“Partakers of Heavenly Treasure”
Pentecost 16A, Proper 21 – October 1, 2017
Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32.
There are three phrases in today’s Collect that I want you to take into your heart: “Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, …”
The first two phrases are actions: “Grant us the fullness of your grace”, and “running to obtain your promises”. They result in us becoming “partakers of [God’s] heavenly treasure”. The first step to acquiring this treasure is
Receiving The Fullness of God’s Grace.
Do you feel embarrassed when you receive a gift you don’t think you deserve? Many Christians are frustrated because they find it difficult to accept that salvation is a gift. Salvation is something we instinctively know we don’t deserve so we think we have to work at earning it. Grace confuses us.
We are like the Exodus community. God worked incredible miracles delivering them from Egyptian bondage. Yet they still grumbled about not having enough to eat (last week) and drink (today’s lesson).
So, God fed them miraculously with Manna from the sky and water from a rock. It seems to be so much easier for us humans to doubt God than to believe in God’s goodness and ability to take care of us.
Before I become a believer in Jesus Christ as my savior I was a ‘God-fearer’. That’s an expression you find in the Bible to describe Gentiles who are not yet fully believers in God but sense there is God and are reverent and even worshipful towards God. They were being drawn to God and therefore candidates for conversion to Judaism.
In Acts 10, we meet Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. Verse 2 describes Cornelius: “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”
An angel appeared to him with instructions to send for a man named Simon Peter. Peter, in turn, was having a vision from God involving all the unclean animals he was forbidden to eat as an orthodox Jew. In the vision, he was instructed to ‘kill and eat’ but he refused because of his orthodoxy. The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” That was God’s way of preparing Peter to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world, whom God also considered worthy of hearing about His love for them fleshed out in Jesus. One of our core values is the belief that everyone is worthy of having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house there was a crowd of family and guests. Peter was astonished. Verse 34: 34… “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts [people] from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” That ‘acceptance’ Peter spoke about is Grace.
I once heard Grace defined by its letters as “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”. Because of what Jesus did for us we are adopted into God’s Forever Family. We are written into God’s Will. We are “joint-heirs with Christ” of all the inherited blessings of Heaven (Romans 8:17). By Grace we become partakers of God’s Heavenly Treasure.
God, who is no respecter of persons wants to make available to everyone the fullness of His grace – through the work of Jesus. I pray you will let go of thinking you need to work harder to please God and earn your way into heaven. Instead, receive the fullness of God’s love for you, and grace through Jesus Christ, and the heavenly treasures that go with it. Let Go and Let God.
The next concept is found in the phrase
Running To Obtain God’s Promises.
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus says this about running: “And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (12:29-31).
Part of what softened my heart to the claims of Jesus Christ on my soul was the existential crisis I was undergoing. I was working hard for Ryder Truck Lines in Jacksonville, putting in long hours. I had been raised to work hard and be a good provider. My efforts were recognized. I received promotions and raises that were benefiting my family but wasn’t bringing satisfaction to my soul. I had less time to spend with my family because I was now having to travel. So, while I was being blessed materially I was sinking spiritually. My life was out of balance. I knew nothing of God’s promises to bless us materially even as our sous are being blessed (3 John 1:2); and to meet all of our need according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
I was running hard, but in the wrong direction. St. Paul, who once was running in the wrong direction said this to the church at Corinth: 24 … Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (I Corinthians 9:24b).
Running in the right direction is critical in life. Mark’s Gospel records this scene: 17 … , there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? (Mark 10:17, KJV). If Jesus were standing here today would you ‘run’ to him to get the direction of your life straight?
Or consider this advice from the author of Hebrews: 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,… (12:1-2).
In our pursuit of God’s Heavenly Treasure we need to receive the fullness of God’s grace and we need to run our life’s race on God’s course and in the direction set by God. It is God’s grace and obedience to God’s directions that enable us to become
Partakers of God’s Heavenly Treasure.
When we determine within ourselves to become serious disciples of Jesus Christ: worshiping, studying, serving, fellowshipping, we begin to partake of the Heavenly Treasures God makes available to His children.
We learn that God will meet all of our need through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). We learn that God has established a heavenly spiritual bank account for us that we can make withdrawals from. As we learn these lessons through the intimacy of being part of God’s Forever Family. We gain a peace of mind and heart that is not readily available in this world. It is a gift, a treasure, that enables us to handle life’s difficulties with faith and grace, and abiding hope and peace.
Saturday, we will host Stanley Jezior’s family in a Funeral Service celebrating Stan’s life. Then we will inter his ashes in our Memorial Garden and share a reception. I mention Stanley because he was one who was badly damaged as a boy by a Priest. The emotional and psychological scars from that haunted Stan his entire life. But Stan found love and acceptance at Holy Cross – especially in our Wednesday evening Bible study. He could be himself and be loved and respected. He discovered God’s grace through the Word, the Sacrament, and especially through the Body of Christ enabling him to forgive and be forgiven. Though he was struggling in his body, his soul was at peace with God. He became a ‘partaker of God’s Heavenly Treasure.
Israel tested God through their complaining but God, through Moses, worked a miracle and brought water out of a rock. Complaining was the same as not trusting that God knew they were thirsty, and couldn’t supply their need.” God was a graceful provider.
Miracles, in the Bible, are usually to prove that the person speaking for God is authentic. They are not just to prove the power of God. They prove the reliability of the one God has called to speak or lead for Him, or the message being proclaimed. When I pray for your healing each Sunday it is not to prove that I am a healer. I’m not. But God is, and it is God I want you to trust in and give direction of your life over to.
Philippians 2:12 is a call to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Let us – who have known the indwelling of God’s own Spirit, and have received “encouragement from being united with Christ” (:1), and have received the teaching and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not become grumblers like Israel in the Exodus. Has God been so distant from us that we do not trust that he knows our need even before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8 & 32); or that our God is impotent and cannot “meet all of our need?”
Jesus demonstrated how much God loves us and values our reconciliation with Him. “… Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (5-8). And, now, at the very name of this Jesus ‘every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (:10-11).
Jesus is Lord! That is the authority he carried. That was the answer to the Chief Priests and Elders’ question about where his authority came from.
Jesus warns us not to build up treasure for ourselves here on earth to the exclusion of treasure in heaven; for where our treasure is there is also our heart (Luke 12:34).
So what owns your heart? Your treasures on earth, or God your heavenly treasure?