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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

 

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Following in the Footsteps of the Magi

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

November 11, 2018

Matthew 2:1-12

 

The season of giving is upon us. Have you noticed more catalogs in your mailbox lately? Or Christmas commercials replacing the election ads on TV? Have you been getting messages promoting Black Friday sales? Merchants are eager to profit from the spirit of Christmas giving.

 

It would be easy to lament consumerism and talk about the need to keep Christ in Christmas. But these enticements wouldn’t be effective if they didn’t tap into something deep within us. As we think back to that first Christmas, we remember the Magi following the star, bringing their gifts to the manger. They bowed down before the baby Jesus as they gave their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. What can we learn from those wise men who gave the first Christmas gifts to Jesus?

 

Giving is a natural response to God’s love. God so loved the world he GAVE his only son. God’s love shows itself in giving. God’s love shows itself in giving us everything we need to live happy, healthy lives –  in this world and the next. God showers us with gifts too numerous to count.  

 

God made us in his image. God made us to love and to show our love for God and one another through giving gifts. The Magi responded to God’s love in a very appropriate way, by giving their gifts to Jesus.

 

The Magi set out on a journey to meet Jesus. The Magi didn’t just sit around reading sacred books or gazing at the stars. When they recognized something special going on in the heavens, they set out on a long journey. They left the comfort of their homes and traveled a great distance, uncertain where their journey would lead. This was no easy task. It took a significant commitment of time and money to fund such a trip and to give their gifts. What a sacrifice!

 

When they arrived at the house where Jesus was staying, they came in and bowed down and worshipped him. They were kings in their own right, yet they humbled themselves before the infant king. They knew there was something very special                                about this tiny king, something worthy of their honor and devotion. They set aside their egos and power and self-reliance to offer their gifts to God.

 

They came prepared with gifts for this king. The gifts they gave were not last-minute purchases made at the local market. The Magi planned ahead to be able to bring their gifts to Jesus.

 

They defied the forces that were at work against Jesus. After meeting Jesus, they recognize the holy. They felt a loyalty and devotion to him. They also realized that Harrod felt threatened by Jesus, and meant to do him harm. So, they traveled home another way to avoid giving Harrod any information that he might use to harm Jesus. They resisted the forces of evil and did what they could to protect God’s gift to the world.

 

God used their gifts to further His plan for saving the world. As the Holy Family fled to Egypt to avoid Harrod’s infanticide, the gifts of these kings provided resources for them to live on. The Magi may have never known how their gifts were used, but God blessed their gifts and used them for furthering his mission of love and salvation

 

As the first ones to give gifts to Jesus, the Magi serve as role models for us. We, too, are made to respond to God’s love through giving of our time and our resources in support of his mission. We, too, are called on to give intentionally and sacrificially to support God’s work in the world. We, too, are called to bow down and worship him and to live our lives in service of him. We, too, are called to be alert to the forces of evil                   that seek to undermine God and do what we can to fight against them.

 

As we give our gifts of time and money, God uses them to further his purposes. We may never see the results of what our giving supports, but we can trust that God blesses our gifts. Through giving of our gifts, we are privileged to be part of God’s redeeming work in the world.

 

Today is Stewardship Sunday. It is a day when we make commitments to God’s work at Immanuel for the next year. We are asking you to be intentional about your plans for giving to this church and share your plans through submitting Estimate of Giving Cards and Time and Talent sheets.

 

Being intentional helps both you and the congregation in supporting God’s ministry. When you make a commitment in writing, you are more likely to fulfill that commitment.

 

There can be fear about turning in a written financial commitment. What if my situation changes and I don’t have enough? I hope that doesn’t happen to you. I hope you don’t face sudden challenges to your income or health. I hope nothing happens in the next year that undercuts your ability to do what you planned. But if it does, please adjust accordingly. If something changes for you, we want you to do what fits with the new reality. If that means giving less money or withdrawing from service on a committee or other ministry group, that would be the faithful thing to do. Writing it down and turning it in doesn’t mean you can’t make a change if your life situation changes. For most of us, there hopefully won’t be a big unexpected change that gets in the way of fulfilling our commitment. For most of us, writing it down and turning it in will assist us in doing what we know we want to do and it will help the church make better decisions.

 

I’ve heard people say they don’t want to turn in an Estimate of Giving card because what they give is between them and God. That just doesn’t reflect how things really work. What you give to the church is between you and the church and God. When the church is aware of your plans, it helps the church leadership make better decisions about commitments we can make to ministry and staffing. Giving to the ministry of this church is something we do as part of a community, not as isolated individuals. The better we communicate about our intentions the better we can work together as a community to do God’s work.

 

Some people wonder about whether Time and Talents sheets are used. Let me assure you, they are! Bob Stirling will tabulate them and make them available to those on the                   Nominating Committee and those who lead various ministry teams. The Nominating Committee will come together soon to recruit nominees to be elected at our annual meeting. They will work from these Time and Talent sheets that we collect here today.

 

You may think “I don’t really have any talents.” God gives each of us talents to use in furthering his kingdom. When you hold back and don’t use the talents God gives you, God’s work suffers.

 

Paul uses the analogy of the Body of Christ. We are compared to eyes and ears or hands and feet and other body parts. We know that when a person loses their eyesight, they may rely more heavily on their hearing or sense of touch – to help them navigate in the world. But no matter how much more acute your hearing may become, it can’t really do the work of seeing. When you don’t use the gifts God gives you for ministry, it may mean that the work doesn’t get done at all. Or it may fall someone else to do what you were gifted to do. They will do their best, but they won’t be able to do it as well as you could if God equipped for that ministry. They’ll be like an ear trying to do the work of the eye. It is hard to see a sunrise with your ear!

 

So, I ask you to think about how God is calling you to contribute your gifts to the ministry at Immanuel this year and to let us know through your Time and Talent sheet.

 

I’ve been grateful for the many people God has inspired and equipped to use their talents at Immanuel: People like Jason and DeeDee Fredlund who volunteer their time to lead the youth ministry. People like our team of Sunday School teachers and                nursery volunteers who teach the faith and care for the youngest ones among us. People who sing in the choir and play in the WOW band contributing their musical gifts to enrich our worship. People like the readers, greeters, ushers and AV folks who support our worship each week. People like the members of the Sarah Circle and Naomi Circle and prayer shawl team and quilters who gather regularly in faith, fellowship and service. People like Jim Mielke who leads the Men’s Bible Study, and Sunday morning Bible Study, and preaches each month to our elders at Ecumen. People who take care of the building in many ways like those who figured out how to get the elevator working a week ago when it was stuck. People who visit those who are sick or homebound bringing message of hope and care, People who serve on the church council, committees and service groups that do the ministry of this church People who serve on our staff who capably and faithfully doing God’s work each week. We are truly blessed with so many people God equips and inspires to do his ministry here at Immanuel.

 

I’m also grateful for the financial gifts that people give. Your generous giving keeps the lights on, pays the staff and makes all this ministry possible. Your generous benevolence giving supports God’s work outside our walls.

 

A few days ago, I learned that a special gift that is coming – a baby grand piano for our sanctuary. What a generous gift! God is at work in people’s hearts calling us to generosity.

 

As we respond to God’s call and contribute to God’s ministry, we follow in the footsteps of the Magi, bringing our gifts to God, bowing before him, and entrusting that God blesses our gifts and uses them to further his kingdom.

 

At this time, I invite and encourage you to fill out your Time and Talent sheet and Estimate of Giving card. Put it in the envelope. During our offering time you will have the opportunity to bring them forward with your offering envelope to give them to God. If you need a pencil or other supplies, raise your hand and the ushers will help you.