Thanksgiving Sunday - Luke 12:13-21
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Thanksgiving Sunday 2015.
Luke 12: 13-21
Maybe going to a game show isn’t your idea of a good time, but imagine that you have received some complimentary tickets, the children want to go and so you give in. When you arrive it isn’t as bad as you thought, in fact you soon begin to enjoy it. The studio frenzy is contagious, the warm up man is funny, and the music is decidedly upbeat. What is more, the stakes are high. ‘Higher than they have ever been’ enthuses the toothy host- ‘Welcome to What’s your Price?’ Without any prompting, the audience immediately explode into rapturous applause. ‘Today someone will walk out with one million pounds’ the host beams. You mutter to your children, ‘It won’t be me. That sort of luck doesn’t run in my family.’ ‘Shhh’ your daughter whispers, ‘they are about to pull out the name from the hat’. And would you believe it, the paper has your name written on it. And so down you go in the full glare of the lights and cameras to play the game. The rules are quite straightforward. You only have to answer the simple question: ‘What is your price?’ That is, you have to agree on one condition and you receive one million pounds. ‘Think of all the things you could do with that amount of money’-says the host- ‘pay off the mortgage, buy a new car- several if you wish, take that long for world cruise-why you could donate some of it to your local church if you wanted to.’ “Take your pick.” He says, “Just choose one of the following options and the money is yours.” A deep, invisible voice begins to read from the list: ‘Put your children up for adoption. Become a prostitute for week. Leave your church. Leave your family .Give up your citizenship. Change your race.’ “That’s the list”, explains the host, ‘Now, make your choice.’ The clock starts ticking, members of the audience shout out their advice, you get increasingly hot under the collar and your mind is in a swirl. What do you do? Well, let me tell you what others would do, at least in America, because a few years ago a national survey asked that very question-but for 10 million dollars not 1 million pounds. Here are the results: 25% would abandon their family, 25% would abandon their church, 23% would become a prostitute for a week, 16% would give up their citizenship, 16% would leave their spouse and 3% would put their children up for adoption. That is some indication as to the place money figures in many people’s lives in the West today.
Now we may never be put in a position where we have to make such stark choices but we are all in a position where we do make choices on a daily basis about what matters us. I would hope that we would think that anything that costs us in terms of our faith or family is simply too high. And yet we live in a society where such pressure is being brought to bear, even upon Christians, to pay that price. And this is not anything new. It was a just a pressure in Jesus’ day as it is in ours which is why he told the parable recorded in Luke 12. Here is a man who had made a windfall profit off an investment. The land has produced a bumper crop and he has excess cash and he asks, ‘What will I do with my earnings?’ It takes him about five seconds to answer his question. He will save it, store it and live off it, living ‘high on the hog’ as our Texas friends might say- but since he was Jewish that was probably unlikely- but you get the point. And you can tell who the centre of his life is by the repeated use of the words ‘I’ and ‘my’ v18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself (literally ‘my soul’), “Soul, you have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ He is the centre of his own little universe- so he thinks.
But he soon to be dreadfully disabused of that delusion for he is not the centre of the universe and his soul does not belong to him so he can do with it whatever he wants, for both belong to another- God. And so God, as is his right, calls in the debt on the man’s life, ‘your soul is demanded of you this very night’ ( you see it doesn’t belong to him at all but to God). And the epitaph to his life to be written on his tombstone is given by God, and how dreadfully sad it is: ‘You fool’. Interesting that isn’t it? Because as far as he was concerned, and many people today are concerned, it is wise to save up your money to spend on yourself. After all, ‘you only live once’ as they say. But that is precisely the point; we do only live once with no second chance and that is why we must make sure that we live wisely, which Jesus says in v 21 means being ‘rich towards God’. And that comes through responding properly to the Gospel. It is the Gospel which makes us rich in the sense that we are transformed from being beggars critically in debt to God because of our sin with no hope of that debt ever being cancelled, into princes as the Prince of Peace, Jesus, dies on the cross to cancel it for us by paying the price for us. And this new standing before God, not as a fool, but as forgiven, has life changing consequences. Let me mention just two.
First of all, being rich towards God is a Gospel proof. Let me ask: How will someone know whether you or I are Christians? By what we say we believe? Well, in part yes. But then again as James reminds us in his letter, even the devil believes, so believing the right things is not sufficient proof of a genuine conversion. Just listen to what the apostle Paul writes of the sign of an authentic spiritual regeneration in his first letter to the Thessalonians chapter 1 and v9. He speaks of them having, ‘turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven.’ What is the negative proof of these people’s faith? They ‘turned from idols’. Now when we think of idols we imagine little clay statues painted with gold, tucked away in a shrine with a candle stuck in front of them don’t we? But what is it that makes that little statue so special? After all it is only painted clay. Well, it is the belief that it has some sort of power, that it can bestow good fortune or a sense of well being and happiness on the person who possesses it. In other words, we accord to an idol the attributes of God. It is what we live for which shapes our priorities and directs our lives. That is why our society is actually littered with idols, things we feel we can’t live without and in which we will invest our time and our money at the expense of God-that is idolatry. It is living for the holiday, the night out, the sex, the entertainment, the sport. But the mark of a Christian is that he or she has been set free from those sorts of things, from going along with what the crowd thinks is valuable. Money and time once spent on those things becomes redirected. Where to? Well, to ‘serve the living God’. Visible proof that you have been touched by the Spirit of God is that you will be willing to sit light to these things and be more concerned about God’s things- his kingdom-so that our children, our old people, the people in the surrounding area and throughout the world will hear about Jesus. That is what we will be investing in.
But it is also proof that we are properly converted because one of the effects of the Gospel, as Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians, is that we are ‘being renewed in the image of our Creator.’ And what is the supreme mark of the character of God but that he is a generous God. We are so used to experiencing this that we fail to see it for the amazing thing is really is. Think of it this way: God could have left the world flat and grey but he didn’t. This is the way someone has expressed this truth in a poem: ‘He splashed the orange in the sunrise and cast the sky in blue. And if you love to see the geese as they gather, chances are you’ll see that too. Did he have to make the squirrel’s tail furry? Was he obliged to make the birds sing? And the funny way that chickens scurry or the majesty of thunder when it rings? Why give a flower fragrance? Why give food its taste? Could it be he loves to see the look upon your face?’ But of course the Christian does not simply look at the glorious variety of creation as evidence of divine generosity; he looks to the cross where God gave up everything in the one who being rich became poor so that we who are poor should become rich. And so as we are gripped by the Gospel we are changed by the Gospel in that we become generous for the Gospel. Do you see?
Secondly, it leads to Gospel activity. This comes out especially in Paul’s letter to the Philippians where Paul begins by thanking God with prayers brimming with joy because, as he puts it, of their ‘partnership in the Gospel.’ 1:5. For Paul Gospel business was in some ways like any other business made up of a partnership to get a job done. And one of the most moving ways in which this partnership was expressed was by the Christians at Philippi taking collection to help Paul out in his ministry- all very down to earth stuff. This is how he puts it in Chapter 4: 14, ‘Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.’ Not everyone can be involved in, what is for the want of a better term, front line full-time Gospel work, but everyone can be involved in supporting it and therefore sharing in it. The alternative is a stark one in that without that financial support Gospel workers will be lost, missionary work will dry up. Positively, with financial support Gospel workers could be added as well as being able to give more away to other Gospel work around the world-like Iraq for example. One of the shear delights of being in a fellowship like this is that through the generosity of God’s people we are able to do what we do which when you read our annual reports is simply amazing. Do you not think that delights God’s heart? Of course it does. The point of this weekend is simply to encourage us on to move more and more in the same direction, and maybe for those who are new to the church to discover how you can be part of this Gospel partnership too through regular, planned giving.
Now let me mention a problem and a principle to help us as we seek to be for the Gospel.
If we are honest, one of our biggest problems in this area of giving is fear which leads to worry. We cling to money and possessions because we believe that it is they rather than God which will pull us through if the going gets tough. But according to Jesus the opposite of fear is faith. Which is what Jesus goes on to say in v28, ‘O you of little faith. Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world ruins after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.’ God is realistic, we are not to become mystics, retreat to the desert and sit on a pole for years (which is what some early Christians did by the way!). We do have to live in the material world, but that doesn’t mean we have to become materialistic and worldly, putting our hopes in the material, which is what the rich man in the parable was doing. The Christian psychologist Karl Menninger once asked a wealthy patient, “What on earth are you going to do with all that money?” The patient replied, “Just worry about it I suppose!” Dr Menninger went on, “Well, do you get much pleasure out of worrying about it?” “No” responded the patient, “but I get such terror when I think of giving it to somebody else.” He wasn’t joking. There is that fear of letting go of money because it feels we are letting go of something of ourselves and our security which is bound up with it. And given this link in our minds between ourselves and our money then the more money we have the more important and secure we think ourselves to be and the less we will feel our need of God. It was John Wesley who once declared that “if you have any desire to escape the damnation of hell, give all you can; otherwise I can have no more hope for your salvation than that of Judas Iscariot.’ And remember that Judas Iscariot was the church treasurer and loved money enough to betray Jesus for more of it. We are not to think that professing Christians are not put in danger by money-they are. That is why in his teaching Jesus spent so much of his teaching warning against the perils of materialism. And we are not to think he simply had in mind those who had loads of it, he is concerned with all of us. After all, the episode in Luke’s Gospel which led Jesus to telling this parable was a question which came from a man in the crowd- an ordinary man by all accounts who wanted Jesus to intervene and adjudicate a family inheritance and Jesus would have none of it. You see, he came not to sort out our finances but our hearts.
Which brings us to the main principle. God is not at all interested in ‘guilt driven giving’. The motive is wrong, it is short lived, and at the end of the day it can be as self- centred as the man in the story, because it is concerned with how ‘I’ can get rid of my guilt feelings by giving. No, Jesus points us to something much deeper and lasting. It is there in the punch line to this whole episode - verse 21, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
By speaking of our ‘treasure’ Jesus means ‘the object of what is being cherished’. By speaking of our ‘heart’ he is referring to the ‘organ’ which does the cherishing. So Jesus is saying, ‘Where the object is that you cherish, that is where you will find the organ doing the cherishing.’ The heart moves towards whatever it is we value. So if the things which cause our salivary glands to move into third gear, and which cause us to reach for our credit cards, and which shape our priorities with what we do with our time and money are fixed here on earth, then that is where are heart will be and that is where our heart will stay and we will be cut off from God for ever because that is not where he is- he is in heaven. And God wants our hearts. How do I know if he has my heart? Well, one measure is if he has my money. If you value something you will spend money on it, you will give your time to it and put your energies to it. How else do I know that someone is devoted to a video game? I know because he spends hours on the computer playing it and has spent lots of money buying it. How then will I know if I am devoted to Christ? Because I will want everything I am and everything I have to be shaped by him and given over to serve him because he is my treasure.
Let us pray.
Copyright information: The sermon texts are copyright and are available for personal use only. If you wish to use them in other ways, please contact us for permission.