March 06, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10
It happens every Sunday morning, and it happens in practically every church in the world. It isn’t peculiar to the United Methodist Church. It happens in Baptist Churches, Presbyterian churches, Catholic churches, independent churches, and every other denominational and non-denominational church you can find. It happens in Christian churches, Islamic mosques, Jewish synagogues, and Buddhist temples. This thing that happens is the offering. At some point before, during, or after their services of worship, there will be an opportunity for worshipers and visitors to make some contribution toward the organization, for the poor, or at least toward the upkeep of the building. Despite there being enormous differences between us, one of the things that make us all the same is that no matter where you are, or who you worship, it costs money to maintain the property and keep the lights on. And so, everywhere we go, even sometimes for secular events, we are asked to sacrifice a little of our hard-earned cash. It’s so ordinary that we don’t think twice if the American Legion needs to hold a raffle, or the band boosters sell candy bars.
But suddenly we arrive at the season of Lent, and something changes.
Because although we will probably still be collecting offerings on Sunday mornings, for the next few weeks an entirely different sort of giving and surrendering becomes the central focus as we spend time preparing our hearts for the resurrection of Jesus. That change in focus is found today in Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 where we hear these words:
2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.
Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.
12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children,
those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
Through Joel, God warns his people that the day of judgement will be a day of darkness and despair. But on the day of judgement, no one is going to be looking at your tax statements or your church giving receipts, and no one is really going to care how much you put in the offering plate. God said, “Rend your heart and not your garments.” As we read this, we understand that tearing one’s shirt, or robe, or other garment was a sign of mourning, repentance, and humility, but God declares that these outward signs are not enough. Instead, what God really wants, is a broken heart. God doesn’t want us to put on a show. God doesn’t want us to make grand gestures. What God really wants, is for us to be genuinely sorry. What God wants, is for us to be so sorry, and our hearts broken so badly, that we become changed people who live life differently. This is so important that God calls for us to declare a fast, call a sacred assembly, gather the people, and call together God’s people to a meeting of the utmost importance. Even bridegrooms and priests serving in the temple, people who were ordinarily excused from most everything, will not be excused. Everyone is needed, because this change of heart is vitally important for the continued existence of God’s people and our inheritance from God.
Paul emphasizes this same level of importance in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 where he says:
We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.2 For he says,
“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Paul encourages us to be reconciled with God, to be forgiven through the power of Jesus Christ and to become co-workers with God, working toward the same goals and objectives as God himself. More than that, Paul says that as servants of God we surrender ourselves, through trouble, hardship, distress, beatings, hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, purity, understanding, patience, through dishonor, bad reports, and in many other ways. Few of the things on Paul’s list are situations that we would ordinarily, on our own, seek out, but he encourages us to set aside our own desires, to surrender ourselves, in order to pursue the goals and objectives of the Kingdom of God.
And finally, in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, we hear Jesus as he challenges his followers to do good, not just for the sake of doing good, but to do good for the right reasons.
6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus says that we need to have our hearts in the right place. We must do good, not for the sake of doing good, and certainly not to do good because it is of benefit to us, but simply to do good for the sake of the Kingdom of God. This is a little weird, but we are not called to be righteous so that we can go to heaven, we are called to be righteous in order to for God to be glorified. Our motives are everything, because the condition of our hearts is everything. Our motives for everything that we do should be God’s motives. We are called to work, to volunteer, to donate money, to live lives of purity and righteousness, even suffer and die, not because we have any expectation that our lives will be wonderful, or even that there will be some earthly benefit to us. We are to do these things because our goals are becoming God’s goals, our desires are becoming God’s desires, and so we begin to live our lives in ways that benefit to the Kingdom of God and not necessarily in ways that benefit us.
This is the call of the season of Lent. To “Rend your heart and not your garments,” to remember that the gift, the offering, that God desires, is not money, or time, or sacrifice, although it might look like any of those. The gift that God desires is for us to surrender ourselves, to surrender our desires, and to adopt, in their place, the goals and desires of God.
These are the things that we must think upon as we prepare our hearts for Easter.
This is what it means to surrender.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.