Sermon Epiphany 1.7.18

Psalm 24:1-6    Epiphany

Pastor Kenneth Frey    1/7/18

Psalm 24:1-6  Of David. A psalm.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.  Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?  Who may stand in his holy place?  The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.  They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior.  Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.

My Stuff?

1.  The earth is the Lord’s

2.  Who can stand before God?

3.  Honor God with your wealth

What do we mean when we say we own something?  We mean that it is our possession.  We have bought and paid for it.  It’s ours to keep and do with as we please.  We are the owners; it belongs to us.

Of course, we all know this.  Our understanding of ownership began very early in our lives.  If you have little children, you know how quickly “Mine!” becomes a part of a child’s vocabulary.  And the word “mine” grows up to be one of the major preoccupations of our lives.  We work hard almost all our lives so that we can own things.  Perhaps the first thing you owned for yourself was a bike.  Then it was a car, then a house, then all the stuff in the house.  Then perhaps another house up north or a boat and the list could go on and on.  We almost always have our sights set on becoming the owner of something more.  

Personal ownership is deeply ingrained in our beings.  We can’t imagine ourselves apart from the things that we own.  In fact, the greatest horror imaginable is the idea that if we don’t play our cards right, we could lose everything and become the owners of nothing.  

But is it really my stuff?  David asserts something totally different in Psalm 24.  The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.  God is the owner of everything which means that we are the owners of nothing!   My stuff?  No, God’s stuff.  Why? For he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.   God created everything.  That car you drive, those clothes you wear, that money you spend, that house you live in – God made it all.  My stuff?  No.  God’s world.  God’s stuff.

But this world that is owned by God became corrupted with sin.  Because Eve wanted more, sin and death became a part of this world.  God’s world was corrupted with sin because of mankind.  Did God throw it in the trash and start over?  No.  He redeemed this world of his at the cost of his own son.  The Apostle Paul wrote, But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:4-5)  At just the right time, Jesus was born in Bethlehem to pay the price of our redemption.  We could say that the world is doubly God’s.  He created it and then he redeemed it or bought it back with the price of Jesus’ blood.  My stuff?  No.

God is the owner of everything.  We own nothing.  Owning nothing isn’t so bad, though.  Think back to that time in your life when you were the owner of nothing.  When you were a small child,  you owned nothing and your parents loved you and provided for your every need.  Did you worry about anything then?  You slept well.  You were happy and at peace.  

What happened?  Why are things different now?  You became an owner.  And now, from our way of thinking, everything depends on you.  You are the source of all that is good in your life.  You are the one who maintains your world and you feel the pressure.   But what does David remind us of here?  The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.  You are not the owner.  God is.  You are one of his children and he will care for you.  The Apostle Paul promised, My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:21)  

Listen to that confidence of Paul.  God will meet all your needs.  But he goes way beyond that, doesn’t he?   In his love for us he also richly blesses us with a lot of stuff in our lives.  Do we deserve them?  Are we worthy of all these blessings?  

David asked, Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?  Who may stand in his holy place?  The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.  How clean are your hands?  Have we hit anyone, or grabbed onto money too tightly?  Have you used your hands to pop pills that you’re hooked on or thumb through pornographic pictures?  Dirty are the hands that hang limp when help is needed.  Filthy are the fingers that point and blame others for sins we don’t admit in ourselves.  Naughty are the knuckles that clench in anger even though we don’t actually strike.  

Do we trust in idols? Do we let stuff become more important to us than God?  That is idolatry.  The really sneaky version of idolatry happens when we love good things too much!

President Wendland of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, who also served in Africa, once said, “If students from the seminary here in Africa were to visit our seminary in Mequon, and if they would see all the new cars in the parking lot and then hear the students complaining about the food in the cafeteria, they would think that we are the most godless and thankless Christians they had ever met.”       

Materialism is the idolatry of worshipping material things, created things, rather than the Creator.  It is the lie that filling our lives with lots of stuff will somehow bring us joy and happiness. It’s the deception that these earthly treasures and pleasures will somehow last and not disappoint us. It is failing to put everything we have and everything we are into thankful service to God. It’s thinking that we never have enough when we have more than we need. And the worst part about it is, it’s so much part of our American experience that we don’t even know we are doing it!

If we take David’s psalm to the ultimate conclusion, what does this mean?  It means we will never be able to enter God’s sanctuary.  There is no way that sinners can stand in the presence of his holiness.  It’s as if we are standing at the bottom of the Rockies with two broken legs, having suffered a heart attack, two fifty pound weights tied to us, and filthy hands that can’t grip anything.  Like Jack and Jill, we may try to go up the hill to fetch a crown of glory, but we will fall down and break our crowns.  The hill is too steep.  We can try to wash our hands as Pilate did, but it won’t make us clean.  

We can’t ascend the mountain of the Lord; all we can do is stand at the bottom and beg.  All we can do is receive from him.  They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior.    God vindicates us, that is, God gives us righteousness through faith.  We can stand in his holy place only when we stand in Jesus.  

That’s why one of the first things we usually do in worship is confess our sins and receive the announcement of forgiveness.  Before we can stand in God’s holy place and worship him, we need to be assured that we are righteous through Christ.  Don’t dismiss that announcement of forgiveness as just ritual.  Listen to it with joy and receive it gladly.  It is a great gift of God.  Then also come to the Lord’s Supper and receive that again in visible forms of bread and wine.  Taste the righteousness that Jesus is giving you and believe in the life you have in him.

Then we can worship God not only in this building but in our lives as we honor him with our wealth.  We began by asking, “Is it my stuff?”  And the answer:  The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.  If God owns everything, how can I possibly give him anything?  I can’t.  But what he asks us to do and what stewardship is all about is to manage his resources, not consume them.  

Since it is his stuff and we are managers of his stuff, we are also his representatives on earth.  Let’s truly represent him and be more like him.  Let’s be generous to those in need and generous in carrying out his important mission to bring the word of salvation to others.  

There was a story on the radio about a man who was vacationing in the Caribbean. He met a fisherman who was sitting on a chair watching the sun go down. He asked him what he did for a living. He said he went fishing every morning and caught fish for his family. He was a good fisherman and his family loved to eat fish. He loved to play with his children in the afternoon and go down to the sea and watch the sun set. The visitor had an idea. “If you are a good fisherman, I could loan you some money. You could put a fish stand here on the beach. People would buy your fish. If you caught more fish, you could open a market in town. You could buy a nice house for you family in the city. Wouldn’t that be great? What would you do if you were successful?” And the man thought for a moment and said, “I would buy a house on the beach. I would fish in the morning and play with my children in the afternoon.  Then I could come down to the sea and watch the sun set.” 

When I heard that story, I first thought it made a lot of sense. Don’t let your ambition get in the way of enjoying life. And then, I thought that story missed the point altogether. Both men were missing the point, weren’t they? Life doesn’t have meaning because I can make myself rich. Life doesn’t have meaning because I can sit on the beach and watch the sun set. Life has meaning when I know God as my Creator and Savior and when I find joy in serving him with all that I have. 

My stuff?  No, his stuff.  Let’s learn to use it to serve God and others.