Always in October we have an opportunity to look at our stewardship of the resources that God has given us and at our giving to the Church and to the needs of the Kingdom of God. This year, on the first Sunday of November, All Saints Sunday we will have our ingathering of our commitment cards and our Covenant Sunday with the Lord here at REZ. That gives us three weeks to pray and to seek the Lord for what He would have us to give. Our covenant cards will be available here next Sunday and will be mailed out on Monday, the 21st.
Our Old Testament verses this morning and our Psalm reflect a clear message to us, from the history of Israel, from the Exodus to the Exile. We are told to be joyful in God, to recount the awesome deeds of the Lord on behalf of His people. We are told, by Jeremiah, even in the face of the hardships of exile, to seek God for the City and its welfare, for in their blessing, lies our blessing!
Friends, God has given us a great deal, and our giving back to Him is simply a reflection of His gracious bounty. Even though we may be feeling a bit like exilees, our response is glad thanksgiving for what He has done for us. The message of the Gospel this morning trumpets the need for us to be grateful to God and to return to Him and give thanks.
Many have had difficulties this year, with finances, with health, with other circumstances - but at the same time, others have prospered under the blessing of the Lord. David urges us sing out the praise of the Lord and to bear up under his testing, all in the same Psalm! In fact throughout the Psalms, we are given the same clear instructions. Our life is never just a single line, moving steadily upwards towards heaven!! It is always a graph that looks a little like a Wall Street earnings chart, with highs and lows, trends up and trends down. All in the same package. That is the way life is.
And though the graph of our life has its ups and downs, the tone of our praise and our thanksgiving to God is unchanged - in fact it can be increasing. Why? Because we serve a God who is our Provider! We are so often fearful when the circumstances of our life turn sour or difficult, but God is not moved. God is still on the throne! In David's Psalm this morning, we see the recounting of the Exodus event and these words in the final lines:
Bless our God, you peoples; *
make the voice of his praise to be heard;
Who holds our souls in life, *
and will not allow our feet to slip.
For you, O God, have proved us; *
you have tried us just as silver is tried.
You brought us into the snare; *
you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.
You let enemies ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water; *
but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.
David urges praise and thanksgiving, even in the midst of hardship. Why? Because God will always have the last move! There is a "but" in the sentence - BUT... you brought us out! Our God is faithful. And our thanks to Him is not based on the ups and downs, but on the faithfulness that He has shown us over the years.
Friends, the same is true for us here at REZ. In two months I celebrate 19 years as a priest, and my experience of the faithfulness of God goes back to before I was born - He knew me and chose me before I was born! He called me and I responded when I was only 10 years old - and I knew then that I would be doing this now! God is faithful!
God knows you and has called you, from before your birth, to be His and to be used by Him in the furthering of His Kingdom. Not a hair falls from your head but God knows it. David tells us in other psalms that God knows us, inside and out, the good, the bad and the ugly - and He loves us - He created us - He created you.
And He created you FOR something - your destiny and your identity is found IN HIM.
Over the past months I've heard this message, over and over and over and over again! I've shared here several times about our identity and our destiny in Christ. It's all true! No matter what the circumstances appear to be, the Lord has not let you go or turned His back on you or on us. And so we need to respond to Him with faith and with thanksgiving for his blessings and provision. Like the one who came back after he was healed in our gospel reading, we must return thanks and bring offerings to God.
Our giving to God is nothing more that a reflection. The tithes and gifts we give are like a mirror! A mirror reflecting the provision and goodness of God to us - as we return back thanks to Him for all He has done. Are we going to be like the 90% who did not return to thank the Lord Jesus for their healing, or will we be in the 10% - the one who came and gave thanks? I say we be the 10%ers - those who live lives of praise and thanksgiving for all that God has given us. Let us return thanks. Let us pray.
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.