October 7, 2018
“Gift Shop First”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
A number of years ago our grandchildren, then living in the panhandle of Nebraska, came to Denver to see Thomas the Train. Now, these kids have been taught to love God, and I think He is a close second to Thomas. This was the first time that I met Thomas and I had no idea that he was such a big thing!! We headed out to Golden to the Colorado Railroad Museum. We parked a mile away and waited in line for the shuttle buses taking us, and every other kid in Denver, to see Thomas.
When you give them your ticket they hand you a map of the grounds and where the various events are held. You, then, are given a piece of paper that has spaces for the four places you get stamped so at the end of the day you’ll get a FREE Thomas prize. The first stamp was at the train ride, the second a photo with Sir Topham Hatt, the third was at the Adventure Center, and the final stamp, the one that got you the totally free gift, the one you had waited in line forever to get, was at the Gift Shop!!
They had you. In order to get something free you had to walk through the place where every Thomas accessory was on sale. I padlocked my wallet but grandma had hers wide open!! Maybe that is why she is the favorite!!
Thomas is not the first to know how to merchandise their stuff. When you enter Elitch’s you pass by the arcade, the cotton candy and the gift shop before you get to Mister Twister. I think that when you get off the rides at Disneyland or Disney World you go through a gift shop every time. They’re smart!!
Today at Ascension is Stewardship Sunday, also known as Pledge Sunday, Commitment Sunday or, crassly, Money Sunday. Some of our folks skipped today!! This is the Sunday when we ask you to throw open your wallet, like my wife. But my word to you today is this – before you commit, pledge, or throw open your wallet you have to go to the gift shop first. The text for the sermon is from Matthew 10, the account of Jesus sending out the Twelve to do work in His Kingdom. These twelve Jesus sent out with these instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritan’s. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: The kingdom of heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for your journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.” (Matthew 10:5-10)
For everyone who is going to freely give in life they must first freely receive. If we are going to give our money to this church, or to other causes, we have to go to the gift shop first. If we are going to serve our Savior Jesus with our time and zeal and heart and our sacred purpose for life, we have to go to the gift shop – first!!
At the Wednesday Evening Bible Class one of our folks raised the question that if I were beginning a new church, with no existing members, what would I preach? He wondered if I would preach duty and obligation, requirements and law. He wondered if I wouldn’t try to lay down the rules, including what the dues were.
Is that what builds a church, a local congregation, the church of Christ? Is knowing what you owe God the driving force for your offerings of money and your zeal for working for Him? NO!! You go to the gift shop, first. And the gift shop that I am speaking about isn’t the one where they get you to spend your money, but a gift shop that is filled with free gifts.
The forgiveness of our sins is a gift to us. It was paid for totally by Jesus and it is received freely. When we have the pleasure of baptizing one of God’s precious children that child comes to a gift shop and is cleansed of sins, adopted as God’s child and promised His care forever. I treasure this gift at the altar when I say to you that the feast of Christ’s Body and Blood is a grace given you. The disciples were going on a great mission and were radically changing the lives of all that they came into contact with. They preached that God’s Kingdom had come – His rule, His promises, His actions were now among the people. They were facing the onslaught of the devil – both in spiritual battle and physical battle and they declared God’s victory. “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
If you have never been to God’s gift shop – GO!! His love and mercy are rich and deep. Open wide your hearts to confess your sin, your need for God and the enduring saving name of Jesus. John says, “This is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4:10) Or elsewhere it says, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) I want to assure you – He really is for you.
You go to the gift shop of God’s gifts and then select all these gifts and to your amazement find out that they are all free!! They are paid for by Him and then handed to us in love. Our faith, our strength, this eternal relationship with Him is free. When you go to heaven and you eat at the feast you are the guest and He the generous host!!
I urge you to go to the gift shop. Trust in Jesus. Receive His gifts. Let Him be extravagant to you. Take it all in. AND, then, be the gift shop. Freely receive, freely give. The disciples were recipients and givers. That must be us too. In the epistle for today Paul says, “We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Thessalonians 1:2-3)
Do you read the obituaries? Have you heard a good eulogy lately? I know that people get better once they die, right? But often they are remembered for the best they did. They cared for their family. They never knew a stranger. They were the first to help the person in need. They had a passion for life. They were, so to speak, the gift shop.
If that can be said of those in the world, shouldn’t such things be said especially of those who belong to Jesus Christ? The business that we are in here at Ascension is being a distributor of gifts that come through Jesus Christ. We give away what God has in store for individuals and families. We fill them with God’s truth, direct them by God’s Word, and care for them In God’s name. In meaningful ways, we, together, are a giver of God’s love to all. We get to do the same things that Jesus called His disciples to do. We get to preach…heal…raise…cleanse…cast out.
Thank you for being a gift shop of many graces to others. Last Sunday Jude Donovan stood by the doors when you left worship and asked you for a dollar or two, or more if you had it, to send to Angel Tree so they could buy Christmas presents for children who parent is in jail or prison. And you gave her more than two thousand of those dollars. Those kids will never know that you gave the money for those presents, they will never know your name, they will say – “Mom, or Dad, gave this to me!!” And what a blessed thing to say!! You were the gift shop. You who have been gifted by God gifted others.
Thank you that you give so much money that we exceeded more than $100,000.00 to various mission works throughout the world this past year. You have helped the orphans in Haiti, a new mission start in Albuquerque, the conversion of Muslims to Jesus Christ through the Internet, opening the doors of this church to the homeless, feeding them and loving them. You helped students at Lutheran High School in Parker and through work in the District and Lutheran Family Services. Every month Bibles are taken to prisons and given away to whoever wants one. What we give and what we do is given in love that many, many people may be gifted by our great God.
If you are one who is resistant to going to the gift shop of God’s saving action in Jesus please go – He invites all to be receivers of His love. He wants all hearts to be saved. And if you have been hesitant to be a participant in this gift shop through your financial gifts, or by dedicating time and abilities through this place or other places of mercy, I invite you to be used by God for His good. You have freely received, you can freely give.
When we went to see Thomas the Train everything ended there at the gift shop (including a little of our money). But for us who believe in Jesus Christ all begins and ends at the gift shop. We receive freely all things for our soul and life from Jesus, our Savior. And we, through God’s Spirit working in us, can be givers of God’s gifts to others!! Amen!!
(Today’s sermon was originally preached at Ascension about 7 years ago, October 16, 2011)