Breaking Covenant by Withholding Tithes
6 “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.
INTRO: A couple of years ago Marilyn and I along with my brother Steve and his wife went to the sausage supper that’s held the 1st Sunday of every Feb. at Zion Lutheran Church in Staunton, the church Steve and I grew up in. While we were there we got to see the inside of the parsonage where we were raised, thanks to the gracious hospitality of the pastor there. And we also got to see the inside of the church where a whole boatload of memories came flooding back to me as we made our way down into the dark dingy basement where my dad spent every Sat. afternoon studying his sermon for the next day. We went upstairs in the balcony where my good buddy Bob Lingner and I sat together in the front row every Sunday, not always behaving ourselves the way we should have. We even went all the way up to the bell tower where Steve rang the bells when he was in high school and I took over after he went off to college.
But one of the most vivid memories that came back to me that evening had to do with my mom…I share that story with you as just a small indication that times have changed since then. That church now has AC so those windows don’t have to be left open on Sat. night anymore during the summertime. But there are lots of other changes that are taking place in churches across our land these days. Sometime ago I came across an article entitled “Twenty Relics of Church Past.” It was written in response to a question that a pastor asked of other pastors on social media and that question was: “What did you have or do in your church 10 years ago that you don’t have or do today?” Here are just a few of the answers he received:
- The stand and greet time at the beginning of the service has fallen out of favor.
- Robes or at the very least a suit and tie for the pastor are now considered relics of the past, not so much in the Lutheran church, but in non-denominational churches where casual dress is now the norm for pastors.
- The organ in many churches has been replaced by praise bands. The same thing holds true for choirs as they have been replaced by praise teams.
- Hymnals have been replaced with words projected on one or more screens up front.
- Printed newsletters have gone digital.
- Background checks have become necessary – most churches do fairly extensive background checks before they allow someone to work in the children’s ministry or the school.
So times are changing. Other articles I’ve read this year reveal that the fastest growing religion in the world today is no longer Christianity but Islam. In fact, between 2015 and 2060, the number of Muslims in our world is expected to grow by 70% while the number of Christians is projected to grow by only 34%. And right here in our own country one of the fastest growing groups are what we call the “nones” who self-identify as atheists, agnostics, or people who have no church affiliation at all and who want to keep it that way.
So where does the church fit in to all these changes? Where does our Christian faith fit in? And most importantly, where does God fit in? That’s what I want to spend my time talking about this final service of 2017 as we consider the theme “Our Unchanging God in a Changing World.” And the first point that I want to make is that our unchanging God is still:
- A God who directs
- Moses at the Red Sea
- Messianic promises in OT – birth place; born of a virgin; substitutionary sin-paying death; resurrection.
- Luther – 500th anniversary of Protestant Reformation.
- He still directs – Prov. 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord…” – for many of you 2017 has been a pretty tough year – cancer, divorce, unemployment, a wayward child, loss of a loved one, financial struggles – if any of those describe you, you need to know God hasn’t changed. He can and he will still direct your paths if you’ll let go of the reins of your life and place them into his very capable, dependable, and trustworthy hands.
- A God who delivers – “deliver” can be taken 2 ways.
- It can mean to rescue.
- The 7th Petition of Lord’s Prayer – “But deliver us from evil.”
- Luther’s explanation in Small Catechism says: “We pray in this petition…that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul.”
- Isn’t it nice to know that God hasn’t changed in that regard, that he’s still in the rescuing business?
- I’ll never forget a time when I thought I might need to be rescued – Glacier NP and Ptarmigan Tunnel trail…Marilyn’s plan for me to follow her feet….God’s plan to rescue us, to get us out of the predicament we had gotten into because of our sins…
- The word “deliver” can also mean to give, to transfer to someone else.
- That’s what our unchanging God does for us as he delivers his unchanging gifts to us – means of grace…And the primary place he does that is right here in this sanctuary every time we gather for worship.
- So how are you doing when it comes to receiving those gifts? Do you take advantage of them whenever the doors of this church are open for worship? Or have you slacked off a bit or maybe a lot over the years? There’s no better time than the present to change that and to resolve that this brand new year that starts tomorrow you are going to make worship in God’s house not just an occasional thing you do, but the priority that he intends it to be and that it deserves to be. And that really leads right into to the third point I want to make and that is that our unchanging God is still:
- A God who desires
- What is his greatest desire? World peace? Bringing an end to world hunger or the sex trafficking that has become all too commonplace in our world? How about an end to abortion that has now claimed the lives of nearly 60 million unborn babies since its legalization here in 1973. As noble as all those desires are, God’s greatest desire is stated in 1 Tim. 2:4 where the Apostle Paul wrote “God wants all people to be saved…” To accomplish that he did the unthinkable. Our unchanging God became:
- A God who died.
- Let that sink in for just a moment…a God who died. “O Darkest Woe,” 2nd verse begins with these words “O sorrow dread! Our God is dead”…But wait a minute; God is an immortal and eternal being. How could he be dead? In fact, some translations of this hymn have tried to soften that statement that was part of the original hymn by saying “O sorrow dread! God’s Son is dead.” But when the eternal, infinite God wrapped himself in human flesh as he did that first Xmas, when he entered our world as the humble Babe of Bethlehem, he allowed himself to become vulnerable, breakable, pierceable, killable, if that’s even a word.
- And oh how we needed that sin-paying death that he died for us. I know I certainly did because I’ve blown it more times than I care to remember. I sure needed it when I was just a little boy and my mom sent me to a corner grocery store called Lovejoy’s just a few blocks from our home…
- I’m sure you could tell similar stories about things you’ve done that were a lot worse than that and trust me, I could too. You know what that means? It means we’re all in the same boat and guess what? That boat is sinking. But God has thrown us a life-preserver in his Son Jesus Christ. And as we take hold of that lifeline with a repentant and trusting heart, this God who never changes, this God who would rather die for you than bear the thought of spending eternity without you, this God who would rather go through hell for you which is exactly what he did on the cross rather than go to heaven without you, places you on the receiving end of his amazing grace, his limitless love, his magnificent mercy and he calls you his own, his son, his daughter, a child of the King of kings and Lord of lords. And if you know this unchanging God and Savior as your unchanging God and Savior, when you die and leave this ever-changing world behind, you will join that numberless throng of people who have already gone on to what we sometimes call the Church Triumphant, that perfect and glorious life that the that is so incredible, so incomprehensible, so indescribable that the Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:9: “No eye has seen…”
CONCLUSION: So even though we live in a rapidly changing world, let us take comfort in knowing that we worship and follow and serve an unchanging God. He’s a God who directs us through the deepest, darkest valleys of life; a God who delivers his means of grace, his Word and Sacraments, to us in this sanctuary; a God who desires each one of us to be a part of his forever family; and lastly, a God who died for us and rose again so that we could enjoy life with him for all eternity. With that knowledge in the forefront of our minds, how can 2018 not be a happy new year? Amen.