151011 Acts 9:36-43

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 October 2015 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Acts 9:36-43
Theme: Use Your God-Given Gifts

In my hand is a copy of this month's newsletter, and on the front page is my lead article. If you have already seen what I wrote, this will be review for you. And if this is on your stack of things you still need to read (I call mine my guilt stack), you can consider this a small favor. The purpose of the article was to introduce our October stewardship sermon series (which began last Sunday) and to encourage you to sign up for our every member stewardship visits. The theme of that program and the title of this article are the same, "Freely You Have Received, Freely Give." What follows is an excerpt from the article...

When you hear the word "stewardship," when you consider Jesus' encouragement to be as generous as God has been to you, some of you might be tempted to stop reading because you think this is going to be another article about the church needing money. But you might be surprised to know that when Jesus told his disciples: "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8), he wasn't talking about money at all.

The Lord was about to send out the Twelve on their first mission trips, but before he did he gave them the following instructions (this is from today's gospel lesson): "Go...to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:6-8).

First and foremost, Jesus wanted his disciples to be good stewards of the gospel. It had been their privilege to sit at the feet of the Master Teacher. They listened to his sermons. They learned from his parables. They had come to know God's grace directly from the lips of God's one and only Son. And Jesus wanted them to share what they had learned, to proclaim the good news, to announce the coming kingdom of God. The Lord also gave the Twelve the authority to perform miracles in his name. In other words, God had given them special gifts and abilities, and he commanded them to use those gifts to help others, to heal sicknesses and cure diseases and even raise the dead.

The focus of our worship can be found in the last sentence. Before the Lord sent them out, he gave his disciples gifts. He did the same for the disciples in the early church; we will see some specific examples in our sermon text for today. And because we are disciples of Jesus too, God has promised to do the same for us. When it comes to spiritual gifts, this congregation has been richly blessed. Every member is a part of the body. Every person plays an important role. Every believer has been given unique gifts and abilities, and our Lord wants us to use them...

USE YOUR GOD-GIVEN GIFTS

I. To serve God's people
II. To give God glory

My guess is that if someone called you a dorkus, you probably wouldn't appreciate it. In fact, most people would consider it an insult. Dorkus is a slang word related to dork, and according to my dictionary a dork is a person who is slow and oafish and dull-witted.

But two thousand years ago Dorcas wasn't a term of derision. It was a proper name in Greek, and the Hebrew equivalent was Tabitha, which means "gazelle." The beauty and grace of the gazelle was matched by the inner beauty and gracious presence of the woman we meet in Acts 9.

What was Dorcas known for among her fellow believers? Luke reports that she "was always doing good and helping the poor" (36), and a couple verses later we are given this additional detail about her mercy ministry. A group of widows showed Peter "the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them" (39).

Dorcas was a disciple of Jesus, but she was more than that. She had been given the gift of saving faith, and she put her faith into practice by using her other gifts to help people in need. Before there was welfare, before there was Social Security, before there were Goodwill stores poor people in general (and widows in particular) relied on the good will of others to survive. And Dorcas was always ready to lend a hand, eager to use her hands, eager to use her God-given gifts to serve God's people.

And as I look out into the congregation, I can see a room full of Dorcases. Last week I tried to make a list of all the different ways the members of St. Matthew's serve their Lord, but after a few minutes I gave up. Why? Because the list kept growing and growing, and I soon realized that I couldn't possibly write down on paper every way every member serves.

So instead of attempting to create an exhaustive list, let's narrow our focus to today, to this service, and to the many ways the members of St. Matthew's are using their gifts to serve each other...

Lutheran worship wouldn't be the same without music. And our congregation is blessed with more than a few members who have been honing their musical skills for years (and one organist who practiced for several hours this week) to help us sing our Savior's praises.

Today it will be our privilege to celebrate the Lord's Supper. The names of the people who set up for communion aren't in the bulletin, and the people who did this important work don't want their names printed in the bulletin...because they aren't looking for special recognition. They are happy to work behind the scenes. They are grateful for the opportunity to serve.

The same could be said about the beautiful table that holds the elements. If I would have built that table, it definitely wouldn't look as nice, and it probably wouldn't be very stable either. That table was built by a member who has a unique set of skills, and he considered it an honor to use those gifts to benefit the rest of us.

Talking about the hands that created that table reminded me of the picture of the two hands on our bulletin cover, the logo that goes with the theme for our sermon series. That image was created by another member, a seventh grader at St. Matthew's School, and I pray that he will have many more opportunities to use this unique gift in the future.

After the service you will hear about more opportunities to serve, to help reset the stones and repair our lakefront wall next Saturday, to donate to our annual Thanksgiving food drive that begins today. I could go on and on with examples, but you get the point. Our congregation has been richly blessed. Our collective basket is filled to overflowing with blessings. Give thanks for those gifts! Make use of your gifts! Use your God-given gifts to serve each other. And use your God-given gifts to give God glory.

It wasn't a happy occasion that brought Peter to Joppa. It was Tabitha's funeral, and the widows gathered around her dead body were in mourning because there was nothing they could do to help the dear woman who had done so much for them. But Peter had been with Jesus, and with his own eyes Peter had seen what Jesus had done for the daughter of Jairus and a young man from Nain and his friend Lazarus.

Better than anyone else in the room Peter understood that nothing is impossible with God, and his actions proved it. After he cleared the room, he got down on his knees. After he prayed to the Lord, he turned toward the dead woman and said: "Tabitha, get up" (40). And she did. She opened her eyes and sat up, and Peter helped her to her feet. It wasn't an illusion. It wasn't a misunderstanding. It was a miracle.

And this amazing act of God had far reaching results. Not only was Tabitha able to get back to work making clothes and helping the poor and doing good. Not only did the church in Joppa get back a key member of its ministry team. Word of this miracle spread rapidly, and as a result many more people believed in the Lord (42).

Notice that the people weren't flocking to Peter to ask for his autograph. And even if they would have sought out Peter, if they would have asked Peter how he did what he did, I can imagine him giving a response similar to this: "I know that it looks like I performed a miracle, but it wasn't me. It was Jesus working through me. He gave me this gift. He gave Tabitha her life. He deserves all the credit. To God and God alone be the glory."

There is a saying that goes: "Where the Lord builds a church, the devil builds a chapel." I would like to take that idea one step further and suggest that where God builds a church and blesses its members with all kinds of spiritual gifts to build each other up, the devil is working hard to twist and contort those blessings into conflicts that threaten to tear the body apart. Here are just a couple examples...

Let's say that you are very good at something, and you know it because other people are constantly telling you about it. And even though you are quick to deflect any words of praise, the devil won't let you let them go. "You know, you are pretty special," he whispers in your ear." "And the work you do is indispensible. This place is lucky to have you, and these people would be lost without you." The lie goes down like sweet poison, but it leads to a bitter end.

Or let's say that the gift isn't yours. God has blessed another Christian, a fellow member, with unique gifts and abilities. But instead of being happy for that person, instead of encouraging that person to use those gifts, you are jealous. You are less than cooperative. You are more than willing to criticize. You have forgotten the first and most important lesson about the proper use of spiritual gifts. It's not about me. It's not about you. It's not about any of us. God has given us spiritual gifts to give him glory.

What kind of people are lazy enough to let a thick layer of dust accumulate on the gifts God has given them? What kind of people are so arrogant that they would take the credit for the gifts God has given them? What kind of people are so self-absorbed that they misuse and abuse the gifts God has given his church and turn what was intended to bring blessings into a curse? Sinful people...like us.

We need to get down on our knees like Peter did and pray for a miracle. We need to confess our laziness. We need to confess our selfishness. We need to plead for forgiveness. And then we need to lift up our heads and marvel at God's grace. Instead of giving us the punishment we deserve, God gave us his Son. And when Jesus lived on this earth he did what no human being could ever do. He dedicated his entire life to service. He sacrificed his life on the cross to save us. In life and death, Jesus never stopped serving God's people and giving God glory.

The love of Jesus liberates us, but it doesn't stop there. Our Savior's love motivates us to model our lives after him, to use the gifts he has given us to serve him. And that gives every task we perform a noble purpose. The organist makes time in her busy schedule to practice during the week, not so that she won't mess up on Sunday morning, because she wants to strive for excellence especially when it comes to worshiping her Savior. The church commissions a member to build a communion table for the front of church, not because a card table couldn't accomplish the same task for much less money, but because every time we look at it we are reminded that our God is worthy of our best.

Not many of you are accomplished musicians. Very few of you would call yourselves master craftsmen. But you are all redeemed children of God. You are all members of the body of Christ. Every one of you has gifts, and my encouragement for you today is simply this: Use them! Use your God-given gifts to glorify God and serve God's people. Amen.

Our Mission Statement:

Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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Sunday
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9:15 A.M. Bible Study for All Ages

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818 West Wisconsin Avenue
Oconomowoc, WI 53066
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