Friday, December 19, 2014

What does God do with the gifts we bring to Him?

A GIFT THAT WILL NOT BE TAKEN AWAY

Oaks of Mamre - public domain
So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the Oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD.  Genesis 13:18

WE know what moms and dads do with the little gifts that their children give them, the drawings, dandelions and doodads they construct for them.  They accept them, and depending on how hectic the moment, they oooh and aaah, or get misty, or give their baby a tender kiss in return.

What does our heavenly Father do with the gifts that His children bring Him?  The answer is simple, but tricky, so we must proceed with caution.  Most people, even those who are well versed in Scripture, are more likely to get this wrong than right, so may God's Spirit clear the fog from our sin-encrusted minds so that we might learn the blessed answer to this question: what does God do with the gifts that His people give Him?

In order to answer it we must first believe that every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of Lights, who is ever constant in His love, and who will never turn away from us.  He is a giving God of infinite resources, who will never stop blessing us.  We must also know that we can never give Him what He has not first given us.  It is as we sing in the hymn:  We give Thee but Thine own, what'er the gift may be.  All that we have is Thine alone, a trust O Lord from Thee.  Above all we must know that the best gift He gives us, the one that towers far above all the rest, is the everlasting salvation He bestows on us in Christ.  This is the gift that Jesus promised to Mary as she sat at His feet, and to all who hear His Word today and it can never be taken from us.  Now there is a promise!  A gift that can never be taken away.

The world makes such promises too, but you should not believe them.  In America the constitution promises you certain rights, it even acknowledges that they are given to you by God, and guarantees that no one may infringe upon them, but in our day the very people who are appointed to safeguard those rights are busy trampling them, adjusting, restricting and reducing them until soon there will be nothing left.  They say the same thing about education.  Get a good education, that's the word, because it is something that no one can take away, but how many college graduates with advanced degrees and a mountain of student debt are working at Radio Shack or the Macaroni Grill today?  So much for the promises of men.  What Jesus promised Mary that day, that God's Word is our Great Heritage, and that nothing can take it from us, that is a promise you can rely on, a promise you can take to the bank, a promise you can lean on through all of life's sorrow, and one that you can take into eternity. 

What does God do with the gifts His children give Him?  The answer is simple: He accepts them, and then returns them to us a thousand fold, for we can never out-give the Eternal One.  We learn this from Abraham in today's Old Testament lesson.  The Lord called Abram, who was an old man, and promised him that he would have descendants more numerous than the dust of the earth and the stars of the sky.  But there was a problem.  Abram and his wife were well beyond child-bearing years and they had no children, but scripture says that Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as Righteousness.  He went where God led him and settled at a place called the Oaks of Mamre, where he gave the Lord a gift.  He built an altar there for the True worship of the One, true God who had made such priceless promises to him.  That's what faith does.  It believes.  It trusts.  It builds altars, constructs cathedrals and sings Te Deums.

What is the lesson?  Abraham gave something to God -- an altar, but it was from that very altar that the Lord made the great promise to him.  We learn the same from Martha and Mary in today's Gospel lesson.  They invited Jesus to their home to feed Him and to give Him rest from His labors.  They set out a feast before Him, just like Abraham and Sarah did eighteen centuries earlier, but they could not out-give Jesus.  However hard Martha labored to get things ready, however intent Mary was to learn, Jesus was giving them far more than they could ever give Him.  They gave Him rest for His body, He gave them rest for their souls.  They gave Him food which perishes, He gave food from heaven's table which doesn't.

We learn the same thing today in the church's liturgy, in that portion of the Mass we call the Offertory.  Today it has changed greatly from what it was at the beginning.  Because we don't live close to the land or in close communities anymore we bring our gifts in the form of currency, but in earlier times when the faithful brought their gifts to the altar, they were for the support of the clergy and for the relief of the poor, and especially gifts of bread and wine offered to the Lord to be consecrated by Him for Holy Communion.  We do the same thing at our Offertory today even if it is less obvious.  We give Jesus our bread and He gives us back His true body, the medicine of immortality that imparts life and salvation to us.  We bring Him our wine and Jesus gives us back His blood which, as St. John says in his first epistle, purifies us from every sin.

This is what God does with the gifts we bring to Him.  He accepts them, blesses them and gives back to us inestimably more than we could ever give Him; gifts that no one can ever take away from us; gifts that feed our hungry souls and give us peace now and always.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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