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Stuff and Nonsense (2): Impossible

. 4 min read

2014/11/09
Christ Church, Mountain Top
Children,
Mark 12.41-44 (widow’s mite)
Message,
Matthew 19.16-30
How
many of you, as Carol shared the step chart, found yourselves really curious?
Anyone feel awkward?
When
we share these numbers, it is far too easy for us to reduce this conversation
to one thing – money. “Churches are always asking for money.” Actually, because
of your generosity and our careful management, we have had a great year
financially as a congregation. So, we’re not doing this because as a church our
hat is in our hand.
      And, we don’t share these numbers for us
to compare ourselves with each other. We’re human and we do that; it’s totally
natural. We share these numbers to help us imagine a journey and plan and pray
– intentionally – over the next steps in our story.
You
see, each of these numbers is a story. I’ve heard many wonderful generosity stories
over the years, and am grateful for the stories we’ve been hearing this season:
Gordy’s story of a stressful weekend turned into family connections by the gift
of time; Sue’s story of one blessed person passing along the blessing,
lavishly, to her and her sister during a difficult time; and, later today, a
story from Joel and Chris Shuman.
I’ve
heard stories of people responding to the invitation to join Jesus in a
generous life:
·        
a single mother on a tight budget who chooses to
give up a coffee run each week so that she can give back more to God;
·        
a young family struggling with debt who decide
to expand their giving and become debt free;
·        
an older adult on Social Security who
nevertheless finds a way to give significantly;
·        
a young adult who gets her box of envelopes upon
joining the church and exclaims, “I always wanted to be one of those envelope
people”.

I
began tithing my lawn mowing money and have never stopped. Right now, we give a
little over a tithe. I don’t know exactly how much … we just round up. It has
not always been easy. Going to grad school, with two babies at home, on a part
time income – difficult. Paying for two college educations at the same time
while Robin goes through two periods of unemployment in 15 months – difficult.
The college stuff is soon over, the last tuition bill due in December of 2015.
And, we’re kind of excited about the possibility of giving more. Then again, “life
happens” and you do your best to adjust.
      If “life happens” for you, no one from the
church is going to hound you about your giving. We just want to be there for
you. If your giving is toward the bottom of the chart, and you are tithing, you
are living below the poverty line. It is our privilege and duty as God’s people
to be with you, to help you. Please let us know.
Every
one of these numbers is a story. Our Scripture passages today share two more
generosity stories. One is really sad, the story of this rich young man who
hears Jesus’ call and goes away “grieving, for he had many possessions”
(19.22). What he didn’t realize, at least before he met Jesus, is that his
possessions had him. He was possessed
by stuff, and he was unwilling to be set free. Jesus’ invitation to generosity
was the key to his financial freedom and peace, and he turned Jesus down. His
stuff, stuff that doesn’t last, was of more value to him than what lasts
forever.
      Remember Mary Poppins? In the course of the film, the boy has tuppence and
has to make a choice between using it to buy a bag of bird food from the poor
woman in the square OR depositing it at the bank where dad works. The bankers
sold their idea of the deposit as a long-term investment, but what they were
truly offering (and what they were actually modeling) was dependence on stuff,
false security, isolation from poor people and from God’s creation, and no fun
at all.
      “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank”, Mary Poppins
If
you invest your tuppence
Wisely
in the bank
Safe
and sound
Soon
that tuppence,
Invested
in the bank,
Will
compound
The
boy chose to spend his tuppence on bird food. He possessed his tuppence. His
tuppence did not possess him. Those poor bankers. They needed
“supercalifragilisticexpialidosious”. They needed Jesus. [Hoarding, paper
clips]
The
other generosity story in today’s Scriptures is the story of the poor woman who
gave her last two coins, “all she had to live on” (Mark 12.44), worth less than
a penny. Jesus says that her gift is larger than anyone else’s, which seems
“impossible”. What he is telling us is how God measures generosity. It is not
measured by raw amount but by proportionality. Basic giving in the Scripture is
proportional – a tithe, or 10%. It is perfectly normal for the amount of your
giving to change when your income changes. Though we can still grow in our
giving, we can still grow one step by expanding the proportion of our
generosity. Amazingly, what Jesus looks for, over and over, is people who give
ALL, 100%. This woman gave all. Jesus invited the rich man to give all. Jesus
doesn’t ask much. He just asks for all. Again, “impossible”.
Jesus
tells his disciples that it is easier for a camel to enter a needle’s eye than
for a rich person to enter the kingdom (Matthew 19.24). Now, whether Jesus is
speaking about a sewing needle or the “man door” in the larger city gate, also
known as “the eye of the needle”, the point is clear – the camel can’t get
through. Only the person can … and none of their stuff.

      The disciples get the point: “Lord, we
have left everything and followed you. What [do we get]?” (19.27) Well, they
get part of the point – the call to follow Jesus is a call to leave everything
else, to give all. But it is not about their question, “What do we get?” Being
a disciple of Jesus requires us to give up being a consumer altogether. We are
called to be no more, and no less, than wholly God’s. “Then who can be saved?”
(19.25). Of course it is impossible, humanly speaking; but, with God, “all
things [that word again] are possible” (19.26). That’s why we need Jesus.