2 Corinthians 9: 6 – 13
6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written,
‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures for ever.’
10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others,
Mark 10: 17 – 27
The Rich Man
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It 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.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
[N.B. Some information, part of the delivered sermon, and personal to Holy Trinity Devonport and to my family has not been included for public consumption]
I’m here to tell you that I am a Protestant through and through; and so we should be if we are Anglicans. We believe that salvation is first of all necessary and that we gain it by faith in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. It is by grace – a free gift of God – and it cannot be earned.
And we are each of us going to give an account for our lives; for how we have responded to the grace of God and how we have each of us lived out the saving grace of God here on earth.
These are the good things that have emerged from the Protestant Reformation, whose beginnings are associated with Martin Luther and whose effects were so thoroughly felt in Britain.
However, there was much in Catholicism that was good and our separation from Rome has had its disadvantages because we have forgotten some of them. One of these good things was a sense that the institution, the organisation of the Church was no different from the actual church as it exists in the mind of God.
In other words there was little sense that the true church consisted of genuine believers from all sorts of denominational expressions and that only God knew who these people were.
I am not recommending a reversion to Catholicism. In fact it is a pipe dream to suggest that there was a time when all the church was one big happy family. However it is true that in the mind of the average Medieval Christian there was (at least in Western Europe) the idea that there was only one church, that one belonged to it, and that involvement in its day to day life assured one of a heavenly future. There is something positive in that. It speaks of cultural and social, let alone religious, consensus.
That has changed, and at the root of that change lay not only a growing sense of individualism, but also a growing sense that our fallen natures placed us at odds with God. An overemphasis on the individual made it possible for us to declare unilateral independence not only from God, but from our fellows too.
And our overemphasis on the fallen nature of humankind made it possible for us to understand ourselves, even when saved, as conflicted creatures pulled in one direction by a desire to please God and in the other by a desire to please our fallen nature.
Prior to the Reformation, trust in the Church’s teaching and communal life was such that, by and large, adherence to its requirements was understood to bring life and wholeness. Both the individual and society was, one could say, less internally riven – less divided. If the church said it, it was true and – at the very least in the long run – beneficial.
And so, at least in the West, people were expected to carry out the biblical injunction to tithe for example, to give 10% of their income to the church. In the main they did so. In fact in most countries this was enshrined in legislation. It was relatively recently that the legislation was repealed. France officially abolished tithing in 1789, England in 1836, Ireland in 1871 and Italy in 1887.
Tithing remained a voluntary exercise encouraged by the Church of England but nominal membership meant income dropped markedly, especially under the influence of liberal scholarship which coincided with a drop in church attendance. A growing sense of individualism didn’t help, as individuals gradually began to identify themselves, in opposition to, rather than as part of, the church.
It became clear that an adherence to tithing was associated with a commitment to God.
Today those who tithe do so in denominations where it is expected. But in the traditional churches it is either carried out by a decreasing number of traditionalists from a sense of duty, or by those who understand it as a biblical imperative. It remains a measure of spiritual maturity and obedience to God.
There is a saying that the last thing to be converted is one’s pocket and this is not surprising in our consumer-driven society where the acquisition of things is given such priority. The mind-set of the Kingdom of God is diametrically opposed to that of society in this regard.
The understanding that a significant part of our makeup is at odds with God doesn’t help, and our independent individualism makes it easier for us to live our lives in discrete (that is separate) boxes where we have one set of values in one situation and another in a different situation. It makes it easier to ignore the things that please God.
The church has taken a pragmatic view on this and instead of insisting on an adherence to biblical principles, tends to appeal to the pragmatic and rational – pie charts of income and expenditure etc. – in an attempt to persuade us to part with our money in what is termed proportional and planned giving. For proportional read “we’re not asking you to be unreasonable” and for planned read “regular”.
I have a problem with this. It doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work firstly because only a very small proportion of people buy into anything for rational reasons. Secondly it seldom appeals to biblical principles and thirdly it seldom asks us to give in faith as a form of worship.
But enough of all that. We’re not legalistic in the New Testament. We should give as though we really did understand the extent to which Jesus, in giving his literal body up to crucifixion, now needs our support for his metaphysical body (the Church) here on earth.
I have already alluded to the fact that modernity’s values are at odds with God’s values. August is traditionally stewardship month, and while stewardship involves a great more than our giving money, it is a major part of it. So let’s have look at Jesus’ attitude towards money in the story of the rich young ruler. Let’s find Gospel – good news – in that story.
He’s a privileged man this. He’s not concerned with where his next meal is coming from, or where he’ll sleep for the night. His concerns are metaphysical.
He’s also an insightful man. Well, as Jesus people we’re a bit biased on that one! We reckon he recognises spiritual authority when he sees it. He comes to Jesus. In fact he kneels down before Jesus.
We read, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
Jesus tells him to obey the commandments and mentions six of them. He replies, I’ve done that since I was a little fellow.
A bit annoyingly good this bloke. A bit like the kid in maths class who finishes his problems way before anybody else and then rushes up to the teacher for more to do. But then perhaps not, because Jesus looks into his eyes and the Scripture says, he loved him.
It sounds as though he really was keen to please God. Jesus took more than an instant liking to him. He felt love for him.
And then comes the bombshell. Vs. 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’
Jesus sees within this fine man, a man whom he instinctively loves, the one and only area that prevents him from inheriting eternal life: his attachment to money.
It’s not that he has money that’s the problem. Jesus doesn’t dislike money any more than he dislikes electricity. Money is a prison for the rich young ruler because it is more important to him than God is. He’s not free of the need to have it.
I have no doubt the rich young ruler was a very generous man. He may have even heard Jesus teach (Luke 6: 26) Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.He may even have done just that. In fact perhaps he half expected Jesus to give him a big giving assignment. He’d have been prepared for that. He’d kept the Law of Moses and it certainly encouraged generosity to the poor. He’d certainly have tithed and more.
But everything?!! Clearly he wasn’t expecting that for we read in the next verse 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
The rich young ruler preferred bondage to things, to freedom with Jesus. Bottom line.
According to the National Catholic Register Pope Francis recently said: “Jesus teaches us to put the needs of the poor ahead of our own. Our needs, even if legitimate, will never be so urgent as those of the poor, who lack the necessities of life.” That’s why a fair whack of this church’s money goes to a good cause each month. It’s important.
Vs 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ This is a hard saying! I mean are any of us going to make it? In world terms if you own a car you’re wealthy.
But don’t despair. When the disciples ask Jesus who then can be saved, we read in Vs. 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
Next week I’ll be altering my automatic payment with Kiwibank to close my payment to Holy Trinity and redirect it to St Peter’s where I begin my new ministry in September. Wouldn’t it be nice if a number of you here today went home and made the firm decision that you are going to set up an automatic payment with a meaningful amount and direct it to the Holy Trinity bank account.
I challenge you to tithe.
- I can say this because it’s a biblical principle.
- I can say this because Jesus espoused radical giving.
- I can say this because it’s freeing and it’s an act of worship.
- I can say this because I know that statistically Anglican giving is not the best. Not all of us, mind you.
- I can say this because I’m not asking you to do anything I don’t do.
- I can say this because neither I nor my ministry would benefit in any way from your doing so.
- I can say this, not because I want to shame you into doing what you should be doing, but because giving generously brings blessing.
We all face these choices. Do I keep one part of my life in one box and the other parts in other boxes so that they have nothing to do with one another? Or do I practice internal transparently so that my life is integrated, so that I have integrity?
No amount of talking on my part will change anyone on this. We only change when open to the Holy Spirit. I urge you to be open to God’s Spirit in regard to giving.
Give and get free. Give to the glory of God.
God bless you