Sunday, September 25, 2016

Gift of Giving; Luke 16:19-31 sermon

Rev. George Miller
Luke 16:19-31

Step right up, step right up!

Have I got an offer for you!

Have I got a deal!

How would you like to have a special place to go in which for 2-4 hours each week you get to be part of something fantabulous!

You get to meet and mingle with friendly folk. Hear beautiful music performed by expert musicians!

Listen to inspiring words of hope! Partake in delicious treats and fresh hot coffee!

We’ll even throw in the chance for you to sing in a group, learn how to play an instrument, and participate in weekly study!

You can also garden, decorate, visit other folk, play a part in important decisions, even help make a difference in people’s lives.

All while being welcome no matter who you are and being reminded that the Big Daddy of us all loves you very, very much.

And if you happen to feel sick, lonely, sad or in the hospital we have someone special who can visit you at no additional charge.

How much would you say such an exciting offer would be worth?

$100 per week? $50 per week?

What if I was to tell you that for right now it would be $35.60 per week?

What a steal! Friends, food, fellowship, and feeling good!

But wait, for those who wish to pay only $2 more per week you can have the added bonus of a hot, delicious brunch with bacon, gravy and omelets made your way.

For those desiring more, for an extra $3.13 you can enjoy the satisfaction of playing a role in feeding the hungry.

That’s right folks- for a grand total of $40.73 a week this can be all yours.

Music, mingling, meditation, mission, munchies, messages of hope, and the assurance that in God there is more than we can ever imagine!

Now, for those who say $40.63 is too much, don’t you worry, ‘cause our Big Daddy has a plan.

No one is ever turned away, no one is ever denied acceptance.

Big Daddy, in our Manual of Living, simply asks that we give 10% of what we receive. Which means if all you can give is $2 or $20 that’s all Big Daddy asks.

But if you can give $50 or $60, well Big Daddy will accept that too.

How many here today will say that this is indeed a great deal, and a worthy expense!

…You know, talking about money isn’t one of the easiest things to do. The topic of money, like the topics of music, politics, and sex are deeply personal and emotional.

And a church talking about money?

Seems like people enjoy going to church, but they don’t want to discuss the cost or embrace the notion that we depend upon donations and the generosity of everyone present.

As Judy said last week “The good news is that we have all the resources we need, the bad news is that it’s in your pockets.”

Churches are so different from for-profit businesses.

It’s not like we offer a tangible product like a fancy car or a pair of high heel shoes.

It’s not like we offer exclusive content like Netflix, or On Demand like HBO, or unlimited data like Sprint.

It’s not like we offer the exotic memories that come with a Time Share. Or the thrills of a roller coaster at Busch Gardens.

We’re not sexy. We’re not deemed by everyone as necessary.

Disney offer a product in which they can raise their tickets prices $10 and people may complain, but they will still pay.

Airlines will charge for luggage and pre-selecting seats and people will grumble, but they’ll still fly.

But churches- well, we create an annual budget, we try our best to convince people why they should give, and then every year we scramble to stay afloat.

More often than not leaders and members will think the solution is to cut costs. But how can God be expected to bless us if we are not willing to bless God?

According to the Bible, all God asks is 10 percent of what we earn; we are willing to give a dime out of every dollar.

But we find that to be too much. We worry that we can’t do without. We go into survival mode and become fearful that we won’t personally survive.

But if we are unwilling to part with 10 cents, how can we turn to God and say “Help”, “Bless”, “Hear”, “Deliver”?

Thankfully God does help, bless, hear and deliver…and yet even then we still find it hard to make the budget and to unapologetically share with people what is needed to run the church if you choose to be a part of this covenantal community.

And as of today, with a budget of $178,000, with an average weekly attendance of 96 people, the amount comes to $35.60 per person, per week in offerings for our mission and ministry to function.

$40.73 if you wish to have brunch and stock the Shepherd’s Pantry…

…Money. Wealth. Finances.

What a deeply personal, controversial, theological conversation…

Over a month ago I felt called to preach on today’s scripture. And what I felt called to do was to go in the opposite direction of what some may think this scripture is about.

On one level, when given a quick read through, this story seems to say “Rich people: bad. Poor people: good.”

This story of Lazarus and the wealthy man has placed into people’s heads the images of heaven and hell, reward and punishment, eternal pleasure or eternal pain.

But I do not personally see this in any way being a condemnation of rich people, or folks with financial wealth.

I think this is a story about what it means to experience closeness with God; what it is like to experience paradise.

I think this is about one kind of wealthy person- those who live in extravagant luxury while a neighbor is suffering nearby.

The attention is in the details.

The rich man isn’t just wealthy, he goes around wearing purple, an opulent color that back then could only be afforded and worn by kings, priests and prostitutes.

He didn’t just have a house, but a home large enough to warrant its own driveway and gate, no doubt meant to welcome the desirables in and keep the unfortunates out.

He didn’t just have his daily bread or enjoy a well balanced meal, he ate sumptuously every day, no doubt meat and milk, pastries and wine all the time.

All while poor Lazarus lay at the edge of his property, dogs licking his sores, hoping that if anything he could just have the crumbs and left-overs that fell from the man’s table.

I don’t think Jesus is condemning the man’s wealth in this story, I think Jesus is condemning what he could have done with it and didn’t.

I think Jesus would have been satisfied if the man had found a way to feed the starving Lazarus.

I think Jesus would have been satisfied if the man had walked to the end of his driveway and gave Lazarus some of his gently used linen and purple polos.

I think Jesus would have been satisfied if the man had found a way to use some of his wine and pastry funds to make sure that Lazarus was able to see a dermatologist about his sores.

But the man didn’t, and as a result he experienced a spiritual separation from God; a sadness that came from not being a better neighbor.

But I do not think the man’s sin was his wealth, or his enjoyment of nice things.

I think the man’s sin was his inability to share.

I don’t think Jesus really had an issue with people who had money; I think the issue was with how they used it- to exclude or include, to hoard or to bless.

Think about it- Jesus must have had plenty of friends with big checkbooks- how else could he and 12 men wander around the countryside, eating and sleeping for free.

Think of folk like Zacheaus who had Jesus join him at his home for dinner.

Think of the banquets, meals, celebrations, and weddings that Jesus attended- someone had to pay for them all.

Think of Martha and Mary. They had their own home. They provided hospitality to Jesus and his merry men. Martha had her many tasks.

Surely Martha and Mary were on the more financially well off side then those who were day laborers.

Think of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume.

When Jesus was crucified, think of the rich man from Arimathea who came and took his body, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in his own personal tomb.

I do not think Jesus had an issue with people who were rich or financially secure at all.

In fact, how could the Good Samaritan have been so good if he did not have extra money to pay the inn keeper?

How could the Prodigal Son be welcomed home with a ring, a robe, and a fatted calf if his father did not have wealth?

How could the Lord’s Supper have taken place if some generous person had not opened up their home, provided the table, the wine, and the bread?

I think Jesus had a wonderful relationship with the wealthy, and he only had a hard time with those who hoarded or held back from blessing others.

I think of my own life, of how I have been blessed.

For example, I think of John, the father of my high school girlfriend. How he came from a place of poverty and dropped out of high school.

How he worked really hard, began his own business, and wisely accumulated his wealth.

I think of how he used it.

He had a large beautiful home with a pool and a BMW with a carphone. He had a condo in the Hamptons and a wife dripping in diamonds.

But I recall how he would take the entire family out for dinner, not just wife and kids, but their boyfriends and girlfriends as well.

We’d drive to the Elbow Room in the Hamptons, the kind of place where all that was on the menu was steak, steak and more steak, the only salad dressing was Catalina, and the wait was always an hour.

The kind of place where you dressed up, sat at the bar eating bar snacks out of wooden bowls, at a time in American history in which teenagers could be served an alcoholic drink if an adult was present.

And John would pay for it all.

He was the kind of man that allowed me to drive his daughter in my beat up 1970 Dodge Dart to their beach condo in which a concierge greeted us, and we could spend the day swimming in the ocean or a salt water pool.

John was the kind of man who’d invite you over for the family’s traditional seafood Christmas Eve meal featuring shrimp the size of small cats.

Truth is, most of what I learned about how to act in a fancy restaurant, or how to walk into an establishment, or how to enjoy the finer things came from John and his wife.

And he asked for nothing in return. He did it cause he wanted to, he did it cause he could. He did it without having to go without.

John did so by establishing fellowship and creating memories, even if someone like me, used to McDonalds and shopping at Sears, was too young to fully know or appreciate how cool and generous he was.

…Today’s scripture can sound like it condemns those who have wealth or riches; I think it is more a cautionary tale about how holding on too tightly can cause an unnecessary divide.

I think today’s tale is meant to say don’t be so much like the decadent man that you fail to see and respond to others in need.

That today’s scripture is a reminder that our money and our resources are not only meant to bless us, but to bless others, to make our part of the world a bit more heaven-like.

So as we go through the process of giving our offering, as we go through the process of creating a church budget for 2017, as we prepare to think of what we are being called to give, may we do so mindful of all that God has done.

Mindful of the biblical principal of tithing in which God simply asks for one dime back for every dollar.

May we be mindful that it is only by grace and chance that we are not the Lazarus who is lying by the gate.

May we be mindful that we as a church already have all the resources we require, all we need is for each of us to give accordingly.

Amen and amen.

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