â€œGifted to giftâ€
Luke 12:13-21 and Colossians 3:1-11
For the past two weeks we have been talking about priorities. Firstly were Mary sat at Jesus feet and listened to him instead of busying herself with other good, but less important things. Then with prayer were God invites us to ask him for our needs, and though we may not receive things exactly as we ask, we will receive according to His desire to give us what is good for us and others in His will that we remain in, and others join us in His eternal kingdom.
Today we have the trifecta as Jesus brings up the topic of money and earthly possessions and as with how Jesus lessons to Martha and Mary and with how prayer played out, we see that earthly riches are not wrong in themselves but need to be kept in check as we are told to â€œSet our minds on things above, and not on earthly thingsâ€.
In 1978 Dr. Ron Sider wrote a much loved and sometimes despised book concerning the rich Christians, churches and governments of western nations and I suppose in summary you could say part of the book covered his view of the token effort in sacrificial giving to the poor and needy of the world. He made some very good points; as did a supporter of his book who went on to add this:
â€œIs it just Western Christians that are neglecting the poor today? No. I live in the Philippines which doesn’t have a very large percentage of Christians, but the population is probably 5 to 10 percent Christian. Even though these Christians live in the midst of poverty- it is my estimation that believers here are just as lackadaisical about caring for the poor as Western Christians are. This goes to show that the problem does not lie in wealth. Wealth is not evil. The problem lies in a lack of solid Bible teaching and a lack of compassion that comes from spiritual immaturity. Do you want to be a charitable Christian that models compassion and generosity? It won’t start with your checkbook, but it will start in your relationship with God that can only develop through the Word of God.â€
It won’t start with your checkbook, but it will start in your relationship with God. Very perceptive because if we turn to the Bible we can see that many of Godâ€™s key people were in fact wealthy.
In Genesis Abraham was said to be â€œvery rich in livestock, silver and goldâ€. Similar, Isaac we are told like his father â€œbecame a rich man and his wealth continued to growâ€, and in 2nd Chronicles we are told that Jehoshaphat the king of Judah was a good king who did not worship the images of Baal and obeyed the commands of the Lord. And that the Lord blessed him and all the people loved and respected him so much that they brought him gifts. In fact they gave him so much that he became very rich.
Very rich people, yet Godâ€™s people just like the many, many of Godâ€™s people in the scriptures of very meagre earthly wealth. As that person I quoted eluded to: the poor can idol worship possessions as much as the wealthiest person and the wealthiest person can worship God as much as the poorest as best said from 1st Timothy 6:10: â€œFor the love of money is a root of all kinds of evilâ€. Note itâ€™s not as many misquote as simply money being the problem, but the love of money that leads to what comes next in the verse: â€œ(for) some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefâ€™sâ€.
Thereâ€™s the issue. Forget just money and possessions but add in status, a good reputation, sport, addictions and whatever else that gets you through the night-if it takes your eyes of Christ or gets in the way of your relationship with God it has become your idol and thatâ€™s the danger for as George Lorimer a well-known publicist wrote: â€œItâ€™s good to have money and the things money can buy. (But) itâ€™s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure you havenâ€™t lost the things money canâ€™t buyâ€.
Well said, but understated as in living in our society of we, myself, I and its consumerism we must not just occasionally, but be diligent and vigilant in ensuring that our gifts and possessions donâ€™t come to possess us rather than the giver and bringers of all things good: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.
Rich or poor, CEO or bottom of the rung and whether we do this or that is not the issue as it comes back to our relationship with God and His word, and that can look differently through different people.
Near being ordained my vicar father asked me if I would be wearing a clerical collar in ministry. After I said, and naively in a way that I wouldnâ€™t be because of connotations of status he went on to say that he didnâ€™t think I would but then added: â€œWhen I left the Sem. I didnâ€™t wear one because of the same rationale as you. But my friend did occasionally and in later years he said that he always wore it because over that time after having been abused and spat on when he wore it publicly-he saw it as a lack of courage and trust in the Lord should he relinquish its useâ€.
Two different perceptions, but neither right nor wrong because both done not for themselves but in their personal relationship with God.
Our relationship with God that Paul talks of in todayâ€™s epistle where he says to â€œSet our minds on things that are above and not on things that are on earthâ€. Here Paul is not despising the things of the earth but emphasising that this fallen world should not be our focus in our relationship with God through Christ. Verse 4: â€œFor you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in gloryâ€. That eternal life which we now possess through baptism will be fully experienced in heaven and that through Christ we are participants in Godâ€™s glory no wonder Paul exhorts us to put off our old self of sexual immorality, impurity, evil desire and covertness, which is idolatry. And no wonder he says in the verse that follows todays reading to put on as Godâ€™s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience and bearing with one another.
So how are you going with that? If youâ€™re like me you may say not so well because this side of heaven we are and always will be works in progress. Yet when we came to faith, even if we didnâ€™t know realise it, but because of his blood and the healing through his sacrifice our lives have been changed, as through His will Jesus has come to us that we might have a new better and fuller life. Because of Jesus substitution of his death for ours God brushes aside our old nature and recycles us into something usable and new in a way. No longer do we need to wonder in the dark-stumbling, groping and unsure because Jesus has brightened the path of our lives, and because of him we are restored. Our journey in Christ that is given imagery to in this story I read:
â€œA number of years ago the world watched three grey whales icebound off Alaska. They took turns coming up and grasping for breath at a small, lonely hole in the ice. The only way they could survive was to get to open sea five miles away. A seemingly impossible journey. But volunteers took chain saws and began cutting a line of breathing holes through the six inch ice and for eight days they encouraged the whales from one hole to the next. One of the whales died, but the other two lived when a Russian icebreaker arrived and finished opening a path to the sea.
Did the whales understand that when the chain saws started to rip into the ice that they were saved? When they heard the sound of the ice breakers propellers, did they know they would soon be free? Did they understand through it all that their rescuers had a master plan which would lead them to safety? We assume no to these questions and that all they could do through it all was to take one day at a time, going from one opening to the next, trusting that someone would help themâ€.
Great imagery of our journey with Christ, but even more so of his with us, as that is what it means to be alive in a living Lord. We cannot understand Godâ€™s plan, but as living Christians, renewed and empowered by the Spirit, we can trust him and we can follow him and the path that he gives us.
Six years ago I was giving a devotion at a school to some grade six students about serving God in our lives. And at the end, a boy who I had heard spoken of by a leading identity as an AFL football player of the future put up his hand and asked some questions. And it became apparent to me that he was thinking that to serve God he might â€œhave to run off to the ministryâ€ or something.
That was not what I meant so we talked of how he can serve God in his life, maybe even as an elite sportsperson should that come to fruition. And that this week I read that he is being tipped to go in the top ten, maybe as even as low as the first picked in next yearâ€™s draft, should he trust in and openly process to his faith in Christ while in the national spotlight what a great witness to God he will be. And should he be drafted to Port Adelaide Power, I know my work will have been done (only joking).
But one day the stadiums will be empty for him as they will be for us, and we will see that there is only Christ who remains, and as Rich, poor, CEO, elite footballer or not, as in todayâ€™s epistle we are to put of the old self and put on the new self for now â€œThere is not Greek nor Jew, uncircumcised nor circumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free; but Christ is all, and in allâ€.
We are to put on as Godâ€™s chosen ones the virtues: of compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Yet these are not chores or ours to accomplish, but are gifts provided by God to live in our lives.
For in Christ alone through faith have we been saved, and saved in faith he has told us:
From 1st Peter 4:10 that â€œas each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of Godâ€™s varied grace.
And that from John 9:4, after the disciples asked Jesus whether the man before them with a physical impairment was caused by his sin were told, no â€œit was not that this man sinned, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (and) We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; (for) night is coming when no one can workâ€.
On our journeys of sadness and our journeys of happiness, whether they be of much or of little earthly reward is of no consequence because we are all saved in Christ alone. All as one, yet all with different gifts from God, given to us not to accomplish for ourselves, but for him in the knowledge that through Christ we are participants in Godâ€™s glory here on this earth as we offer ourselves and our lives to him to use as he wishes. To keep our minds set on things that are above allows us not to serve the things of our world, but to serve his people. For as you are: rich or poor, CEO or not, God has given you the gift of Christ, and in your lives rich or poor, CEO or not, God has given you as a gift to the world, and to God be the glory. Amen.