When people talk about their giving you will often hear them speak about giving to the church or giving to God and sometimes about their gift to Jesus.  And those are all valid expressions.  I do feel that we give to God through the church and that our giving is an expression of love and obedience to Jesus.

This is week 3 of “Money Month”, every year at Cornerstone I take a month to focus on stewardship.

We feel that this is the most responsible way for us to deal with our church finances.  Instead of me preaching on money when there some type of financial crisis it’s part of our church calendar, so you don’t feel like you been ambushed.

We end the month with an opportunity for those who call Cornerstone their church home to participate in what is known as “Step Up Cornerstone”.  That would be next Sunday and a card that looks like this, will be distributed to each person in the service and you will have the opportunity to fill it out.  And that is what next year’s budget will be based on.  You get to determine what type of church Cornerstone will be next year.

A couple of things.  We don’t put anyone on the spot.  I will not embarrass you in any way.  This is an estimate of giving card, you are simply estimating what you will be able to give over the next 12 months.  If something happens that you can’t do that, we just ask that you let us know so we can adjust our budget.  Just as you would do with your household budget if you discovered that your income had changed.

But we really hope that everyone will be able to take part.

This year our theme is “Giving to the Giver” that is Giving to Jesus.

Week one was “The Giver” and we looked at what Jesus gives us.  Himself, eternal life, abundant life, peace and rest.  The list goes on, so we concluded that he gives us all that we have.

Last week we looked at “The Giver on Giving” and we learned a few things that Jesus taught about money.   We Learned Why the Topic is so Important, We Learned to be Wise with What We’ve been Given, We Learned to be Responsible with What We’ve Been Given and we Learned to Trust the Giver.

This week we are looking at some of those who gave to the giver.

If you read through the gospels you can find several examples of where people presented various gifts to Jesus.

They weren’t nebulous, “I’m giving to the church so I’m giving these gifts to Jesus” they were actual gifts given by individuals to Jesus himself.  And I think if we take a look at why other people gave to the Giver then we can see the underlying reasons why we should be giving to Jesus as well.

So, you see the assumption I’m making? And that is that each of us is already giving, I trust that isn’t a false assumption.  And so now we are just looking at some of the reasons that make our giving valid.

And so, the story begins in a small town outside of Jerusalem, a young woman from Nazareth and her new husband had welcomed into the world their first child and as the woman rests and recovers from the birth of her son, before beginning the long trip home, mysterious visitors appear at the house they are staying at.

It is a familiar story but one that we normally limit to the yuletide season and here we are three months late, or nine months early.  We all know the story of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, but this part of the story had actually begun before Mary had any idea that she would deliver a child.

It is of course the story of the Magi, or Wise Men who came to visit the Christ child in the town of Bethlehem.  While Matthew only tells us that they came from the east Scholars tell us that the Magi had probably began their journey in what was then known as Persia and is now known as Iran, if we pull up our trusty map we see here is Israel and over here at the very edge of the map is where their journey would have originated from, meaning their journey would have encompassed over a thousand miles.

If they were to arrive in Bethlehem in the narrow window of opportunity that would have presented itself while Mary and Joseph and the Christ child were actually there,  we are told they would have to have left their home months in advance.  Remember they were travelling through hostile terrain, possibly on camels, that’s how they are always pictured, but they may very well have made the journey on foot.

Let’s pick up the story as the Magi arrive in Bethlehem, Matthew 2:10-11 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.   A Gift of Adoration

From all that we learn the Magi arrived, presented their gifts as an act of worship, warned the family of the danger posed by Herod and then disappeared into the mystery that shrouded their entire journey.  So, what was up with that?  Seems like a long trip to just spend a day.

Have I mentioned that I’m flying to Uganda the end of April?  28 hours of travel and then I’m there for a weekend speaking at the annual Wesleyan missionary retreat and then 28 hours flying home on Monday, but I would suspect it will be more comfortable than the Magi’s trip.

Well they came for one purpose and that was to worship, and worship always requires a sacrifice of some kind.  Did you catch that?  Worship always requires a sacrifice of some kind.

And sometimes I hear people say “Well I give of my time” the wise men could have made that claim, they gave up a significant part of their lives to make the trip to worship Christ and then to travel home again.  But they also brought gifts with them.  We’ve discussed this before but each of the gifts was significant to who Jesus was and who he would become.

Gold was traditionally the gift for a King, we are told that in Persia it was customary that no one could approach the King without first presenting him with a gift of Gold, good work if you can find it.  And so, we need to remember that the child in the cradle was also the King of Kings.

The second gift was frankincense, which was a type of incense that was used in temple worship; as a matter of fact, it’s mentioned in the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament as a type of sacrifice.  And so, this was a gift for a priest, one who would open the way to God for the people.

The third gift was Myrrh and it was mixed with aloes by the Jews to embalm their dead. So this was a gift for the one who would die for us.

And those gifts were presented to Jesus as an act of worship because that’s what Worship is.
Collins English Dictionary defines worship this way wor·ship  (wûrshp) n.

  1. Reverence or devotion to a deity 2. Intense love or admiration

Did you catch the words?  Reverence, devotion, intense love.  They aren’t half-hearted words or mediocre words.  These are “travel for months across the desert” words, these are “bring your very best gifts to God” words.

The first act of worship we see in the Bible is where Cain and his brother Abel present gifts to God in Genesis chapter 4, let’s pick the story up in  Genesis 4:3-5 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift.

Why was one gift acceptable and one wasn’t?  Two words, Cain brought some Abel brought the best.  When we worship God with our gifts do we give him “some” or do we give him “the best”?  Just asking.

I have discovered this, you can tell what a person worships by what they are willing to make sacrifices for.  When you come to worship at Cornerstone what do you bring?

Another story, this one happens at the other end of Jesus life, less than a week before he was to be crucified.

We read the story earlier, Jesus is entertained by his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  Lazarus is sitting with the guys, Martha is doing the Martha thing, hustling and bustling about the kitchen making sure that everything is just right, and Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet taking in all that he says and suddenly she gets up, let’s pick up the story there:  John 12:2-3 A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

This was A Gift of Gratitude.  You might remember the last time that Jesus had visited this home was when Lazarus had gotten sick and died and Jesus had raised him from the dead.  But it appears that these were more than casual acquaintances these were friends and Jesus ate with them on different occasions.

Jesus had made a difference in their lives, a physical difference when he gave life back to Lazarus but more importantly he made a spiritual and eternal difference in their lives by teaching them about the Kingdom of God.  He offered them more than life, he offered them eternal life.

It’s interesting the details the gospels give in stories like this one.  John doesn’t just say that it was perfume we are told that it was from the essence of “Nar” and that was a substance that came from a flower called a spikenard which was harvested in the foothills of the Himalayas in India.  This was a very expensive perfume imported from a distant country.  And then later in the story, we are told that the perfume could have been sold for 300 denarii.

300 denarii, and you are probably wondering what the exchange is.

Those in the know tell us that a denarii was a day’s wage and this perfume cost 300 of them.  That’s quite a gift.

Some scholars think that Mary may have been collecting and saving this perfume for her body to be anointed with when she died.  And so, she took what she had saved for her funeral expenses to give to Jesus and don’t even get me started on the obscene amounts of money we spend to bury dead people.

And so, Mary gave to Jesus because she was grateful for all that he had done, for her and for her family.  And it wasn’t a tip or a pittance it was a gift of significance because in her mind and her heart the gift that Christ had given her was a gift of significance.

And her gift didn’t just make an impact on Jesus because we are told The house was filled with the fragrance.  Mary’s gift not only made an impact on Christ it made an impact on everyone present.

The question that we each need to ask is what has Christ given you and what has Cornerstone given you? And are you grateful for the difference that’s been made in your life?

Another story from the Gospels, this one more toward the middle.  Often when we picture Christ and his disciples we see them making their way from town to town, teaching and healing those they came in contact with.  Some kind of carefree existence somewhere between Peter Pan and the Lost Boys and Robin Hood and his Merry Men.    You almost expect them to break into song as they make their way through the countryside.

But from a practical standpoint, how did they survive?  Think about it, thirteen guys walk everywhere they went they had to be hungry at the end of the day.  But we don’t see them working part-time, or sitting on the corner with a sign, or doing the squeegee kid thing with Chariots stopping at the lights.  Oh, I know every once in a while you see them fishing or picking some grain as they walked along the road and that was fine when they were around Capernaum where Peter and Andrews’s fishing boat was, and the picking grain that was a snack not a meal.

But in order for Jesus and his happy little band of followers to have ministered for three years around Israel, someone had to be footing the bill, and there’s just one little mention in the bible to give us a clue as to what was happening.   Luke 8:1-3 Soon afterwards Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.  This was A Gift for Ministry

Plain and simple if these folks hadn’t been kicking in then Jesus and the 12 would not have been able to do what they did.  Sometimes we romanticize the church the same way we do the ministry of Christ and the 12.  You know it just happens, we come to church on Sunday morning and there everything is there and in place.  But we never stop to think about salaries and curriculum and supplies for children’s ministry and the like.

Some things stay the same and one of those things is that ministry cost money.  I would love to be able to work for the church for nothing, but it costs me the same to live in Kingswood as it cost you, and I get gouged for gas the same as you do and Superstore and Sobey’s don’t hand out free pastor food.  And the same goes for the rest of the staff.

And so, if you are availing yourself of the ministry of Cornerstone then understand that it needs to be supported, and just because you only come once in a while doesn’t mean that it only needs to be supported when you are here. Because in order for it to be able to happen when you need it to happen then it needs to be supported all the time.

Apparently, there was a group of individuals who took it upon themselves to support the ministry of Christ.  And things haven’t changed much today.

If we want Cornerstone in our lives, if we look forward to the Sunday Worship and the teaching, if we want to be able to call upon the church to Marry us and dedicate our children and call on us in the hospital and be there to pray for us and meet our needs and eventually say a few nice words at our funeral than there is a cost that has to be paid.

Now let us go to the end of the story, past the Last Supper and beyond the crucifixion to the morning of the resurrection.  And if we peer through the morning mist we see three women making their way toward the city of the dead, carrying spices to anoint the body of their Lord and friend.  It’s interesting to note that these women were mentioned as being the last at the cross and now we see them again as the first at the tomb.

Now you know as well as I do that it was a wasted trip, that when they got there the tomb was empty and there was no need of their spices, but that isn’t the point the point is that they were bringing the last gift they intended to give to Jesus.  Let’s pick up the story the night before in the gospel of  Mark 16:1 Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body.  This was A Gift of Necessity. 

It wasn’t pretty, it’s not a Christmas card with the Wise Men gathering around a manger in the stable, it’s not providing for Jesus so he could teach and heal the multitudes.  It’s not even Mary anointing Jesus feet with perfume and then wiping them dry with her hair in an incredible act of love and gratitude.

Instead it is the reality of anointing a dead body with perfume to help keep putrefaction at bay.  And maybe you are thinking what a strange thing to do and what a waste of perfectly good spices, using them on someone who was dead.

I warned you, don’t get me started on the subjects of funerals; you don’t want to go down that road.

I wonder if when they were getting the spices together to embalm Jesus if his Mother remembered the gifts that were given to Christ at his birth? I wonder if she still had the myrrh?  I wonder if it was part of the spices the women took to the tomb that morning? It must have been one of the very first prepaid funerals

You know it’s kind of cool and noble to give to ministry.  To know that your gift is changing lives and making an impact on the eternal.  But understand that there are just plain necessary gifts at Cornerstone as well.  Gifts that pay for the $7,000.00 a month mortgage, that will add up to $84,000.00, or the $12,000.00 we’ll pay for power this year. And gifts that will pay for snowplowing and lawn mowing, for cleaning supplies and paper towel and toilet paper.

And those things are just as vital to touching this community as staff salaries and the curriculum that’s used in Children’s church.

Each one of us will have a different reason for what and why we give to Cornerstone in order for our church to do God’s work in our community.

For some, you will give out of adoration, others will give out of gratitude for what God has done for them, some will give because they see and appreciate the ministry that happens through His church and some will give because they are practical, and they know that the bills need to be paid.

There are many different reasons to give, but I would say this morning, without apology, if you love Jesus and love Cornerstone there is no reason not to give.

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