Last week we focused on the theme that God created each and every one of us for a purpose. The unique talents and skills, predispositions and giftedness are made so that you can glorify and honor God with your life. There is a Kingdom role that has been defined by your Creator that you are uniquely made to fill. And that role, beloved, begins by being aware that you are a child of the living God. You individually are an important element in the Kingdom of the Living God.
But there is a second dimension to the Kingdom – one that can only be fulfilled as individual believers are gathered by God into one Church or one Body. Both the example of us being built into a temple or into a Body is used in the scriptures to describe our collective role as believers. Our gifts, talents and blessings are not so that we can stand out or so that we can be famous or recognized. The purpose for which we are created is so that we, in humility, can take our place next to our brothers and sisters and be the Body of Christ. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the individual parts and is holier, more awesome, more faithful and more beautiful than any of the individuals that make it up. This is what Paul speaks to us about in the Second Lesson today. Let’s turn there and read it together. [read Romans 12:3-8 here]
One day, a Tourist visiting Italy came upon a construction site. “What are you doing?” he asked the three stone masons. “I’m cutting the stone,” answered the first. “I’m cutting the stone for 1000 lire a day,” said the second. “I’m helping to build a cathedral,” said the third. (Adapted from SermonCentral.com; Contributed by: Justin Meek from Bucket of Surprises)
There are three interesting attitudes that this little story conveys. The first workman seemed to have no sense of his ultimate purpose. He was oblivious to the grandeur that he was privileged to have a part in. His life was dull and mundane because He failed to see his role in the big picture.
Sometimes we live this way too. We get into a boring, hum-drum existence because we don’t see that God is using us to build the Kingdom. “ ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!,’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3) The writer of Ecclesiastes laments at how mundane and purposeless life seems to be. He is talking from the perspective of a person who does not understand and know about God’s grace. Everything is empty and futile – and there seems to be nothing that makes up for it - not power, prestige, popularity or pleasure.
We too fall into that rut, don’t we? Many a person wakes up one day and says to him or herself, “What in the world am I doing here? What have I done with my life? Why in the world am I in this job or in this marriage or in this church?” When we don’t understand how we fit into God’s plans – this type of despair is almost certain to happen. We become like that stone cutter that sees nothing but the rocks and tools and the sweat and the dirt. Life has no meaning because we don’t know why God has made us. We don’t see our role in the Kingdom and so we languish.
The second stone cutter seems to have a sense for his purpose – but it is a misguided purpose. That stone cutter believes that his labors are about 1000 lire per day. Perhaps this is the biggest delusion that satan has used for people in this country. Many people are deceived into thinking that life is all about money. In our society, money becomes the gauge by which most things are measured. The significance of a person is usually assigned by how much money they have. The importance of person’s vocation is most often measured by how much money that they control or manage. Sadly, even friendships and relationships are often determined by money.
Money does strange things to people. I found this cute little story on the Internet. A radio station in Chicago challenged people by asking what they would do for $10,000.000. More than 6,000 full-tilt crazies responded. The eventual winner was a young man from Indiana who said that he would eat an 11-foot tree - a birch sapling - leaves, roots, bark and all for $10,000. He put away the 11 foot tree at a very formal event. He donned a tux and dined at a table set elegantly with china, sterling, candles and a rose vase. Armed with pruning sheers, the young man began chomping from the top of the tree and worked his way, branch by branch, to the roots. His only condiment: French dressing for the massive birch-leaf salad. The culinary feat took 18 hours over a period of three days. When it was all over, the young man complained of an upset stomach. Evidently the bark was worse than his bite. (SermonIllustrations.com - from the December 1980 issue of Campus Life)
Money can make us do misguided things, but the saddest thing that money can do is separate us from our Lord. A young man with many possessions came to Jesus. (Mark 10:17 ff) From all outward appearances, he seemed to be a good guy. The Bible tells us that this young man ran up to Jesus and knelt in front of him. He had obviously heard about Jesus and wanted to be in relationship with Him. He wanted to make sure of his eternal destiny. And so He asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” He seemed to have his heart in the right place.
But Jesus understood that this young man had a problem. The young man was rooted in this world. And so Jesus challenged the young man’s perception of reality. He pointed the young man to the commandments because Jesus was aware that the young man’s heart was too cluttered to receive the Gospel. The young man was oblivious to this. He was like that stone cutter – life is about 1000 lire per day. The young man continued in his self delusion. “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was a boy,” He said to Jesus. “Ah, yes! But you lack just one thing,” said Jesus. “Sell everything you have. Give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then follow me!” The young man’s countenance fell. He went away sad because he was a very wealthy man.
An attitude of, “Show me the money,” or “Life is all about the money,” can cause us to loose our Kingdom perspective. You see, money can be a curse when it makes us miss Jesus. But it can be a wonderful blessing when it allows us to serve the Kingdom. Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ does incredible things through the Gospel. He took a man named Matthew Levi - whose life was all about money - and turned him into an Apostle. He’s taken a host of wealthy men and women throughout history, and turned them into disciples and has converted their gift at making money into channels of blessings for the Kingdom. You see it’s not all about money. It’s about how faithful we are with what God has given us.
The final stone cutter had the right idea. He knew that his life was more than just about cutting stone. He knew that it was more than just the 1000 lire per day he was being paid. He understood that he was a part of something huge. He was helping to build a cathedral. He was blessed to have a part in building a place where people would come face to face with eternity. He would be a part of helping children enter the Kingdom through the waters of Baptism. Here, where he was working, Christ’s Body and Blood would be shared with other living stones as God’s temple was being built. Here the Gospel would be proclaimed and lives would be changed. He was building a cathedral.
And so are you, beloved. Your talents, whether they are cleaning, leading, teaching, singing, organizing or promoting – are gifts of God to you to help build the Kingdom. When you use your time and talents in the local church to comfort someone you are serving Jesus. When you serve your brother or sister, when you serve the Church – you serve Christ. Paul tells us: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24) You are building a cathedral not just picking up paper or singing or cleaning.
And your financial gifts, whether they are dimes or thousands of dollars, are honored by God. These gifts joined together, penny on top of penny, dollar on top of dollar, are used not only to care for the local church, but are sent on to District and Synod and are used to send missionaries and teachers and workers all over the world to proclaim Jesus. Your contribution here can literally touch a person in China or South America or in Africa or in Mexico. You are building a cathedral, beloved, not just giving money.
It is incredible for us to believe that when we hand out a bulletin, or pick up the papers around the pews, or when we sing in a choir we are serving Christ – but that is exactly what we are doing; because we are building a cathedral, not just cutting stone; because we are building a cathedral not just making money. Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel Lesson, “Go and make disciples.” Go and build the Kingdom. You are my Body – work together to get it done.
Are you ready to pick up your chisel and shape your stone and fit it into the walls of the cathedral? Let us bring our time and talent forms to the front of the church as we sing the hymn, “Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us,” included in the blue insert in your bulletin.