Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost—Year B—October 14, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen.
Today, we start a three-week Stewardship program.
What a text we have been blessed with as we begin.
With this text, we do not need three weeks…we do not talk about time, talents, and treasures…we do not need to talk about being gifted by God…we do not need to talk about tithing and giving first fruits. All we need to do is just do “one thing” exactly what Jesus says: “go, sell what [we] own and give the money to the [church].”
Wait! That is not what it says!
This is not about paying membership dues to the church; it is about relationship with God and the rest of God’s people. It is not telling each of us to take a vow of poverty, but it reminds us to see the value of relationship with God and creation over and above our relationship with money.
Listen to how relational this story is; there are many little clues that can be easily overlooked.
– the man kneels before Jesus and calls him teacher—a relationship of teacher and healer are implied in this action
– the man asks what he must do to inherit, not gain or earn, inherit—a relationship of God seen as parent is implied in this word choice
– the commandments that Jesus lists are all the commandments that have to deal with how humans interact in relationship with one another
– and of course, Jesus looked at the man and “loved him”—you cannot tell me that that does not imply some type of important relationship
So what if we kept this theme of relationship in mind as we read Jesus’ command. “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” What if we looked at this is as a reminder of the relationship that we have been created into, instead of simply seeing it as another item for our to-do list? Because if we are honest with ourselves, we know we cannot earn eternal life on our own, and Jesus says just this.
Unfortunately for the man, he misses this, Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question—that word of grace with which Jesus follows the hard word of law, the command to sell everything—but the disciples hear it, and SO DO WE! “For mortals it is impossible [to save themselves], but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
What a statement of faith that is! For God all things are possible!
And it is with that gift of faith, which we have been given by God, that we are freed from the eternal struggle of trying to find a way into the kingdom of God on our own.
The man had it half right—eternal life is something we inherit—but he is wrong in his thinking that he has to DO something in order to inherit. The inheritance is simply a by-product of a relationship, and so is good stewardship. Our work as stewards of our God-given creation, time, talents, and treasures, our “work [in the world is] produced by [our God-given] faith.”
But now what?
We heard the Law:
– We prioritize things, money, stuff higher than God.
– We are not the best of relationship partners to our fellow humans; for example, the poor. And we are just as bad at being in right relationship with God as we are with humans. We cannot earn eternal life for ourselves.
We heard the Gospel:
– All things are possible for God.
– God creates faith in us.
– God gifts us with many and various talents and assets.
But what now?
I think it is time to go back to thinking of about taking Jesus’ command to the man seriously rather than literally…
What would it look like if we each took it seriously?
What would be an expression of faith that our relationship with God and God’s creation is more important than our relationship with money and possessions?
What would it look like if we enacted our trust in God and that God would provide for us abundantly by giving off the top instead of simply giving what is left over? And I’m not just talking about your giving to the church; I’m talking about all your giving that supports the mission and justice of God—to the poor.
I’m not saying that you have to go from pledging nothing to giving a tithe, but what about if you grew just one percent a year, growing toward 10%. Or what if you took a little more risk and pledged 5% this year. Imagine all the ministry that LCF, “the little church that could,” could do if everyone dedicated 5% of their time, talents, and treasures to doing ministry in the name of LCF.
Jesus’ command to the man is less about setting up a test for him to pass or fail, and more about reminding him that he has a relationship with humanity, neighbors in need and partners in ministry.
I want to close with a quote from a commentator who I read often as I prepare for sermons: David Lose. This is a thought I hope you will chew on throughout this stewardship campaign and beyond: “Stewardship isn’t primarily about giving money to the church; rather, it’s about taking care of all of our resources in light of God’s commands and promises.”
So take your God-given resources, your God-given promises, and your God-given faith, and go out into the world and be bold as we do God’s work in the world as the Lutheran Church of Framingham, as the New England Synod, as the ELCA, as the whole church, and as humanity. Amen.