Dear Friends in Christ,
• Port-au-Prince – Charlene, two room house with baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening. Dirt gets trucked in, rocks and clumps are strained out, mixed left to dry under scorching sun. 80% of people live on $2 a day, two cups of rice sell for 60 cents, 100 cookies made for $5, and sold for 5 cents.
I asked our 5th and 6th grade students this past week to raise their hands if they came from a rich family. Two raised their hands, and when I asked a second time a couple more put their hands up half way and began to shake them as if to say maybe, kind of, sort of.
I won’t ask for a show of hands today, but I will say that I am a rich not so young man and that my premise is that I am speaking to mostly rich people this morning. At least, according to globalrichlist.com, when I plug our family net income into their calculations, I find that I am richer than 99.92% of world population. To help you see where you fit in, if you make $50,000, you’re richer than 99.69% of world citizens, and if you make $30,000, you’re richer than 98.77% of people, and if you make $20,000, you’re richer than 96.35% of people.
Last week’s sermon was Jesus Loving Rich People and today’s sermon is Rich People Loving Jesus. (See bulletin insert for sermon notes). Last week we saw a snapshot of a rich young ruler kind of a man who ran towards Jesus, he knelt down in before Jesus, he complimented Jesus as a Good Teacher and asked quite sincerely what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. We saw Jesus looking him squarely in the eyes, we saw Jesus loving him with a great love and inviting him to leave behind all of his wealth and follow Him to the cross. At the end of last week’s Gospel lesson, we saw this rich man going away with a gloomy face and a (struggling) heart
Did this man go away to do what Jesus said, his sadness merely indicating that he realizes now just how difficult genuine discipleship is? Or does his downcast demeanor indicate a refusal on his part to pursue the path Jesus laid out? We don’t really know. What we do know is that in today’s text, Jesus turns to his disciples and comments how difficult it is for rich people to enter heaven. We learn again today that while it’s not wrong to be rich, it’s very dangerous to be rich. In fact, the Holy Spirit has worked in each of us a new heart that desires to seek first the kingdom of God, but the old Adam keeps on nudging us towards loving all of these other things in life. We do fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but at the same time we love all of the comfort and all of the fun and all of the good times money can buy. By God’s grace we are declared saints, but at the same time sinners. We are generous one hour, and stumbling into stinginess the next. Two lessons we want to learn today, as think about what it means for rich people to love Jesus Christ, in response to Him loving us first.
Lesson #1 is this. To spend our days loving Jesus is to understand how slippery is the slope towards (leftover) giving. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to go on, sell all that you have, and give it to poor people, He was laying His Divine finger on the chief sin in this man’s heart, the love of his earthly possessions. Last Sunday Pastor Muther described this him as a “man beset by the monster of comfort….as the beast on his back.” And then he looked us in the eyes and asked, “What is the beast on your back?”
For many years, I did a Free Press paper route here in town, and for the most part it was an easy 30 minute walk or so and not particularly difficult. But once in a while in winter time, the papers would be as heavy on my back as I tried to climb a slippery hill or two to make delivery. Once in a while, I would slowly climb the hill, only to slide backwards.
In much the same way, Debi and I have found it pretty easy to give ten percent of our income back to this church in most of our years. We’ve always been richly blessed, and other than going for many years without an automatic garage door opener, we really haven’t gone without much! But you know how life can be. There have been periods of time where the college tuition and the expensive vacations and daughters’ weddings have combined to tempt us back into giving what was left over instead of off the top. In fact, having fun and being comfortable have been beasts on our back and with red faces, we admit that we have fallen far short of sacrificial giving, in response to that great once and for all sacrifice offered up by our Savior on a little hill outside of Jerusalem.
How tempting it is to love ourselves more than (Jesus and the Gospel). Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. He meant that it is impossible for a rich man who is trusting in His riches to go into the kingdom. His false trust in riches will most certainly keep out the true trust in God’s grace. The disciples were beyond measure shocked by this statement and wondered if it was possible for anybody to be saved. Jesus answered that with human effort, no, it was not possible to be saved, but with God’s effort, even rich people could be saved.
One of Yogi Berra’s more famous statements was that “you can observe a lot by watching.” In that spirit, we want to observe today How easy it is to develop bad habits that render impossible our (good intentions) I’ve been watching this congregation for over 25 years now, and I don’t think I would get very much disagreement when I offer these 3 observations.
1) There are a lot of blessed people in this place who love their Lord, they love this Church, and the love this school.
2) Springing out of that love for Jesus and Trinity Lutheran is a desire to support God’s mission in this place. A desire to pay the bills, and to do more than that, to help us move forward and do more and more for the sake of Jesus and His Gospel.
3) We have developed bad habits that render impossible our good intentions. Personal finances in many of our families are a mess. Many of us have spent more than we have earned. Left-over giving is the collective beast on our back, and so our holy desires and good intentions keep on having to take a back seat to reality.
And so like the rich young man in Mark 10, we do well to run to our Savior this morning, to kneel down before Him, and to ask, “How can we break these bad habits into which we have fallen? Is the vision we have in this place Your vision? And if so, how can we make these good intentions of ours come true? We do love you, Jesus Christ, do show us the way!
To which Jesus answers,: Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” The commentator Lenski explains these verses in this way, “The generosity and the magnanimity of Jesus are so great that he would and could accept nothing from us without rewarding it beyond all computation. The vast disproportion between our work and God’s reward of it already displays his boundless grace, to say nothing of the gift of salvation which is made before we have even begun to do any work. Not one shall miss his due reward.”
In closing today, to spend our days loving Jesus is to enjoy His (generosity). Jesus didn’t say that He came to make sure that we could survive life here and now, He said, “I came that you might have life and that you might have it abundantly.” The great philosopher Forest Gump said that his “mama always said life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” St. Paul said otherwise, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
Two points we want to make about what it means to spend our days enjoying God’s generosity. Receiving rewards we have in no way (earned). Assignment #1 each day is to receive the forgiveness of sins, even though we have sinned much and indeed deserved nothing but punishment. It is to revel in the fact that our souls have been saved, through no merit on our part. It is to receive our daily bread and so much more with hearts that are grateful, spirits that are content, and minds focused on all that is excellent, praiseworthy, of good report, true, commendable, and noble.
Finally the Spirit of God invites us not only to receive and to revel and to be still in knowing God as the extravagant lover that He is, but also to be moving forward in our response to that love. Moving forward by (remembering).
Generosity ladder isn’t a ladder to reach up to God, it’s a ladder to reach out to neighbors with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a stronger way. God has already come down the ladder to sit in the slums of Haiti with Charlene and with us in the dirt and the dust of a Minnesota fall harvest.
Compelled by our God’s generosity, we get motivated... Motivated to pay our own bills and the churches bills as well…….More than that…...motivated because we know how richly we have been blessed………more than that………motivated simply by the amazing generosity of our God who spared not His only Son / generosity we receive in waters of Baptism / words of absolution / bread and wine of Supper
This morning, I invite you to be going away from this house of worship with puzzled faces and (cheerful) hearts. Puzzled as you think about whether you are a rich person or not, and cheerful as you determine what your life would look like if you moved a step forward on what Authors Chris Villard and Jim Sheppard call The Generosity Ladder. Puzzled as you wonder why God has been so good to us here in this great country, and cheerful as give what you have decided to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion. Puzzled as you think about your responsibilities as people in the top 1 or 2 or 3 percent of world population, and cheerful as you figure out how much of your treasure to keep for yourself.
Occasional givers puzzled at what life would look like if they stepped forward to intentional / percentage giving / folks giving 2% puzzled at how they could move forward to 5 or 10 percent / tithers puzzled
The kingdom of God is like a man who starting to figure out what he has been told from his mother’s knees, in one way or another…..that naked came he into this world, and naked he will leave…..that God is, was, and ever shall be the owner of everything in his life……..that to whom much is given, much is required…….that no matter what Jesus is the great lover of His soul. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther