2018 Stewardship

Mark 10:17-31

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?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 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.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 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.” 22 When 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!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It 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.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Sermon:

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.”

In the beginning I struggled with school.  Refused to go, ran away, did sloppy half finished work.  I simply walked away at recess.  frequently.  This was so odd; since my four older siblings all did well in school.  Then something happened in the fifth grade.  I liked my teacher, maybe even had a childhood crush on him,  and I wanted to please him.  He began to hand my half finished work back to me insisting I do it over again.  Clearly he was picking on me. He even made me stay after school. He had this bright idea that we should have parent teacher and student conferences so we had to attend conferences with our parents.  It was truly mortifying at that age.  Especially if you were not doing well.  My teacher began by saying “Marlene enjoys herself”.  He did not mean it as a compliment.  He went on and said there is “no reason she should be getting such poor grades”.  She has a high IQ.  Higher than her siblings. This was back when they did IQ tests.   Now this was ammo over my siblings that I should have never been privy to!  But my teacher was trying to get my parents on board, parents who were relieved enough that I was just going to school and not creating problems.  After that my teacher continued to hand my work back to me.  I remember crying in frustration sometimes.  My teacher said, “someday you’ll thank me”.  I snarled back “I doubt it”

Halfway through the year I got my first ever report card with straight A’s.  I don’t really even know if I earned them.  It was strange that the feeling I had was not so much pride, but a feeling of freedom.  That I could choose to do well or not.  If you are an educator listening to this story, you know this is powerful stuff: Probably even the reason you chose the teaching profession.  Suddenly I believed in myself.  I liked the feeling of doing my best. Of giving something my all.  I experienced my own agency as a person.  I decide. 

Once I was leading a bible study with a youth group and we were tackling the difficult Gospel we just heard.  

One of the youth asked : Do you think Jesus knew this man?  ”Because Jesus seems to have a lot of faith in him.  He demands something risky, and difficult of him.  She went on to say,   In my experience, a professor only demands the best from students that the professor thinks are the smartest, best students.  I wonder what there was about this man that made Jesus have so much faith he could really be a disciple."

I think that is a good interpretation.  Why would this man approach Jesus if he had no idea who he was?  Jesus looked at him with love and saw, knew, the only thing standing in the way for this man was his love of money and possessions.  So came the challenge.  Do you really think it should be something easy?  Jesus said, “then, come follow me”.

We are told that man walked away in grief.  Then we hear no more of him.  But I wonder if he went home and thought about it.  Its not as if we are given only one chance.  Perhaps he thought “some”,… “I can let go of some of this”.  And then, “I can let go of more of this”. and as he did so he felt a profound freedom and he began to understand why Jesus asked for such a huge sacrifice. Turns out he liked helping others.  Turns our he did not miss what he had given away.  So he gave even more away. It felt good.

I shall take this Gospel one step further.  I know you now, most of you.  I look at you with love and challenge you to tithe; to give what the scriptures call your first fruits to God.  The idea behind first fruits is that we give first.  As Christians we are givers. not takers.  In a world filled with greed and the love of money we choose another path.  We don’t just give whats left over after we have paid for everything else; but we give before we have paid for everything else.  With intention we work toward giving 10% which is the biblical standard.  I will admit to you this is challenging indeed.  I do not give 10% of my income, but I am working toward it.  I began by figuring out what percentage of my income I am giving.  Each year I try to increase this amount by 1%. 

The math is easy.  Lets say you give 1% of your income. If your annual income is $20,000 you pledge $200. Everyone here can do that.  If your income is $100,000, today I challenge you give intentionally a percentage of it, not just the leavings, or the cash you have on hand.  If you were tithing 10% that would be $10,000.  That is what we all should strive for.  The tithe.  The first fruits of our labor. 

I’m currently at 5%.  Each year I try for more.  You may wonder why I give most of this to the church when the church is paying me.  It is because I am free to do so. And because giving alms is an essential Christian practice. In doing this we will know a profound freedom, a counter cultural freedom from things, from attachment to money. A sacramental sign of our own agency. Fasting is the same way.  We say I am not controlled by the love of food or the love of money.  I can choose to love God more.   If money or possessions have a hold on you.  Give them away. And if they don’t have a hold on you, you are already giving them away. 

The church and its mission rely solely on your generosity.  The church is not eligible for grant money or any other sources of income. If you benefit from this community and you want to further the mission of this church, I ask you to give it the first fruits of your labor. 

It is quite possible that you are frustrated that I am talking about money in church.  Maybe I’ve said too much…  In that case I would refer you to my fifth grade teacher and say, I believe in you. and, You’ll thank me someday. 

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.”

 
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