November 27, 2019
“The Gifts Of The Rich”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
Do you know that you are rich? Everyone of you is amazingly rich. And so am I. We have been given gifts from God that we didn’t work for, nor did we deserve them. They were just given to us, freely. God has opened up His heart and has given us life’s most blessed gifts. We are rich, made rich by the grace of God.
In early October the Confirmation class, made up of 7th and 8th graders, attended a Confirmation Retreat at Stephen and Susan Winkler’s “cabin”. (I use that term “cabin” lightly because it can accommodate dozens of people.)
In a rare moment of peace and quiet that weekend, I was looking through their list of guests who’ve used the “cabin” and thank you’s connected to the names. To my surprise I came across a note that I had written them in the summer of 2018. My children and my grandchildren had come to Colorado and we had a family reunion, using their place. This is what my note said, “Stephen and Susan, As I was looking through the six books about the building of your cabin, and the fact that our family was able to use your property for our reunion last week, I got a better picture of what grace truly is. In those albums I watched the dozens (hundreds) of people who worked, really worked, since 2003, to make your dream of 2002 into the place that now exists, and I and my family were recipients of that work. We did nothing. You, and they, did everything. You paid lots of money to make this cabin a reality. You have worked thousands, maybe tens of thousands of hours, and we were told where the key was, to open the door and enjoy. WOW!! Grace. Thank you for thinking of us, and the countless others who have benefitted from your grace and the grace of the folks who endured heat and cold, rain and snow, and even some perfect, wonderful days, to make your place a perfect retreat. Stephen and Susan. Thank you. You have given me a better understanding of grace.”
Have you ever received such a gift? You didn’t do a darn thing and someone shares their place, their time, their money, their love with you. Freely. No conditions. That’s grace. I hope you’ve been the recipient of that from people. I know you have been the recipient of that from God. You, and I, are among the rich. II Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
You heard the account of the 10 lepers (Luke 17:11-19) in the gospel reading for this evening. There were 10 men who had a terrible disease. That disease would make them alienated from their family. It would disfigure them, make them outcasts. They were folks who had to tell everyone that they were “unclean”. But Jesus made them all well. “They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us.’ Jesus then told them, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.” (Luke 17:13-14)
The poor were made rich. The dirty were made pure. That is what Jesus did for them and has done for us. Sins have been forgiven. Eternal life is promised. We are part of God’s family. You didn’t earn this. You didn’t do enough good things that such an outcome would be expected. “You, though his poverty, might become rich.” Jesus did it all for you!!
So, I wonder, is that it? Are we content, after all of that, to just go on our way? No response? No apparent gratitude? All 10 lepers were made well. But, in a sense, 9 of them stayed poor; only one of them was truly rich. That one, that one who returned to thank Jesus had been made rich, blessed, whole and he lived as one who was whole.
Today we worship on the evening before Thanksgiving to participate in the gifts of the rich. The gifts of the rich (remember, because of God’s grace, you are rich) are thanks and praise, humility and adoration.
I’m going to read Ephesians 2:8-10. The first verses are all about God’s gift of grace to us – that is we are made rich in faith through Jesus. The last verse tells us what the rich (once again – us) do with the riches. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
This is Thanksgiving. It is the day for the gifts of the rich to be made. I Timothy 6 talks about what the rich should and should not be doing, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (Verses 17-18)
Do you remember Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)? He was rich. He had more money that anyone else in town. But he got it by cheating others. Jesus, when he met Zacchaeus, changed Zacchaeus. He really made him rich. He made him one of His redeemed. He saved him. And Zacchaeus, now God’s own, gave the gifts of the rich to God and to others, “Look, Lord, Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8) The gifts of the rich are repentance, integrity, generosity.
In many ways we are rich. In so many ways, materially, we have more than we need. In every way, spiritually, we are rich. We are graced. We are cleansed. We are filled. We have hope. And we are folks who are filled with gifts to be given to others. “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous and willing to share.”
This is Thanksgiving, the day for all of us who are so very rich to share with God and with others our gifts of thanks, kindness, generosity and love. Amen!!