PASTOR’S KEITH’S SERMON ON MARK 10:17-31NOV 10, 2013
If I was going to take a piece of paper, a big piece of paper, and draw a line down the middle from top to bottom and a line across the top, left to right making two columns – can you picture it? And if I were to label the left column “The things that God cares about” and the right column “the things that God does not care about” - can you see it – big paper, line down the middle – two columns - What God cares about and What God does not care about – well, how comfortable are you, that together we could sort some things into their proper columns seeking together how God might see things.
For example – there are something like 830 million hungry people in the world today – would we put that in the “God Cares” Column or the “God Does not Care” column?
How about the 3.4 million people who die each year from water-borne disease for lack of clean water– In the “God Cares” or the “God Does not Care” column?
All right – now that we are warmed up – how about our money – how we earn it and what we choose do with it – which column? – “God Cares” or “God Does not Care?” Which column? Our money – how we earn it and what we choose do with it.
We read in Mark today:
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?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You 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; Honor your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 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."
So our money – how we earn it and what we choose do with it – “God Cares” or “God Does not Care?”
Jesus talks about money over 30 times in the gospels - and by some reckoning one of every seven verses of those same gospels– more times than Jesus talks about heaven and hell combined - and never once does Jesus say that how we earn money and what we choose to do with it does not matter to God. So if it does matter. If it really matters given the amount of time Jesus spends teaching about it, then it makes sense that we should spend some time - some earnest and intentional time – talking about money and wrestling about our responsibilities as disciples of Jesus, doesn’t it?
Now, we could argue statistics about whether each of us is rich or poor or somewhere in-between – compare ourselves to others in this city, this county, this state, this nation, even and perhaps especially, the world, and come up with a whole continuum of answers as to our relative richness or poorness. So let’s not bother wasting our time going down that path. Instead, let’s establish some indisputable truths:
First, everything that we have comes from God. If God is Creator then everything that we have comes from God – no matter how many hours we worked for it, how many years we put in, how genius we are; everything that we have comes from God. That’s a fundamental truth in the scriptures – the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. Everything that we have comes from God.
Second, God entrusts things to us. How many stories does Jesus tell to underscore this truth? How God gives us what we have and then trusts us to steward it, to manage it with care and fidelity. Now, all of us giving everything away and becoming totally destitute is not the thrust of Jesus’ teaching on the matter; that is rarely, if ever, the stewarding to which we are called. There is no universal teaching that requires us to go home today, liquidate all of our assets, and sell everything, so that we can follow Jesus. God has entrusted what we have for us to steward, to manage with care and fidelity, on God’s behalf.
Now, we don’t just steward a 10 percent tithe or some other number less than 100: Stewardship means giving 100 percent to God. We can get caught up in tithing, percentage giving, and all that – but that is a different matter – what we are talking about here in terms of stewardship is the simple fact that God wants us to use all of our money in God-pleasing ways; issues us an invitation, as Lutheran Professor Mark Allan Powell puts it, makes us an offer, to take charge of this often troubled area of our lives. God wants to take charge of our finances. Because, as we might imagine, God just might be able to do a better job than we can.
Turning again to Powell, with Jesus as the Lord of our finances, then doesn’t it make sense that we commit to acquire our money in God-pleasing ways - none of this end justifies the means stuff. And doesn’t it make sense that the way that we regard our money should also be God-pleasing? Luther says that that to which our heart clings is truly our god. How will we regard our money? What place will it hold in our heart? In our life? And doesn’t it make sense that we would commit to managing our money in God-pleasing ways, not just any old way that we please? That what pleases us and pleases God isn’t always and perhaps rarely, the same thing, so we need to be diligent about seeking to manage our money in ways that please God. And with Jesus as the Lord of our finances, with us acquiring our wealth in God-pleasing ways, with us regarding our wealth in God-pleasing ways, with us managing our money in God-pleasing ways, then one more thing remains: that we spend our money in God-pleasing ways. Perhaps this is where the discomfort really sets in – spending our money in God-pleasing ways. Because we as we think about our spending we might find the conversation we have with God uncomfortable and be tempted to just say “The heck with it” because that is a difficult conversation to have, and to have over and over again. I’m guessing that like the man in our gospel today, we, too, might be shocked with how we are being called to honor God in our spending. We, too, might find ourselves grieving in the changes to which God invites us in our spending habits. “Impossible!” we tell God. Impossible. But here’s the thing – and Jesus reminds the disciples of where we will always be able to find hope to change – strength and wisdom to know and do God’s will for us: "For mortals,” Jesus says, “it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."