11.17.13 A Soulful Season Luke 21:5-19 Sermon Summary
There is a way to celebrate Christmas without losing your soul. It’s not necessarily easy, but God is with you and you can do it.
- The Christmas blues
- One aspect of New Testament faith
- How robbing God robs us
- How God puts soul back into Christmas
- Questions for discussion and reflection
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling the Christmas blues. By the time Christmas comes around, I’m tired from shopping and for attending parties. I feel overwhelmed with gifts; sometimes I don’t remember what I’ve gotten or from whom. My eyes blur from writing thank you notes. I question whether the gifts I gave others were noticed or appreciated. Every year I have this vague sense that what Christmas has become bears little resemblance to the Nativity of Christ.
In short, I’ve lost my soul at Christmas.
The early church had reputation of helping others. Sociologists tell us that one reason the church grew as rapidly as it did in the early centuries is because Christians would help others that the rest of society shunned. We see this already with Jesus and the lepers he healed.
As word got out about this generous community freeloaders started attending—consumer minded people who only took from the church without giving anything back. This goes against the essence of New Testament faith, for what New Testament faith teaches us is that we are free from the distractions of the world in order to be free for service to others. The reason this is New Testament faith is because our freedoms are granted us by the power of the Spirit of the resurrected Christ. By this Spirit, we have power to resist temptation and power to serve.
Related to this, New Testament faith teaches that each person, in baptism, has at least one particular gift bequeathed to us by the Spirit. This means there is no such thing as stadium seating in the New Testament church—not until you join the communion of saints we celebrated two weeks ago, those who have died before us. But even they continue to work—to cheer us on, by their enduring example, even to pray for us in their union with Christ.
For this reason, that the Spirit has set us free and empowered us for service, freeloading is antithetical to New Testament faith. It denies God’s work in our lives—that we are free from sin and free to serve. It denies that the Spirit is alive in us.
Freeloading also robs Christ of his ongoing redemptive ministry. Jesus was pleased to deploy his disciples in his ministry. For example, when he fed the 4000 plus men, women, and children in Matthew 15, he did so through the disciples. God is still pleased to use the church in accomplishing the ministry of Christ, but if we freeload, we deny Christ’s his ministry.
The implications of such freeloading are vast. Psalm 98:3 says, “All the ends of the earth see salvation.” This week, the Philippine Islands are seeing God’s salvation. Through our ministries of Christmas Shoebox, Angel Tree, and Urban Peak, children at the “ends of the earth” are seeing God’s salvation. Our neighbors in 80909 saw God’s salvation last week through our Community Hands partnership. New parents of prematurely born infants see God’s salvation through the Warm Hearts, Warm Babies sewing ministry hosted here.
These various parts of the “ends of the earth” see God’s salvation only as people discern God’s calling to them and follow that calling. If we freeload, we deny this witness.
Freeloading robs God of our thanksgiving. The cycle of gift giving is incomplete without thanksgiving. God has given us many gifts and opportunities to use them, but the full intent of God’s generosity isn’t realized until we give thanks to God by using these gifts.
Freeloading robs us of God’s “delight.” In the passage from Malachi, the prophet says the nation of ancient Israel will be known by other nations as “delightful” when they stop robbing God through withheld tithes and offerings. God intends to delight in us, blessing us in abundant ways, but we do not experience this delight when we rob God by freeloading.
Finally, freeloading robs us of our purpose, of our self. Since receiving and using God’s gifts is part of God’s created intention for us, when we obstruct this desire we fail to fulfil our full divine right. In Jesus frequently used, we forfeit our souls.
Why do we do this? Why do we rob God and forfeit our soul? The lectionary passage from Luke offers a clue. The Temple of Jesus’ time was extraordinarily impressive. Taken all together, the Temple complex was the size of twenty football fields. Constructed on a mount and gilded with gold, it was visible from miles around. It was unimaginable that it could be destroyed. It was way too big to fail.
But from Jesus’ perspective, the Temple was a distraction. It had become a religious idol. Part of the good news of the scriptural witness is that God eventually destroys all idols. When it happens, it is unpleasant. As Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple, he employs images of “wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues.” He elaborates about “signs from heaven, persecutions, and even death.” The destruction of idols in our lives is traumatic.
And yet, Jesus assures his followers, “Not a hair on your head will perish.” God destroys our idols, but saves us. The reason God destroys our idols is so that only he remains to be worshiped. Thus Jesus can say, “Those who endure will gain their soul.”
But we don’t have to wait for God to destroy our idols. We don’t have to wait for the unpleasant process of being liberated from our idolatries by some cataclysmic event. We can begin to reject the “Temples” in our lives now. It’s not as difficult as when God does it but it is still hard. And God still preserves us.
Rejecting the “Temples” in our lives is a deliberate and thoughtful practice. It is is a daily practice that we’re called to throughout our lives. Prior to these words about the destruction of the Temple, Luke tells us that Jesus observed people making their offerings at the Temple treasury. Several people made large offerings with ostentation, but one solitary widow offered only two small coins. Still, Jesus tells us, her offering was more than the rest because she offered her entire life.
We offer God our entire lives one day at a time, by rejecting our idols on a daily basis. Trusting God daily leads to trusting God deeply. This is why Jesus tells his followers they don’t need to prepare what they will say come the day when the Temple is destroyed. Those who live for God daily will be practiced in giving up idols.
As we approach Christmas, perhaps we can “save our souls” by recognizing that Christmas itself has become a distraction. Christmas has become a modern day “Temple.” Following are some practical suggestions for trusting God more deeply during Christmas.
Try tithing on all your Christmas activities. For every $100 you spend on Christmas presents, food, and decorations, give $10 to the church or a food pantry. With every gift you give, include a Faith Christmas Card—or give Faith Christmas Cards* instead of presents. Donate time this year to the homeless shelter or by visiting nursing homes. Determine how much you will financially support the church and communicate that to the leadership. Give sacrificially from your life to causes to relieve hunger or offer disaster relief around the world. If you slow down, sit quietly, and pray for God’s guidance, the Spirit will lead you to other ways you can “save your soul” this Christmas.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- Think back to last Christmas, and especially how you felt afterwards. Were you able to fully worship God and joyfully receive the gift of Christ in your life? If not, think of what you can do to simplify your season so that it may be more soulful.
- Be honest about this: how involved are you in your church? How supportive are you through prayer, activity, and financially of the ministries your church offers? Do you receive more than you give in relation to your church home? Are you freeloading a bit?
- If you are freeloading, look back at the consequences of this outlined in the message. How have you observed and experienced these consequences? How can you stop being a freeloader?
- What idols (“Temples”) is God taking down in your life? Are you holding loosely those things that can so easily become idols? How can you begin to be less attached to these things?
- In what ways can you begin to trust God more daily in order that you will trust God more deeply? What small adjustments to your life can you make to trust God more? Besides the suggestions offered in the message, what can you come up with?
*The Faith Christmas Card is available for “purchase” for a suggested donation of $10 each. This donation is equally divided among four charities: The Colorado Springs Rescue Mission, Hope International, Walk Free, and Care and Share. By giving the FXC, you raise awareness of these organizations and their mission, financially support them, increase tax-deductible giving to the church, and give a gift of profound and lasting meaning. And no one gets put on a mailing list. Contact email@example.com for more information.