Friday, 6 June 2008

Giving to God (2)

LUKE 12:13-21

I begin with a reassurance: today is the last Sunday that we are talking explicitly about giving.

Our passage this week begins with a dispute about money, about a bequest.

But what is surprising is that Jesus refuses to take sides with the man who appeals to him, and in fact challenges him.

One of the things that I quickly learnt about my job is that sometimes people will come to me in my official role to ask me to support them in their dispute with another person. After a few disastrous sorties, I realised that you cannot do that.

And when we come to Jesus to enlist his support in a dispute, he will often challenge us to look further and to look deeper: to ask ourselves what is really going on.

And he does that here. He challenges the man to look at his motives. And he tells him the story of a fool.


The man in Jesus' story was a fool because he thought that life was about stuff.
Jesus says in verse 14, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions”

The man in the story was not a fool because he was rich or because he had had a windfall. He was a fool because he had not realised what life is all about. He thought that life was about having stuff and getting stuff. He thought in terms of £’s and possessions.

Jesus in the next few verses says, ‘Life is more than food’ (v23). Life is about the Kingdom of God (v31). It is about living in the presence of God, under the rule of God, in the strength of God. It is about loving, serving and giving (v33). To gain your life you need to give it away.

And we are fools when we make money our God.

It is a spiritual principal that we become like our gods. If we worship the god of money, we become like money: cold, hard and calculating.

Tom Wright says, "Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it, and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners or customers rather than as human beings.” I would add that if those of us in the church, or those in the charitable sector, make money our God, we end up simply treating people as potential donors or benefactors rather than as human beings.

So Jesus warns the man: don’t make money your God. Money is not what it is all about.

And the man in Jesus’ story forgot that. He thought that wealth, stuff could bring him happiness and security. But it didn’t. He forgot that he had to die. He forgot that he would have to stand before God to give an account of his life. He forgot he couldn’t take it with him.

The man in the story was a fool because he thought that life was about me – me – me

V21 tells us, ‘He stored up things for himself’

There is a problem when we live like that: getting things, keeping things for ourself.

There is a problem for us personally.
Could I invite you to hold out your hand. Imagine that you are holding the most beautiful jewel. Admire it. Show it to your neighbour. Now look at the jewel in their hands. It looks bigger and better than yours. Watch out. They want it. So close your hands and hold onto it tight. Really tight. Don’t let go.

Now could I ask you to let go, and to give them the jewel that is in your hand.
Do you not see. We were not made to hold on to something so tightly. It literally knots us up. We were made to wonder, and we were made to give.

There is a problem for society.
One of the school assemblies that I sometimes do begins with me asking who wants a £2 coin. Of course all the children respond. So I put it down on the ground and say, ‘If (and I stress the word, ‘If’) I said whoever gets it can have it’ what would happen?

We have so much, especially here in the West. And yet we want more, we want newer, we want better. We fight with others for resources. It is reflected in our attitude to Eastern European migrants. When they first came over we said, ‘Oh no. They’re here to get our benefits. They’re here to take our stuff from us’. Now that they are leaving, we say, ‘Oh no. Who will do all the lousy jobs?’

Yes, we give away, but only when we don’t want the thing for ourselves. We give away our loose change; we give away something when we have got better. We take our unwanted clothes or stuff to the charity shop. We send our unwanted and out of date computers and medical equipment to developing countries. And we think we are doing good.

We try to store up things for ourselves, and we are fools.

The man in the story was a fool because he was not rich towards God (v21)

He’d had a windfall. A good harvest. It could have been a bequest, or free shares, or a bonus. But he forgot God

He didn’t recognise any obligation toward other people or toward God.

As a Jew he was called to tithe: to give away one tenth of his crop. It was a recognition that everything comes from God and ultimately belongs to God.

It is God who has given us everything: this creation, planet and life. It is God who has given us our particular start in life, our birth in this land at this time, with our skills and opportunities. We did nothing that influenced when we were born where we were born.

We like this man in the story, even when there are financial difficulties, have so many blessings.

For the Jew, tithing was a legal requirement. It was part of the law. If you obeyed the law, if you gave a tithe, you would be saved.

For the Christian, who knows that we are saved by faith in Christ, tithing is not a law. We do not need to tithe to be saved. But if we have been saved, if the Spirit of God is at work in us, then the spirit of tithing will be in us. We will recognise that everything that we have comes from God and belongs to God; and we will tithe, or at least be seeking to work towards that target, and once we've reached it, we won't stop.

I am drawing to a close.

Jesus challenged this man who came to him to reassess what was the most important thing in his life. He urged him not to be eaten up by money, or the desire for money. He challenged him to be not someone who got, but someone who gave.

I am not asking anyone to put an extra pound in the collection plate today. I am asking each of us to review seriously what we give, so that we can give generously in a planned way. Some people use envelopes. The person to speak to is Robin. Many people use standing orders. There are standing orders at the back of the church.

I am asking us to review our giving in the light of what we have seen these last three weeks.

1. We must not be fools – people who, in our wealth, think that wealth buys happiness and security, and so forget God.

2. Giving is an expression of our love. And as Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 9:6-11, as we give we are enriched. Not necessarily with financial blessings (someone once said, "If you tithe I can guarantee you one thing. You will be ten percent poorer"), but with ‘a harvest of righteousness’.

3. Our giving to the church and to the work of Christian mission is the thermometer of what God means to us (not the amount, but what it cost you to give what you did give).

A wealthy man came to a minister and said, “I wish to make a donation to the church of £50. Is that enough?” No doubt he wished for the minister to commend him. But this minister was very wise, and very courageous. He simply said: “Yes of course it is enough, if you think that £50 for you is a true reflection of your commitment to, your dependence on and your love for God”.

May I invite you to think of what you give, and to reflect: Is it a true reflection of my commitment to, my dependence on and my love for God? Is it a true reflection of what Father God and Jesus Christ mean to me?

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