Blessed… How Terrible It Will Be…

“How terrible it will be for you blind guides who say, ‘If people swear by the temple, it’s nothing. But if people swear by the gold in the temple, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ You foolish and blind people! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold holy? You say, ‘If people swear by the altar, it’s nothing. But if they swear by the gift on the altar, they are obligated to do what they swore.’  You blind people! Which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift holy? Therefore, those who swear by the altar swear by it and by everything that’s on it. Those who swear by the temple swear by it and by everything that’s part of it. Those who swear by heaven swear by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it (Matthew 23:16-22, Common English Bible).

I’m not sure exactly why but as I read today’s lesson my mind went back more than 25 years. I was just beginning in ministry. Perhaps it was when I went to licensing school (a short school the United Methodist Church requires of new pastors who are not yet ordained nor have completed seminary) or at Course of Study School (a five year abbreviated summer seminary program for second career pastors, I completed three of the five years) or it could have been somewhere else, I remember hearing someone say, “Never, ever place empty offering plates on the altar table.” I don’t remember who said it nor do I remember the reasons they gave for not doing so.

Shortly after that, I tried really hard to make sure the offering plates were never left on the altar table in empty. At some point on the journey, I got frustrated with the idea. It seemed like every time I would take the plates off the altar someone else would move them back. It was a never-ending, frustrating battle of futility.

I remember one-day thinking and asking myself the question, “Am I being a Pharisee about this? What possible difference does it make if anything is in the offering plates or not? What is in the plates doesn’t even matter except that those represent the gifts of the people to God and the work of God.”

Jesus reminds us in today’s lesson that it isn’t the offering plates. It isn’t even the offering itself. I don’t event think it is so much the altar table. As I read this lesson what seemed to jump off the screen at me was the last sentence of the lesson. “Those who swear by heaven swear by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”

It is not the gift, though our gifts should be offerings from the heart out of thanksgiving to God for all God does for us. It isn’t the vessel that holds the offerings. It isn’t the table where the offerings rest. Each does have a place of significance but what is really important is that which makes each element holy, the one who sits on the throne. God makes our places of worship and all that is in them holy. All the other things are items we place there. God brings the holiness that is part of our places of worship. An empty offering plate isn’t holy, but neither is a full one. What makes the offering holy is God’s blessing.

How does God bless you by what you place in an offering plate or on an altar?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Thanksgiving,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Author:

"The Pastor Ponders" is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. I often share what I am thinking with my dog "Bishop," but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He will even go to sleep sometimes while I am sharing my thoughts with him. The truth is, if it doesn't involve getting his ears scratched, his belly rubbed or some kind of treat, he really doesn't care. I will say this for him, he never argues with me or tells me I am wrong. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts with whoever might come across this blog in their ramblings around the Internet. Bishop and I live in Sweeny, Texas where I am the pastor of First United Methodist Church. I have served here for the past two years. For the past 27 years I have served United Methodist congregations throughout East Texas including rural Madison County (Elwood UMC), Lovelady (First UMC) and Kennard (Center Hill UMC), Canton (First UMC), rural Smith County (Mt. Sylvan UMC and Union Chapel UMC), Grapeland (First UMC), Tyler (Pleasant Retreat UMC), Santa Fe (Aldersgate UMC), Freeport (First UMC) and Oyster Creek (Oyster Creek UMC), Diboll (First UMC), and now Sweeny (First UMC). My wife Cindy and I have been married for over 40 years. We have two grown sons. Wayne and his wife Nikki and all our grandsons (Kaleb, Noah, and Jaxon) live in Southern California. Christopher and his wife Morgan and both our granddaughters (Jenna and Natalie) live in Tyler Texas. I enjoy preaching and all aspects of preaching from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading, playing the guitar as well as a bit of drawing. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I sing bass with a local barbershop chorus called The Coastalaires. I have also recently begun doing a little wood carving. I also enjoy playing with Bishop, something he likes a great deal better than listening to my thoughts. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, specializing in Microcomputers from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. When I was a student at Carolina, the school was in Iron Station North Carolina. They have since relocated to Manassas Virginia (Yeah, go figure, a school named Carolina geographically in Virginia). This blog is mostly devotional writing, but there are other things here too. Just about every week I will either post my sermon manuscript or a video of the worship service. On occasion, I will post something I see in society. Occasionally I write a short story, a poem, or a song and will post it here too. I will say this, my motivations for writing this blog are really selfish. I write it to get what I am thinking out of my head and onto something a bit more permanent. They say, after all, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. And, should you desire, you can one-up Bishop and actually tell me what you think. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. With Joy and Thankfulness, Keith Sweeny, Texas May 2018

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