When You Put it That Way…

Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
September 2, 2018

Luke 12: 13-34 (CEB)
13Someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14Jesus said to him, “Man, who appointed me as judge or referee between you and your brother?”
15Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.” 16Then he told them a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. 17He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! 18Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. 19I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. 20But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ 21This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.”
22Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23There is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing. 24Consider the ravens: they neither plant nor harvest, they have no silo or barn, yet God feeds them. You are worth so much more than birds! 25Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 26If you can’t do such a small thing, why worry about the rest? 27Notice how the lilies grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 28If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, how much more will God do for you, you people of weak faith! 29Don’t chase after what you will eat and what you will drink. Stop worrying. 30All the nations of the world long for these things. Your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, desire his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.
32“Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. 34Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.

I was speaking with someone a week or so ago. They were telling me about a lawyer who left a high paying firm in order to provide legal help for the poor, many of whom are unable to pay him. Other times, I have heard about doctors who, after all the years of schooling and training, have become missionaries to places where there is little if any medical help. I would imagine most of us have heard stories such as these. What is your reaction to them? I know what I frequently hear and say, “Wow! That’s amazing,” or “What a great way to spend one’s life! How wonderful! What an awesome person!” What I don’t usually hear or say to myself is, “It’s so wonderful and awesome that I think I’ll do the same thing myself.”

If we hold such high esteem for this kind of “selfless giving;” if it causes us to “Ooh and awwww;” if it brings with it just a tinge of envy, why is it that so many of us are not doing more of it? Or think about the persons who give great sums of money or great percentages of their income to charitable causes. We really admire these people, don’t we? And here in the church, if it weren’t for the “cheerful givers,” we would have no building in which to worship and no money to pay the bills, nothing to send to missionaries around the world, and no cash whatsoever to do ministry right here! Yet, how many of us tithe? How many of us give from the first fruits of our income to the church? I know this can be an overwhelming and scary thought. “10% of my income?!” we think, “If I do that, how will I pay my bills? If I do that, how will I afford to spend and buy things for myself and my family?”

But you know what? I hear testimonies from generous givers all the time. I’ve never heard a single person, not one, say that they miss the money they give to God; that they wish they could spend that money on something else. Giving from our first fruits, or even giving 10% doesn’t stop us from being able to pay the bills. We are still able to provide for our families and buy things we need, maybe even some things we want as well. The only thing that generous giving does is increase the faith of the giver, and bring us a greater self-worth. Not to mention the fact that it helps us be better managers of the money we do have. This is such a difficult concept for us to grasp because it is entirely contrary to what society tells us about how we should use our money. Giving money away doesn’t make any sense in the worldly way of looking at things, but it makes a lot of sense in the Kingdom way! “O you of little faith!…You are worth so much more than birds!…seek [God’s] kingdom and these things will be given to you as well…make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out…a treasure in heaven that never runs out…where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.”

Has anyone ever asked you, “What are you worth?” What that question typically means is: “How much money do you have? What are your net assets?” Every year, one of the leading financial magazines publishes a list of the richest people in America. The “worth” of each of the persons who top the list runs into the billions of dollars. Yet, is this truly what they are worth—or merely an accounting of what they own? We get our priorities so mixed up sometimes. We sometimes say, for example, that people who have declared bankruptcy are “ruined”—as though a shortage of money could ruin a part of God’s good creation! What do gamblers in the casinos say when they still have some money left? They say they’re “still alive!” The tragedy is that many folks actually believe this twisted way of thinking.

Recently I read what a few Wall Street financiers did on the day the stock market crashed in 1929. They leapt from the windows of their Manhattan skyscrapers! Was their joy in their family and friends really ruined by their financial problems? Did food suddenly taste less good, flowers smell less sweet? Was life really less worth living, because their financial castles had been demolished? Could it be that those tycoons of 1929 had lost their perspective? Did they really believe the lie that they were worth what they owned?

Today, so many of us struggle not only under financial burdens—burdens of unpaid bills and heavy debts, but also burdens of low self-esteem. But Jesus tells us that we are worth infinitely more than what our checkbook balance indicates! One of the powerful myths on which our society is based is that “we are what we own.” That’s why the rich fool of Jesus’ parable thought what he needed was bigger barns! This is a cruel and oppressive myth! Deep down, we know it’s a lie, yet what a powerful influence it has all the same!

Jesus has a word that counters this powerful myth. It is, “Do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid,” Jesus says, “because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.” What more could we ask for? How could we possibly desire anything greater? Christianity is a radically different way of looking at the world. In fact, God enables us to see differently! And because we see differently, we must also live differently! Within this passage of Scripture, Jesus paints the world the way God wants us to see it and then invites us to come and be a part of that world. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make wallets for yourselves that don’t wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not run out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want my heart in a silo, or even a barn. “We are what we own” is a dangerous and debilitating myth! But, as with so many things, Jesus has a way of turning society’s myths completely around! Bigger barns gains us nothing! We’ve probably all heard the saying, “you can’t take it with you,” or “a coffin has no pockets.” Our financial worth will not go with us to the throne of God. We are told in 1 Peter, “You know that you were ransomed…not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” It is neither what we own or what we are, but what Jesus Christ has and can do through us which is decisive!

It’s been said that, “today people are consumed by desires to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like.” That, my friends, is a form of hell! Freedom comes when we let go of those worries, when we let go of the desire for more and more, and live wholly and completely with an unwavering trust in God! That is the only way to be truly happy and satisfied! Even Christian believers can find themselves in a sort of hell when we cling to the things of this world and forget that the only thing that matters is Christ and Christ alone!

It’s interesting, desert mirages appear to be water, which is desperately needed. But they are an illusion—a trick of the sun, heat and sand. When you see a mirage, you head toward it, moving faster and faster; until finally, you plunge headlong right into it! But all you get is a mouthful of sand. In a similar sense, there is a false spirituality of materialism, promising what it can never deliver. Even the slogans of advertising sound religious: “Buick: Something to Believe In,” “Miller: It Doesn’t get any Better than This,” “GE: We Bring Good Things to Life.” Such materialism drives us right toward idolatry. How many of us sacrifice our souls for the mirage of glittering images, and all we get is a mouthful of sand?

The lawyer who forfeits financial gain for the freedom of serving Christ, the doctor who works so hard in order to go off and be a missionary to those who cannot afford to pay him or her…“There is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing…Don’t chase after what you will eat and what you will drink. Stop worrying…Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.”

Our statement of net worth doesn’t matter a hill of beans to God. So unimportant are running after financial gains that Jesus advises his disciples to give their worldly goods away, so they will not be troubled by their crippling weight; so that they can be free to serve Christ with complete trust and joy! This is the Good News! We can glory in the fact that, on the cross, the decisive action of calculating our net worth has already been done. In the eyes of God, we are worth more than we can ever know! We are worth no less than Jesus’ own blood, the blood he shed so that we might have life!

So, if anyone asks you “What are you worth?” Or if you ever find yourself asking the same question of yourself or anyone else, remember, that you are worth much, much more than all the silver and all the gold in the entire world. And so is, your neighbor next door, and the persons living in the homes surrounding this church building, and across town, and across the world. That’s a treasure that can never be stolen, and that will never diminish, no matter how much of it you give away!

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