January 15, 2017

Pastor Mark F. Bartels


Gospel Lesson; John 1:29-41

Epistle Lesson; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Sermon Text; Exodus 35 – 36 (selected verses)

Holy Cross is about to enter a very significant part of our history. That is, we are about to begin the process of building a permanent, worship facility. So, for the next three Sundays, we are going to talk about how we, as a congregation, with God's help, can make that happen.

Today, we are going to look at The Children of Israel, when they were in a temporary worship facility, much like ours. It was called The Tabernacle.

Next week, we are going to look at the permanent facility that was built in The Old Testament, called The Temple.

The following week, we are going to look at what we call The Holy Christian Church, which is not made of brick, stone, and wood, but it is made of people.

As we look at this, we will see how God will enable us to build a sanctuary.

Today, because we are worshiping in a temporary, worship facility, here in our gym, (which has been the case for about four months, and we will be in here for a number of more months), we are going to look at the temporary, worship facility that the LORD had the Children of Israel build, when they were wandering in the desert. It was a tent, known as The Tabernacle, that the Children of Israel were to worship in.

The LORD told the Children of Israel, through Moses, that they were to bring offerings so that this tabernacle could be built. I am going to read selected verses from Exodus chapter 35 and chapter 36 that talk about the Israelite's response to this call to bring their offerings.

“Then, the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses' presence, and everyone who was willing, and whose heart moved him, came and brought an offering to the LORD for the work on the tent of the meeting. For all of its service, for all of the sacred garments, all who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds, broaches, earrings, rings, ornaments. They presented their gold, as a wave offering to the LORD. Everyone who had blue, purple, or scarlet yarn, or fine linen, or goat hair, ram's skins died red, or hides of sea cows brought them. Those presenting an offering of silver, or bronze brought them, as an offering to the LORD. Everyone who had acacia wood for any part of the work brought it. Every skilled woman spun with her hands, and brought what she had spun. Blue, purple, or scarlet yarn, or fine linen. And, all of the woman who were willing, and had the skills, spun the goat hair. The leaders brought onyx stones, and other gems to be mounted on the ephod, and breast piece. They also brought spices, and olive oil for the light, and the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense. All of the Israelite men and women, who were willing, brought to the LORD free will offerings for all of the work the LORD, through Moses, had commanded them to do.”

Then, we skip a number of verses. It talks about the work that was done. Here is what it says.

“The leaders came to Moses, and said, 'The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done.' Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp. 'No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.' So the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all of the work.”

These are your words Heavenly Father. Lead us in the way of truth. Your word is truth.


When I was in grade school, my dad was a pastor to a church called First Evangelical Lutheran Church. It was located in a town called Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. Sharpsburg was a little, industrial, town right next to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was right on the Allegheny River. There were huge factories, and steel mills, with smoke that would rise up in the air, around Sharpsburg. And, there were row houses, where factory workers lived.

On the news every morning, we would listen to hear what the air pollution index was, to know if it was safe to go outside, because there was so much pollution from all of those factories.

This church, that was called First Evangelical Lutheran Church, was a thriving church. It had a school just about the size of our school. It had a membership about the size of our membership.

My dad was pastor there, until about the early 1970's, when he took a call to a different congregation. Shortly after my dad left, a lot of the steel factories from Pittsburgh, moved to different parts of the country, or different parts of the world. Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania lost a lot of its factories, and as a result, they lost a lot of their factory workers. As a result of that, the congregation lost all of these young families. By 2009, there were only about 30 people who attended this once thriving congregation. And, in 2009, they actually had to close that church. The reason why was because they ran of out of, “guess what?”. They ran out of money.

There is something I find so ironic about that. First Evangelical Lutheran Church had a lot of beautiful, stained glass windows. One of those stained glass windows was dedicated in memory of one of the incorporating members of that church. (Right now, I will only give you his first name, and his middle name. His first name was Henry, and his middle name was John.)

Back in the 1860's, when Henry was 19 years old, he, his mom, and his dad were founding members of this church, The First Evangelical Lutheran Church.

When he was 25 years old, he met a young lady who was a Presbyterian, and he ended up falling in love with her. He married her, left First Evangelical Lutheran Church, and became a member of the Presbyterian church.

That same year, he started a little shop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The shop he started sold, of all things, ketchup.

His last name is Heinz! Henry John Heinz, H. J. Heinz.

Just a couple of years ago, the company he founded was bought by Warren Buffet for $23 billion dollars. He was second cousin to a man by the name of Fredrick Trump, whose grandson is going to be our next president, very shortly. He is worth billions of dollars, himself.

To me, it is so ironic that this once thriving church had to close its doors, because it ran out of money, and it was that close, that close to having someone who would have been able to take care of all of their finances.

I want to relate that to Holy Cross. In a way there are some similarities between Holy Cross, and First Evangelical Lutheran Church. And, there are some dissimilarities. Here are the similarities. Way back, about 20 years ago, our church leaders started to look at trends that were going on at Holy Cross. What was discovered was that the trends were almost identical to what had happened at First Evangelical Lutheran. We hit our apex, as a congregation of attendance, or our height of attendance, back in the 1970's. In the mid 1990's we began to notice that for twenty years there had been a slow, steady, decline in church membership, and church attendance. There had been a slow, steady, decline in our Christian Day School. Our leaders looked at that, and said, “If that trend continues, there is going to be a day when we are going to have to close our school, because we won't have enough students. We may, eventually not have enough money to run the church, and we may have to close our doors.”

And so, our leaders and congregation said, “We love our church. We love what we do. We love the fact that this is a church that teaches the true, pure, Word of God. We can build up people's souls, and with God's help, win more people for Christ. We want our church to be able to continue.”

We understood one of our strengths, one of our real strengths, as a church, is our ministry to young families with children, through our education programs. And so, we, as a congregation, said, “With the help of God, we are going to take some steps to really reach out to more young families, through our education programs.”

Which brings us here, today, to this building. By the grace, and mercy of God, instead of having to close our doors, our school is growing. We are now reaching out to at least fifty more young children, and families through our E.L.C. than we ever would have had the chance to do before, with the Word of God. So, we thank God for that!

Now we have gotten to the phase where, here, we are worshiping in a gym. Our ultimate goal is to be able to build a permanent sanctuary, a permanent House to the LORD, where we can give our best to Him, and put up a building that says to the community, “This is how we love our Lord”, and invite our community to come, and participate in Word and Sacrament, and really be blessed.

Now, we don't have an H. J. Heinz in our congregation that is going to be able to make that happen. So, if it is going to happen, it is going to take the work of all of us, working together, with God's help, and God's mercy. It is going to take our offerings.

I want to tell you something about being a pastor. It is a privilege to be a pastor, and it is very fulfilling. But, there is one thing, as a pastor, I miss out on, every single Sunday. Do you know what it is? The offering plate doesn't come past me. I miss out on that. It is always really healthy for me, when I go to Pastors' Conference, and there are whole bunch of pastors sitting in a congregation. They are the congregation. Somebody else is preaching, and it is not me. Somebody else is doing the Liturgy. It is not me. I am sitting in the congregation.

Then, all of a sudden, during the service, guess what happens? The offering plate starts going around, and I can see it coming toward me. I think what everybody else thinks. “That is going to be in my hands, pretty soon. What am I going to do? Should I put anything in it? Should I let it go past me? How much should I put in it? What would be too much? What would be too little?”

And, I start to think, “Well, I already give to Holy Cross. I give to Bethany College. I give to The Evangelical Synod, and I give to Smile Train. Should I put anything in there?”

And, I wrestle with it. I think, “What if I don't put anything in? What will they think? What if I put too much in?”

So, I struggle with what we call, The Law. I start to see my own faults and weaknesses, as I struggle with how much to give the Lord.

But then, I also think about The Gospel, and I think about the fact that Jesus loved me so much that He died for my sins, and I certainly want to show my thankfulness to Him. That is a real healthy exercise to go through.

I will say one of the most fun things for me to see, as a pastor, is on days when we have Chapel, here for our school kids. The offering plate goes around, and every once in a while there will be a mom who comes to chapel. She may bring a child who is too young to be in school, maybe like a three year old. And all of a sudden, as our eighth graders are giving the offering, you will see this little three year old shoot out of the bleachers, run up to the eighth grader, with a five dollar bill from Mom, put it in the offering plate, and then turn around looking at Mom, with this big, beaming, smiling face, running all the way back, smiling. That is the perfect picture of what God says in 2 Corinthians.

“God loves a cheerful giver.”

The Greek word for 'cheerful' is 'hilarion' from which we get the word 'hilarious'. There is the face of this child who thinks,

“I got to give to Jesus!”

And, it is so joyful!

“God loves a cheerful giver.”

So today, I want to think about the opportunity the Children of Israel had to give to the work of the LORD, the building of this Tabernacle, this temporary worship facility, because it is a fantastic picture in scripture of what we call, “cheerful giving”. You will notice, if you go home, and read Exodus 35 and 36, (I read a portion of it), you will notice in those two chapters two phrases keep coming up, over and over.

“The people gave from their hearts.”

“They gave as they were willing.”

We find that over, and over, and over, again.

They gave gold. They gave silver. They gave bronze. They gave precious gems. They gave gold, purple, scarlet, and blue yarns. They gave wood. They gave their skill. They gave their time. They gave their talents. They gave their treasures. In fact, they gave so much that, can you imagine the chairman of our board for stewardship and finance standing up, and saying, “I want you all to look at the back of your bulletins. I want you to see what our budgeted needs are, and what we are given. I am going to have to ask you to stop giving. We are getting so much that we don't know what to do with it all.”!

That is what happened. The people were so overflowing with the desire to put up this structure for the LORD that Moses finally had to restrain them from giving. Wow! What would cause somebody to give so much? I am going to use a phrase. It is a great Latin phrase. As Lutherans, it is a phrase you should probably know. 'Simul iustis et peccator.' It is Latin phrase Martin Luther came up with. It means, 'Simultaneously Saint, and sinner.' You are simultaneously, at the same time, a sinner, and yet in God's eyes, at the same time, you are a saint. You are holy. You are forgiven.

If anybody understood what it meant to be 'Simul iustis et peccator.' at the same time, saint and sinner, it was these people who had the opportunity to give to The Tabernacle. Consider what had just happened to them, in their history. They had, by the grace of God, been freed from their slavery in Egypt by the powerful ten plagues the LORD had brought upon the Egyptians. They had seen all of this power of God.

Then, they had made it to The Red Sea. They saw the hand of God, as He parted the waters. By the power, and might of God, they crossed The Red Sea on dry ground. They saw the power of the LORD. They saw the waters collapse on the Egyptian army, and they were delivered. They saw the mercy of God, first hand.

They saw the pillar of fire by night, and the pillar of cloud by day that led them to Mt. Sinai. They saw the thunder, and lightening of the LORD.

And so here, they had all of this mercy, and grace of God, and saw all of the deliverance of God.

But, when Moses was up on Mt. Sinai, (and he was up there a long time, forty days and forty nights), it was so long that the Children of Israel said, “Where is this Moses who delivered us? Where is the God who delivered us? Let's make our own god.” They took their earrings, and their gold, made the golden calf, and became idolaters. They began to be involved in this terrible revelry, and sin.

When Moses came down from the mountain with The Ten Commandments in his hands, and saw what had happened, his anger burned so much that he shattered those tables of stone. The LORD's anger burned so hot against the Children of Israel, that He told Moses He was going to destroy all of the Children of Israel, and start over with Moses.

Moses ground up the golden calf, and made all of the Children of Israel drink it in water, to taste the bitterness of their own sin. Sinners. Idolaters.

Then, Moses pleaded with the LORD, for the sake of the LORD, for the sake of the LORD's name, that He would forgive the people of all of their sin.

Instead of destroying them, the LORD mercifully, mercifully forgave them. They were saints and sinners at the same time. They knew they were sinners before God. They were certainly repentant for what they had done. Now, they knew they were forgiven, and God saw them as forgiven, for His sake.

That good news changed their hearts.

They wanted to give.

They wanted to give so much that they had to be restrained!

Now, it has come to Holy Cross. Do you know what I see when I sit here, and stand here? I see 'Simul iustis et peccator.' I see saints, and sinners, simultaneously.

I see sinners.

And, you see a sinner, standing up here.

I see some who struggle with alcohol, and maybe nobody in your family even knows it. Or, maybe they do. You are destroying your body. You are destroying your relationships. You are wasting your money. You wish it weren't that way.

I see people who struggle with some sort of drugs, in one way, or another.

I see people who struggle with pornography. I see people who wish they weren't looking at it, and are ashamed of it, and wish it were different.

I see people who struggle with their marriages, who aren't perfect husbands and perfect wives, who maybe have not been faithful.

I see people who struggle with money, and are spending money in a way that is poor stewardship, or poor management of what God has given to them. Maybe they have gotten into some real financial trouble, as a result of that.

I see people who struggle with gossip about others, and love tell gossip about others.

I see people who aren't satisfied with the situation in life God has placed them in, and wish they could have what somebody else has, or be married to someone who somebody else is married to.

I see people who don't delve into the Word of God the way they aught to, and don't pray the way they aught to.

I see a bunch of sinners.

But, you know what God sees? He sees saints.

God sees saints.

If there was anybody who was a cheerful giver, it is the LORD. Probably your favorite Bible verse, John 3:16, says:

God so loved the world that

(He did what?)

He GAVE....

God gave. He so loved, from His heart, who? Sinners. Sinners, who are totally undeserving. But, His love, and mercy moved Him to say, “I am going to give whatever you need. And, if that means I have to give...” What did He give? He so loved the world that

“He gave His One and only Son...”

God gave the greatest gift. More valuable than all of the money in the world. He gave His Son for you.

What does the Bible say about Jesus, and what He gave? It says,

“You know the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ,

that though He was rich,

yet for your sakes He became poor,

so that you,

through His poverty,

might become rich.”

Talk about somebody who gave from the heart, and gave everything.

You know the passage that says,

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,

who humbled Himself,

although He was in very nature God,

and took on the nature of a servant,

and being made in human likeness,

and being found in appearance as a Man,

He humbled Himself,

and became obedient to death,

even death on a cross.”

Jesus became nothing. He gave up everything. Talk about somebody who is a giver.

And, because of what Jesus has done, God the Father looks at you, and He sees a saint. He sees a holy one. He sees sins washed away, and forgiven. You are holy, and perfect in His sight.

That, brothers and sisters, is the one thing that motivates us, when the offering plate comes around to say, “I love Jesus. I love Jesus!” It is a giving from the heart. It is a response of faith. It is not because I have to. It is not because of what people might think, or would think. It is just from the heart, free will, to the LORD.

We have a big project ahead of us. We think it is going to require a Capital Campaign of about 1.4 million dollars over the next three years. That is a lot. But, I believe, with God's help, we are fully capable of that.

Just to put it into perspective. We have about 900 members here, at Holy Cross. If each of us, for the next three years, didn't spend $2.00 a day on a cup of coffee, do you know how much money we would save in three years? 1.9 million dollars!

I know, with God's help, we are fully capable of being able to build a facility that will be a permanent place, where this congregation can continue to minister.

Our goal in building that building is not to our glory.

It is to the glory of the LORD.

And, it is so the Word and Sacrament ministry can continue, people can hear about their Savior, and more people can come to know Jesus. Hearts can be comforted, and ultimately led to Heaven, itself. There is no money in the world, no money in the world that could ever ultimately buy those things.

I don't think we have any H.J. Heinz's in our midst. But, I do know we have a whole bunch of 'Simul iustis et peccator.' – saints and sinners at the same time, who know the mercy of Jesus, and have this wonderful opportunity, as a congregation, to show our thankfulness to Him, as we proceed forward, and with His help, strive to build a sanctuary for Him. May He bless us.