Stewardship Resource

Sing a New Song of Daring

Sermon  Sermon
  • Author: Paul L. Larsen is Pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, New Brighton, MN
  • Updated: 07/06/2010
  • Copyright: Paul L. Larsen

Text: Mark 10:17-31
We can't buy our way into heaven.  We can't earn it or deserve it.  But we are a part of God's kingdom because God gives that to us as a gift.  When the rich, young ruler shows up, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to give his all.  He is going there to suffer and die on a cross so that we might live.  We have the promise of an eternal relationship with God, not because of what we do, but because of what God has done for us. 

"We talk about how we spend our money reveals what sort of people we are.  But according to Jesus, how we spend our money determines what sort of people we become.  Treasure is not just money -- it is whatever we value -- time, possessions, families, physical bodies.  And Jesus says that what we do with our treasures affects our hearts -- it determines who we are inside.  It determines what sort of people we become." 


Sing a New Song of Daring
Paul L. Larsen;
October 11, 2009
Text: Mark 10: 17-31   

A very wealthy man spoke at a church meeting about his Christian faith.  He said, I'm a millionaire and I attribute my wealth to the blessings of God in my life. He told of the turning point in his faith.  He had just earned his first dollar and he went to a church service.  A missionary was making an appeal for support.  When it came time for the offering he knew he would either have to give his only dollar or nothing at all.  At that moment he decided to give all that he had to God.  He said that God had blessed that decision and had made him wealthy.  When he had finished there was an awed silence.  Suddenly, a little, old lady jumped up and said: I dare you to do it again! 

As hard as it must have been for him to give his first and only dollar to God, it would be even harder to give away all the wealth he had amassed.  It is a much bigger leap from being a millionaire to being penniless than it is from being a person with one dollar to being a person with no dollars.  That is why it was so hard for the rich, young ruler in our gospel text - he had many possessions.  And his possessions provided him with power, prestige and security.  He was pretty sure he was in good standing with God.  After all he was rich and in those days that was a sure sign that God was blessing him.  Jesus called this rich young man to give all of that up and follow him.  The man was shocked and went away grieving. 

Then Jesus says something that shocks his disciples.  He says, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.  The disciples were astounded.  They ask, If someone who is rich, who is obviously blessed by God can't get into the kingdom, who can?  Jesus answers them saying, For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible. 

We can't buy our way into heaven.  We can't earn it or deserve it.  But we are a part of God's kingdom because God gives that to us as a gift.  When the rich, young ruler shows up, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to give his all.  He is going there to suffer and die on a cross so that we might live.  We have the promise of an eternal relationship with God, not because of what we do, but because of what God has done for us. 

This story of the rich, young ruler is the only occasion in which Jesus tells someone to go and sell all they have and give it to the poor and then come and follow him.  Jesus doesn't call all of us to a life of poverty.  He calls us to a life of discipleship.  He calls us to trust in him, to place our lives in his hands and to be his followers. 

What Jesus is speaking of here is like the actions of a trapeze artist who swings from his high platform at one end of the circus tent toward the center of the tent where his "catcher" meets him.  If he lets go of the trapeze, and allows the catcher to grab his wrists, he can swing in a long, graceful arc to that high platform at the other end of the tent.  But if he doesn't let go of the trapeze, he will swing in shorter and shorter arcs until he stops and drops to the net below.
To get from one side of the tent to the other the trapeze artist must trust his catcher and let go of the trapeze.  This is where the rich young ruler is having problems.  Good teacher, he asks, what must I do to inherit eternal life?  Jesus says, Go, sell, give, come, follow.  In other words, if you want to get to the other side of the tent--to that side of the tent where eternal life is--you are going to have to trust your catcher and let go of the trapeze.

In this man's case that trapeze was money.  So, let go, Jesus says.  Let go, and God will catch you, and carry you to the other side.  But that's a scary thought.  Can you imagine?  Being high up in the top of that circus tent, fifty or sixty feet off the ground, and letting go of the only sure thing in your grasp?  There would be one moment up there when you were suspended in mid-air between your grip on the trapeze and the catcher's grip on you.  One, terrifying moment, when you sucked in your breath, and squeezed your eyes shut, and reached out toward empty space trusting his strong hands to grab you and swing you to safety.  There would be no guarantee that you would make it.  Anything could happen.  But I guarantee this: in that moment when you let go of the trapeze, you would be more alive than you had ever been before.

Jesus calls us to dare to be his disciples.  He calls us to let go of whatever might come between us and our relationship with him.  He wants to be number one in our life.  He calls us to follow him, to be transformed and to become more like him. 

Bonnie Raitt sings a song about unrequited love called, I Can't Make You Love Me.  Bonnie sings one mournful line from the chorus with almost a wail of grief, I can't make you love me, if you don't. You can't make your heart feel something it won't.

But Jesus refutes that when he says, Where your treasure is there your heart will be also  Jesus is a lot more hopeful on the subject of hearts than Bonnie Raitt.  We often get that verse backwards saying, Where your heart is there you treasure will be.  We talk about how we spend our money reveals what sort of people we are.  But according to Jesus, how we spend our money determines what sort of people we become.  Treasure is not just money -- it is whatever we value -- time, possessions, families, physical bodies.  And Jesus says that what we do with our treasures affects our hearts -- it determines who we are inside.  It determines what sort of people we become. 

That means the sad song of Bonnie Raitt isn't true.  We CAN make our hearts feel what they don't.  We can control our hearts, direct them in ways we want them to go.  We can do so in a very practical way, by deciding what sort of people we want to be and then giving our treasure -- our time, talent and money -- to those things we want to care about.  Jesus was not a fund-raiser.  He talked about money a lot, but not because he wanted people to give to any particular cause.  He talked about money because he cared about us and because he knew that what we do with our money affects who we are spiritually. 

Jesus tells us that giving generously is a way to grow in faith when he says, Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  There are other ways to put it:
Don't give based on the faith you have, but on the faith you yearn to have. 
Give to God's work and your relationship with God will deepen. 
Give to God, not only because you believe, but In order to believe more deeply. 
Give faithfully and you will grow in your faith.
This is more than just a clever twist of words.  I have seen this lived out in the lives of those whose generous giving has deepened their relationship with God. 

It is not just those who are wealthy who can give generously.  In fact, according to a May 2009 survey by the Parr Center for Ethics, the poor give a much larger percentage of their income than those at upper income levels.  The poor are also less likely to reduce their giving in hard times.  We are called to give in proportion to what we have. 

I was enthralled with the Minnesota Twins victory over the Detroit Tigers in the 163rd game which determined the Central Division champion.  One of the things that was fun to see was that it wasn't the big boppers who won the game.  It wasn't Mauer, Kubel and Cuddyer.  It was the little guys.  It was Carlos Gomez who was batting only .229 who got on and scored the winning run and Alexi Casilla who is batting only .202 who drove him in.  It just goes to show you that every player on a team is important and can contribute.  Every member of our church is important too and each person's contributions make a difference.  All gifts are important.  They are important because they transform the life of the giver and because they transform the lives of those ministered to by the gifts

You will get a letter this week from a fellow member of Christ the King sharing with you the joy that person finds in giving.  The people writing letters were invited to do so because they demonstrate generous stewardship.  They may not give the largest dollar amounts contributed here, but they give a generous portion of their income.  They will also invite you to join them in growing in giving.  We can learn the joys of giving from those who find joy in giving their gifts.  . 

CBS News carried a story about a Phoenix cab driver named Tom Chappell who knows the joy of giving and dares to give generously.  Tom got called to the home of Rita Van Loenen.  Tom said, I was running about 30 minutes late.  When I finally did pick her up she was not a happy camper.  Rita was so frustrated with him that she didn't tip him.  In fact, she was hoping she'd never see him again, but over the next two months, it seemed like every time Rita called a cab - Tom was dispatched.  Tom said, I'm thinking 'Why Lord?  Why are you picking me.' 

Tom says Rita continued to be cranky, even when he wasn't late.  Most cab drivers would have probably barked right back, but not Tom.  Tom just wondered about her.  He wondered if her attitude had anything to do with where he was taking her all the time - a medical office with a door that read "kidney dialysis."

Tom says, So I went to the library and started learning more, and then I started understanding why she was that way. Through his research and from talking to Rita, Tom learned how physically and emotionally draining dialysis can be.  He learned what Rita really needs is a kidney transplant, but none of her friends or family are suitable donors.  And finally, he learned something about himself - something incredible, really.

Tom says, I try to be as good to people as I can. In fact, I've always said I'd give someone the shirt off my back if they asked me for it, but I never thought about giving somebody a part of me.  Rita couldn't believe it when Tom offered to donate a kidney.  Of course, Rita knew Tom probably wouldn't be a match, but the fact that he so sincerely offered meant the world to her.  And later, when he actually followed through and got tested, she was blown away.  And when those test results came back, they were both in utter disbelief.

The doctors told us if the match was any closer we'd be siblings, Tom said in amazement.

The surgery is planned for later this year.  Rita said, I tell him it's hard for me to express in words how grateful I am.  Tom says it's nothing, really.  He says he just had a talk with God and God thought it was a good idea.  He never expected there to be anything in it for him - but there was.  Not a kidney, but a piece of his heart that was lost.  Tom reconnected with a daughter he hadn't seen in 30 years.  She saw his story on the news and called him and they talked. They talked for a long time.


Tom says that after an ugly divorce, his wife took their daughter and disappeared.  The irony is that, part of the reason Tom offered Rita his kidney is because he figured he didn't have a whole lot more to live for anyway.  Tom told Rita, This has not just given you a new life. It's given me another life

If all goes well they should both be enjoying those new lives by this Christmas.  Tom's boss, Flash Cab, has agreed to not only keep paying Tom while he's recovering from the surgery - but they're also paying for his airline ticket to Kentucky to see his daughter.

What an amazingly generous gift!  I find it hard to imagine someone giving a kidney to a complete stranger.  Yet Tom is finding great joy and reward in his giving. 

We are not all called to poverty.  And we are not all called to donate a kidney.  But we are called to discipleship.  As disciples we can find joy in our giving because God created us with a need to give.  God is the greatest giver of all and has created us in his image.  He has given us life.  He gave his son and  Jesus gave his life to save us.  He has given us the gifts of love, forgiveness and eternal life.  Jesus calls us to follow him, to trust in him enough to let go of whatever trapeze we might want to hang onto and allow him to catch us with his strong and trustworthy arms.  Jesus tells us, Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.  When we fill out our pledge cards this week will we dare to trust him?  Will we dare to give generously to God trusting that our heart will go there also?  Amen. 

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