Matters and Core Beliefs
(c) Copyright 2003 Rev. Bill Versteeg
The Parable of the Rich Fool
Luke 12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."
14 Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" 15 Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
16 And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
18 "Then he said, ‘This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."'
20 "But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
21 "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."
Do Not Worry
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 "Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
At a church meeting a very wealthy man rose to give his testimony. "I'm a millionaire," he said, "and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of God in my life. I can still remember the turning point in my faith, like it was yesterday: I had just earned my first dollar and I went to a church meeting that night. The speaker was a missionary who told about his work. I knew that I only had a dollar bill and had to either give it all to God's work or nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give my whole dollar to God. I believe that God blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today."
As he finished it was clear that everyone had been moved by this man's story. But, as he took his seat, a little old lady sitting in the same pew leaned over and said: "Wonderful story! I dare you to do it again!"
We chuckle at the story - but I suspect it is an uneasy chuckle. Because this morning's message is about money - and when it comes to money, a good number of us probably have a few twinges of guilt. We know we should give more, we know we should give more faithfully, more consistently, but....
Slide 2 And what follows that big but is a whole list of possible reasons why we should keep in our wallets what we have, we should keep in our banks what we have saved after all the hard work that we have done to earn it - you know your reasons.
This mornings message is not designed to make anyone here feel more guilty. Scripture tells us that God has set us free from guilt. In fact when it comes to our money, scripture goes much further. In Matthew 17:24 and following - temple tax collectors came to extract from Jesus and his disciples a two drachma temple tax. And they asked Peter "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" Shortly after, Jesus asks Peter - "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes - from their own sons or from others?" The obvious answer - from others. "Then the sons are exempt." Jesus agrees. In short, if you are a child of God and you don't give anything to the church - you are hereby absolved from any guilt - because as a son of God, a daughter of God, you are exempt from any temple taxes. That is the point of that passage, you are welcome to check it our for yourselves in Matthew 17:24f.
But before the deacons and treasurer of the church squirm to hard, let me say that the dollars we give matter a whole lot, not because of guilt or compulsion but because of what those dollars say we really believe about God. The monies we give matter because they reveal our core beliefs about God.
Notice to whom Jesus directs the things he is saying in this passage. The first part of what Jesus says is aimed at the rich who are not rich toward God - and they will find their riches do nothing for them when it comes to the time of accountability.
But the second part is aimed at disciples, those who follow after Christ, who worry about making ends meet, wondering where their next meal or mortgage payment will come from. He is talking to us who have chosen to follow Jesus and who at the same time have difficulty giving generously to the needs of the kingdom. He is talking to us - the ones who find to much time between paydays and always seem to be running a deficit. He is talking to us who have difficulty giving freely because we know the bills that are inevitably coming our way.
Why is it that true followers of Christ have difficulty giving freely? How can it be that those who have received the free gift of salvation are reluctant themselves to give? If they believe that God is good, why might they not image that goodness toward other and the causes of the kingdom?
The answer has to do with core beliefs - beliefs that are resident in our hearts that work out, sometimes even unconsciously, through our behaviours. You see, we may believe that God is good, but somewhere in our hearts, we have this conception of God that he is reluctant to express his goodness toward us, maybe because we don't deserve his goodness, maybe because God is a little bit less reliable than he says he is. Maybe he says he's good, but holds it back until we get our act together. Maybe he says he's good but he wants us to suffer for some capricious reason. Maybe he is angry at us and doesn't keep his promises. And so we might believe that God is good, but he is not quite that good to us - and so we better remember to take care of ourselves first - hold onto our money, and not give. The truth is, we fear giving freely, excessively because there are these nagging doubts in our hearts about how good God really is toward us.
Money matters because what we do with it reveals our core beliefs. And Jesus in this passage, especially verse 32 is aiming his comments at our core beliefs - what we really believe about God. He says 32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions.
This morning, let me highlight for you how Jesus is doing his very best to communicate to us who God really is. Let me start with that little phrase - has been pleased.
Jesus is saying something about what makes God tick. The original word here indicates that this is something God takes pleasure in, he desires this pleasure, it is his preferred choice, the one he will naturally turn to because it gives him joy. It is his pleasure to give to us.
In contrast to earthly rulers, politicians, employers - our God gives because of the pleasure of giving to us. He does not give reluctantly, or under compulsion, or with anger. Giving is his pleasure. He loves to give to you!
Second, pay attention to the phrase Your Father
These were incredible words to Jesus hearers. Israel understood the concept of a sovereign God who ruled the world. But they had a distance relationship with him. Their goal in life all to often was to appease his anger by perfecting habits of right living by the letter of the law. They would not even speak his name for fear of offending him.
Jesus words were like a bull in a china shop crashing through their preconceived notions of their relationship with God. God is your father. He is not distant. His eyes are upon you. When he sees you, there is a loving proud smile on his face. His attention, his favour, his grace is focused on you. He is your Father.
And I need to make a few comments to contrast our Heavenly Father from earthly Fathers. Some of us have not had the best possible experience of a Father. Our Father in heaven is not angry at us. He does not have limited resources like our father has. He is not to busy. He is not distracted. He does not abuse. He is not a reluctant Father. Our Father in Heaven finds incredible joy in giving himself undividedly to us.
Jesus is saying to us - to our core beliefs - your Father finds pleasure in giving to you.
Notice the word flock - he calls us God's flock - which means God is our shepherd, and we his sheep. Jesus is calling to our mind Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. This is a sheeps boast. To understand that psalm, you need to picture two sheep talking to each other across a fence - and the one saying "My shepherd is better than your shepherd." My dad is better, and bigger and stronger and more loving than your dad! God's attention on us is so focused that he would die to protect us from our enemy. That's what good shepherds did. They gave their lives protecting the sheep.
Notice also the term of endearment little flock.
But it is more than just a term of endearment. It says something about us. It tells us that when it comes to strength, or accomplishment, or wealth, or righteousness - we are not much. So often we have this core belief that says that God rewards the especially accomplished Christian, the highly devout, those who stand out in the crowd as the especially pious ones, they deserve God's special attention - they deserve what God gives. But we don't deserve - we're to little, to small, to insignificant in the kingdom to receive freely so that we can freely give.
Jesus calls us little flock - weak, failing, falling, sometimes stuck in holes, maybe diseased, sinful, not worthy, not deserving - and he says its our Fathers greatest pleasure to give to us - that is give - these are not wages, not earned, it is a free. God finds pleasure in giving us his kingdom.
Those are important words - his kingdom. As a Father - because we are related to him, he freely gives us as our inheritance, his kingdom.
What is his kingdom?
It is his rule. God who is the ultimate sovereign over all creation will use his power, his influence, his gifts, his grace, his power for us, for our benefit. Our enemies may challenge us, but he who sits in heaven laughs at them - and uses all his power for us his little undeserving children. That's who God is.
And so he says - when it comes to giving - don't be afraid. Sell your possession, give to the poor. Don't fear for tomorrow, your Father in heaven knows what you need. Don't worry about what you will wear or eat, your Father in heaven will supply for you. Don't fear, his attention, his kingdom, his focus of love is all on you and its his pleasure to give to you all he has and is.
To disciples, true followers of Jesus, who are reluctant to give, Jesus refocuses our core beliefs on who God really is.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.