Stewardship Sermon #2 New Love and New Mercy, even after… 2 Kings 25:1-21; Lam. 3:19-25; John 3:16

2Kings 25:1-21

Lam. 3:19-25

John 3:16-17

New Love and New Mercy, even after..

new growth
new growth

It seemed so simple: long ago God made a promise to Abraham:

Gen. 12:1-3

Now the LORD said to Abram,

“Go forth from your country,

And from your relatives

And from your father’s house,

To the land which I will show you;

2 And I will make you a great nation,

And I will bless you,

And make your name great;

And so you shall be a blessing;

3 And I will bless those who bless you,

And the one who curses you I will curse.

And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

The promise was renewed to Abraham’s descendants in each new generation: to Isaac, and to Jacob, the father of 12 sons who became the 12 tribes of Israel.

But it was never so simple.  Famine in the land that was promised forced the clan  to migrate out of their land, to Egypt.  Their thanksgiving for that rescue from death by starvation became cries of lament one short generation later, as they were reduced to slavery under Pharaoh; 400 years of slavery.  “How long, O Lord?”

But the God who made that promise to Abraham was able to do something new; God was able to deliver them from the hand of Pharaoh and his mighty army with its shiny chariots.  God called to Moses, from the burning bush, and told him to go to Pharaoh and say, “Thus says the Lord: let my people go.”   That was not so simple either.  But in the end, they did go – as slaves set free; free to go back to the land of promise.

And free to doubt the reliability of the God who had just liberated them; free to forget – quickly – the work of his “mighty hand and outstretched arm” that had defeated the world’s only Superpower.  Free to fear the Canaanites in the promised land – and so, free to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

But the Lord is a God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, (Ex. 34:6).  A new generation came of age who did believe, and led by Joshua, they took possession of the land promised to Abraham so long ago.

Receiving a portion; an inheritance

This was a moment of triumph that had waited for hundreds of years to be fulfilled since that original promise was made.  Finally, Joshua was able to distribute to each tribe their own portion of that land.  That portion was their gift from God himself.  They were to treasure that portion and never sell it. They were to hand it down the generations; their portion became their inheritance; the lasting witness to God’s steadfast love and mercy, his faithfulness.  The people treasured that inheritance above all; not for its cash value, but because that inheritance was God’s gift.

That should be the end of the story, but things are not so simple.  In a few short generations that group of tribal families became a monarchy.  As the kingship passed from generation to generation, more often than  not they turned their backs on the Lord and worshiped and served the gods of the pagan nations around them.

The nation broke apart; the Northern kingdom was no match for the mighty Assyrians who conquered them and brutally ended their existence.  The Southern tribe of Judah remained a little while longer, but eventually they succumbed to the onslaught of the Chaldeans from Babylon, or Babylonians as they are also called.  We read the final chapter in that story; the two year siege, the starvation, and finally the capture and brutal treatment of the king, the killing of his heirs to the throne, the snuffing out of the last candle of hope.

Understanding that (and our) story

How do you understand that story?  This is what the majority of the Old Testament is about: the people of God, trying to understand that story; their story.  Where was God in that story?

Our stories meet this story at the point of this question.  Everyone of us has a story to tell of our lives and our family’s life; and like the Israelite’s experience, it is not a simple tale.  There have been complications.

I know some of your stories.  You have told me about some of the things you have experienced that have caused great pain.  Some have told me about war experiences.  Others have lost children; some have lost spouses.  Some had to deal with illness, with divorce, some with times of poverty.  Some have struggled with internal issues – doubt, depression, anxiety, addictions.  No story is simple.  Our question is the same as the Israelites asked at the moment of their greatest calamity: where is God in this?  Why did this happen?  Is there a reason to hope?  What happened to the promise?

The story’s last word

Israel tried to tell her story first as a rather simple one: “If we would have done what was right, we would have continued to enjoy the blessing of our inheritance, our land.  But we often failed to trust God, and hence we brought this destruction upon ourselves: we are under his curse.”   Some of you may feel the same; you may feel that the bad experiences of your life are God’s punishment.

But nothing is so simple.  In fact, as Israel told her story, it became clear that over and over again, after they had been bad, after they had broken faith, failed to trust, after they had experienced some of the consequences of their failure, God never abandoned them.  Punishment was never the last word.  God always came back, without any justification, and offed them new love, new mercy.

3 Requests Granted

If I were to give you an index card right now and ask you to write down three things that you would ask God for, if you knew you could receive from him just these three, what would they include?  Picture yourself taking that card and writing three requests: what are they?

I doubt whether you imagined writing down that what you wanted most from God was a nicer home, or a car, or even money.  I bet you thought of your relationship with God, about your family, kids and grandkids.  I bet the things on that card are really not the kind of things we spend most of our lives worrying about.  I believe that if we were given enough time to think about the requests on that card, we may all have written that what we want is to be certain that we are in the hands of a good God, and so to be confident of his loving care for us and for our loved ones.

Jeremiah’s conclusion

This is what Jeremiah concluded as he looked out on his battle-blackened city; Jerusalem, reduced to rubble, still smoldering and stinking of death.  He looked out on his portion, his inheritance, the land of promise that now was not his nor his people’s and said:

The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:24)

“All this time,” Jeremiah is saying, in effect, “we thought the main thing was land; and we lost it.  But land has never been the main thing; “stuff” has never been the highest good.  What we have needed all these years is the Lord himself.  He himself is the source of everything, his presence is the fundamental blessing.  What is my source of hope?  It is not the land, my inherited portion;” rather, Jeremiah says in that moment of pain and loss:

The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

As he looks over that devastation, he remembers his family’s story – he remembers other times of calamity and loss when hope was gone; and he remembers that judgment never has the last word.  “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” So he says:

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Proof of new love, new mercy

The fact that we are alive and here today bears witness to this truth.  There is new love and new mercy, even after loss and pain.  God gives new love and new mercy even after suffering the consequences of our own failures.  God gives new love and new mercy even after our sinful participation in the evil of our times.

We know this even better than Jeremiah did.  We know that God acted again in an amazing way, sending us his very own Son, the Lord Jesus:

16God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  (John 3)

Stewardship?

What does this have to do with our stewardship campaign?  Everything!  Because the fundamental issue of stewardship is all about the answer to the question “What is important to us: most important?  It’s about the requests on that index card.  It is all about stepping back from the hamster wheel of daily life and asking: where is my hope?  Where is my deepest heart?  What do I value most?

When we think of the three things on that index card, as people of faith, we are able to say with Jeremiah, “the Lord is my portion”. When my life is over, it will not matter how much land I have, or how many zeros are behind the numbers on the financial statements.  What will matter is whether I was a person of faith who lived out that faith, trusting in God whose “steadfast love is new every morning.”

Session’s commitment to the vision

I must say at this moment that I am so proud of what session has done with our budget.  We met together this past week.  We read scripture, we prayed together, and we talked about what is most important to us.  We talked about what our mission statement means: that we are people committed to “Loving God, Growing in Faith, and Sharing Christ’s Love.”  As we did, we reflected on our history of giving to missions; we reaffirmed our desire not to allow that commitment to be shaken, even in difficult times like these.  We discussed ways of taking on more responsibility ourselves – yes, us – a congregation whose average age is 75  years old, to reduce our spending by doing more with volunteers.

We re-affirmed that God has called us here to be a congregation in Gulf Shores for a purpose, and that a huge part of that purpose was to make sure we were significantly involved in mission.  We are depending on the faith that God is a God of New Love and New Mercy, and will be faithful to us as we commit ourselves to being his faithful disciples.

I am calling all of us to this same level of commitment that session demonstrated.  We are not asking for charitable donations – the amount left over for giving to worthwhile causes after the bills are paid.  We are people who believe in and practice the harvest principle: everything we have his the Lord’s.  He allows us to use 90% of it for ourselves, but he requires that we set aside the first 10%, the tithe, dedicated to him.  I guarantee that we will never miss that 10%; we will, instead, experience the blessing of having our hearts in the right place, free from the anxiety that we are alone in this world.  We are not alone.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

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