Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
August 15-16, 2020
“To Us? To Him!”
Psalm 115:1 Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Today I want to give attention to Psalm 115 and how I believe it relates to the renovation of the West Wing of our building. Many of our members agreed that we should do this work, but I know that a number of you disagreed with this decision.
If you haven’t noticed recently, people disagree with people over many important issues. Here’s a few – masks or no masks; in-person learning or virtual learning; relief programs or not. 2020 is also an election year and people are in different camps on those who should be elected to various positions. I think I can say that people, good people, disagree about some very important issues and they can do this with good and right hearts.
That is also true among us and the renovation of our West Wing. When I handed in my ballot that included questions if we should take out a $900,000.00 loan, begin the process of selecting a general contractor and initiate a fundraising campaign, I noticed that in my household one vote canceled out the other! My wife, as smart as she is, said that this isn’t the right time to begin such a project. She said that the economy is uncertain and that we don’t know how long the virus is going to be around. She said that as a congregation we weren’t able to meet together, in a face-to-face Voter’s Meeting, and she was not comfortable in voting “yes”. I nodded my head, told her I understood and told her, in spite of her vote, that I still loved her.
She isn’t alone in voting no on the project. 25% of you had some of the same concerns. I understand. I also had the opportunity to meet with one of our folks, one of our finest, active in the life of the congregation, and they shared with me why they voted “no”. It is this response that I must address today. Their response was deeply troubling to me. They said that they didn’t agree with the project and can’t support it because they felt we are remodeling the building only for ourselves. We are remodeling the building because we want others to see how important and wealthy we are.
If they are right, if our motive to remodel the educational wing is for self-glory and for prideful recognition, then I pray that this whole thing fails. You should not give a dime to something that is all about us getting a bigger head and a cocky strut.
Psalm 115 begins, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” (Verse 1) Living life well, not just having a building project, is all about motive. You see, pride – arrogant, look-at-me, I’m better than you – pride, is a killer because of its motive. That type of heart is just evil. In Matthew 6, part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about giving gifts to the needy, and He talks all about the motive. “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done is secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)
Jesus said the same about fasting and praying. If we pray just to be heard by folks then “we have received our reward in full”. We wanted everyone to notice us and that happened. And that is all that happened. If we fast, for spiritual reasons, and we moan and let everyone know how hungry we are, we have received the very praise and recognition we were looking for.
Motive is important. It is probably more important than the action itself. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name be glory, to Thy name be glory.” And His name should get all the glory. There is some debate about when Psalm 115 was written. Some think it was written after Israel had lost the temple and the city of Jerusalem and the people had been taken into exile. Others think that the Psalm is connected with the Passover celebration of the Jews. But whether it was early or late, the contrast between the contrived gods of Israel’s enemies and the true God, who cared for them in the hardest moments, is clear. Notice what our God can do – “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” The gods of their enemies are much less in their abilities. “But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel feet, but they cannot walk.” (Psalm 115:3-7a)
Glory to us? For what? Are we almighty? Do we know everything? Can we do miracles, listen to all prayers, take a person who is going to hell and redirect them into heaven? I don’t think so. God can do what we can’t. To Him be the glory. As the Bible says, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 1:31) To us? No, to Him.
So, if this psalm was used at Passover when the hand of God was recounted for His mighty deliverance from Israel’s slavery in Egypt, you can see why all attention would be directed to God, the Savior, for His deliverance. Moses tells of God’s motives for His rescue of the Jews, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
If my friend is correct and we are doing this renovation in our building so that we get pats on the back and people can point at us and applaud us for such sacrifice, then I have failed as your pastor to teach you how a Christian is. Listen to Jesus on all this, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) To us? No, to Him! He gets the glory for anything that we do in life. Our heart turns to Him, our Lord Jesus, for the forgiveness of sins. Our heart turns to Jesus to live a new and better life. Our heart turns to Jesus for eternal life. Did we do anything of this? No – He did it all. To Us? No, to Him!! Faith trusts in Him. Strength comes from Him. Glory goes to Him.
The motive, I hope, is not self-glory, but love for others. I am asking you to support this project in many ways. I want you to be in prayer that this renovation would be used for decades to come so that children and youth and adults would come to a vibrant faith and would grow in that faith. I pray that as those who have skills in music and singing can grow in their love for God, they would share their enthusiasm and faith with us. Verses 14 and 15 of this psalm read, “May the Lord make you increase, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” The psalmist’s concern was for the hearer and for those coming later.
Three years ago we expanded our parking lot. I remember a Voter’s Meeting (in person, by the way) when we discussed the depth of the asphalt. We were required by regulation to put in 4 inches of asphalt to meet the building code. But we didn’t put in 4 inches. We put in 6. The reason – so that the lot would last much longer. That assembly, that day, wasn’t concerned about us, but about them – the many folks who will come to this place long after our names are forgotten.
I do encourage your support in this work. But most important I want all of us to have the right heart in this. I want our motives to be right. There is something greater than putting our name on that building – it is putting God’s name on that building. That building will have a use for His glory and the serving of His beloved children for decades to come.
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” Amen!!