April 8, 2018

What is Your Answer?

2nd Sunday of Easter
First Lesson:  Acts 26:19-29

Second Lesson:  1 John 5:1-6

Gospel Lesson:  John 20:19-31

Sermon Text:  Psalm 116:1-9,12

I know it is just a week since Easter, and usually, after all the heaviness of Holy Week, we dial things down a little. But as I was looking at different options for the sermon text, I came across a verse that stuck in my head for days. We’ll get to that verse in a second, but let’s start with very serious/heavy questions: What is your Christian faith worth to you? What would you give up for your faith? What does God’s grace mean to you? Yes, those are huge questions. But they’re good questions to ask ourselves from time to time, because finding out the answers to those questions is an awesomely comforting thing.

But first think about what we went through last week. There was the joy of Palm Sunday as Jesus entered Jerusalem.  On Maundy Thursday we celebrated the gift of Communion. On Good Friday, there was the mix of sorrow and joy because Jesus died but he did so to set us free. Then there was Easter. We shouted out hymns, used choir and instrumentalists, and decorated the place like crazy because our Lord lives.  And because he lives, we also do live and will live with him.

All that is what came to mind when I read our text – Psalm 116.  Let’s pick it apart. 

Verse 1: “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.”  Wasn’t that our cry on Good Friday – Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner who is the reason Jesus had to die? 

Verse 2: “Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”  The answer on Good Friday and Easter Sunday was our Lord saying, “Yes, I will show you mercy.  Because of what my Son did for you, grace is yours.”  And that will not change.  Every day we can live with Easter joy and peace in our hearts.

Verses 3 & 4: “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”  Again, wasn’t that Good Friday for us – distressed, sorrowful, overwhelmed? Doesn’t that summarize many of our days? And doesn’t Easter give us God’s response to our “Lord, save me!” request? Yes. Jesus’ answer is the simplest way to summarize it.  “Because I live, you also will live.”

Verses 5 & 6: “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me.”  Isn’t that what last week was all about?  A compassionate Jesus marched to Jerusalem for us.  A gracious Savior gave us his body and blood in Communion for our forgiveness. A righteous Savior went to the cross. And the one who did all that rose to prove his victory. He did this because we were lower than low and needed saving.

Verses 7-9: “Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”  Again, isn’t that Easter in a nutshell?  We can be at rest because we are on the best terms with God.  Our loving Father always welcomes us as forgiven members of his family.  And because of Easter, we know how things play out.   We will be delivered from death, all tears will be wiped away, and the land of the living – heaven – will be our home.

All that we just said is the essence of the Christian faith – what God promised, what Jesus accomplished, and what it means to us always. We’re saved, loved, forgiven, and nothing will change that. That’s not new news, and I am thankful for that. I’m thankful that you’ve known these truths and enjoyed the peace, hope, and confidence you have because of them.

Now to the heavy question, one asked to end our psalm. After recounting God’s gifts, the psalmist asks, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” Get how powerful that question is? The author isn’t just a taker. He’s not a kid who has his clothes folded/put away by mom and a meal cooked for him by dad who thinks these things magically happen and fails to realize who did them. He knows this hope, peace, and confidence, are all these blessings from God’s hand. He’s thankful, so he asks, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” To phrase it as we did before, he asks himself, “What is my faith worth to me? What would I give up for my faith? What does God’s grace mean to me?”

Ask yourself those questions.  And realize, what was done for the psalmist was done for each of us. God heard your voice.  He turned his ear to you. He saved you from anguish and fear. He graciously delivered you. And he has shown you the life that awaits you at his side. He has done and will do all this. So, what are you going to return to him for all this goodness?  Not in a pay for play or bribe way, but with a heart full of genuine appreciation, how are you going to thank him for all this?

Before we answer that, realize how easily we can be the aloof child and take, take, take. That child fails to give thanks because his clothes always have been cleaned and folded in the past and food has always been on the table. He can’t imagine these things not happening. He takes all this for granted. We can easily fall into that, correct?  Some of us have been hearing about God’s grace, deliverance, and salvation for 99.9% of our lives, ever since we came into his family through baptism.  There hasn’t been a time we’ve not known this. Sadly, that can lead to us being unappreciative takers.

Think about the 10 lepers Jesus healed.  All were sick/dying and all asked Jesus to heal them.  He did. How many thanked him? One. The others loved the gift, but forget to thank the giver.  We hear so often our sins are gone because of Jesus’ work that without even realizing it, we can be unthankful takers. But esp. in light of all Easter means for us, that can’t stand.  We know what he did for us.  So, once more, what are we, what are you, going to return to the Lord for all his goodness?

Let’s start putting some answers out there.  And I know it is cliché, when talking about our responses to God’s grace and stewardship to talk about the three T’s – time, talent, and treasure – but whoever came up with that phrase is a genius because it beautifully does sum things up.  So let’s go with that.  Focus on time first.  How can how you use your time thank God for his goodness?  He can how you use your time show thanks and how much God’s grace means to you?

Well, time is a precious commodity since it is rare. There is only a limited amount of it. We can’t add 1 second to that clock.  So, to be blunt, how much time are we giving God?  And let’s answer these from a positive, Gospel-oriented angle, as people who understand forgiveness and the clean slate we have each day as believers. How can we thank God and show our appreciation with the time he’s given us? Some obvious answers come to mind. We can spend time in his Word.  That is a way of thanking him AND it is beneficial to us because as we do so, we grow in our faith and understanding. We can take time to pray, not just asking but also thanking. We can use our time to serve, serve the Lord directly and serve him as we serve those around us.  And this service can be encouraging, assisting, helping, guiding, etc.  Really, the possibilities are almost endless.  But ponder the questions – today, tomorrow, and every day: How can I use the time God has given me to show my appreciation for his grace?  How can I return a portion of the time he has given me to thank him for his goodness? 

Talents.  And while we want to do this humbly, let’s not be bashful. God has blessed each of us with many talents.  Maybe your talent/s are obvious, gifts all can see.  Maybe your talent/s are of the quiet sort, ones few people even know you have.  Either way, you are a part of the body of Christ, and the talents God gave you are blessings from him meant to serve him and others. So think about your talent/s. Realize how long this list could be.  Maybe you have the gift of relating to people.  You interact well with children.  You have the ability to sympathize and empathize.  You have an artistic streak.  You have a lovely voice.  You are able to recall Scripture quickly and properly apply it for someone who is struggling or needs advice.

So how can you thank God for these gifts of grace, these talents?  If you relate well to people, maybe you could visit shut-ins. We have a group that does that. If you interact well with children, we are always looking for Sunday school teachers and helpers.  If you are good at sympathizing/empathizing, seek out people who clearly need some help/encouragement.  If you have an artistic streak, ask me about ways you can use that around here, or make some beautiful for someone who needs a pick me up.  If you have a lovely voice, we always can use more voices in our choir (or just sing away with a hymn in the shower).  If you know your Bible well, use that gift when you are in conversations with others.  On and on it goes.  But, like with the gift of time, ponder the questions – today, tomorrow, and every day: How can I use the talents God has given me to show my appreciation for his grace?  How can I return a portion of the time he has given me to thank him for his goodness? 

And treasure. God doesn’t avoid about talking about this. Neither should we. Money might be the most tangible gift God’s given us, and the most abused/misused gift. Easily in this area we can compare ourselves others who make six figures or have the biggest house and conclude we don’t have much. That’s focusing on the wrong thing. God doesn’t want us to show our thanks with our treasure only if we’re in a certain tax bracket. He’s given us what we have – be it a lot or a little by the world’s standards. So with what he has blessed us with, how are we going to show our appreciation for Easter grace?

Once again, there are lots of ways to do this.  The most obvious one would be our offerings.  And realize all the things you support with your offerings. Yes, you keep the heat and lights on and care for your called workers and staff (and we greatly appreciate that).  But you also help children learn more about Jesus as you fund Good Shepherd, KML, and Sunday school. You help to make sure we can hold worship services every week that are beautiful/encouraging.  You help ensure the message of Christ’s love is heard in our community, communities around the country, and communities around the world.  And, truly, every cent counts.  Every cent helps more and more of the above happen every day.

But think beyond these walls.  You can donate to a charity.  Over and over God talks about taking care of the less fortunate and how doing so 1) is a way of showing our love and 2) a way of giving glory to him.  You can provide for your family.  That seems obvious, but by using your treasure to provide for them, you are showing your appreciation to God they are in your life.  You can save up treasure for a time when it is really needed, wherever that may be.  Once more, there are tons of options, but once more, ponder the questions – today, tomorrow, and daily: How can I use the time God has given me to show my appreciation for his grace?  How can I return a portion of the time he has given me to thank him for his goodness? 

And I really mean that.  I ask you to think about this as you head home from church today – as an individual, as a couple, and/or as a family.  And do this remembering we bask in the afterglow of Easter.  We cannot state often enough or loudly enough how much Easter means to us.  Life.  Peace.  Forgiveness.  Heaven. A right relationship with God.  Hope.  Joy.  All those are blessings that came out of the tomb with our Savior.  All those are blessings he has given to us.  So, what are you going to do about it?  Not in a threatening way do I ask that, but in an encouraging way.  You know God’s goodness and what it means for you now and eternally.  So, what are you going to return to the Lord for all this goodness?  I pray God blesses us all with a thankful heart that is always asking that question.  And I pray God blesses all of us with a thankful heart that each day, with fresh joy, comes up with answers to that questions, answers that come from a heart of faith, and answers that express the appreciation we have as blessed members of his family, as people of the resurrection.  Amen.