“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 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: 7-12
Today is the final sermon in our series on stewardship. In these past few weeks we have considered the responsible stewardship of our world, the stewardship of our family life, the stewardship of time, and the stewardship of talent. Today we complete the circle on stewardship Sunday as we consider the stewardship of our finances.
Of course there are many ways to think about the stewardship of finances. Each person has a philosophy of money and its meaning in life. Some try to believe that money has no meaning at all, as if a more spiritual life can be found if money and possessions could be removed altogether. This is an unrealistic and unbiblical approach. Even monasteries face fierce battles over small items (like coffee mugs) between monks who have given everything else away.
Jesus did not teach that money is not important. The disciples had a treasurer. Jesus changed the water into an abundance of wine at a wedding, saving the host family both a great expense and the embarrassment of running out of celebratory wine. To deny money and possessions is not the answer to financial stewardship.
On the other extreme is the idea that money is everything. Many people see all life in terms of dollar signs and balance sheets. What a sad life to see everything as being bought and sold, as if everything in life is a matter of price! There are too many life stories of people who have sold their souls in the name of greed. It can happen to anyone at any level of salary or lifestyle. Money can easily become the focus of life, but when that happens, life becomes so out of focus that nothing can be seen beyond a cloud of despair.
One way that we understand stewardship of money is to believe that we can separate life into the material and the spiritual. It is as if there are two lanes on a highway, the material and the spiritual, and we weave back and forth between them. When we are in the spiritual lane, we are in prayer, in worship, or in the caring mode in relationship with another. When we are in the material lane, we are hard at work, making our living, paying our bills, buying and selling. This approach is very easy to comprehend. It seems so tidy and neat and easy to understand.
However, Jesus taught a fourth way, that money is intertwined in life. Since Jesus taught that life must be lived in the spiritual and physical senses, Jesus guards against lifting our spiritual selves apart from the physical work. Separating the two spheres promotes a drift into a double life that does not include a moral compass. God is in all of life and wants life to be balanced with his influence in heart, body, and mind.
Jesus said where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. That is a very challenging statement because it says that if we lose heart, where do we look to find ourselves? We must look at our treasure to see where our heart is and no further. Our treasure is not found somewhere in our heart. Our heart is reflected in our treasure! Suddenly we discover a lot about ourselves when we think about our life in those terms.
The Bible knows that we often look at our treasures as if to proclaim to the world, “This is who I am!” The Bible leads us to encounter God, then look back at our treasures and ask, “Is this who I am?” Over and over again Scripture teaches about the uses and abuses of money. Jesus taught about money more than any other topic in his parables. 62%, or 27 of 43 parables discuss money or possessions. One in ten verses in the New Testament is about money or possessions. In the whole Bible there are over two thousand verses about money’s blessings and curses with less than 500 on faith and less than 500 on prayer. In Luke chapter 12 Jesus said, “”Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus met and spoke about spiritual matters to many who were wealthy, such as Nicodemus and Zaccheus. They were eager to lead lives of responsible stewardship and listened to the lessons with open minds. Yet when Jesus met the rich young ruler, Jesus seemed to identify him as being at a different place spiritually, as if the rich young ruler was consumed by greed, for Jesus told him to give it all away to follow him.
If life is defined by the pursuit of money it leads to despair. When we considered stewardship of talents we considered sharing that gift that God gives everyone. That gift makes life a joy. When someone is pursuing that gift, life is so much more fulfilling. Students who choose a major on the grounds it will bring a high salary will be unhappy later when they realized they followed the dollar instead of their dreams.
Every year exceptional college athletes are tempted to quit college and become professional athletes early. Do you remember Peyton Manning being told that he would lose his star status, or get hurt, and lose millions if he did not join the draft early during his junior year? He made it clear that there was no amount of money that would take him away from his senior year of college at the University of Tennessee, and later proved the sports commentators wrong by being chosen as the first draft pick after all.
It is not a surprise that the word MISER and MISERABLE come from the same root. A miser is someone who hoards all he can and holds onto everything- and he is miserable! What do we hold in life? Our arms are only so big, and our grasp can hold only so much. We would feel much freer if we lived the fact that it is not holding on to things that makes life meaningful. Rather, in our giving we begin to experience the real joy of life, because God created us to give. Author Henry Van Dyke gives this an even stronger point: “Are you willing to own, that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life.”
Knowing what to give and what to hold in our grasp is the key to financial stewardship. The question is, how do we prioritize our resources? How do we see through the eyes of love instead of the eyes of money? Tim Sanders of Yahoo wrote Love is the Killer App which means love is the best app, which is the abbreviation for application, a small specific computer program that targets a certain, very specific question, such as “where is the best French food in this city,” or “which hotel is pet friendly,” etc. Love is our application that goes with us and becomes a part of how we see the world. When we see the world through the eyes of love, our generous nature grows, but we need to teach ourselves how to do that. Maybe we could develop a system for looking at our lives similar to the system Sanders developed to prioritize his Monday action items:
I’ve started to use a pretty simple system of defining each action item as if it were made of one of three things: Glass, Metal and Rubber. If I drop an action item made of glass, something gets broken. It has a guaranteed negative outcome not to do it. If I drop and action item made of metal, nothing gets broken — but there will be plenty of noise and maybe even a dent claimed. If I drop an action item made of rubber, it will probably bounce either back to the tasker or to the right person. This is probably an action item that is either silly or not my role. Once you start to use this, you’ll find that Monday is a day to deal with glass. Your goal is to have only a few things made of glass in your juggle loop at any given time. You want to be important to the business, essential, but you don’t want to be like Lucille Ball in the famous candy/conveyor belt scene.
Let us translate his Monday plan and put what we value into those three categories. The rubber portions of our lives which I might characterize as sporting events, parties, leisure trips, would bounce back if we missed them for some reason. The metal parts might be our banking, our automobile care, our shopping, which if for some reason went awry, would cause some commotion but we could bounce back. The items that are most fragile, the glass, are the priceless relationships of life that when dropped may completely shatter. The things in life we can afford to drop and let go turn out to be what is filling most of the space in our lives. Discovering that fact is the first step away from materialism toward better financial stewardship.
Paul wrote that “. . . God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” Paul writes that God makes us able to be generous through God’s grace. Through the beauty and joy of God’s grace, we are able to hold onto those things that warrant holding on to, and set aside those things that should not be held close. What is grace? The human analogy of a love of a parent defines it best. The poem by Helen Steiner Rice is entitled, A Mother’s Love:
A Mother’s love is something that no one can explain,
It is made of deep devotion and of sacrifice and pain,
It is endless and unselfish and enduring come what may
For nothing can destroy it or take that love away . . .
It is patient and forgiving when all others are forsaking,
And it never fails or falters even though the heart is breaking . . .
It believes beyond believing when the world around condemns, And it glows with
all the beauty of the rarest, brightest gems . . .
It is far beyond defining, it defies all explanation,
And it still remains a secret like the mysteries of creation . .
A many splendoured miracle man cannot understand
And another wondrous evidence of God’s tender guiding hand.
When we experience God’s grace we recognize that we are made in God’s image and that life is about loving others and not about acquiring more things. God’s grace sets our lives into a pattern of giving that is part of our heritage as children of God.”
Two years ago I heard a wonderful analogy of how easily we forget that our lives are in a pattern that ultimately leads to God. Christine and I were at a Christian Life Conference in Montreat, North Carolina, and the speaker, John Ortberg, a Presbyterian Pastor in Menlo Park, California, told about how his grandmother used to defeat him regularly in Monopoly. Then one summer he learned from his next door neighbor that acquision was the key to winning. Ortberg recalled that moment when, at Marvin Gardens, he beat his grandmother for the first time. He recalled that it was one of the proudest moments of his life. When his grandmother began to put the game away, he protested stongly because he wanted the board to remain as a monument to his victory. He said that was when she taught him one of the greatest lessons of his life. “It all goes back in the box, John. At the end of the game, all the property, the houses, the money, everything, it all goes back in the box.”
That may seem to be a grim reminder of our final end, but it is actually a positive story since it remins us that our lives are not the sum value of what we have accumulated. Our meaning is found in self giving love, God’s agape love that Paul writes about to the Corinthians.
Once a father was rehearsing a wedding when he read the often used I Corinthians 13 passage about love. Yet he was reading from an old pulpit Bible that was the King James Version. When he read, “Now faith, hope, and charity abide, the greatest of these is charity,” he looked shocked and exclaimed, “What kind of Bible is this? It is supposed to say love! I am not really into charity, but I am into love! What’s going on here?” I explained to him that it was all right to use another translation of the Bible. However, when the word love, agape, was translated by the King James team, they used charity because it actually means self-giving love, a love totally focused on fulfilling the needs of another. The father asked if that meant that charity was the greatest of the three. I said that yes, it was greater than faith and hope. He said that he learned something new!
The beauty of life is that it is never too late to learn something new. We learn that love is the greatest “app” that we carry with us wherever we go. We learn that our church needs our love and generosity, and that we have been blessed through God’s grace. We give to Kenilworth Union because we value this faith community and what it stands for. We believe that in giving we truly receive. We give because we believe in a power higher, greater, more loving than ourselves and trust that God will take care of us in this life and the next. Because of that fact, let us share God’s grace…each of us can make a difference! Amen.