Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sermon: Stewardship is Discipleship

Stewardship is Discipleship

         It is precarious, whenever multiple things happen on a Sunday, be it Memorial Day and Pentecost falling on the same day or even, as it will be this year—Christmas falling on… a Sunday… competing values crop up pretty quickly
—how do we honor the memory of those who died in battle and the coming of the Holy Spirit, 
or stranger still, how do we honor the family event that Christmas morning has become and also honor the Christian commitment to worship every Sunday to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Obviously within the Church, the Christian trumps the cultural / the sacred is honored over days ordained by the secular state, and yet, they do bleed into one another.
         And so too today, we’re commemorating the 499th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation and at the same time holding Stewardship Sunday—dedicating our pledges of money and service.
         Perhaps you can see how this could be awkward? First I tell you about how Luther fought against the sale of indulgences, second I talk to you about tithing. 
Religion and money bad, religion and money good.
         And yet, what Luther actually says about the sale of indulgences gets to the heart of, of all things, Stewardship… it reminds us that Stewardship is another word for Discipleship.
         Stewardship is another word for Discipleship.

Let us pray
         Luther wrote up 95 points of debate regarding the sale of indulgences back in 1517, sparking what would become the Lutheran Reformation. 
These 95 points can be summed up in 5 points, which you can find in your bulletin.
1.   Christ calls us to repentance, not penance
2.   Indulgences are indulgent
3.   All the Pope can do is point to Christ
4.   Indulgences are indefensible
5.   Indulgences don’t bring peace, but Christ’s cross brings salvation.

One: Christ calls us to repentance, not penance
We are not called to just hold on, so that we can die in a state of grace. 
Jesus Christ doesn’t tell us to sit tight and just don’t make any sudden movements that might get us in trouble with the big guy up stairs until we die and receive our eternal reward. 
The Christian life is not about white-knuckling it until you get to heaven. 
It isn’t about hording get out of jail free cards. 
No, it is about a life changed and transformed by God.
It is about turning around, doing a 180
—you were trying to get to New England from here by driving South, now you are heading North, because you’ve been turned around! You were lost, now you are found.

Two: Indulgences are indulgent
         The Indulgence system started during the Crusades where knights were told that if they died while attempting to capture the Holy Land the punishment they deserved for their sins would be removed. Soon enough this system was monetized, by Luther’s day the worst abusers of the Penance system were essentially selling get out of hell and/or Purgatory cards.
         This whole way of ordering someone’s religious life was too easy, per Luther. It threw out the traditional focus on Alms, Fasting, and Prayer. 
Worse still, some people began to trust in a piece of paper in their pocket, instead of the Gospel in their hearts and on their lips.

Three: All the Pope can do is point to Christ
         This is the crux of Luther’s argument.
 Yes, any punishment the Pope adds to the wrath of God can be removed by the Pope
—so if he says murderers must say an extra 5 hail Marys, he can then say—no you don’t have to… 
but when it comes to actual forgiveness of Sin, the Pope is in the same place as every Christian—all he can do is point to the promises of God and proclaim that Jesus loves you. 
If these get out of jail free cards promise anything more than that, they are promising nothing. 
In fact, Luther adds, the Pope has never offered anything more than Christ crucified and raise, if someone suggests otherwise, they are misrepresenting the faith.

Four: Indulgences are indefensible
         Luther goes on to say it is really hard, as a good Catholic Religious Leader, to defend the faith when people make such strong arguments against indulgences—for example: 
“If the Church can empty purgatory with the snap of a finger, and haven’t, what kind of monsters are running the joint?” 
“If the real reason the Church sells indulgences is for their building project, wouldn’t it be more faithful to sell all the gold stuff the Pope has?”
 and “Isn’t there something wrong with a system in which an unrepentant enemy of God can buy a genuinely godly person out of purgatory?”
--Ouch, right?

Five: Indulgences don’t bring peace, but Christ’s cross brings salvation
         Finally, Luther warns us not to grasp at the false peace of these pieces of paper easily bought, but instead to cling to the Cross of Christ
This is an impossible, and yet grace filled thing,
to take up his yoke and find it is light
to count the cost, and find that the price has already been paid,
…to follow him wherever he goes
Yes, to be a follower of Jesus, a Disciple!...

         Stewardship is Discipleshipfollowing after Jesus… 
this is one of the many gifts of this congregation
—our Stewardship Team already understand their job as more than doing this Fall Stewardship Drive, 
more than helping you plan to be generous—and let me be clear in case you misunderstand, learning to be generous is a rich and deep part of the Christian life..
—Stewardship is a year round thing and a whole self-thing
bringing prayer partners together in Lent,
getting us talking about the 7 fruits of the Spirit and what the Spirit is doing in our lives, 
making us aware of others in Christ-like ways.

         Stewardship, conceived simply as money for a budget with religious language attached to it, falls into the same category as Indulgences, it makes the faith too small.
Stewardship isn’t only of the gold and green things of our lives, but our whole lives
Stewardship is taking care of everything that is ours, figuring out how Jesus’ encounter with us changes all that we have!
Time, Talents, and Possessions as we sometimes say,
What God has first given us—our whole selves given back to us on account of grace.

         Yes, you knew I’d get us there—Grace.
         As Jeremiah writes, God is transforming us from within—now what? / A new heart, so what do we hold within it?
         The Psalmist sings In the thunderstorms of life, as battles rage, we find protection in God, shelter with our savior—what do we do after the storm, knowing the battle is won?
         Paul preaches that The whole world has been given the gift of a Passover—death has passed over us—what do we do with this beautiful precious life we have?
         John insists that we’ve been freed, we were enslaved, now we’re adopted—how are we going to be family?
         God has acted through Jesus Christ for our sake, that means our entire life is a life of ongoing transformation!
How are we going to be good Stewards of all that we have and all that we are? How are we going to follow Jesus—be disciples?

         The Reformation pushes us beyond false assurance and limited commitment; it reminds us that stewardship is another word for discipleship.