Choosing God as our master instead of money frees us. It frees us from worry and it frees us to appreciate the blessings we have and to share them. Worry is such a waste. Raise your hand if by worrying you can add a single hour to the length of your life. Therefore, do not worry. God has enscribed you on the palms of his hands. Put yourself in those capable and loving hands and enjoy the ride.
No One Can Serve Two Masters (Why Would You Want To?)
When I was a teenager in Omaha, I worked for a company that sold magazines. Sometimes my work was fun. We would laugh and talk during our breaks and joke around at our desks. The time flew by. Sometimes it was horrible. The atmosphere was tense and everyone was on edge. We were afraid to laugh or talk to each other. My 4 hour shift seemed like an eternity. Maybe you are wondering how the same job could be so different on two different days? It didn't have anything to do with how many magazines we sold. The thing that made the difference was my boss. If she was in a good mood, things were great for all of us. If she was in a bad mood, we were all miserable--she would yell at us for even the smallest mistake. The thing that made her so hard to work for was that she was unpredictable. Sometimes she treated us right, but we couldn't count on her.
Today's Gospel lesson is about deciding who or what is going to be your boss. Is it going to be God or money? Jesus says you can't have two bosses. Why would you even want two bosses? Too many Christians today are making money their master. It is the thing we think about more than anything. Will we have enough money? Will we be able to afford gas? What is going to happen to us if food and gas prices keep going up!?! We may say we belong to the Lord, but you wouldn't guess that from listening to our conversations. God doesn't seem to be at the forefront of our thoughts. We say we belong to God, but if you look at our checkbooks and our bank records, you see otherwise. If you look at where we spend our money, then you see what our values really are. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." The average Christian in the United States gives only 2.5% of her income to support the church. (This figure is from the stewardship section of the ELCA website.) Our goal is to tithe. God gives us so many blessing and asks for very little in return. "Tithing" is based on the Biblical principal of giving 10% of our income to the Lord.
The New Testament book of Hebrews reminds us of Abraham's tithe. "...Abraham gave one tenth of all he had...." Abraham's descendent Jacob made a vow to the Lord to give one tenth of everything back to the Lord if he was given food, clothing and kept safe. If we have food, clothing and our kept safe, why shouldn't we do the same?
Today we don't tithe because we are obligated to. We tithed because we love the Lord and we know we are richly blessed. Our church doesn't force us to do anything. We give generously if we choose God as our master rather than money. We read in 2 Corinthians, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
When we choose money as our master, we are choosing a boss who is harsh and unpredictable. When we have enough, or think we have enough, things are great, but hard times can befall us without any warning at all. We could lose all of our money in a heartbeat. Money is not the kind of boss we want to have. It is not the way for us to have the peace that God desires for us. When we choose money as our master, we hurt ourselves, we hurt our church and we limit the good that is done in the world in the name of Jesus.
Look at our first lesson today to see the kind of master we could have if we choose God. We could have a master that is as gentle as a mother with a tiny baby. Imagine how much the parents of these graduates love them and how proud they are of them. I talked to the parent of one of the graduates this week. He said his child didn't like to brag, but he loved telling people about all her many accomplishments. I could tell from listening to him how much he loves his children and proud he is of them. Just imagine--the Lord loves us even more. The Lord comforts us and has compassion on us when we are afflicted with hard times--times when we have no money or when our health is failing. The Lord says, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands..." Isn't that the kind of master you want to have? Entrusting ourselves to God's loving hands is the only way to stop worrying.
Thursday night at Bible study, we talked a little about worry and how hard it is not to worry. Someone mentioned the statistic that 90% of what we worry about never happens. What a waste! All those sleepless nights and headaches over something that wasn't even going to happen. Jesus said, "Don't worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will bring worries of it's own. Today's trouble is enough for today." Rather than worry about what might never happen tomorrow, let's try and concentrate on the blessings that we have today. Do you have food to eat today? I see you all have clothes to wear and think most of you have safe places to live and you are even blessed with family and friends. Let's be thankful today for all of God's gifts to us today and leave tomorrows worries for tomorrow.
We hurt ourselves when we choose the wrong master and we hurt our churches too. Right now giving is down in this church from what it was last year. Of course, our expenses are down because we don't have a full-time pastor. We don't have a paid custodian and every group in the church is working to cut spending. Programs can only be cut so much before they can't function at all. If giving does not increase we will never be able to call a full-time ordained pastor and many of our programs will cease to exist. I know from talking to you, that this is not what you want to happen.
I don't think the reason people don't give to the church is selfishness. I think it is worry. We are worried about what is going to happen to us. The Gospel text for today preaches very hard against worry. You are more important to God than the birds of the air or the flowers of the fields. Your heavenly Father knows what you need. Strive first for the kingdom of God and everything you need will be given to you.
Last weekend, I was at our synod assembly. One person stood up and talked about the economic stimulus checks that most of us are going to receive. He said ELCA Lutherans are going to receive about a billion dollars. If everyone tithed them, the church would have 100 million dollars to spread the gospel and feed the hungry. He said it could be a "spiritual stimulus package."
Rev. Donald McCoid was our keynote speaker at Synod Assembly. His speech convinced me that we Lutherans are a powerful group when we put ourselves in God's hands. He told about a time that he was in Africa and a young boy and a young girl approached the group he was visiting. They said there father had just died. They had already lost their mother to AIDS and now they were all alone. They were told to go to the Lutheran encampment and they would be cared for. In many places in Africa AIDS orphans are force to fend for themselves. These children were near a Lutheran encampment and didn't have to suffer alone.
Do you remember Senator Paul Simon? He is deceased now, but he was the bow-tie-wearing son of a Lutheran missionary. He served two terms in the U.S. senate. Rev. McCoid shared a story that Senator Simon told. It is one I will never forget. When the great tribal wars were happening, great numbers of people were taken from their homes and fled to the Great Lakes of Africa. Can you imagine what it would be like to hear that you had to leave your home and move to another area or be killed? Great numbers of people flooded the roads trying to find a safe place to live. When they arrived at a "safe" area, they lived in large encampments behind barbed wire and the protection of troops.
Senator Simon traveled to this area to see what was happening. He spoke at various places around the encampments. At one of the places, when he was speaking, he noticed a young boy. He said, "He was 8 years old. I actually don't know how old he was, but he looked to be the age of my grandson. This boy's eye was fully extended out of the socket. Insects surrounded his eye. He was in terrible pain. You could see the agony on his face. After I finished speaking, I asked the director of this encampment about the boy. Would he receive medical care?" The camp director indicated that it was impossible to treat injuries like this one. The medical staff was overwhelmed and could only help people who were
dying, who were in difficult child labor, or who needed amputations.
Senator Simon was overwhelmed by the answer. He said "In God's name can't someone help this boy?" This is the answer that Senator Simon shared. The camp director said "We will tell the Lutherans." What does it mean "We will tell the Lutherans?" It means that each day, throughout the world, through our offering, we are present through the Lutheran World Federation and Lutheran World Relief bringing care to those who need it the most. When we choose to make God our master, God never forgets us and God uses us to help the children that the world has forgotten.
Choosing God as our master instead of money frees us. It frees us from worry and it frees us to appreciate the blessings we have and to share them. Worry is such a waste. Raise your hand if by worrying you can add a single hour to the length of your life. (Pause.) Therefore, do not worry. God has enscribed you on the palms of his hands. Put yourself in those capable and loving hands and enjoy the ride. Amen
Judy Mai is a Master of Divinity student at Luther Seminary.