Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost Ezekiel 37:1-14

Ezekiel’s Vision is hopeful.  It is horrifying and hopeless.  It speaks to us about our lives.  It has nothing to do with our lives. 
There is a painting of this vision by Battista Fontana.  If you focus on different parts of the painting, you will see things that make you feel hopeless, and things that give you hope.  You will see things that remind you of your life, and things that seem to have nothing to do with your life.  If you would stand too close to this painting so that you only focus on one part of it, you will miss the point.
The same thing is true about the words that Ezekiel wrote describing the vision.  We tend to be like a person who is standing too close to a picture, only focusing on one part of it.  We will naturally look for how this vision applies to us, and we might focus too closely on the place where we find ourselves.  We might forget that God speaks about dry bones, or forget that God speaks about those bones being brought to life again.  We need to take a step back, and consider all of what God says, and see how the whole vision applies to us today.  But then again, we might be standing too close to the picture if we only consider how this vision applies to us right now.  There are some parts that may not seem to apply to us at all.  We need to take a step back, and consider what this vision tells us about the things God has done in the past for us and for other Christians.  But if we only consider the past and the present, we are still standing too close to the picture.  There will still be an element of this vision that doesn’t seem to apply, that just doesn’t seem to be real enough to do anything for us now.  We need to take another step back, so that we can consider what God will yet do. In the complete picture, we find a promise that has not failed, and hope that will not be disappointed.  So take a step back, and see what God has said, what God has done, and what God is going to do. 

Theme:   Step Back to Find Hope for Your Dry Bones!
1.      Take a step back and see what God has said.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote, The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.  He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!”  This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.  Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”  So I prophesied as I was commanded.  And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.  I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.  Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.  They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’  Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.  I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.  Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.
Now where do you find yourself in this vision?  Are you among the dry bones in the valley, or among the living breathing army that has been raised to life?  Take a step back and consider the whole picture. 
If you feel like you are among the resurrected army, alive and well, step back and consider that you were once among the dry bones, and there is a part of that which still sticks with you.  You are not completely resurrected yet.  You don’t know when disaster is waiting right around the corner for you—but you can count on it coming.  You have death and the grave ahead of you.  The wonderful feeling you have now may not last forever.  Sometimes you will feel like dry bones.  Take a step back, and see that God has spoken about more than the good life you may have now.
If you think of yourself as the ‘dry bones,’ take a step back consider that God promised a resurrection in this vision also.  But it might not seem like that helps you much right now, so let’s all take a step back, and consider that God was speaking about much more than the life we feel now.

2.     Take a step back, and see what God has done.
Those words were first given to the Jews when they were in exile in Babylon, far from the land God promised to give them. God was not protecting them from their enemies anymore—the Babylonians were destroying Israel, Jerusalem would soon fall, and the temple would be destroyed.  What hope was left for them, if they were cut off from the temple?  How could they receive forgiveness, if they could not offer the sacrifices?
God gave them hope.  In this vision, he breathed life into their dry bones, and promised them a restoration.  The lesson we are to learn is that God is the one who gives life.  With God, it is never hopeless! 
Then, seventy years after the first Jews were taken to Babylon, God breathed a little life into their dry bones.  King Cyrus issued a decree that they could go back home.  And yet, their restoration did not quite live up to what God promised in this vision.  They did not have a pleasant and peaceful life back in Israel.  Their neighbors sent letters back to Babylon, trying to get them in trouble with the King.    On top of that, it could scarcely be said that the Israelites who returned from Babylon knew the Lord.  Rebuilding the temple was slow work, because the people cared more about rebuilding their own lives than rebuilding God’s temple.  Then too, all of them would die and be buried in the grave.  The Jews may have gone home, but they were still waiting to see that glorious living army from Ezekiel’s vision, and they were still waiting to know God like he had promised.
When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, we see that very thing happen.  God breathed spiritual life into people who had been spiritually dead, like dry bones.   The greatest miracle of Pentecost was not the fire that appeared over the apostles’ heads without burning them, or their sudden ability to speak in foreign languages; the greatest miracle was the work of the Holy Spirit breathing life into those who were spiritually dead.  Ezekiel’s vision shows us the miracle of coming to know God—but do we really think of it that way?  Was it really a resurrection to life when God gave us faith?
It all hinges on whether or not we actually see ourselves as spiritually dead by nature.  A lot of churches today downplay that, or deny it outright, but Paul wrote in Ephesians that without God we are, “dead in our transgressions and sins,” and that we are, “by nature objects of [God’s] wrath.”  Jesus said in John 3 that there would be no way we could know God unless we are born again—we need to be given spiritual life.  If we are going to live by faith in God, God needs to breath that life into our spiritually dry bones.
Perhaps you have believed for so long that this thought of being spiritually dead doesn’t really affect you anymore.  But that spiritually dead nature is still with you, living right alongside your faith. You see it every day.  When you lose your temper and hurt your spouse or your children, physically or emotionally—that was not the life God gave you.  That was the sinful, spiritually dead person that you have been from birth.  When in your selfishness you decide that what you want is more important than what someone else needs, that is not the life God gave you.  That is your spiritually dead sinful nature.  When in your pride and jealousy you think that you deserve better than what God has given you, that is your spiritually dead sinful nature.  When you do something good, and hope that someone will notice what a good person you are, that is your spiritually dead sinful nature.  Nothing good that you do is part of who you are by nature.  Paul wrote, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”
When you were baptized, or when you heard the Word of God, the Holy Spirit breathed into your dry bones and you believed.  That was from God.  Just like Ezekiel spoke the Word of God, and the bones came to life, someone spoke the Word of God to you, and God gave you spiritual life.  He gave you faith.  For many of you it was when you were baptized that the Word of God was first given to you.  With that water God promised to wash your sins away, and to consider you his own dear child.  God has commanded the water of Baptism to give you spiritual life.  When God commands it, it happens—we see that in Ezekiel’s vision.  Your snis have been washed away.  You are God’s child.  Through that baptismal water God has given you life.  That life begins with faith, so that you know him and believe his promises, and it also lasts into eternity, because God has commanded that you will live with him forever in heaven.  He said, “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.”  And again, we have his Word through the apostle Paul, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” (Acts 16:31).  God has commanded that we should believe and be saved, and his Word makes it happen.  Just like in Ezekiel’s vision, when God says, “live” the bones live, and when God says “believe,” we believe and are saved.  The command of God creates spiritual life and faith.
Don’t take it for granted that you have believed; God has worked a miracle in you.  There were thousands in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost who did not believe, just as there are thousands today who hear but do not believe.  You believe because God breathed spiritual life into you.  It was a miracle.  It was a spiritual resurrection.
However, we still face disaster and death in our future, and we still have that old dead sinful nature that won’t go away.  If God gives life and nothing is hopeless with him, then there must be more.  Giving you faith was only the beginning.  God has promised a much fuller restoration.  Take a step back, so that you can see that the hope God gives us in this vision includes things that he is still going to do. 

3.     Take a step back, and see what God is going to do.
He said he would “open our graves and bring us up from them.”  How can we not think of the resurrection of the dead that Jesus promised when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.”  And then he raised Lazarus from the dead to show us that he was talking about a bodily resurrection.  We are going to leave our graves.
After this miserable life of sorrows and disasters is over, after we lose everything that we have loved about our lives and death finally swallows up our body and we turn into actual dry bones in the grave, God has promised to raise us from the dead.  Then we will know him perfectly, as he promised through these words of Ezekiel.  Sin will not be a part of our lives anymore.  We will be the great living army that we see in Ezekiel’s vision, and we will never die again.  Then the picture will be complete.  We will see that there has always been hope, because God gives life in the fullest sense.
Conclusion:  Do you see the bigger picture?  Israel was hopeless in captivity, but God brought them back and gave them life again in their own country.  He did that because he had promised long before to bring a Savior from Abraham’s descendants, from the nation of Israel.  But by nature we were still hopeless and spiritually dead, so that the Savior could have appeared and we would not have believed it.  Once again, God gives life to the dry bones—the Holy Spirit gives spiritual life through the Word of God, so that we believe in him and hold his promises of eternal life.  Now we look at our lives and that hopeless feeling creeps back, because resurrection seems so far away.  The Word is spoken to you again, and the Spirit refreshes your hope, because you know that God has promised more than what you have.  If you take a step back from this life here and now, you see that God has a perfect record of keeping his promises, and you see that he is not done yet.  Take a step back, and hear what God has to say.  See what God has done.  See what God is going to do.  There, in the big picture, God gives our dry bones life.  Amen.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Easter 7 John 17:11b-19

Introduction:  The Coexist bumper sticker is a lie.  The idea of living at peace with each other is good, but the problem is that each letter in that bumper sticker represents a religion that is opposed to the last letter on the bumper sticker—the man on the cross.  The man on the cross says that there is only one truth, and only one way to heaven.  All of those other ways that the other religions have, no matter how dedicated, they are dedicated to the wrong god.  The man on the cross says his way is the only way, and all other ways go to hell.  He also says that even if we do worship the true God, there is no way for us to get ourselves to heaven. The cross says that God is satisfied with nothing less than punishment for all people, because of our sins.  It also says that we would never be able to suffer enough for our sins—an eternal life sentence of torture, with no opportunity for parole is what we deserve.  That man was on the cross because there was no other way for us to get to heaven.  The only way for us to get to heaven was for God to punish him instead of us—to punish that man on the cross who is also God, Jesus Christ.  That is the only truth.
The people of the world may sometimes be able to coexist with each other, but they will never coexist with Christ.  They hated him during his life on earth, and they crucified him.  But he rose from the dead, and then he ascended into heaven where he rules all things for the benefit of his church.  And here we are, left behind in the middle of all Christ’s enemies.  They want us be quiet while they mock Christ with their disobedience.  They want us to say that it’s alright, that God will be ok with their dedication to the lies that are told against him.  All this they do in the name of peace.  Aren’t you tempted to give them what they want?  Wouldn’t you like a little more support from your Lord Jesus?  Look with me at some of the last words Jesus gave us, as he was thinking about how we would be left in this world among his enemies.  On the night before he died, he gave us a glimpse into what he is always doing for us:

Jesus Prays for Us.
1.      The disciples needed it.
If I had been in their shoes and heard this prayer, I would have felt nervous about the future.  I don’t know if they did or not, but I would have felt abandoned.
Jesus prayed:
I will remain in the world no longer; but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.”
I would have been thinking, “Jesus is leaving?  But we have so much to learn yet!  And who will continue his work of preaching God’s Word to this stubborn bunch of people?”
Jesus continued:
“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.  While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.  None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”
I would have been thinking, “Yes, I am going to need a little protection down here, especially since one of the apostles would lose his faith and turn against Jesus—Judas, one of the 12 who were closest to him.  If that could happen to an apostle, then no one is safe!”  I would have been thinking, “I’m glad Jesus is praying for the Father to protect me.”
Jesus continued:
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.  I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.”
And I would have been thinking, “Wait, we are the ones who are supposed to continue the work of preaching the Word of God, and the world is going to hate us for it?  I’m not ready for that.”
But Jesus continued to pray:
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”
And I would have been thinking, “Really?  Why can’t we leave this world with you, Jesus?  Why do we have to be left behind?”
What do you think?  Did the disciples feel like they were being abandoned?  They certainly faced a daunting challenge.  It was like they were about to start a new job, and the boss was leaving!  The disciples needed Jesus to pray for them.

2.     We need it, too.
Do you ever feel abandoned, like God has dropped you right in the middle of a messy situation and left you wondering what you’re supposed to do next?
Jesus ascended into heaven and left us here.  He left us with his Word, and he has sent us out into the world to show them who God is.  He has sent you to your family, to the places where you work, and to the places where you meet your friends.
So here you are.  You have God’s word.  You are God’s messenger.  You represent him.  Where do you start?
What if a Christian who you know, a family member, or a friend, says that he or she is homosexual, and claims that God is ok with that.  You have God’s word, and you know that God says homosexuality is sin.  You represent God.  Where do you start?
What if you know two Christians, a man and a woman, who have decided to live together?  They might even be in their later years, and they just want a little company, but they don’t want to get married.  This causes offense.  It causes people to look at them and say, “look at these older people who live like they are married, even though they are not—they don’t take God’s word seriously.”  It causes younger people to think they can do that too.  You know the Bible says it’s wrong.  You represent God.  Where do you start?
You know people who don’t hear God’s Word very often.  The Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing the message,” and if they don’t hear the message much then they can’t have much faith.  You represent God.  Where do you start?
What if you discover that one of your children has done something awful, and that child is crushed.  He doesn’t think God can ever love him again.  You represent God.  Where do you start?
Do you feel a little lost and alone, a little abandoned?  Perhaps later on, when the disciples began their new job as God’s representatives in the world, and their Lord was no longer anywhere in sight, they might have remembered that he had prayed for them.  In fact, he is always praying for us.  In the book of Hebrews we read that he lives to intercede for us—he is alive, and always praying for us.  (Hebrews 7:25)
When you are troubled, you sometimes ask me to pray for you.  How do you feel, knowing that Jesus is praying for you?
Jesus prayed that God would protect you by the power of his name.  He will protect you from the temptation to cave in to the pressure of the sinful world; he will protect you from your sinful heart, which wants you to keep your faith to yourself and live a quiet life.  He will protect you from the evil one, the devil who wants to take your faith away from you.  Then, at the heart of his prayer, Jesus prayed:
“Sanctify them by your truth.  Your Word is Truth. 
As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

3.     But what does that mean?
God is going to sanctify us.  It means: to set aside something or someone for a holy purpose—to consecrate, or dedicate.  By his Word, God is going to dedicate us to a holy purpose.  That reminds me of how everything in God’s Old Testament temple was sanctified.  All the furniture that was used in temple worship, and even the priests themselves were anointed with a special oil that dedicated them for God’s holy work.
Wasn’t Jesus praying that God would make us all be like those Old Testament priests who served him?  Elsewhere Peter said it more directly, “You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.”  Jesus prayed that the Father would dedicate us as priests—you don’t wear the fancy robes and hats, but you do represent God.  To the people in your life, you are a priest.  You represent God, wherever you go.  To your coworkers, your family, and friends, you are the one who has the Word of God. 
If you don’t feel like you’re ready to do your job, know that Jesus prayed for you.  He prayed that God would make you a priest, ready to represent God at your job and with your family and friends.  But maybe you don’t feel holy enough to even begin to do your job.  Do you feel worthy to hold the holy Word of God and tell someone, “This is what God says”?  Don’t you sometimes wish that God’s Word said something else?  Don’t you wish that it said homosexuality is Ok if that is the way you were born?  Don’t you wish that it would say your sins are ok, as long as you can’t help it?  I hope you feel that your sins make you a hypocrite, because that means that you are honest with yourself.  Jesus knew that our sins would make us hypocrites who are unfit to represent him.  He prayed for that too, that by the power of God’s Word we would be holy and fit to represent God.
Understand that this is why Jesus sanctified himself.  “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”  Jesus dedicated himself to his holy purpose of sacrificing himself for our sins, his life for our life.  Jesus is our priest, and he sacrificed his life to make us pure.  Whether you feel holy or not, God’s Word says that you are holy.  In Ephesians 5:26 we read that Christ gave himself up for us, to make us holy.”  See, we are not holy because of what we do.  We are sanctified, holy people with a holy purpose, because of what Jesus did. 
Now if Jesus actually left us all alone to carry his Word and represent God, we would be lost and abandoned.  You would be hopeless, looking at those sticky situations wondering, “Where do I start?”  But God continues to sanctify us by his Word.  We are his holy people, and he separates our hearts from everything that is not holy. In those sticky situations where we feel abandoned, we wonder where to start because sin clouds our judgment.  His Word pushes our sinful thinking out of the way and teaches us what God’s holy people should do and say in those situations.  You know that will happen because Jesus prays that God the Father will sanctify you by his Word.
Conclusion:  All of you have done everything you can to support me, but I still have times when I feel all alone and abandoned.  And I’m not talking about Sunday afternoon after everyone goes home.  I’m talking about how it’s a big job for such a young guy.  How can I have the wisdom to help you in your problems?  I don’t feel like I have the guts to confront your sins.  I don’t feel like I am old enough and wise enough to say, “This is what God says.”  I’m glad that all of you seem to think that I do.  Maybe you feel abandoned sometimes too.  But we have not been left here all alone.  Our Lord has returned to heaven, and we don’t see him anymore, but he has not left us alone.  He prays for us, so that his Word will be effective in us to cleanse us of our sins and teach us to represent him.  Yes, it’s a hard job.  Yes, there are many who are against us and against God’s Word.  But Jesus is with us.  Jesus prays for us.  Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Easter 6 Acts 11:19-26

Introduction:  Sympathy—that’s what I see in these early Christians.  It’s a word that means that you feel what someone else feels.  Most often, you are sad when they are sad.  Sympathy can also mean that you are happy when they are happy.  When your brother wins, you are happy because you see that God has blessed him.  When someone else gets what you want, you are happy because God was good to him.  When that person marries a wonderful man, but you are sitting at that wedding all alone without a date, you are happy.  You could not be happier.  Why?  Because that person is your friend, your family.
This applies to the church too.  When God blesses another church with growth, it makes us happy.  We couldn’t be happier.  Why?  Because they are part of that “one, holy, Christian, apostolic Church,” which we confess in the Nicene Creed.  The same Lord who loves us loves them also.  We are better than family—the Bible says we are one body.  When they are sad, we are sad; when  they are happy, we are happy; and when they need help, we want to help them—even if it’s going to cost us.
That’s what we see here—the Jerusalem church rejoiced at the success of God’s Word in a another place, so much so that they were eager to help in whatever way they could.
This is also what Christ was like.  He saw us in danger, damned because of our sins, and he wanted to save us.  Though it would cost him greatly, he took the way of the cross.  He did it for us, because he cared more about us than he did about the pain he would suffer.  Now also, a strange thing has been happening on earth—strange to the ways of the world at least.  People who believe in Christ become like him.  They start to show that same self-sacrificing attitude.

Christians are Christ-like
1. The Jerusalem Christians showed this, 
2. the Christians in Antioch showed this, and 
3.  by the grace and power of God we do too. 

1.  In Jerusalem, the glorious, untouchable days of the early church did not last long.  Peter and John had been arrested for healing a crippled beggar, but then they were released with only a warning.  Stephen did not get off so easily.  He was stoned to death for preaching about Jesus.  Saul was going from house to house, dragging Christians off to prison.  Many believers left Jerusalem because of this.  Some of them went to Antioch.  Meanwhile, the persecution in Jerusalem got worse.  King Herod put James to death—James, the brother of John, who had been one of the three who were closest to Jesus.  Herod also arrested Peter, though an angel would come to break Peter out of jail.  Those were troubling times in Jerusalem.
When they heard the news that another church was growing in the heathen city of Antioch, we would have understood if they would have felt they had too many problems of their own to pay much attention to this new church.  We would have understood if they had felt that they had been abandoned by those people who left Jerusalem and started this church in Antioch.  We would have understood their resentment.   If they had wanted to keep their leaders in Jerusalem, we could understand why.  The church was under attack.  They needed all the good men they could get.
Actually, though, we see the Jerusalem church very interested in these new believers in Antioch.  They needed help.  The city of Antioch had a reputation.  They were the “Sin City” of Syria. Right away the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas, one of their best, to go to Antioch and help.
We hear that “Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”  It was Barnabas who first introduced the Apostle Paul to the church in Jerusalem.  They would miss his ability to encourage and teach, but their brothers in Antioch needed him more.

2.  The Church in Antioch was greatly blessed to have Barnabas with them, and later Saul.  Barnabas taught them to set their hearts on the Lord’s will.  The Holy Spirit worked through that encouragement so that they become so much like the Lord Jesus in his love that people noticed, and started to call them “Christians.”—people who are with Christ.”
We could have understood if the Antioch Church had not been Christ-like.  They had their own problems.  They could have put themselves and their needs first.  First of all, they needed strong leadership.  There was a large Jewish population, and the Jews would probably attack the new Christians.  Those who were not Jews would attack them too.  There is evidence that they were mocked, and some used the name “Christian” in a derogatory way. Antioch was also a city full of temptations.  Even the Romans complained that the sins of Antioch were polluting Rome.   The Antioch church had enough problems of its own to worry about. 
But Antioch followed the way of Christ.  They set their own needs aside, and turned their thoughts to others.  When they heard about the famine in Jerusalem, right away they took up a collection to aid their fellow believers in Jerusalem.  Soon after that, they sent Barnabas and Paul away to preach and teach in other cities.  Antioch would in fact become the base camp for Paul’s missionary journeys.
If there is anything impressive about this story, it is because this self-sacrificing love for others is so unnatural to the human heart.

3. We call ourselves Christians, but it does not come easy for us to be like Christ.  Selfless love was not a natural quality in those Jerusalem and Antioch Christians, and it is not a natural part of us either.
I’ll tell you what comes naturally—self-interest.  We are naturally too concerned about ourselves to be happy when God blesses others.  When our Christian brothers and sisters in Lodi dedicate their new church someday in the future, how many of you will consider going down there to celebrate with them?  How many of you are happy that God has blessed other churches with lots of members, great pastors, and great musicians?
In our self-interest, we are naturally too worried about our own needs to give up  much to help others.  When you think about giving an offering to church, how often is your first thought, “I hope I don’t need this for something else?” Have you ever made out a check to the church, and then decided that it was too much?  When the church asks for help, is your first thought, “I’ve got enough to do already?”  Self-sacrificing love is unnatural.
Because it is so unnatural, and in fact impossible for us to do by ourselves, Christ stepped into our shoes to do it for us.  He gave up all the riches of heaven for us.  In perfect, self-sacrificing love he gave his life to God for us.
The Bible calls this redemption—the price that was paid to get us out of hell and into heaven.  We have been redeemed by his death.  That price set us free from hell and bought us a ticket into heaven.  His death was the Passover lamb that ended our hopeless life in slavery to sin, and his resurrection parted the Red Sea for us to pass through into heaven.
Now being redeemed also means that you have a new perspective.  The old life as a slave to self-interest is over.  The new life as citizens of heaven has begun.  You have eternity in heaven.  You have it all, and you live in this kingdom under your Lord who would give you everything you need.  Indeed, he is our resurrected Lord, the same Lord who loved us so much that he died for us.  There is no need for us to worry about ourselves anymore.  That life is over!
We are free now to be concerned about other people, especially other Christians.  They are closer than friends, closer than family—they are our eternal family.  The same Lord who loved us and gave himself up for us has loved them and given himself up for them.  Our love for our Lord makes us love them.  Their joy becomes our joy, and their needs become our needs.  When you see that God has blessed them with a loving spouse, a beautiful family, a secure job, a nice home, you are free to be happy for that person.  There is no need to be jealous about what you don’t have—you have it all in heaven.  When you see someone in need, especially a fellow Christian, you are free to help, no matter what the cost.  Our Lord is worrying about our needs, so we are free to turn our thoughts and resources to our fellow Christians.  We are free to sacrifice our interests so that we can help them.  Our Lord has our back, and he has already given us everything in heaven anyway.
When you give your offering, you don’t have to worry that you might need that money for something else.  You are not losing anything.  You are helping other Christians whom your dear Lord loves.  Do you think your Lord will let you go broke when you are helping his church and his people?  Only if he knows that it will somehow be good for you to go broke.  We are free to stop worrying about ourselves and turn our thoughts to other Christians.
Conclusion:  Being a Christian means not only that we get our eternal life from Christ, but also that we live like Christ.  Will that mean sacrifice?  Yes.  Will that mean drowning our sinful nature and its selfish desires?  Yes.  Will we feel a loss if we do this?  Maybe.  I think the Jerusalem church probably felt the loss of Barnabas.  I know the church in Antioch felt the crunch when they sent money to aid the Christians in Jerusalem.  I know they felt the loss of Saul and Barnabas when they sent them out to do mission work later.  But they knew that they already had everything with Christ.  Christians, we know that we have all the riches of heaven through faith in Christ.  We have nothing to worry about, nothing to lose.  There is nothing to stop us from being like the Christians in Jerusalem, and being like the Christians in Antioch.  There is nothing to stop us from doing what Jesus said in the Gospel, “Love each other, as I have loved you.”  Christ gave up what was good for him, because he wanted to help us.  Christians, be Christ-like.  Amen.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, Amen.