A Final Gift

April 27, 2014

When our daughter,  Deborah,  was preparing to depart for Odessa in Ukraine in
2008 she had to sign a form stating how she wished to have her remains disposed
of if anything happened to her while she was overseas.  Pretty heavy stuff for a twenty-one year
old.  But practical. 
But what do you do
with your body if you are far from home when you die? 
When we were living in
Australia I remember telling Angela that is anything happened to me to have my
body cremated and to bring it home in the video camera case to avoid shipping
charges.  Video cameras were much larger
then. 
We don’t like to talk
about things like that.  When I was
pastoring in Truro I had a great idea, we made “funeral information” forms
available.  It covered all the things
that would need to be taken care of when a person died.  Did they want to be buried or cremated, did
they have a preference for who performed the service, what songs were to be
sung, favourite scripture passages.  I
thought it was a great idea, we would keep them on file in the office and when
they were needed  it would save the
family a lot of grief.  We handed out 150
and got 4 back.  It’s almost as if by
talking about it we will make it happen but it’s going to happen whether you
fill out the silly form or  not. 
My parents have told
me that everything has been arranged in regards to their funerals, all I have
to do is open the envelope.  We have
talked to our children about our funeral arrangements, Angela wants cake and
balloons. 
Last week was Easter
and we focused on the death of Christ and on his resurrection, and we often
talk about Jesus being laid in the tomb and then the tomb being found empty,
but have you ever stopped and thought about the tomb that Jesus was laid in.
Funeral arrangements
are never easy but they are more difficult when the death is sudden and
unexpected.  I wonder at what point it
dawned on Mary that something was going to have to be done with the body of her
son when he was taken down from the cross. 
Remember Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem but his home was in Nazareth
which was over a hundred kilometres away in a time when there were no trains or
planes or hearses for that matter to move the body from point “a” to point “b” 
We’ve all seen photos
of the sculpture by Michelangelo with Mary holding the body of her son, there
was a similar scene in the Passion of the Christ.  I wonder what was going through her mind at
that point?  If she was wondering what
was going to happen to her son when she let go?
Actually the scriptures tell us that by that time there was already a
solution and as often happen that solution was provided by an individual who
made a conscious decision to help.  We
read the account earlier but to refresh your memory.  Luke 23:50-52 Now there was a
good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high
council, but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other
religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was
waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’
body.
We don’t know a lot about this man called
Joseph.  We know from this account that
he was from the town of Arimathea, which was a suburb North West of Jerusalem.
We know that he was wealthy, and from reading Mark 15:43 . . ,Joseph
was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom
of God to come.   We know that he was part of the Sanhedrin and he that was Kingdom
minded.  Matthew tells us in Matthew 27:57-58 As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who
had become a follower of Jesus, went to
Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to
him. Here we discover that Joseph was rich and when we
read John 19:38 Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple
of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to
take down Jesus’ body.   We discover that up to that point Joseph had been a secret disciple,
whatever that was. It’s interesting to see how each of the four authors view
Joseph from a different perspective.   And
then we can add to all we know for sure details from that tradition and legend.
Tradition tells us that Joseph was Mary’s
uncle and was a tin merchant.  Because of
his business legend says that had travelled to the mining community of Cornwall
England which was renowned for its tin. As a matter of fact some legends even
say that he took his Great Nephew Jesus to Cornwall when he was still a
child.    And that’s why William Blake’s poem
says:  And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green: And was the holy Lamb of God, On England’s
pleasant pastures seen!
Legend continues to say that because of
that connection and history that Joseph was later recruited by the apostles to
take the gospel to England and that on the journey he took the cup that Jesus
had used at the last supper, which of course began the legend of the Holy
Grail. And the legend tells us that he founded the first British church at
Glastonbury where he planted his staff which miraculously flowered into a
tree.  The tree is called the Glastonbury
Thorn, whose offshoots may still be seen today, flowering every Christmas. (A
sprig or cutting is sent to Buckingham Palace every year from this tree),  But all of that is just legend.  But what is it that we actually learn from
this story?
1) Joseph
Saw a Need. 
  Actually Joseph saw two needs in this
story.  The first was a spiritual
need.   You will recall from the accounts
we read that although Joseph was a believer he was not a Christ Follower in the
public sense.  In his heart and in his
head he knew and accepted the claims of Jesus but nobody else knew about his
decision.  The scriptures said he was a
secret disciple which I would kind of think is an oxymoron.   Being a disciple means being a follower and
I would think at some point you would have to make a public declaration.  As Joshua was leading the people of Israel
into the Promised Land he issued them with this challenge.  Joshua 24:15 “But if you refuse
to serve the Lord, then choose
today whom you will serve . . . But as for me and my family, we will serve the
Lord.” 
Story is told about a small town that had
an awesome fisherman, during fishing season he always caught piles of fish,
even when they weren’t biting for anyone else he would arrive back in town with
all kinds of fish.  Well the game warden
got curious about how he was doing it so one day he invited himself along to go
fishing with Buddy.  Well they got in the
middle of the lake and the fellow opens up the tackle box, pulls out a stick of
dynamite lights it and tosses it into the water, boom.  Fish float to the surface and the warden
freaks out, starts screaming about the law and how big the fine would be and
even possible jail time.  Well, buddy
looks at the warden, reaches back into the tackle box pulls out another stick
of dynamite lights it and hands it to the warden and says: “you gonna talk or
you gonna fish?”
Well there comes a time that we have to
make a decision when it comes to following Jesus and it shouldn’t be put off,
Jesus was pretty clear when he said Matthew 10:32-33 “Everyone who
acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my
Father in heaven. But everyone who
denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
But it was more than simply a spiritual
need that Joseph saw there was a practical need as well and that was; what were
they to do with Jesus’ body? 
We are told that three things could have
happened.  1)  The Romans were notorious for simply leaving
the body of executed criminals on the cross as an example for others.  Birds of prey would feed upon them and
eventually they would decay and fall off the cross to be picked at by
animals.  Some scholars even thought the
reason Golgotha was called the Place of the Skull had nothing to do with the
shape of the hill and everything to do with the skeletal remains left lying
about. 
2) That didn’t apply if the person who was
executed was Jewish.  We read in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “If someone has committed a crime worthy of death and is
executed and hung on a tree, the
body must not remain hanging from the tree overnight. You must bury the body
that same day, for anyone who is hung is cursed in the sight of God. In this
way, you will prevent the defilement of the land the Lord your God is giving you as your special possession.  The Jewish
authorities felt that applied as well to those crucified and so the bodies had
to be taken down before sunset.  That is
why the thieves on either side of Jesus had their legs broken, to speed up
their deaths.  But it was already
determined that Jesus was already dead. 
But if there was nobody to claim the body than it was simply disposed of
in the garbage dump. 
3) A relative or family member could claim
the body. 
So from a practical point of view something
had to be done for Jesus burial, his body wasn’t just going to bury itself.
Being a Christ follower doesn’t just
involve a spiritual need it also involves a practical need.  From the very beginning of Christianity
believers have gathered together in local churches and those churches have had
needs that were met through those who followed Christ.  It’s not up to the world to meet the needs or
the church, or the government and the early church didn’t do it through fund
raising and bean suppers and bingo. 
In the case of Cornerstone we have a
mortgage, power and heat bills, maintenance, snow plowing and salary
costs.  And as the church grows some of
those costs will increase. 
And that brings us to the second
point.  2) Joseph Made a Decision.  Joseph
filled the first need by publicly declaring himself a disciple of Christ.  Have you publicly declared your allegiance to
Christ? 
Part of doing that is when you choose to obey his command and be
baptized as a believer.  The purpose of
baptism was not to get wet it was to make a public declaration of a personal
decision to follow Christ. 
And understand there is no example given in
the New Testament of people waiting for a significant period of time after
becoming a Christ follower to be baptized. 
If you have chosen to follow Jesus and you have never been baptized then
we need to talk.   
Matthew 27:57-58 As evening
approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of
Jesus, went to Pilate and
asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him.   I don’t know how
many people were there that day who could have done something, but Joseph
didn’t wait for them to do something he did it.   He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus
body.  He didn’t hope that someone else
would do it, he didn’t assume one of the apostles or Jesus family would take
care of it, he did what had to be done. 
In too many cases “Everyone thought someone
would do it and in the end no one ending up doing it.” 
There is no magic pot
that we dip into at Cornerstone to meet the financial needs that we have as a
congregation.  If we are going to
minister to this community, if we are going to provide a place for you and your
family to worship, if we are going to be able to continue to teach your
children and be there for weddings and funerals, than those needs will have to
be met by those who call Cornerstone their church home.
And we do it a little
differently than most churches do it, we allow you to determine what type of
church you want to have.  At the end of
today’s service we will ask each of you to make a commitment as to what you
will give on a weekly basis for the next church year.  We do it by giving each of you a commitment
card to fill our and return, and my personal promise to you is that I won’t
embarrass you or put you in an awkward situation. 
But the bottom line is
that my pay cheque, the mortgage payment, which by the
way is $6,500.00 a month, the heat, the lights and everything else right down
to the toilet paper is paid for by people who love Jesus and love Cornerstone.
And every person who is connected with this
church will have to decide how much they are willing to invest in what we
do.  Because you will spend your money
somewhere.  And you will choose what
investments you make, and Jesus said it would be litmus test of who we are, in Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart
will also be.  And you will make a
decision about Cornerstone when you fill the card out and make a
commitment.  And you will make a decision
about Cornerstone if you choose to not fill the card out and make a
commitment 
3) Joseph Made a Sacrifice  Understand that
this wasn’t some nebulous theoretical decision that Joseph made.  When he publically identified himself with
Jesus it wasn’t the popular thing to do, those who had followed Jesus for three
years were hiding in the shadow and for good reason.  Jesus had been crucified for being a traitor
to the Roman Empire and to his religion. 
And Joseph was basically saying “I’m with him”. 
When you take a stand today to seriously
follow Jesus, not just call yourself a Christian because you aren’t a Muslim or
a Hindu or a Jew, than there will be consequences.  You will have to make decisions that may not
be popular with your friends or your family; you may have to make choices that
are at odds with your employment.   I don’t know the price that you will be called
to pay but there will be a price.
But it wasn’t just a personal cost that
Joseph had to pay, there was also a practical cost. 
Luke 23:52-53 Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.   Then he took the body down from the cross
and wrapped it in a long sheet of linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb that
had been carved out of rock.
So you understand that this wasn’t just a
loan this was a gift.  It wasn’t like
giving someone a book to read and then getting it back, or letting someone use
your car for the afternoon.  When Joseph
put Jesus body in the tomb then Joseph no longer had the tomb.  He was going to have to go out and buy
himself another tomb.  Don’t know what
the tomb had cost, but it had cost something and people weren’t lining up offering
their tomb.
Ultimately if Cornerstone is your church
home and you want all the benefits that come from having a church home it will
cost you something.  Or at least it
should cost you something.  Otherwise you
are parking on someone else’s quarter.  It
would be like going to McDonalds and picking up a tray of food that someone
else had paid for and eating it.
And I have heard people say through the
years, “But pastor I tithe elsewhere.” 
That would be like eating at McDonalds and paying at Burger King.
And please don’t think that those who give
to Cornerstone give without making a sacrifice.  Sometimes we think “Well they can afford it
more than I can.”    Every dollar that someone gives to
Cornerstone could have been spent somewhere else, and yet someone made a
sacrifice to give it here and not spend it elsewhere. 
Now sometimes we get the impression that
God wants it all and He doesn’t care what happens to us or our families.  That isn’t the plan, God doesn’t ask for 100%
of our finances or 90 or 50 or 40 or 25. 
In the scriptures it speaks of God’s people returning 1/10 of our income
to God.  Note I said returning because
the assumption is that all that we have comes from God.  And so we have scriptures like Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be
enough food in my Temple.
If you do,” says the Lord of
Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a
blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to
the test!
God doesn’t want us to lose our homes, he isn’t interested in us not
feeding our children or defaulting on our taxes, that’s what the 90 % is for.  And speaking of taxes, I did mine the other
day and before I put in my donations from Cornerstone the government wanted me
to send them a whole bunch of money, but after I put in my donations the
government sent me a whole bunch of money, I like that better.
And tithing isn’t something that kicks in when you are an adult.  We have children and teens at Cornerstone who
tithe their babysitting money and their allowance and it is easier to be
obedient with a lot when you have already been obedient with a little. 
J.D. Rockefeller Sr. One
of the richest men in the world in his day said “If
I had not tithed the first dollar I made I would not have tithed the first
million dollars I made.  Tell your
readers to train the children to tithe, and they will grow up to be faithful
stewards of the lord.”
I came across a neat saying that kind of sums
up this point, You should give according to your income, lest
God make your income according to your giving. 
So here’s a question, could you live on 10 times
what you give to the church each week? 
What type of house would you live in? 
What type of car would you drive, what would you eat?