Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Trying To Thread The Eye Of A Needle

Whenever this text comes up I always feel that it is the preacher’s job to thread the eye of needle.
On the one hand, we have to encourage people to give.
And at the same time not offend anyone, or make anyone feel guilty.
Perhaps Jesus should have said, “It easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle then to preach a good sermon about money.”
But here we are again.
And I feel compelled to talk about money.
You may not know this but money is something Jesus talks about more than any other subject, except the kingdom of God.
More than sex, politics, love, marriage, prayer, faith, heaven, hell, or anything else.
It would be impossible for me to avoid it.
So this morning we are going to talk about money again.
Let us hope I can thread the eye of a needle.

When we hear this story what do we hear?
Often we hear judgment and condemnation.
What we hear is I haven’t done enough, I have not done what Jesus asked.
Certainly I have not done what Jesus asks in this passage which is to sell everything and give it to the poor.
Like last week text about divorce we hear Jesus telling us that we better give all our money away or else.
But a careful reading of the text I think gives a different impression.

It starts with a young man who wants to know, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Think about that question for a second.
You cannot earn something that is inherited.
An inheritance by definition is something someone else earned and gave to you.
The young man’s premise is all off.
Eternal life is a gift only God can give.
Jesus knows this and that is why he tells his disciples.
“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God.”
If you want to work at getting eternal life the demands will be too much.
None of us in this room is going to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.
Yet, we all know through faith that God loves us enough to give us eternal life.
We cannot work to get eternal life.
We simply inherit it, and it is a gift really earned by someone else.

But I think there is something even more profound about this discussion that Jesus has with this young man.
We are told that Jesus “loved him”.
It is out of love that Jesus tells him to sell everything that he has and give it to the poor.
It is not because Jesus is trying to be spiteful or trying to make the young man feel bad.
Jesus loves this young man so much that he wants to help him.
Jesus wants him to have the full life that he is seeking.
And that full life is not about just half of who we are; it is about everything that we are.
And God cares about our entire being.
God cares about our material being as well as our spiritual.
In fact, the two in Jesus mind are connected.

We try very hard to put our life into categories.
I am at work now.
I am at home now.
I am on vacation now.
Now I am doing a religious thing.
And so we compartmentalize things.
But our life is really about wholeness.
And so our faith life cannot be divorced from our regular life.
That is part of what Jesus is trying to convey to the young man.
But remember it is not out of spite but love that Jesus says this.

You see we hear the text all the wrong ways.
We hear judgment and demand, and what Jesus meant was invitation.
What we hear is, “You should be giving more to the church.”
But what Jesus is saying is, “Follow me and give up your life.”
And those words are spoken in love.

The reason Jesus talks so much about money is because it is often the stumbling block to a full life and a full relationship with God.
Money becomes the reason to or not do something.
I see this many times.
Well, we could do that but we don’t have the money.
I am not talking about buying things but doing things that can really impact on people’s lives.
I would love to help other people but I just don’t have the money is not a good enough reason.

My friend’s dad told me that he had a pastor who would say to his congregation.
On such and such a day I am going to give my money sermon so feel free not to come on that Sunday.
He suggested that this was a great way to handle the money sermon.
I think if I did that I would be doing you all a great disservice spiritually.
I would be robbing you of the invitation that Jesus makes to us all to give our money out of our own need to give.
I would be robbing you of the wholeness that we truly seek.

There was a humorous cartoon once in which a preacher was about to baptize a man.
In the first frame the preacher said,  
“Remember, Bob, everything that goes under this water belongs to God.”
In the next frame as  Bob is being baptized he’s holding up his clenched fist with his wallet.
This is sometimes how we compartmentalize things.
God you can everything except my wallet.

I think people don’t like sermons about money because they have come across as the Church saying I only want your wallet.
The truth is we give because we want to, we need to.
Jesus loves this young man and wants to help him understand that God desires all of us.
But even when we give all we have that does not earn us favor.
The favor is already given.
God loves you if you give nothing.
Our giving is our response to what God gave us.
It is the response to the gift.

There are some theologies out there that tell people that what God wants is for you to be rich and successful.
Here is quote from the television preacher Joel Olsteen, “It’s God’s will for you to live in prosperity instead of poverty.” 
That might sound great.
But it is not what Jesus is offering this morning.
Jesus is offering us full life where God is the center of our lives not our ability to earn money.
Jesus is offering us a life free from the demands of the have to haves.
I have to have this or that.
Instead, we are offered a freed life filled with I get to.
I get to give to others.
I get to give my money away, because I don’t have to anything.
I don’t have to keep up with joneses.
I get to live, isn’t that much more freeing.

I believe that the church has done a real disservice to people.
We have on the one hand made people feel guilty about what they give or don’t give.
And we have done nothing to help people live a life of abundance and thankfulness.
So this is not a stewardship sermon about giving more money to the Church.
This is a stewardship sermon about living the life we all want to live.
About being free to see our abundance and give out of it.
It is about living in the joy of knowing our blessings.
About not being judged for who we are, because others will judge you.
They will not like the way you dress, or what you buy.
But God loves the whole you the way you are.
Jesus loved the young man for his sincere desire to have a full relationship with God.
I know that all of you desire that same relationship.
And my message is simple, you don’t have to do anything God loves you now for who you are, and because of that you get to give in joy.

I hope this morning I have threaded the eye of the needle.
So that you all feel free and not judged to live in God’s love and give freely.

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