The Time for Young Disciples has ended; the kids have left for Children’s Church. I have just read a perplexing, if not disturbing, text. And now you are wondering what’s next.
And since the bulletin says, Season of Consecration, you figure it is going to get serious. So maybe you are settling down in the pew, considering tuning out. Maybe you are considering turning off your hearing aide. Maybe you pulling out your phone to see if you can check messages and Facebook. Maybe you are playing tic tack toe or hangman on your bulletin with the person beside you. Please listen.
I have been in the ministry for 30 years now. And I can tell you not many people want to hear a sermon on giving. And few preachers want to preach one. But it is an important part of Christian discipleship.
As the preparation for worship quote from my brother-in-law says, “Learning how to give is no less important than learning how to pray. Learning how to give is no less important than reading the Bible. It is part of Christian discipleship. And we have a lot to learn.”(1)
We begin with the law, like Jesus did in talking with the man who wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. The Old Testament law about giving is tithing, giving one tenth. My Dad taught me tithing. When he gave me money, he always put it with the right change to set aside 10% for church. And he would put my church envelope with the money.
“Ten percent of that money belongs to God,” he would said. I was expected to give it to God. So from the time I was a child, I learned about tithing, giving one-tenth.
But tithing seems so legalistic. What does Jesus say about the tithe? Did he teach it? He did talk about it one time. In Matthew 23, he criticized the Pharisees. He said they would tithe their spices, the cumin and dill and mint. But he said they neglected the weightier matters of the law. So Jesus felt that the tithe was not enough.(2)
To the man in today’s story Jesus does not say give ten percent. Jesus says give everything you have. Wow.
Most Sundays when it comes to that time in the service that we worship through giving, I say, “Now let us worship with God’s tithes and our offerings.” What am I saying? What is the difference? An offering is what is above the tithe. If I come to you and say, “Can I borrow $5?” And you say, “Sure, here is a $5 bill. And a few weeks later, I say, “Here let me give you back your $5,” have I really offered you anything? I have just returned to you what was already yours. That is the way we are to regard the tithe.(3)
Jesus did not speak much about the tithe; that is true. But Jesus said a lot to say about giving. At the end of our text today, Jesus says those who gives up everything, their houses, their fields, their brothers and sisters, their parents, for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, will have it back, with persecutions, a hundred fold. Wow again.
Now some evangelists take that and promote a gospel of prosperity. You are to give so you can get. But that is a gospel of greed.
John Oliver, the British comedian, created a bogus church to call out evangelists who prey on people for their money with such promises. He registered as a non-profit a church named, “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption.” “Send me your money,” he said. “The more money you send in, the more blessings will be returned to you. And that,” he said with astonishment, “is something, I am legally allowed to say.”
But it is not give so that you can get. Keep reading in Mark and you will find Jesus in the Temple where he sees a widow putting in a small copper coin in the offering. Jesus says she gave more than anyone, because she gave out of her poverty.
The widow gave all she had, and then did she go and experience a windfall, say win the lottery, because she had given sacrificially? We do not know. All we know is she went home with less money than she had.
So when Jesus says it is more blessed to give than it is to receive, what does he mean? How can it be more blessed, unless you believe in the prosperity gospel?(4)
I wish I could tell you that if you give all of your money to the church God is going to multiply it a hundred fold. If I knew that for certain, I would cash my 401K tomorrow and put it into the church. Because where else could I get that kind of return on an investment?
But that is not what Jesus is talking about here. Jesus is saying as long as our stuff, what we possess, gets in the way of our following Christ, we cannot be disciples.
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus said. Have you noticed that the more we have, the harder it is for us to let go of it? But as the Rev. Billy Graham said, you never see a hearse on the way to the cemetery pulling a U-Haul trailer. It does not matter how much you amass, you cannot take it with you.
Now I did hear a story about four friends who decided to test that. They agreed among themselves, “Whoever dies first, we will go to the funeral, and each one of us will put one hundred dollars in the coffin. So when one of the friends died, the other three went to the visitation. They filed past the coffin. The first man went by and put in one hundred dollars. The second man went by and put in one hundred dollars. The third man went by and put in his contribution. The three met outside, and the first two said to the third, “Did you put your one hundred dollar bill in?” “Well actually,” the third man said, “I did not have a hundred dollars in cash. So I wrote a check for $300 and made change.” You cannot take it with you.(5)
So how are we to invest ourselves in what it means to be God’s people? We invest where it makes a difference. You know, I do not give all of the contributions I make to First Presbyterian Church of Kinston. I give some to other causes that I think are important, causes worth supporting. But the lion’s share I give in this place. I give it in this place because I think what we do here is of most important and makes the most difference. Each of the many missions is important. The Christian education programs, the congregational care and fellowship, the worship and the music, all are important.
But there is something more important than all of that. And that is our presence on this block. I believe that we are a mission outpost for God. We are a beacon of light and hope in this community.
And I believe that if we do the work of Christ, we will be blessed. I do not think we will multiply our investments a hundred fold, but I do believe that if we invest in the work of the kingdom, we will experience a difference in our lives and the lives around us. And that, friends, is true prosperity.
It is not give so that you can get. It is give so that you can be a channel of God’s blessings in the world.
I hope that we will all pray and ask God what we should give through the life of this church.
And then, well then let’s just see what kind of blessings we receive.
- Kirk H. Neely, “God’s Piece of the Pie,” sermon preached at First Presbyterian Church, Spartanburg, SC, October 11, 2015.