Stewardship Sunday October 14-15, 2023
“Hold On To My Word” John 14:23-24
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Do you know what is the fastest growing religion in America? Mormons? They are well known for going door to door inviting folks to join their church. No, that is not the fastest growing faith. Catholics? They seem to produce lots of kids. Maybe they take the prize. No, not them. Maybe it is the Mega-Church movement – churches like Mission Hills or Cherry Hills Community Church which don’t stop at having hundreds of people in their worship but go on to having thousands gathered at a single service. No, not them either.
The fastest growing “faith” is those who proudly claim no faith. When those conducting religious polls ask the question, “What’s your religion?”, one of every six Americans check the box ‘None’.
Though there are quite a few reasons why that number has grown so quickly in these last number of years, the author of the article in last Sunday’s Denver Post (October 8, 2023) said that they all seemed to have this in common, “They. Really. Don’t. Like. Organized. Religion.” (Section A, p. 15)
As I’m reading this article I see a few things that would turn me against organized religion as well. I can understand why they left their church. Marjorie Logman of Aurora, Illinois ended up in a nursing home following an injury and during that time her husband became quite ill. She asked the pastor to visit him but he declined visiting because her husband was not an active member of the church. The church and that pastor failed her and her husband. So, when asked what religion she identified with, she responded, “None”.
Another person had this account – Alric Jones lives in central Michigan and he lost his job and the majority of their income. But that didn’t stop their church from writing them letters saying, “Why aren’t you sending us money?” He was quoted, “They should have come to us and said, ‘Is there something we can do to help you?”
Sometimes churches lose focus. They forget that they exist as the hands and feet, the mercy and compassion of Jesus. They forget that primary command of Jesus, “Love each other, as I have loved you.” And we, the church, can forget that the most important number is not how much money we have in the bank, or how much money we can get you to give. There is something greater to why we exist. We have a greater mission than simply to keep our doors open.
Jesus, the day before His trip to the cross of redemption on Good Friday, spoke to His disciples, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:23-24) In my paraphrase of what Jesus says, I hear His command, “Hold on to my word.” Grab it. Believe it. Trust it. Live by it.
The next day Jesus would be dead. And then what would they have? They had His words. They had His promises. They had to hold onto them.
They needed to be Wide Receivers. Last Sunday, in addition to reading the paper, I endured the Denver Broncos loss to the New York Jets. No free donut from King Soopers this week. Again. There were a ton of things that went wrong, including very few catches from the Wide Receivers. Having good Wide Receivers is important to any football team. Being good wide receivers is important to being a Christian.
We need to be wide receivers of all the grace that God wants to bring us. Those who have left Jesus and His promises and His word, those who say they are “none” in their description of what they hold to and believe, leave empty. Jesus tells everyone to “hold on to my word.”
In John 1 we find a description of those who held to Jesus and those who did not, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:11-13)
The Christian message always begins with what God freely gives us. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Just a few paragraphs from my text we hear Jesus speaking about folks receiving what He freely wants to offer, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
Hold on to my word, hold on to Me. That is what Jesus says over and over again. That is where the Christian faith begins. It is centered in trust in God. It finds its peace in Jesus crucified for our sins and then risen to great glory.
But this faith is not a private matter. It doesn’t belong to a few select folks. We want the “nones”, the “won’ts”, and the “I don’t care’s” to also hold to the word, to live in God’s love, to know the blessings of the fullness of life in Jesus, now and forever.
For us to hold on to God’s word also means that we hold on to others with a deep love for them. Those who left the church didn’t always see that love in the Christian church. Do you know what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments that God has ever given us? 1. Love God. 2. Love Others. (See Matthew 22:34-40) In our 10:30 Sunday service we have been singing a new song by Chris Tomlin recently. It is titled, “Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly”, based on Micah 6:8. The words of the song say, “It all comes down to this what you require of me, love my neighbor as myself and you above all things. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with You God. In all things, in all ways, walk humbly with You God.”
I ask you for something every Sunday. This Sunday is no different. Last Sunday I pleaded with you to pray more often, more fervently, with a greater conviction to place everything into God’s hand. Today I am asking you to follow the will of God concerning how you dedicate all that you have and possess into God’s hand. We call that stewardship. God has graced you and me with abilities, time and money and we hold on to His word and seek to do His will with all those things.
As you may know I play softball in an old man’s league. We have gotten so old that we are on the verge of needing wheelchairs to get around the bases. My teammates know that I am a preacher and they discuss church things every once-in-a-while. The name of Jesus comes up often in every game!! The question of giving money to the church came up the end of August. One of my teammates, the rover in the outfield, says that he gives $5.00 every time he goes to church. He thought that amount was just fine. I don’t. (Though I didn’t say anything about that to him that day). I knew that he was giving God his crumbs, his leftovers. He has enough money for lots of things and to attend lots of events, but he only had a little for God. Not everyone has lots of money and $5.00 is a sacrificial gift for some, but not for him.
“Hold on to my word”, is God’s word of salvation for us. We trust in Jesus alone for the declaration that we are righteous in God’s sight through the sacrifice of Jesus. “Hold on to my word” means that we follow the way of Jesus in how we live our lives and how we give our offerings of self and money.
Paul boasted to one church about a different church in these words, “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given to the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints…For just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (II Corinthians 8:1-4, 7)
I’m asking you to hold on to His word and find the joy of living in faith in Jesus. Be a wide receiver. Be a joyful giver. Amen!!