Thursday, November 13, 2014

Final Week of Capital Campaign (Malachi 3:6-12)

“I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this evening comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the third chapter of the prophet Malachi. Dear friends in Christ, our world is a world of constant change. Nothing stays the same. Every day is a picture of change, as light fills the darkened sky, only to give way to darkness once again. The cold of winter changes to the heat of summer and back again. You grow and develop from a zygote to an embryo to a fetus to a baby to a child to an adult; you never stay the same. Governments rise and fall, civilizations crumble as quickly as they ascended. People change, and not just physically. We are fickle, we are pushed back and forth by the wind, we spurn old friendships, we give up on former loves, we switch opinions either on the basis of better information or simply because of feelings. The ancients believed that tier gods were as changeable as man, that you couldn’t trust them, only hope to placate them, to earn some favor, with gifts and offerings. But not the God of Israel. In the midst of a raging sea of change, where absolutely nothing stays the same for even a moment, stands the declaration of our Creator: “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Everything changes but the One who created it all; He is steadfast, immovable, impervious to change.

And this unchanging God has an accusation to make against His people, to make against you and me. “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.” The unchangeable God accuses us of changing, of rebelling against Him even though we bear His Name upon us. How have we done this? He could certainly come up with quite a list, but God has one specific accusation to make tonight. “You say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.” God accuses us of robbing Him, of holding back from Him our tithes and contributions. This has nothing to do with a percentage, with dollar signs or a budget, it has to do with selfishness, with coveting, with idolatry. It has to do with giving God the leftovers, with holding back from serving His Church or our neighbors. It ultimately comes down to trust. We do not trust God’s promises to provide for our every need, and so we hold back, we keep more for ourselves; we give grudgingly, if we give at all. We think that God is like us, changing, fickle, that He might not give tomorrow what He promised to give today.

Repent! Repent, for God does not change; He has promised wrath against sin and rebellion, and His justice will be satisfied. “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” Greedily holding onto what God has entrusted us with, instead of using it for the good of our neighbor and the good of His Kingdom—God calls this robbery. It is taking what doesn’t belong to us and using it for our own gain. It is misusing what has been given so that it only benefits ourselves. A God of justice cannot simply look away; He cannot pretend that it didn’t happen, or that it doesn’t matter. “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.” A curse is placed upon God’s rebellious people, the curse of His wrath against sin. A God of justice cannot allow sin to remain unpunished; He does not change: His wrath must be poured out—Repent! “Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.”

Everything in this world changes, including sinful man, including you and me; and in the midst of the whirlwind stands God’s Law, steadfast, immovable, declaring a curse upon sinners. But God’s Law is not the only pillar in the storm. Equally steadfast and immovable is God’s love, care, and compassion for His fallen humanity, for you and for me. A God of justice must punish sin with His wrath. A God of love cannot allow His beloved to perish eternally. The easiest solution for us would be to compromise, to change; but God does not change. He does not change His justice; He does not change His love. Instead, His justice and love, the two pillars of His very nature, come together to form a cross. Upon the cross His justice is satisfied, as His wrath is poured out against every sin that has ever been committed, against your every sin. But upon the cross His love is shown, for that wrath falls upon Christ, your substitute, who sheds His holy, precious blood in your place. God does not change; His love doesn’t somehow ‘cancel’ His wrath, but He loves us by pouring that wrath out upon another. Christ Jesus stood in your place, He willingly bore the curse; He was treated as the One who had robbed God, though He had done no wrong. His suffering was for your sin; His death was in your place. And as He died in your place, so He rose in your place, and your resurrection is guaranteed. In love He showers forth His abundant grace upon you; He forgives you for greed, for idolatry, for robbery, His shed blood covers each and every sin. You are forgiven! His love for you stands as a pillar, your solid rock, forever. “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”

You are not consumed because His love toward you has never changed, and it never will change. You have been changed: into His beloved child, a chosen member of His people, His Church, His flock. His goodness toward you will never change, you can rest secure in His provision, you can even put Him to the test. “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” This is the only place in the Scriptures where God calls on His people put Him to the test. He challenges His flock to step out in faith, to give freely from their bounty. We are to put our God to the test, giving deliberately, deciding in our hearts beforehand what we are going to give; giving generously, turning over to Him our first-fruits in faith, putting Him to the test that He will provide the rest; and giving cheerfully, in the freedom that comes from His unchanging Gospel. We rest in this stability; He is not fickle, He is not capricious, He is not changing; He is the same today, yesterday, and forever, His abundance has no end, and you have a sure and certain hope in Him. He has set you free, free from the bondage of sin, free to serve your neighbor and free to support the work of the Church. We love our neighbor not according to the bondage of the Law, but in the freedom of the Gospel. You are free, free in Christ, free from greed, from idolatry, from selfishness, free to live in His grace forever, for your God does not change, His Gospel stands forever.

This world is constantly shifting, constantly moving, constantly changing. Some changes excite, some terrify; some changes build up, some tear down. But in the midst of the changes and chances of life stands your God, the Lord who is your Shepherd. His cross is the pivot on which history turns, it is the one rock in the midst of the raging river. No matter whether you face plenty or hunger, abundance or need, this promise remains firm: “I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soul, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” This promise is true whether you wallet is full or not, whether you face joy or sorrow, whether you endure disease or enjoy health. Whether you are brought low or abound, all nations will call you blessed, because Jesus does not change, and He has promised to raise you on the Last Day, you have eternal treasure to your name that no joy or sorrow of this world can take away. You are blessed, for your sins are forgiven, you are baptized into His Name, your lips receive His very Body and Blood. Jesus does not change, even if the circumstances of your life do; He remains faithful, and He will be faithful until the end. His cross and its verdict stand for eternity; they will never change, and therefore you, O flock, are not consumed, therefore you, O flock, are free. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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