? We know God doesn’t need money; but we also know that money IS the thing that shows our life’s priorities = therefore, money has a big effect on our faith-life. This is why a number of Jesus’ parables involve a lesson on money; and the Lord’s Church & worship has always had an expectation for His people’s thank-offerings.
Now, despite that old sinful nature that clings to each of us, it IS possible for you to return a sincere and fitting thank-offering to God for all He gives you.
In fact, by His Spirit, and heart-changing Word, God helps His people to prepare their thank-offering with a new heart & mind. Which is why our thought for the day is that little prayer: ‘Prepare Our Hearts to Offer Thanks to You, O God!’
By His Scripture, and by His gift of faith to us, we understand that God provides everything we need to support this body & life = 100%. God gives you /the number of your heartbeats & breaths, /your food & clothes, /your home & health. The abilities you have were given to you from Him; the time & place in which you live is from your Creator. Your willingness to work & earn; and the willingness of your boss to hire you, all comes from the God who is in charge of your life. That means the money you have is the result of God blessing you. So *how do you give thanks to God for all that He gives you? Our old nature needs to be taught what is right & good. Bringing some leftovers to His altar does not reflect the heartfelt thanks of a humble & grateful faith.
Some people say that what they give to church is ‘between them and God.’ We agree; the amount you give is between you and God. But the question is, *is what you give in agreement with what God thinks you should give? God’s Word tells us what God thinks.
1Cor.16 says: ‘On the first day of every week, each of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, and store it up…’ In 2 Cor.8 we read: “For they gave according to their means.” In the OT, God taught His people about giving thanks with amounts of their fields, & herds, & times of worship & service, and the giving of their money to the temple and to the needy. When we prepare our thank-offerings, we need to keep in mind what God thinks; because He knows exactly what He has given to us.
God also knows that our old nature, & our enemy Satan, tries to shackle our thoughts
to make us stay in one place, even tho our lives are always changing. Often times our lives improve, but we neglect to improve our thank-offering to the God who prospers us. When in 1Cor.16, the HSpirit said the words ‘every week’, that is God’s prompting to keep us from just doing the same old thing all the time.
Author, James Belasco, gives an illustration about how our sinful nature resists God’s urging for us to ‘move’; we naturally want to stay in the same ‘offering-place’ because of fear = fear of the unknown future, & doubt in God providing for us.
The author says we stand in one place out of old habit. So he uses the example of how to control an elephant. The first thing is to train the elephant to stand in one place. So while the elephant is young, the trainer shackles one leg to a stake in the ground. At first the elephant tugs at the chain, but can’t move from one place to another. Then it stops trying. Later, the adult elephant will stay in one place if it feels a small metal bracelet on its leg = even with no chain or stake. The elephant doesn’t move from that one place out of old habit; it believes it’s still shackled securely to that place.
This is how Satan takes advantage of our old nature so we will not move with our thank offerings to the God who has set us free, and who makes changes in our lives. A person’s heart & thoughts are shackled to stay in one place, and they resist God who wants to move us to a new & better place.
Like the Great Physician He is, the Lord makes the correct diagnosis of our problem: we have ‘heart trouble.’ We have hearts of stone, He says. Only a heart transplant will correct the problem; and He makes a promise to do that. This is where our theme Scripture verse comes in, from Ez.36. God says: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” He’s talking about a change of ‘nature.’ With new hearts, God’s people would now be free from Satan’s shackles & old habits; free to move & make new decisions with faith.
In Ez.36, God is echoing the words He gave to King David in Ps.51; words we sing on many Sundays as our ‘offertory’: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” With a ‘right spirit’, a right heart & mind, David knew that he could then move according to God’s Word, and no longer stand shackled in his old sin, and be frozen in his doubts & fears. That’s where true living is, moving freely about in faith, and without fear that God has forgotten us.
In King David’s day, unclean people were made clean by the blood of sacrifices.
That was true because of two things: because God said so, and because those sacrifices were foreshadowing the one real sacrifice. That sacrifice has shown how much God has loved & desired you: He gave His own Son to be the sacrifice.
Jesus’ offering was 100%: He gave His body & life-blood on the cross, which was the one acceptable payment for the sins of every shackled soul.
The prophet Ezekiel lived about 600 years before John-the-Baptist. But even back then, God promised His people that He would use water to make them clean. The Lord said: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses.”
That promise was fulfilled for you at your baptism with those simple words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Luther’s Small Catechism reminds us that God’s Word -with the water- is a life-giving word; it is the new birth in the Holy Spirit.
Your new life is a life with a moving faith, no longer shackled by an ungrateful heart & stagnant mind. But rather, having a new mind and a right spirit to be able to return a proper thanks to God for all that He is constantly giving you.
As God creates a clean heart and a right spirit within you, so now God helps you prepare your offering. First, He has promised you clear thinking, as Peter says in his first Epistle: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action …set your hope fully on the grace that will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1:13). Our mind begins at Christ-our-savior. And then we are able to hear that guideline in 1 Cor 16: ‘On the first day of every week, each of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, and store it up…’
It’s the same way you prepare to begin a new week of work, or prepare to go on a trip.
You think & plan. So, God’s people think & plan to meet with Him in church, and to offer Him worthy gifts, in proportion with the gifts God has given to us. Proportion is the key, not the amount; and each person, family or household should not be compared to others.
Paul commended the believers at Corinth by saying, “For they gave according to their means, … of their own accord.” (8:3). Your offering is between you and God; but be honest with God. You have – because He has given; the offering you give shows the faith & trust you have in Him.
As you prepare your offering each week, prepare to confront your old nature and old habits. A good way to do this is with God’s Word from Romans 6. Remember that when you were baptized, God did a miracle on you.
Romans 6 says: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.” This means that in your Baptism, you died to living in old stone-heart ways.
And *what has replaced those old ways? Rom. 6 goes on: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” By that sprinkling water, with the promise of God, you have been given a new heart, a new spirit, and the new life. That mercy is new for you every morning, and at the beginning of every week, until your dying day.
That mercy is given to you in Christ Jesus; He’s the One whose cross covers all your old habits. His blood covers the sin of thinking that giving the Almighty a few ‘leftovers’ is acceptable. He covers the sin of fear & doubting that God will take care of us in the days ahead, or the sin of thinking that we can substitute other things as offerings & keep our money for ourself. The promise is that you have been raised to a new life in your savior Christ Jesus because He rose from the dead. That means that you are free to be moved by God when you are preparing to offer Him a fitting ‘thank you’ for all He is giving to you.
So, our offerings are built on the foundation of God’s Word & promise. He transplants in us a new heart and a new spirit. He trains us to see His gifts – each week; and to see how He prospers the things in our lives. With a mind of faith we are able to believe that He is the source of all we are & have; so we will show our trust in Him with our thank-offering, because we are confident that He will continue to care for us in the future.
Our faith is this: we trust Him more than we trust our money. One sign of that faith
is that we willingly bring to Him a portion of that money. God has always helped His people to give their offerings; He will help US overcome our old resistance. And that’s why we pray that little prayer: Prepare Our Hearts to Offer Thanks to You, O God. In Jesus name.