Sermon November 29, 2015: Generosity and gratitude

Posted in Sermons
[Dr. Roberto Miranda]
  • Presenter: Dr. Roberto Miranda
  • Date: November 29, 2015
  • Location: Congregación León de Judá, Boston MA

In First Chronicles, chapter 16 David is in gratitude to the Lord for having returned the arch of the covenant after it had been captured by the philistines, and he was able finally, after much travail and missteps, he finally succeeds in bringing the arch into the tabernacle. The arch, the symbol of the presence of God among his people, and David was so grateful that he declared a special offering for the Lord. He declares a day of gratitude before the Lord. Chapter 16, verse 1 says:

“…So they brought the arch of God and set it in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it and then they offered burned offerings and peace offerings before God. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings he blessed the people in the name of the Lord. – There is an interesting detail, not only did David worship the Lord through sacrifices and offerings, he says, that he distributed to everyone of Israel, both men and women, to everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat and a cake of raisins. And he appointed some of the Levites to minister before the arch of the Lord to commemorate, to thank and to praise the Lord God of Israel….”

We see David declaring a holiday, declaring a national day of worship, praise and thankfulness to the Lord because he has given victory to his people, because he has given them victory over their enemies and he has allowed this dishonor that has fallen over Israel, the arch of God, the symbol of the strength of the people of Israel, the symbol of the presence of the very spirit of God among his people, that had been taken in war to be returned to Israel and to be established where it needs to be.

So, we see this as an act of goodness on the part of God and an expression of gratitude on the part of the King and of God’s people. Last week I spoke to the Latino congregation about generosity. I spoke about the great commission that we see registered in Mathew 28, when Jesus gives directions to his disciples to go and disciple all the peoples of the earth and to bring them in alignment with the values of the Kingdom of God and with the lordship of Jesus Christ and I spoke about the essential role of generosity in the fulfilling of the great commission.

I spoke of the fact that without a generous people the gospel cannot be spread all over the world, without financial solidity, let’s speak very concretely, the church of Christ cannot fulfill the commandment to go and to minister and to carry out missions and to bring the cultures and the ethnic people of the world and the nations of the world into submission to the values of the Kingdom of God. To be even more precise, money is required, generosity on the part of people, the tithing, the offering, the special offerings of the people of God give for various projects, missionary projects, evangelistic projects, building projects, mercy projects, all of these things require generosity on the part of the people of God. Without a people of generosity there is no great commission.

The church of Jesus Christ is an army in some ways, it is a loving army, it is an army of mercy and compassion, but it is an army. The church of Jesus Christ is also a corporation in the best sense of the word, because it has a product, it requires organization, it requires publicity, it requires discipline, it requires structure, and it requires investment and finances and vision and leadership and all of these things require a generous people who will support these endeavors with their tithes, with their offerings, and with their generous giving to the Lord. A generous people are required always.

All the things that we enjoy, even this very morning, this beautiful congregation from all over the city, different races, different ethnic groups, different languages, different socio economic and educational levels, on and on, this beautiful space that can hold us together and the teachers that teach our children, the pastors and the support staff that enables us as a congregation to have our life every day. All of this is due to the fact that we have, first of all, the spirit of God that blesses us, that sustains us, that protects us, that provides for us, but also a generous people who every Sunday, every Wednesday night and during all the other days of gathering here in the church, they give to the Lord generously, they provide in all kinds of wonderful ways. And so this is part of what we are seeing today.

My deepest desire before the Lord is as we grow and as we continue in our congregational life, that we will give birth to a congregation that will have no limits in its generosity to the Lord. Amen. I pray that we will have a congregation that will give, number 1, because they know that they have already received it from the Lord, also that they will know that when they give they will receive more from the Lord, and even to know that giving is the best way of receiving, that giving is the best way to break the yoke of misery and need and poverty. There is a powerful energy released when you begin to give. Give to the Lord even before you can give comfortably and you will receive more. Sometimes we wait to have in order to give, well, give and then you will have, that is the value of the Kingdom of God. It’s amazing, it is a powerful tool.

I want to single out another value that is so important along with generosity, and that is gratitude, gratitude to the Lord, because without gratitude there cannot be true generosity toward the Lord. The generosity that pleases the Lord is one that is not simple given mechanically, but that is given out of a grateful acknowledging heart, that gives because it realizes that it has received from the Lord so many wonderful things.

Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 28 says: “…Therefore since we have received a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace – the translation in Spanish is gratitude – by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear…”

In other words, first comes the God who blesses us eternally, who blesses us with the Kingdom and access to all the blessings of eternity and the Kingdom of God, and as a result of that we serve him and we give to him and we live in a spirit of gratitude. In this weekend of Thanksgiving we come together as a people to express our gratitude before the Lord.

God has done wonderful, great things with us as a congregation, he has blesses us in extraordinary ways. When we left Cambridge after 15 years of being in Cambridge, and we moved across the Charles River into Boston in 1997, after 3 years of a building project where we built our first sanctuary, I never thought that the Lord would bless us in the next 18 years the way God has blessed us as a congregation, as a ministry. I was coming purely in obedience to a vision from the Lord and I didn’t have inkling really of what God wanted… well, I did in a way, but I never thought really to the degree that God would call us into a place of activity and leadership in this area of the city. I never imagined the scale of what God had in mind for us.

I’m full of gratitude to the Lord for all that he has done and it is fitting that we, as a people, give thanks to the Lord on a day like today. We have many things absolutely for which we need to give thanks to the Lord.

I remember that in the inaugural events of 1997 when we first inaugurated the building, after the… each of this building project has been demanding, some of them have been excruciating and at the end of them we have been a bit melancholic and a bit exhausted, not a bit, quite exhausted I would say. And I remember that when we came as part of the inaugural activities we had a projection of some photographs of the building efforts and of the coming into the city, on and on, and I took as our theme Psalm 126, verses 1 through 3. I was not aware of how meaningful those verses would be with the passing of time. And it says:

“…When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream… – and for us our captivity in a sense was being in Cambridge, although the Lord had blessed greatly in Cambridge, don’t get me wrong, but it was more like a time of preparation and a time of a smaller scale of living and a time of limitation in many ways for the church, although God did some extraordinary things of establishing the foundations there, but this idea of leaving the desert and leaving the place of preparation, to go across the river, literally the Charles River, and to come into the city, into Canaan to find our true destiny and our true identity as a people, was very much in my mind when I read that brought the captivity of Zion.

…We were like those who dream, then our mouth was filled with laughter…”

It’s interesting that the English translation speaks in the past tense. The Spanish translation, which I’m sure is a little bit better, speaks in the future tense; in the translation, in the Hebrew, I think the implication is that… it can be interpreted both ways, but I think it’s so much more appropriate for the context this idea that we will be, when the Lord finally brings out of our captivity, we will be like those who dream. Wow! Amazing, it’s an amazing thing that God has done. I’m going to read it in the future:

“… then our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongue with singing…”

Certainly we were looking forward to what the Lord was going to do for us in Boston and so we were saying, our mouth will be filled with laughter, our tongue with singing, then they will say among the nations the Lord has done great things for them, the Lord has done great things for us and we will be glad.

We can say this morning that God has done great things with us. Amen. God has blessed us and we are like those who dream in a way, and certainly we have been blessed and others will say, wow, the Lord has really blessed you guys.

We didn’t come to Boston looking for good real estate, I mean, this place was the dumps literally. We came in obedience to the Lord and God blessed that obedience and this is why he has blessed us.

We see David in this passage that we have read blessing the Lord because God has been good to them. God has blessed them with a great victory and so he chooses to give thanks to the Lord because he has recovered the arch and he has been able to bring it back into the tabernacle. David wants to mark, to signal out this great occasion with a time of extended worship and praise.

And it’s interesting that the way that he does that, he wants to honor the Lord and he offers holocausts, he offers sacrifices of peace. I took the time this week, in preparation for this sermon, to read a little bit about the various offerings that God called his people to carry out in preparation for different moments in the life of the congregation of Israel.

There were several offerings, there were offerings of peace, offerings of gratitude, offerings of guilt, offerings of sacrifice, these were moments when the people of God came to honor the Lord and to expiate, to make a propitiation for the various sins, but also to thank the Lord and to honor him. And so sometimes they brought animals, bulls or goats or sheep, sometimes they brought different kinds of birds and sometimes they brought vegetables of different sorts as when they were celebrating, for example, the harvest, and sometimes they brought cakes and loaves of different sorts and oil, to bring gifts. When somebody invites you to their house and you bring a present or you bring something and you want to come and be a part of the celebration, so you bring a gift. And this is the idea behind sacrifices and behind offerings.

The people of God would bring these different offerings, libations, burnt offerings and offerings for sins committed, offerings of gratitude and peace before the Lord, all throughout the year, these moments when they would come and bless the Lord. And they would bring these gifts, they were literarily gifts that they brought when they came to the house of the Lord, much as some of you brought something… a nice dish of some sort when somebody invited you during Thanksgiving this week, and you brought something to the house where they invited you. And so, it is like that, the people would come and they would bring these special offerings.

In Leviticus, chapter 7, verses 11 through 15 and I will be finishing very soon. I want to just bring this idea so that you understand. Some people wonder why so many offerings? This is my point here. over the course of 20 years of building we have had many different moments of offerings, special offerings that we brought before the Lord and some people wonder why so many offerings? Well, this is a tradition of the people of God. The people of God throughout history have always taken moments to honor the Lord and to express gratitude.

It says that, “… This is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which he shall offer to the Lord. If he offers it for a thanksgiving then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened waters anointed with oil, or cakes of blended flour mixed with oil. Besides the cakes as his offering, he shall offer leaven bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace offering, and from it he shall offer one cake from each offering as a heave offering to the Lord. It belongs to the priest to sprinkle the blood of the peace offering on and on and on…”

If you read the first few chapters of Leviticus you will see how many different kinds of offerings and sacrifices and holocausts were offered before the Lord to honor him and to mark moments of the life of Israel, just as we are doing today.

There is a particular passage actually which I think is really interesting in Deuteronomy chapter 16, let me just read it quickly, verses 16 and 17.

“… Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord of your God in the place… – by the way, thank the Lord that all of our females as well are invited in Jesus Christ now – which he chooses at the feast of unleavened bread, at the feast of weeks and at the feast of tabernacles, and they shall not appear before the Lord empty handed…”

No one should come before the Lord empty handed. There is always something that you can bring to the Lord. There is always something, I know, if you look in your life, if you look in your house, there is always something that you can offer the Lord, if you really have that sense of gratitude, you have that sense of debt before the Lord, we should always come before the Lord with something in our hands, a fruit of the blessings that we have received.

One final point that I want to make is that David before he enters into a time of praise and worship and of giving of the sacrifices, one of the things that he does is that he purifies, he has the people’s offerings for purification, offerings for the sin that they had committed. The people of Israel always before they brought their offerings of peace, they first offered their offerings for their guilt because they wanted to offer to the Lord with clean hands, so that the Lord would accept, would receive their offerings. I think we must do the same as well, we must purify ourselves, we must recognize our sinfulness before the Lord. We must ask the Lord for forgiveness before we even come and bring our own offerings. We must get things straight with the Lord.

This is why Jesus always said, if you come before the temple to give your offering to the Lord and you know that you have something that is not right with your brother or sister, first take care of that, leave your offering there, go, take care of whatever you have a problem with, that horizontal straightening out of things, make sure that then, after you’ve done that, then you come and bring your offering, because we should always bring to the Lord our offerings with clean hands.

So I ask you now to take a moment to look inward, and if we feel that in any way we have offended the Lord, that we have broken our covenant with the Lord, I ask us right now… thankfully we don’t have to bring burnt offerings, Jesus Christ was our offering once and for all, so we might address and rectify anything that we have done, that we feel may be an impediment to the Lord accepting our offering.

And I want to take this opportunity as a church, really beyond just the offering, to acknowledge our brokenness, to acknowledge our need, acknowledge the fact that we are no better than anybody out there, we simply acknowledge that through Jesus Christ we are save.

I want us as a church to commit ourselves to a life of holiness, a life of integrity before the Lord, a life of obedience to the Lord, and that we take this opportunity that we are gathered here now together as one single gathering, to confess that as a congregation we are far short of what God requires of us and that we need to atone through Jesus Christ, we need to ask the Lord for forgiveness.

So, take a moment where you are. Maybe you have offended your wife or your husband, maybe you have offended your children, maybe you haven’t been all that you can be as a father or as a mother, maybe you haven’t been all that you can be as an employee or as member of your community, also bring all that before the Lord. We want to bring our offering to the Lord with a clean heart, we want to commit as a congregation to be a church that obeys the commandments of the Lord and that walks in integrity as much as any human being can do so. And then for the rest we commit ourselves to the grace of God, to the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Give thanks to the Lord for the way he has blessed your family, the way he has blessed you, the way he has blessed your family in another country right now. Thank God right now for Jesus Christ, thank God for your salvation, thank God for your loved ones, thank God for what he is doing and what he shall do because God has still many things and if you find yourself right now in a place of potentiality, you haven’t gotten all that you need to get, you are not in that place of sufficiency that you want to be in, what I’m telling you, God has great thoughts for your life. He has great plans for your life. He will bless you, he will prosper you. Continue being faithful to him. Thank him right now for where he has you, thank him because you are here in the house of the Lord right now, that you know Christ, that you have the blessed hope of glory and of eternal life. Thank him for that.

Honor the Lord this morning. I thank him for his many blessings. I thank him, my wife and I, Meche and I, we thank him for… last year around this time we were in great uncertainty about our granddaughter, Daniela, who had been born 25 weeks premature, 1 pound and 3 ounces and 11 inches in height, and we were unsure about what was going to happen. We were asking, Lord, what are your plans? We are thankful because one year later she is blessed, she’s strong, she’s healthy and I thank the Lord for that. And I’m also mindful of those that don’t have… we would thank him even if that had not happened by the way, I’ve had to remember that. I would have thanked the Lord, I would have been here blessing the Lord no matter what, because he’s always good, no matter what we experience.

I’m blessing this family that has lost their 5-year old child, even in the midst of their suffering I know that God has a plan, that he’s always good and that if we stand firm until the day when he clarifies his purposes, sometimes they are mysterious, sometimes we can’t figure them out, but I know that in the end God will be good and we should always bless him and we should always thank him, even in the midst of great suffering and great loss.

So, we thank you Lord. We worship you, Father, we worship. We thank you Lord.

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