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Sun, Sep 24, 2017

Stewardship - Christ Alone


Duration:17 mins 11 secs

This morning we continue with our fall theme, “Treasures of Grace: Living the Reformation,” as we mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Each Sunday during this commemoration I will be lifting up a theme or theological ideal which grows from our Reformation roots as we remember that we are a people of grace, completely dependent upon God’s love for us. This grace is a treasure known in our history which inspires us, for we know that God is not finished with us, with the church, or with this world yet, so we earnestly seek to live the Reformation.

Drawing from that Reformation theme, we also continue with our annual Stewardship Campaign. The sermons in this campaign are drawn from four of the solas of the Reformation. We began with “Grace alone” remembering that all we have is by God’s grace and all the ministry we do is a response of gratitude. Last week we continued with “Faith Alone” and set out a vision for 2018 if we are willing to live and give in faith. We are moving toward next week’s Celebration and Commitment Sunday as we give glory to God alone. But today, we consider the third sola, “Christ Alone.” We read from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 3, verses 21-26. Listen in this Word of God for the great transformation of the gospel.

21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael. They loved to sit together and admire the great works of art. However, when the war broke out, the son’s draft number came up. He served courageously and yet he died in battle rescuing another soldier. The father grieved deeply the death of his only son.

About two months after learning of his son’s death, a package was delivered to the man’s home. Inside was a note from the soldier whose life had been saved. The note said that he and the man’s son had talked often about the art and the collection back home. The soldier wrote that he was not an artist and yet thought the father might like to have the portrait in the package.

The father dug deeper in the package and found a portrait of his son sketched by the young soldier. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son in the painting. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. So the man hung the portrait over his mantle. Every time visitors came to his home he took them to see the sketch of his son before he showed them any of the other great works he had collected.

Now perhaps it was due to a broken heart, but within a year the father also died. There was to be a great auction of his paintings from the collection. Many influential people gathered, excited over seeing the great paintings and having an opportunity to purchase one as their own. The auction began and on the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?” There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted, “We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one.”

But the auctioneer persisted. “Will somebody bid for this painting. Who will start the bidding? $100, $200?”

Another voice, angrily, “We didn’t come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Gogh’s, the Rembrandt’s. Get on with the real bids!”

But still the auctioneer continued, “The son! Who’ll take the son?”

Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. “I’ll give $10 for the painting.” Being a poor man, it was all he could afford.

“Give it to him for $10. Let’s see the masters,” came a frustrated cry. Over the growing din, the auctioneer shouted, “$10 is the bid, won’t someone bid $20?” The crowd didn’t want the picture of the son. They wanted the more worthy investments for their collections. The auctioneer pounded the gavel. “Going once, twice, SOLD for $10!”

A man sitting on the second row shouted, “Now let’s get on with the collection!” The auctioneer laid down his gavel. “I’m sorry, the auction is over.” In disbelief another cried out, “What about the other paintings?” The auctioneer continued, “When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a single stipulation in the will that I was to reveal at this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would receive the entire estate, including all the other paintings. The one who takes the son gets everything!”

The one who has the son gets everything. My friends in this stewardship series I have shared with you that the only gift that really matters, our salvation, is free because God paid the price himself through the Son. All that we do, all we can do, as ministry in the church is a response of gratitude to God’s grace. Last week I sought to share with you an inspiring vision of gratitude alive and at work in mission, children and youth, and support for staff. If you missed last Sunday’s sermon, pick up a copy in the Fellowship Hall today or go home and find it on the church website, but please read it. It is going to take more from all of us, about a 9% increase or $100,000 more, to reach that vision. So I asked you to cast aside fear and to make a pledge for 2018 with faith. Now I believe in that vision and I earnestly desire for us to support it with our time, our talents, and our financial gifts. But as important as that vision of gratitude is, none of it will matter if you and I do not have the Son. Because the one who has the Son, gets everything!

For the Son, Jesus Christ, is the only access we have to the righteousness of God. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in our text from Romans today, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I hope this does not come as a surprise to you, but that “all” includes you and me. We have sinned and thus all our attempts at self-righteousness fall short of the glory of God. But the good news of the gospel is that God acted to restore us, to re-create us, to justify us, to do what we are unable to do on our own. We are justified by God’s grace “as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Through the Son, through Jesus Christ, the way is open to a new life.

New Testament scholar Paul Achtemeier once put it this way:

Jesus makes it possible for us to become righteous … by allowing us to trust in him rather than in ourselves to make us acceptable to God. …
In a profound way we are shaped by the one to whom we give our allegiance and trust as lord. … A new lordship will therefore mean a radical reorientation of [our] beliefs and therefore a radical reorientation of the core of our being.

To trust in Jesus Christ means a radical reorientation of our beliefs and our lives. What does that look like? Let’s take just one area of our lives as an example. It is stewardship season, so let’s pick our finances. What would happen if God was in charge of our finances? Theologian Mark Allen Powell puts it this way:

Would you use your money differently? How much money would you have? If God were truly in charge of your finances, do you think that you would have less money than you do now? Or do you think that you might have more money than you do now? … [The bible gives us examples of both, so] I have no way of knowing what God might do in your case, but I think I can promise you this: if you put God in charge of your finances, your life will be better, not worse. When we put God in charge of any area of our lives, our lives get better, not worse.

So, my friends, what would happen if we put God in charge of our finances? What would happen if we made a pledge to bid on the Son first instead of waiting for the portraits the world sees as more valuable?

We have to make a pledge to put the Christ first because we make pledges or promises every day, multiple times a day. They can be small but not insignificant pledges – like you will pick your child up at the end of the school day or you will keep that appointment at the doctor’s office next week. Every time you sign a credit card slip after a meal or on the electronic pad at the grocery store or at the mall, you are pledging to actually pay for the items you have just received. Perhaps you also make a pledge to support your college or the Symphony or Historic Augusta or your child’s school. Maybe you pledge to the Country Club or the gym? Most of us make a pledge to pay the electric company for the power we use or the city for our water and sewer or the bank for our cars or our mortgage. And perhaps the greatest pledge of all, at least if you have teenagers, is to the cell phone company, especially if you have unlimited data.

Yes, we make pledges all the time. So, as we prepare for next week’s Stewardship Commitment and Celebration Sunday, I want to ask you where is the Son, where is Christ on your list of pledges? If someone looked at your checkbook, your bank statement or your credit card bill, would they see the Son at the top of the list? Would they see Christ first or is he just there at the end with the leftovers after all the other pledges are fulfilled?

My friends, I ask you to pray this week. Pray hard about your pledge for 2018. If you have never made a pledge before, we need you to make one this year, whether it is small or large. If you already pledge but normally just write the same number down year after year after year, I ask you to stop and pray before you fill out your card this year. Make a pledge of gratitude. Cast aside fear and make a pledge of faith. Most of all, I ask you to go all in, give your life to Christ, put Jesus first in your heart and in your life. For the one who has the Son, gets everything!

To God be the Glory, now and forever.

Let us pray:

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