Reigning with Jesus–Giving. Trinity 20, 2016. Revelation 2:18-29
20th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
October 9, 2016
“Reigning With Jesus—Giving”
The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. Revelation 2:27
On Friday I was going out to make visits and I saw some of you hustling around the building to get things ready for the luncheon this afternoon, and others coming in to work. Then yesterday I was gone with a couple of the members of the altar guild but my wife told me how so many people were down here for hours setting up tables and silverware.
Seeing that and hearing that, I thought about how you who were doing all this are already overworked and how you’ve spent years, decades at this place doing this kind of thing, many or most since before I was born.
And if you look at it in purely human terms, what did I bring you in the ten years since I was ordained right over there into the office of Jesus’ ministry? I remember one thing about that day in particular. It was sweltering hot. The air-conditioning wasn’t working. Neither was the organ—both for the same reason, I think, which to was that lightning had struck the church a few days before. That was day one.
Then over the past decade a lot of people have died; a lot of people have left. We had a fire one year. The president of the congregation resigned after years of conflict with me. After years of struggle we voted to close the school. And if I didn’t cause the declining attendance, I wasn’t able to do anything to turn it around. So did I bring anything to you during these ten years that’s worthy of honoring me like you are doing?
No. I am a weak and sinful man, with failings that are obvious to everyone that knows me.
I was sent here by Christ with something that would bring you honor. The one who conquers…to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them…even as I myself have received authority from my Father. (Rev. 2:27) Jesus sent me here to proclaim the word of His cross, by which He conquered Satan and the demons, and made you free from them. He sent me to proclaim that Word to you, His Word, not mine, in which He gives you authority to reign with Him—over death, over sin, over Satan, and also over the nations, the world that serves the devil, not believing in Jesus.
The honor of ruling the nations with Jesus belongs to you if you believe that He cancelled the record of debt that stood against us…This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame…triumphing over them in [the cross.]. (Colossians 2:14-15) Jesus the Lord sent me to bring you the word that tells you that honor is yours.
Now how is the world going to recognize that honor that He has sent me to announce to you? The world that rebels against its rightful ruler, Jesus, and resents Him—is it going to be friendly toward the people that Jesus has given authority to rule them with Him? Of course not. The world nailed its King to the cross. If He has made you a conqueror with Him by faith, you won’t find the honor He promises you in the world. You will find it treats you like it treated Him. The honor He promises you you will only have by faith in the Gospel until He appears and you appear with Him in glory.
What’s true of you is true of me too. I proclaimed to you that Jesus conquered the devil and cancelled your sin on the cross, and that He seals this victory to us in Holy Baptism, in Absolution, and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. I preached that we should trust this word and these sacraments and not in human power or wisdom or virtue to save our souls and preserve the Church. And what did this preaching bring you? Not earthly wealth, comfort, or peace, but suffering, hardship, and the shadow of death—the hard wood of the cross. He didn’t send me with a message or ministry that would win me honor on earth.
Yet the Lord Jesus Himself will honor me on the day in which His glory appears if He finds me to be what I claim to be. That is, if I not only stand in front of the altar of the One who was crucified for me, handle His gifts, take His Word in my mouth and live on the gifts of His people, but if I believe in the One I was ordained to preach. If I believe in Him, I will also keep His works to the end—preach His Word to His people and endure the cross that comes with it instead of living for my own pleasure in this world.
That is true of this church too. He called it into existence in order that it may reign with Him, that you may receive authority to rule the nations with Him. But on the day of judgment He who searches mind and heart…and will give to each of you according to your works (Rev. 2:23) will not ask whether you were a decent church member in your own estimation, or even what other people thought about you. On that day it will be irrelevant how long you came here or how much you think you did for the church. It will be irrelevant whether St. Peter was miserable and weak, or great, glorious, and honored in this world. Jesus will see whether you kept His works until the end and conquered and overcame Satan.
Now my time is practically up, and I haven’t begun to talk about the church in Thyatira and number 4 in the seven things in which Jesus calls His church to walk—that is, giving. Bear with me a few minutes more and I will speak to you about how learning to give is learning to rule with Christ.
The church in Thyatira is in a similar situation to the church in Ephesus, the first church Jesus wrote a letter to. Jesus had much to say in praise of the church in Ephesus—they lacked only one thing, which was that they had lost their first love. Jesus told them to repent and do the works they did in the beginning, or He would come and take away their church.
The church in Thyatira hadn’t lost their first love. Jesus praises them for their love and faith and their patient endurance of suffering for the Gospel. Also He tells them, “Your latter works exceed the first” (Rev. 2:19). Their love had not cooled off, as the Ephesians’ had—they had grown in faith and love and thus had grown in good works. This is the way the Christian life is supposed to be. It begins when the Word of God falls into a person’s heart and takes root there by faith, like a seed. But once faith in Jesus begins, the story isn’t over. Faith grows like a plant. A farmer isn’t happy once he’s planted his corn and he sees little corn plants sprouting up in the spring. The little plants have to become big plants with multiple ears of corn, and there’s a lot that can go wrong between planting and harvest. When you have come to faith in Christ, you are like a seed that has just begun its little dental-floss roots and tiny leaves, but the mature plant that you must grow up into is Jesus. Nothing less. We may not see our growth very well; it’s hard to notice your own growth. But a Christian who is not yet perfect in the image of Jesus should not be content; he should be straining forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13). A plant that isn’t growing anymore—ask the farmers what it’s doing. It’s dying, even if it looks healthy.
But there was a problem in Thyatira that the church in Ephesus didn’t have. In Thyatira they had tolerated, or been reluctant to deal with, false teaching. There was teaching going around there that seduced the Christians into eating food sacrificed to idols and practicing sexual immorality. Sexual immorality and eating meat sacrificed to idols were two practices associated with the worship of pagan gods which was everywhere around the early church. Christians were tempted to engage in them not only because eating meat and fornication are pleasurable, but also because by abstaining from them they became outsiders in their society. You could never really be a full member in pagan Roman society if you refused to have anything to do with idol worship, which would make it hard to advance socially or in business.
Some of this is not very different from today. People don’t worship Artemis or Apollo today. But sexual immorality has taken on political significance today, and people fight for the right to engage in it with an almost religious devotion, don’t they? Why is this? Because people think your sexual preference or orientation is a vital part of who you are, and to live out your sexual desires is necessary to being “who you really are” and finding true happiness. At the time Revelation was written, people visited temple prostitutes to worship Venus or some other idol. Today sexual immorality has become part of the worship of self. People in our time have made themselves, or their ideal selves, into a god. It is probably the chief idol of our time.
But we shouldn’t think self is only worshipped by political liberals who fought for homosexual marriage and now for transgender rights—and who knows what will be next. Also more conservative people have been seduced into the worship of self.
In the first century, like many centuries before it, it was normal for people to make sacrifices to gods. To not do it was to invite the gods to curse you. So people as a matter of course sacrificed some of their livestock every year, or set apart some of their money to pay for an animal to be sacrificed periodically in order to gain or keep the favor of the gods.
In our day that isn’t true anymore. Somewhere I read that Christians on average give something like 1.7 percent of their income in offerings. Where is the rest of their money going? Some to food, clothes, shelter, transportation no doubt—but also to flat screen televisions, ipads, the newest cell phones, computers, video game systems, boats, vacations, dining out, movies, Starbucks, and all the delights of consumer culture. And we have come to the point that we no longer consider these luxuries, but necessities.
So when it comes time to talk about giving, and I tell you what my mother taught me and what probably you were taught, that we should set a percentage of our income aside for the Lord before buying or paying for anything else, and that the Old Testament law of tithing—ten percent—should be the place we begin, people say, “I can’t afford that.” Why can’t we afford to give ten percent? Because, usually, we have already committed more than 90 percent of our income to the god of self.
Do we have an obligation to give offerings, and to contribute to the relief of those in need? Indeed, we have an obligation to give everything we have, including our bodies and lives, to the Triune God who created us and redeemed us. We have an obligation to love our neighbor as ourselves, which means we are obligated to sacrifice whatever is necessary for our neighbor’s good. Also the synod’s catechism says that the 3rd commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy,” requires that we not only hold the Word of God and its preaching sacred and gladly hear and learn it, but also that we “honor and support the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.”
What is true of individuals is also true of congregations. Our budget this year designates 10,000 dollars to give to the synod for mission work, which does not come out of the general offerings but only when a person designates money to missions on their envelope. This works out to 1.9 percent of our budget. But by September, we had given less than 50 percent of that goal of 10,000 dollars.
I looked in an old book I found in a closet that contained the minutes for the “Board of Finance and Efficiency” for St. Peter—which later became the stewardship committee. In this book I found the budgets for St. Peter for 1952, 1953, and 1954.
In 1954 it said that 50, 155 dollars were budgeted for “home purposes.” In today’s dollars that would be 449,000 dollars. Then below that it said, “Synod, Budget—15,300”—in today’s dollars, 137,00. Then, “Synod, non-budget—10,000”—89,500 today. 33.5 percent of St. Peter’s budget was slated for missions—fully 1/3. 2/3 were for “home purposes.”
The book said that St. Peter’s membership was 1600 souls around that time. Ours is around 500. Of course we know our active membership is much lower, but there were many inactive members at St. Peter’s then as well, as the minutes of those meetings point out repeatedly.
But let’s assume that we have only 200 members at St. Peter—1/8 of the membership of the fifties. If we reduce the 1954 budget by 7/8, we end up with 28, 312.50—nearly 3 times ours.
People have many explanations as to why St. Peter, like so many other churches, has declined to the point where the trend seems irreversible. We ought to consider, besides all those other explanations, that our attempt to serve the god of self alongside of the Triune God, has separated us from Him.
Jesus conquered Satan on the cross by giving Himself up for us. He sends messengers to proclaim this to you, to baptize and absolve you, to feed you His saving body and blood. And everyone who believes His message is honored by Him. He gives you authority to rule with Him.
Jesus conquered and began to reign by giving Himself, and He still gives Himself. That is why there is hope for us even when we have sinned. Even if we have dishonored Him by giving Him what was left over after we had worshipped the false god of self—even if we have done that for many years. He calls to you today and invites you to come to His altar and receive His flesh and blood that He gave for your salvation.
But to believe in Him who conquered by giving Himself, and thus to conquer with Him, it is necessary for us to repent of trying to be Christians without being willing to give sacrificially, whether as individuals or as a church. It’s not possible to believe in the Jesus who saved you by giving Himself for you and then refuse to give yourself and your wealth for Him and others.
So let us come and honor Him who has honored us by giving what was most precious in all the universe for us—His own life. Let us begin as a congregation to conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil today. Let us renounce the worship of self and receive the treasure of the one who gave Himself up for those who were undeserving; let us come desiring to grow up into Christ, and receive the flesh and blood He gave to purchase us that we might grow into what He is.
Soli Deo Gloria