Giving is Good for Us!

Oct 08, 2023

19th Sunday after Pentecost
Stewardship Emphasis 2
Text: Matthew 19:16-26
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Welcome to Sunday #2 of this year’s Stewardship Emphasis! I hope you experience the fun of Stewardship as you participate in the Ministry Fair that follows today’s worship. Be sure to visit the tables in the Welcome Center and Youth Room as you celebrate and learn about the ministries that occur within our congregation and beyond. Enjoy the giveaways that are being offered and pick up your box of Cracker Jack, a real Fair treat.
     Our overall theme this year is, “Let Your Light Shine” and in order for our light to shine so that those who lives are brightened give glory to God, commitment to sharing our time, talent and money is essential, which is what the Ministry Fair represents.
     Today theme is commitment, and that’s the focus of today’s Gospel lesson. It’s a familiar story, told in Matthew, Mark and Luke, although we seldom read Matthew’s version, which was shared today. In it, a young, wealthy man approaches Jesus, evidently believing he has the answer, to find out what “good thing” he must do to guarantee eternal life.
     He is confident that he’s on the right track because he is already keeping the commandment Jesus lists – do not murder, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness, and do honor parents and love your neighbor as yourself. Yet, he wants to know what else will seal the deal, so to speak. Jesus tells him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
     Even though we have heard these words many times, they are unsettling since most of us would not want them to be directed at us. It’s no wonder the young man went away grieving! Jesus’ response can be reduced to basically three words: come and follow, be a disciple. This is so vital that if wealth gets in the way of doing so, let it go, give it away. The message is: set aside anything that competes with devotion to God, following Jesus, serving as one is empowered by the Holy Spirit to do.
     Of course, it is not just wealth that is the problem – people, activities, desires and attitudes can all get in the way of following Jesus. Wealth is an obvious roadblock if it is trusted more than Jesus. But our lives and world are filled with obstacles to being disciples who value and prioritize God’s love made known in Jesus above all else. That’s a challenge!
     No wonder Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person,” and I would add anyone who is devoted to anything more than to God, “to enter the kingdom of heaven.” In today’s text the disciples do not get it because in their culture being rich is a sign of God’s favor. They reasoned that if rich people, that is, those who were so blessed by God (and therefore must be righteous), can hardly get in, the who else can be saved?
      That’s when we come to the crux of the entire passage; Jesus says, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” God specializes in the impossible, including overlooking our inability to be perfect - that is, forgiven – by our own efforts. Being a part of the reign of God in this world, and the next, occurs because we are forgiven through Jesus; we can do nothing to earn or deserve our status as God’s loved and forgiven child. That’s grace!
     If we truly grasp that, gratitude will follow, and then commitment to striving to make being disciples of Jesus our priority, which will then be reflected in how we live and how we share our time, talent and money.
     Retired seminary professor Mark Powell wrote a book titled Giving to God in which he lists three reasons for giving.
      1. We give as an act of worship: we take something we value and give it up as an act of devotion to God.
     2. We give as a demonstrable way of expressing our faith, of acting on what we believe, including that all things come from God and that God will provide for our every need.
     3. We give as a spiritual discipline; sharing our time, talent and money is an intentional way to strengthen or faith and our relationship with God. This is a concept that is bit more complicated than the other two. One way to explain it is to reflect on the process I was taught for paying bills, back in the days when it involved checks and envelopes. The offering for the church was the first check written – before the gas or electric or other bills. This was a way of saying that my relationship with God, and striving to live out my faith, was the priority, more important than the other things for which I used my time, talent and money. When I started giving electronically, rather than writing that check and putting it in the offering plate, I missed that discipline.  
     Or, to quote Dr. Powell’s more erudite explanation, being intentional about our giving “frees us from the inevitable pull of materialism (and other misplaced priorities) that would draw our hearts away from God and from the things that matter most. The discipline of regularly taking a portion of our money and giving it away, insures that we will be persons whose hearts are in the right place, whose values and commitments have not been compromised by anxiety, envy or greed.” (1)
     In other words, commitment to giving in a variety of ways is good for us. In today’s story, the rich young man was grieving as he left Jesus, because he had many possessions and could not give them up. I’ve always thought that Jesus was sad too, because he knew what the man was truly giving up, the peace of mind and heart that comes with trusting God above all else.
     As Dr. Powell proposes, what is better than to live in the joy of one who knows God, loves God, pleases God and benefits others? May it be to that we are committed. (2) AMEN
  1. Giving to God by Mark Allan Powell, 2006 William B. Eerdmans Publishing, pg. 141-142
  2. Same as #1, pg. 175