Joshua 3:1; 5-6;14-17; 2 Corinthians 9:6-13; Matthew 22:15-22
Today is our Consecration Weekend – and for those of you who are here for the first time today – or you are new to this church – Consecration Weekend is something we do here just once a year. This is a day that we consecrate ourselves to the church – we consecrate ourselves to the work of the church – but most importantly – we consecrate ourselves to Jesus Christ – the Lord of the church.
I know that there are many ways one might want to consecrate one’s self to the Lord. But today I am going to talk about consecrating ourselves to the Lord in one specific way – and that is through our finances. Later on in our service we will have the chance to do just that when we declare what our financial commitment to the work of the Lord at Zion Lutheran Church will be for the coming year – 2018. Again – that will be coming later on in our service.
So if you are a guest with us today, you can relax. Again, this is something we do just once a year. And this is something we ask only of those who are members of this church. And I would say that maybe it’s a good thing that you’re here today. So you can see that this is how we deal with giving – this is how we deal with money – and since it’s only once a year – no one can accuse us of being a church – no one can accuse me of being a pastor – that is always asking for money.
Now, we’ve been doing this once a year thing for I don’t know how many years now. And you know that we’ve been calling it Consecration Weekend for just as many years. And it just so happens that I was reading one of my devotional books this week, and I came across this passage from Joshua chapter 3 that we heard read to us just a few moments ago – which got me to thinking about that word, “consecration.” Kind of a big church word, isn’t it! And since it’s one of those big church words, we don’t always know what it means. SO I got to thinking about this word consecration, and it occurred to me, in all these years we’ve been talking about consecration – I don’t think I’ve ever explained just what that word means! I mean, maybe I did, but I just don’t remember.
What does it mean when the Lord asks us to consecrate ourselves to him, and to consecrate ourselves to his church, and to consecrate ourselves to the work of his church? You see, I don’t think it was coincidental – well maybe it was. Let’s call it a holy coincidence that the Lord placed this particular reading from the book of Joshua in front of me this week.
Joshua chapter 3. Joshua is talking to the people of Israel. They are about to cross over the Jordan River into the Promised Land. In modern times we would call this the nation of Israel, and the territory inhabited by the Palestinians. And if you know the story, you know that the priests carry the Ark of the Covenant – by the way, this is the same ark that today is stored in some warehouse somewhere here in the United States. That’s if you believe what you saw in that first Indiana Jones movie. But anyway, the priests step into the Jordan River with the Ark of the Covenant and the water of the Jordan is pushed back so that all of the people of Israel can go across on foot on dry ground.
In other words – those priests weren’t afraid to take a chance – even if it meant getting their feet wet.
Well, one verse stands out in that passage. It’s verse 5. Listen to it again. “Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’”
And that’s what the people did, and the very next day they crossed into the Promised Land on foot through the Jordan River on dry ground. And what the people of Israel saw was that God did indeed do an amazing thing!
Folks, I believe that God still does amazing things when God’s people consecrate themselves to him, and to his church, and to the work of his church. I believe God will do amazing things through people who aren’t afraid to get their feet wet.
So what is consecration? What does it mean to consecrate oneself to the Lord – to the church – and to the work of the church? Consecration is simply this; are you ready? Consecration is a complete surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ. It’s what we mean – if we really mean it – when we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” It’s a simple statement of trust and faith that says, “Jesus, be the Lord of my life. Your Kingdom come, not mine. Your will be done, not mine.”
And that surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ includes a surrender of everything we are, everything we have, and everything we hope to be. And that includes our finances as well. Consecration means we turn everything over to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why SHOULD I consecrate myself to Jesus Christ and the work of his church?” If you’ve ever asked yourself that, let me tell you why. It’s because of all that Christ has done for you. Jesus isn’t waiting for us to consecrate ourselves to him first – and then he’ll forgive us. No! Already all of your sin has been transferred to Christ’s account, and God cancels that sin debt. Already your sins are gone. Already YOU are forgiven. And it’s all because of the love and the grace and the mercy of our heavenly Father – freely given to you. That’s what happens first! And then we are bold to consecrate ourselves to the Lord of the church.
SO the call to discipleship – the call to come and follow Jesus – means we consecrate ourselves to him. Everything we are. Everything we have. And everything we hope to be. Jesus gets control.
And this includes my finances. And maybe most importantly my finances. How – and where! – I spend that portion of my money that I spend. How and where I save and invest that portion of my money that I save and invest. And how and where and to what causes I give to the work of the Lord through his church. I am simply doing what Jesus tells us when he says, as he says in our Gospel reading today, “Give to God the things that are God’s.” It’s God’s money, and I am simply giving back a portion of what he has already given me.
Listen! I say this every year. I am simply offering you the opportunity. I’m not telling anyone how much I think they ought to give. I have never done that, and I will never do that. I am simply extending to you the invitation not only to benefit from what God is doing here in this place – but to take part in what God is doing here in this place with your financial tithes and offerings. And quite frankly – I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t invite you to do that.
If you believe that all you have is a gift from God – then what better way is there for you to say, “Thank you,” to God? You are giving thanks to God for all that God has done and is doing for you – AND that you believe in what your church – this church – is doing in the name of Jesus – and that you want to be a part of it. I am extending this invitation because I don’t want you to miss out on the joy of giving. I firmly believe that there is something deep down inside the heart of every man, woman and child – that deep down inside there is a fundamental need to give. What you are doing is investing in what God is doing here in this place.
When you give – I know what it represents. It represents your time – your skill – your sweat – and your labor. I know that what you give represents a part of you. It’s a part of who you are. But here’s the wonderful thing. When we give it’s a wonderful thing to watch – to watch and to experience what God is able to do with what we give. And God is able to do amazing things!
I mean, just look around. Look at all the kids we have in worship – in Sunday School – in confirmation – in youth groups. We have a great staff to lead these ministries in Elaine and Chris. Great music ministries with great musicians. Look at the variety of worship opportunities we have each weekend. Look at how the members of this church are cared for. Look at the outreach to the local community, nationally and internationally.
So let me ask you how it is that you personally have benefited from being a part of God’s Kingdom here in this place. How have you grown? How have you changed? What does this place mean to you?
I just want you to know that your gifts do have an impact. You are investing in what God is doing here in this place. Touching hearts. Changing lives. Making a difference. In the name of Jesus Christ.
Every year I talk about percentage giving – giving a certain percentage of your income to the work of the Lord here at Zion. With the hope that you would grow one step each year – you know – half a percent or one percent – with the goal of moving towards what the Bible calls the tithe – or the giving of 10%. It’s not a law. It’s not a commandment. It’s not a rule. It’s a goal. My beloved wife Nancy and I are at 15%. And quite frankly, we have never lacked for a thing. And even though she is now retired, and not bringing in much of an income – we agreed to stay at 15%. And still we do not lack for a thing – because we continue to put our trust in the Lord to provide for our needs. It’s just one of those amazing things that God is continuing to do.
It is my hope and prayer that you have been thinking about and praying about what your financial contribution to the work of the Lord will be in 2018.
God is extending to you today an invitation – an invitation to take part in what God is doing – an invitation to get your feet wet – an invitation to consecrate yourselves to the Lord this day – and to the work of the Lord here in this place – and see what the Lord can do.
God is still in the business of doing amazing things.