The Gift of Giving

The Gift of Giving

January 12, 2020 | Ryan Arnold

Passage: Luke 6:27-38

Benjamin Franklin once said that money has never made man happy, nor will it.

And maybe that’s true. But talk of money, when looked at from a certain vantage, can definitely contain some humor.

Here’s a few antidotes about cold, hard cash that just might make you smile.

A woman once wrote columnist Ann Landers a letter about her aunt and uncle. In it she describes her uncle as “the tightest man I’ve ever known. Every time he got paid he took $20 out of his paycheck and put it under his mattress.” Later in life, as his health declined, and the end was near the man asked his wife to promise him something. “What is it?” his wife wondered. “Promise me when I’m gone you’ll take the money under the mattress and put it in my casket. I want to take it all with me.”

When the man died his wife kept the promise. She collected all those $20s, went straight to the bank, and deposited them. She then wrote out a check, drove to church for the funeral, and made sure to place the check in her husband’s casket.

Then there’s the story of two women marooned on an island. While one paced back and forth, all worried and scared, the other sat sunning themselves. The worrier said to the woman busily getting a tan, “aren’t you afraid we’re about to die?” “No,” she replied, setting down her paperback. “I make $100,000 a week and tithe faithfully to my church. “My Pastor will find me.”

One more. A farmer went into the church office and asked to speak with one of the “head hogs at the trough.” The receptionist replied, “if you’re referring to one of our beloved ministers, please call them Reverend or Pastor. It’s not proper to call them a hog at the trough.” The farmer said, “well ok. I just sold some sows and am going to donate $50k to the capital campaign, so I was hoping to speak with one of them.”

“Oh, just a minute, sir,” the receptionist replied, sounding somewhat apologetic. “I think I see one of those little porkers walking in!”

Our Time
This weekend begins a six-week sermon series that kicks off our three-year capital campaign. And while there may be nothing overly ha-ha funny about fundraising per se, I’d suggest there is plenty of joy, plenty of lightness in the air here of late.

Why?

Perhaps it’s that our 2019 income was the highest it’s been in at least 11 years.

Or that we’ve been named the Best Place to Worship in Story County, two years running.

Or maybe it’s new spaces recently reimagined around here, like the outdoor patio and the Crossroads.

It could be our new ministries like Days for Girls, that empower women worldwide with better access to education.

Or is it the youth mission trips to Tanzania, to learn more of what God is doing on the other side of the globe.

Or maybe it’s the joy our pastoral intern Sonja has brought us these past few months. She’s in St. Paul right now as part of her seminary education, and will be back with us later this month.

Or the silly scriptural improv of Lenten pastor chats, coming to Wednesday services soon? We’ll try to stay off any scaffolding that may pop up here this year as best we’re able. No guarantees!

There is so.very.much to be excited about around here at Bethesda right now.

Because of that we’ve given this campaign a theme that describes the particular moment we find ourselves in.

For such a time as this.

For it is a new day,
a new chapter,
a new season –

Of our life, together.

In the community that first gathers at 1517 Northwestern, grows in our faith, then goes out to take part, in the sacred transformation of this world God so loves.

Backstories
Today’s text is from the second section of the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. As with any other sermon, or movie or book series for that matter, you can’t just pick up the sequel and expect to understand the back story from the first part.

Pastor Bryan made a Star Wars reference last week, so I’ll keep with that pattern here.

Star Wars the Empire Strikes Back is an amazing film; those AT-AT walkers are great. It’s one of my favorites of the entire Star Wars canon. But to fully grasp the film, you have to go back and also watch the original Star Wars: A New Hope, or you’ll be lost.

So let’s go back, to the first part of the Sermon on the Plain, and make sure we cover the important plot lines there.

Mountains
We begin with a scene change. Prior to arriving at the outdoor sanctuary for his message, Jesus had been in the mountains, praying. Getting away from others. Getting close to God.

Next, he gathers the disciples twelve, heads down the mountain and stands on a level place, among a great crowd.

Which is an excellent lesson from Christ we can model.

Have your mountaintop moments, for sure.
Spend the night in prayer, definitely.

But don’t stay in isolation. Come down that mountain, find the plains, get close to humanity. Because Christ’s lessons are best delivered where God’s people are on equal footing.

Blessings and Woes
The plains sermon begins with some blessings; a smaller subset of Matthew’s Beatitudes.

Jesus blesses the poor, the hungry, those who weep.

For the poor receive the kingdom of God,
The hungry are filled,
Those weeping now laugh.

Christ has words for others gathered there that day.
The rich, those with bellies full, those who already laugh.
His words for those groups are, well, something less than positive.

At first blush this section seems to create some winners and losers.

The poor, hungry, the crying, Jesus seems to be all about them.
Yet the rich, the full bellies and the laughers, not so much.

What is good news, for some, just might be heard as bad news, for others.

Isn’t Jesus a uniter of people? Why is he separating the audience into disparate groups? Wasn’t there enough division among people then? Isn’t there enough of that now?

We’ll come back to those questions in a bit.

Doings
Christ’s sermon then moves into our text for today.

These dozen verses represent a veritable how-to manual of Christianity 101. It’s a passage with all sorts of bite-sized nuggets of wisdom.

Love your enemies.
Do good to those who hate you.
Bless those who curse you.
Pray for those who abuse you.
Do not judge, do not condemn.
Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

Each of those could be a sermon in itself.

And nestled in with all those tidy actions we hear a lot about comes another call to action.

A call to give.
And to give in a particular kind of way.

Lend, expecting nothing in return, verse 35 implores. Ouch.

That doesn’t sound like a good investment plan.
You’re not going to hear that kind of advice from your financial advisor.

And who should we give to? If we give, expecting nothing in return, maybe it’s to people who can never repay the favor. At least when it comes to dollars and cents.

#Blessed
It’s here where we are called to give to the people Jesus blesses earlier in the sermon, the people of the Beatitudes.

We people of means, and I’d suggest most of us are, to some capacity –

We give to the poor, to meet basic human needs.
We give to the hungry, in search of their next meal.
We give to the sad, providing hope for a joyful tomorrow.

And we expect nothing, financially, in return.

The Sermon on the Plain begins in large brushstrokes, with Jesus proclaiming blessings to people that could really use it. It kind of reminds me of a politician on the campaign trail, busily making promises to everyone they meet. Hearing those promises makes you feel good, for a little while. But down the road, if they get elected, you might wonder, will the promise be kept?

There are reasons Congressional approval ratings are often in the teens and twenties, with high disapproval ratings the norm. Aka politicians don’t often deliver.

But Jesus? He doesn’t offer a blessing to those in need and then walk away.
He gets into the action of making those promised blessings reality. More specifically he gives *us* the divine imagination, and the means, to make those earthly blessings reality.

This is our call.

When we give, with no financial return expected, we receive blessings from another realm. It is in those moments we give as one who already shares in the riches of God’s kingdom.

Just as we all do.

Sum
For such a time as this, we give.

Some to outward mission, local, national, global.
Lifting up the poor, feeding the hungry.

Some to help us better see, and hear, the word of God in our worship.
(Screens, and speakers, an elevator, oh my)

And some to pay down debt, and pay up our endowment. Taken together they ensure the Word of God is proclaimed, and goes out from this congregation, in healing ways, for a long, long time to come.

Close
For our giving unites the earthly haves and have nots. Our giving widens the table. Our giving ensures each of us a seat. It takes us from a world of winners and losers and toward a kingdom where all needs are met.

For when poverty is no more, when each belly is filled, when all tears are dried the kingdom of God will be fully here. And we will laugh, and sing, and dance and dine, in the glory of the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit.

For it never was, and never will be money that brings us happiness. It will be the fulfillment of Christ’s blessings for all.

For when we give, without expectation of earthly return, our sacred reward is great. We will be, both in identity and action, children of the most high God.

For when you give here it will be given to you there. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, a cup running over, with all the best God has in store for you.

Now is the moment. For such a time, as this.  Amen.

Series Information

Other sermons in the series

January 19, 2020

Full on Empty

First and foremost, I want to thank everybody for being here and for...

January 26, 2020

Fools and Sages

A stewardship message featuring Luke 12, Genesis 41, Mr. T, and lots...

February 02, 2020

Filled to be Emptied

So, speaking of that first Christian community, how many of you have...

February 09, 2020

The Gift of Brokeness

It is true we are in the middle of a capital campaign "For Such a Time...