10 Pentecost Proper C13                        
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 12:13-21                                                
August 1, 2010

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
202 "Awake My Soul, And With The Sun"
390 "Thou Art The Way, To Thee Alone"
379 "Rock Of Ages Cleft For Me"
443 "Now Thank We All Our God"



TEXT (vs. 16-21):  "And [Jesus] told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.  He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'   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.  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.'   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?'  This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God." 

            "All the church wants is my money!"  I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say that very thing.  I could assert that this is one of the most horrible things that somebody could say, except for one rather small detail.  They're frequently basing this comment on what they have personally observed.  And the sad part of it is, that I have observed this as well.  I think you have too.

            My experience has been with TV preachers.  You'll hear them say something like, "For a one-time 'love offering' of $100, we will send you this beautiful little sun-catcher you can hang in your window," or "We'll send you this lovely Christmas tree ornament."  Of course your primary school child could probably do a better job in their crafts class, but that's not the point.  They're using this as a gimmick, or a way to raise money.  And as any marketing professional will tell you, people are more likely to send money if they know they're going to be getting something in return, even if it's only a cheap trinket.

            Upon investigation, we can see that this whole realm of "money begging" as I like to call it, is actually very big business.  Various religious organizations will pay a hefty sum to hire firms to raise money for them.  They actually look at it as an investment.  They can spend sometimes up to 500 thousand dollars (or even more) developing various schemes that will net a return of several million dollars.  For them, it's a worthwhile investment.

            Evangelist Oral Roberts was probably one of the worst offenders.  In his fund-raising letters, he used a form of "emotional blackmail" when he would assert that God wouldn't bless somebody unless they sent him money.  In 1975, he even went so far as to claim that God was going to take his life if people didn't respond by donating $4.5 million by March of that year.  I had really hoped that he wouldn't have reached that goal, just to see what would have happened.  Unfortunately, somebody ponied up enough money to put the fund over the top, just at the last minute.

            The unfortunate part about all this, is that people begin to make unfair stereotypes.  They brand all churches as nothing but money-grubbing institutions, whose only goal is to line the pockets of over-paid preachers.  What so often happens, is that the local church down on the corner is regarded no differently than the multi-media mega church that is piped into the television sets of millions of homes.  And so people will express the hackneyed phrase, "All the church wants is my money," throw up their hands, stay home, and become more firmly entrenched in their unbelief and hatred.  It is so sad.

            I am keenly aware of this.  In the 22 years that I have been an ordained pastor, I have never once ascended into the pulpit and begged for money, and I'm not about to start doing that.  My conscience just wouldn't allow me to stoop that low--and I know you wouldn't like it either.

            Of course I realize like anybody that the church operates upon donations.  We all know that.  But I never want to give anybody the impression that we want people to be members just so we can have access to their bank accounts.  In fact, every week in our bulletin, you've probably seen the sentence I insert.  It says, "VISITORS PLEASE NOTE: Our congregation's ministry is supported by our members' free-will offerings.  Please don't feel obligated to contribute." 

            Even though I won't stand here and beg for money, I will still talk about stewardship.  That's an important thing in the life of a Christian, because God talks about it in the Bible.  Personally, I believe that there are two very important Bible verses to remember that put the correct emphasis upon stewardship, both of which are recorded by the Apostle Paul.

            The first one is in 2 Corinthians chapter 9 verse 7:  "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

            It is absolutely none of my business, or anybody else's business, as to what you give.  That's a matter between you and God alone.  In fact, I have no idea what your individual contributions are, unless you yourself have discussed it with me in confidence.  Otherwise, I don't really care to know.  I don't examine the contribution records, and I don't ask questions.  The financial secretary has a very private and confidential task in making a record of the contributions so you have it for tax purposes.  But the amount on the line is a matter between you and God alone.

            We are also to not be giving reluctantly or because we feel forced into it.  God wants gifts given out of a thankful heart, and because you feel that the ministry of the Gospel is something worth supporting. 

            The words God uses in the Bible are "cheerful giver."  The Greek word translated "cheerful" is "hilaron" where we get the English word "hilarious."  That's the kind of happy attitude God wants us to have when we give back to him out of a thankful heart.

            The second Bible passage we need to remember is recorded in 1 Corinthians chapter 16 verse 2: "On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income..."

            What this means is that God doesn't expect us to give any more than we can legitimately afford.  He doesn't want us to leave our families in want, or neglect our responsibilities.  Therefore our giving has to be proportional according to our income.  We can't neglect one thing in favor of another, however we also need to bear in mind the difference between "need" and "want," or between "necessity" and "luxury."  The question we need to privately ponder is: "Am I cheating God out of what should be rightfully his?"  That's a question only you can answer according to your own conscience.

            Our Gospel lesson for today is actually a lesson on greed.  The scene opens up with one greedy brother fighting with another greedy brother.  Neither one can see beyond the material trappings of this world.  Nothing else mattered to them.

            This was the kind of senseless petty argument that Jesus didn't need to referee.  Instead, he points them to the higher lesson to be learned.  He tells the story of the young man who continued to amass and hoard a great fortune for himself.  He was trying to find comfort and happiness in dollars and cents.

            At the end however, the man has to consider his death.  Then what happens?  How comfortable and secure would his great amount of money be to him then?  He would be standing before the throne of judgment with no checkbook and no hope.  All his wealth would be no good to him.  He would be standing there, all alone.  He would be judged according to his miserly and greedy attitude, and not according to his bank balance.

            There's one illustration that fits rather well here.  It's the story about the ring-tailed monkey, which is a type of lemur.  Anybody who works with animals of the simian family will tell you that the ring-tailed monkey is the hardest of them all to catch.  But if you go to Madagascar where this animal is the most prolific, the people there will tell you that it is quite easy.

            The ring-tailed monkey has an acute sense of smell.  And the monkey also loves to eat watermelon seeds.  So what the natives will do, is to cut a small hole in a watermelon, just big enough for the monkey to stick his hand through.  However when the monkey sticks his hand inside and grabs as many seeds as he can, he can't get his hand back out again unless he relaxes his fist and lets go of the seeds.

            But the ring-tailed monkey is greedy.  No matter what happens, he will not let go of those seeds.  So he'll sit there and chatter for hours on end, trapped in the watermelon.  And if he is left alone long enough, he'll keep holding on until he dies.

            The ring-tailed monkey is a rather stupid creature, wouldn't you say?  But you have to admit that the correlation between this monkey and the rich young fool is very close.  The problem both of them have is plain, old-fashioned greed.  People will hang on to what they have so tightly, that they will even face death rather than to let it go.

            Jesus gives the moral of the story in verse 21 of our Gospel lesson: "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."   

            All we need to do is look at this from the other angle.  Look at how rich God has been toward us!  He's the one who has blessed us, he's the one who has provided for us, and he's the one who has saved us!

            God certainly has not been greedy toward us, especially when we consider the fact that he sent Jesus to this earth to give us eternal life.  Jesus doesn't care about how deep our pockets are; he just cares about us as individuals.  There is no amount of money in the world that could ever buy that priceless gift Jesus has given us for free.  In fact, to even think that we could put a price on Jesus love and forgiveness is a slap in the face to God.  The Apostle Peter says in Acts chapter 8 verse 20:  "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!"   

            In Isaiah chapter 1, God really puts things in perspective.  In verses 11 and 13 he says,  "The multitude of your sacrifices-what are they to me?" says the LORD.  "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.... Stop bringing meaningless offerings!"   

            And then going ahead to verse 18, we find out what God really wants from us: "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."            

            This points us directly to Jesus.  We come to him, not with arms loaded with riches and wealth, but with nothing at all.  We come to him in faith, with the sure knowledge that we have forgiveness in his Name.  Jesus came to take all of the greed and selfishness away from us.  Through faith in him, we let go of all those earthly things that only contribute to our death, and seek eternal life that only Jesus can give us.  And there's no price tag on that.

            This is the message of the Gospel, and this is the ministry that we support here in our congregation.  Certainly it's worth every penny we can put toward spreading it in our community and throughout the world.  However, your contribution toward this goal is nobody's business but yours and God's.  And when we contribute, we do so not because we are forced to, not because somebody has put us on a guilt trip, and not reluctantly or begrudgingly.  We can joyfully contribute according to the means God has given us out of a loving and thankful heart. 

            So why do you think that preachers will stand in the pulpit and go on television begging for money?  And why would they do it, especially when so many people think that the only thing the church is interested in is money?  Quite frankly, they do it because it works.  They make people feel guilty if they don't give.  They make people feel that God won't bless them unless they pay for it.  And they know exactly the right words to say and the right things to do to make people open their pocketbooks and bleed them dry.  People are accustomed to "paying their own way" in a manner of speaking, so it's a relatively short jump for them to make when it comes to applying this to the church.

            In our congregation, we encourage our members to support various things, like the relief offering we had for Haiti, or the Gideons, or world hunger, or any of our various local projects.  We inform you as to what is needed, but it is entirely up to you how you respond.  That's no business of mine or anybody else's.

            Also in our congregation, we have accountability.  It's every member's right to know exactly how much money we have and how that money is spent.  That's the only way we can budget our expenses.  But when it comes to how much each person gives, that's nobody's business.  That is something that is strictly between each individual and God.  And that is as it should be.

            In closing this morning, I'm going to share a short story with you, one that somebody I know actually experienced.  They visited one of these "hell fire and brimstone" churches of some description.  When it came time for the offering, the plate was passed.  After the offering had been collected, they sang a hymn and sat down.  Then the preacher came out and said, "We didn't get enough in the offering, so we're passing the plate again."  They wound up passing the plate a total of three times before the preacher finally told them that they had collected enough.

            I'm fairly sure this didn't create an atmosphere of cheerful giving that God wanted.  God hasn't told us to go and beg for money, but to go and make disciples of all nations.  Everything we do, whether it is monetary or otherwise, serves this most noble purpose.  We don't look at people and judge them by the depth of their pockets, but by the fact that they have a soul in need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is a ministry that is supported not by twisting people's arms or by guilt motivation, but as a joyful response of love for the priceless gift Jesus has given us.