Texts: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 and Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19 Luke 16:19-31
Gorges speaks within this sermon about giving and financial stewardship. This sermon can be summarized by the final sentence within it: "Make your life count by giving."
Make Your Life Count
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 and Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19 Luke 16:19-31
September 30, 2007
When I was growing up, I remember looking to the pastor after hearing texts like today's Gospel lesson, and wondering how on EARTH he was going to make this text sound like Good News. Today, Jesus tells a story of a man in hell, simply because he was rich and he did not share. And for this man, there are no second chances, and it seems there is no grace. As a pastor in training, my challenge is to preach this text without watering it down, and my joy is in finding, even in challenging texts like this, the Good News of Jesus Christ.
For me to be true to this text, I need to talk about financial stewardship. I am aware that this is a bold move for an intern. We are still just getting to know each other. Let me assure you - my research for this sermon did not include nosing around in this church's records and finding out what everybody gives. Instead, I bring into this sermon two assumptions. The first is that you give, and you give generously. The second is that you could give more.
When Jesus told this parable, he probably shocked his listeners. He shocked the Pharisees, who were described as "lovers of money" a few verses back, and he shocked his disciples who were used to looking up to the Pharisees as religious leaders and holy people. When we read this parable, it shocks us.
It's intentional. When Jesus told this story, he meant to upset the apple cart, and if we find it disturbing, that's a sign this parable is still relevant to us.
Here is what I mean:
True confession: I can not so much as hear the words, "financial stewardship," without my mental calculator kicking into action. When I think about stewardship, I think about my expenses, my debt, my future plans. In fact, in a given conversation, "financial stewardship" may be the last words I really hear, because after that I'm in my head, doing math, justifying how much I give and explaining to God, why I can't do more, and I'm feeling guilty. Yuck! From talking with other people, I suspect I'm not alone in this experience. And it always goes the same way: hear "financial stewardship," start self-justification, end feeling bad. No wonder it's not a popular topic.
And here is what today's shocking parable does: it stops us in our tracks. This story is so vivid, it sweeps away the story we're telling ourselves. It cuts us off from our excuses and our rationalizations. "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony."
This reversal helps us see just how feeble and silly are the stories we tell ourselves about how much we give and why. And that's a good thing. When we finally stop justifying ourselves, we can see what is behind our excuses.
We are afraid. We are so afraid and so vulnerable. Anything could happen. Wealth helps us feel safe.
Yet even the wealthiest people experience disease, sorrow, loneliness, pain, and death. Wealth cannot save us from these things, and it can not stop our fear. Jesus can minister to our fear, but only if we stop justifying ourselves long enough to acknowledge that we are afraid.
The Places that Scare You, Pema Chodron writes, "When we feel unhappy, when we feel inadequate, we get stingy; we hold on tight. Generosity is an activity that loosens us up. By offering whatever we can...we are training in letting go." It is not clinging to wealth that will free us from fear, but letting go. When we let go of our wealth and the false sense of security it gives us, we make room for God. When we give, we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, the one who gave it all, for us.
It's easier to talk about giving than it is to do it. Again, from Chodron, "If we wish to practice generosity and a beggar arrives, that's good news. The beggar gives us an opportunity to learn how to give."
It's about practice. Generosity is something we can practice every day. Like anything else, the more we practice, the better we get at it. And the better we get at generosity, the better off we are. If the pursuit of wealth can enslave us--and it can--the day in, day out pursuit of generosity can make us free. Free to follow Jesus, and free to make a difference.
Practice helps. So does changing the way we think about money. Derrick Jensen writes in The Culture of Make Believe: "Corporations are carriers of ruin, turning everything they touch to money. They ...turn[ing] the living--forests, oceans, mountains, rivers, human lives--into the dead: money." Have you ever heard anything like that before in your life? I haven't, yet I think it's true! Most every money-making institution I can think of does just that, takes natural or human resources and just turns them into money. And money doesn't save anyone from loneliness, sorrow, pain, fear, or death, and it can so easily enslave us.
But we are Christians, so even if money is dead, we know that death is not the end. We are Christians, and we are resurrection people. When we give of our dead money, we have the chance to turn that dead money back into life! The money we give here supports churches where faith is sustained, and projects like Amextra that heal broken communities, help the poor, and protect creation. When we give, we turn death into new life, and we participate in the resurrection of Christ.
"No one can cross from there to us." Abraham cannot put even a drop of water on the rich man's tongue. This might seem like a text of terror, but Jesus is no fear-mongerer. This text is an invitation!
The uncrossable chasm at the other side is not a threat of eternal suffering after death. It is to highlight how very permeable the boundary is here and now between those of us who are comfortable, and those who suffer. It might be too late for the rich man and Lazarus to connect in the story, but it is not too late for us! We have the chance to relieve suffering here and now. We can make our lives count by giving.
Other places, you will hear: be cautious, be wise with your wealth, be responsible. Not here. This is church.
We have been created in the image of God.
That means every one of us has, within us, the need to give.
Giving generously changes us.
The more we give, the less we seem to need ourselves, and the more we want to give away.
That's the way it's supposed to be.
Do not give reasonably or wisely. Give extravagantly, give foolishly. You have a chance to change suffering into joy. Do it. Make your life count by giving.
Quinn Gorges is a Master of Divinity student at Pacific Lutheran Theological School.