The Earth Is the Lord's
Psalm 24:1-6 Joyful Generosity 2017 The Earth is the Lord’s Dear friends in Christ, Many years ago, after a church service, a pastor stood up and addressed his congregation. I was sitting in the pew that day, and what the pastor said to us has stuck with me. At the time, what the pastor said bothered me a little bit. He told me, and everyone else who was there, to be generous in giving to a specific project that needed to be done within the congregation. Immediately my mind said, “He doesn’t know my situation. He doesn’t know if I am for the project or against it. He doesn’t know if I can afford to contribute to it. But he’s telling me to give, and to give generously?” What the pastor said bothered me. But it should not have bothered me. He wasn’t trying to squeeze me for some money. He was giving me an opportunity to consider some scriptural principals of giving and to put Christian stewardship into practice. He was making known a specific need within Christ’s church and encouraging the Christians entrusted to his care to respond to God’s grace in a specific way. What the pastor said that day was a lot like what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians Christians in the first century. At the time Paul was gathering offerings to help the hurting Christians in Jerusalem. Before he arrived in Corinth, he wrote to encourage them to participate in this special act of grace. Regarding their participation in this special offering, Paul wrote, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver… Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:6-10). “Joyful Generosity” is the theme for our worship over the next several weeks. We will be exploring and applying to our lives several scriptural principals of Christian stewardship. The first of these is the fact that whatever we have in our possession really doesn’t belong to us. Instead, King David reminds us in Psalm 24: “The Earth is the Lord’s.” The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it on the waters. Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God their Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob. I. Creator of all Before anything existed, nothing existed but God himself. He spoke and everything came to be: light and darkness, waters above and waters below, land above the seas and between the rivers, vegetation, plants and grass, animals in the ocean, in the sky and on dry ground. Then, finally, the crown of God’s creation: man and woman, male and female, in perfect harmony. And it was very good. Within God’s very good creation, he also established the order of how you and I would come into existence, so that, even after the fall into sin, each of us can rejoice with King David in another psalm: “I praise you (LORD), because I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Because the LORD has created us and all that exists, he also owns us and all that exists. Jesus’ Parable of the Talents reminds us that we are not the titleholders but the managers of what our Master has entrusted to our care. To some he has entrusted more. To some he has entrusted less. But to each one of us he has entrusted much more than we deserve. Consider God’s generosity just in terms of the physical blessings and the material wealth that he has poured into your life. He has entrusted you with your body and soul, your eyes, ears and all your members, your mind and all your abilities. He has given you food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and property, money and goods, maybe a spouse and children, family members and faithful friends, peace and order… All that you have has come from your Creator, and he has entrusted these blessings to your care. When we remember this truth, it affects how we handle ourselves and our possessions, doesn’t it? If my grandma said, “I’m going to take a trip. While I’m away, will you live at my house and take care of the property?” I’d take that responsibility seriously, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t trash grandma’s house. You would clean up after yourself and make necessary repairs if the pump sump stopped working. You would make sure the lawn was mowed regularly and the garbage was taken out. You would want her to come back home with her house and property in good order, maybe even in better condition than when she left. Why? Because she has entrusted all this you your care. She loves you and you love her. At home or at church, at work or at school, or anywhere else, if what I have in my hands doesn’t really belong to me, but belongs to my Lord, I want to use it in ways that show my appreciation for his overwhelming generosity to me. I want to use it in ways that will bring him honor and praise, in ways that will help spread the Gospel and support my family and help my neighbor. II. Redeemer of all “The earth is the LORD’s,” not only in the sense that he is the Creator of all, but also in the sense that he is the Redeemer of all. It is the height of human arrogance to imagine that anyone who is contaminated with sin and guilt can remain standing in the presence of the holy and righteous God. None of us has the inherent right to enter into the presence of the God, or to expect that he will listen to what we have to say. The Old Testament is full of pictures that illustrate this very point. One is when the people of Israel were camped near the base of Mt Sinai. Before the LORD descended on the mountain in a black stormy cloud, he warned the people not to go near it. If anyone ignored God’s command and came into contact with the mountain before the LORD gave the OK to do so, that person would die (Exodus 19:12,13). Sin and holiness don’t mix. Another example is when the LORD called Isaiah to be his prophet. He gave Isaiah a vision of his throne room. Isaiah “saw the Lord seated on his throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” The vision terrified Isaiah so much that he thought he was going to die. “I’m ruined!” he cried, “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty!” (Isaiah 6:1,5). Sin and holiness don’t mix. Still another example: The tabernacle that the LORD told the Israelites to build had two rooms separated by a thick curtain. The back room was the Most Holy Place. This was God’s throne room. It contained the Ark of the Covenant which symbolized the LORD’s presence among his people. But the Ark remained hidden behind that curtain. If anyone went behind the curtain and entered into the LORD’s presence without being properly called or prepared to do so, that person would die. Sin and holiness don’t mix. People might call you an outstanding citizen or a good friend. They might describe you as the kind of person who would give someone the shirt off your back. This is good. Yet even your most righteous acts are contaminated with sin. Like filthy rags, Scripture says (Isaiah 64:6). Even if you and I were able to keep the entire law of God, yet we stumbled at just one point, we would still be guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). King David asks, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. So, are your hands clean? Or have they been stained by activities that you’d be ashamed to admit? Is your heart pure? Or has hatred, immorality and jealousy seeped in? You might not bow down to an idol of wood or stone. But have your possessions or other people become idols in whom you trust and for whom you live? If we imagine that we can approach God, or enter his sanctuary, or remain in his presence on the basis of our own goodness, we are sadly and tragically mistaken. But there is a Way! There is a Way to stand in the presence of the holy God. There is a Way to be right with him. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). This alone is amazing: that the Creator and Owner of all, chose to love all of mankind even though all of mankind has rebelled against him! And his love isn’t just a feeling. God’s love took action for all mankind. “For God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son…” God’s Son, Jesus Christ, willingly gave up the full use of his glory to live for all people the holy life that we need to stand before God. Then Jesus took for all of mankind the punishment we deserve for our failure to live as we should. Because of Jesus’ work, God has declared the sin and sins of all people forgiven. And his grace invites you and me to trust that what he has done for the world, he has done also for you and for me. Clean hands? Christians, we can say, “Yes!” Even though we stain our hands with sin, in God’s record book they are absolutely clean because Jesus’ blood has washed them clean. Pure hearts? Yes! Even though sin still plagues our hearts, according to God’s record, Jesus’ blood has made them pure. What’s our response? We want to say thank you, don’t we? And now we say thank you by striving to live with clean hands and pure hearts. We aim to use our possessions in ways that honor our God, instead of setting our hearts on them and making them our idols. We strive to imitate the loving and overwhelming generosity of our Redeemer. Thinking back to my first reaction to what that pastor said years ago, I have to admit that I was wrong. The way he said it might not have been the best way to say it. But within his address was a truth that God wants all his children to hear and to put into practice. As dearly loved and redeemed children of God in Christ, let’s first of all remember that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it. Then, with joyful hearts let’s aim to imitate the generosity of our Creator and Redeemer. Amen.