Sermon: Giving as an act of trust (Oct. 20,2019)

Pentecost 19C – off lectionary

Stewardship #3 (Giving as an act of trust)

October 20, 2019

Deuteronomy 14:22-29 (about giving a tithe)

Psalm 121 (“My help comes from the Lord”)

1 Timothy 6:17-19 (take hold of the life that really is life)

Luke 12:13-21 (the rich fool)

INTRODUCTION

         Our first reading today is from Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy is a lot of laws, and today’s reading describes the ancient law or practice of tithing, that is, giving 10% to God. Law-heavy passages like today’s can be sort of tricky to follow, so here’s an overview: the faithful were expected to bring 10% of their crop yield (this was before money was really a thing) to the place God has designated, that is, to a place of worship. Some of that 10% can be used for sustenance on the journey. If the journey is too far to haul all that grain and whatnot, you can exchange it for precious metal (much easier to carry!). And don’t forget to support the priests, who don’t have their own crops, and every third year, support also the foreigners, widows and orphans in the land, so that the needy would not be neglected. From the beginning, you see, faithful people have been using their gifts to God to serve the needy, even as a way to increase trust of God.

         The other readings are all about trusting God, too, as per today’s theme. The Psalm will remind us to look to the Lord for help in all things. Timothy reminds us where we are to find our true life, that is, in what we can place our trust. And finally, Luke will offer us the parable of the rich fool, who trusted his possessions so much that he built bigger barns to house them all, believing that they could provide for him everything he needed.

         This week’s stewardship theme is “giving as an act of trust” – and these texts give us plenty of opportunity to think about in what we place our trust! So as you listen, consider where you place your trust. I hope and assume part of that answer is God… but I also know we are prone to find comfort and safety in things other than God. So do some self-reflection on that, and hear this word of God for you this day. Let’s listen.

[READ]

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

         I recently came across this wonderfully poignant poem by Mary Oliver. She writes:

When I moved from one house to another

there were many things I had no room

for. What does one do? I rented a storage

space. And filled it. Years passed.

Occasionally I went there and looked in,

but nothing happened, not a single

twinge of the heart.

As I grew older the things I cared

about grew fewer, but were more

important. So one day I undid the lock

and called the trash man. He took

everything.

I felt like the little donkey when

his burden was finally lifted. Things!

Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful

fire! More room in your heart for love,

for the trees! For the birds who own

nothing – the reason they can fly.

            (from Felicity)

         Woosh, that hits pretty close to home! Tell me, how many of you have a storage unit like the one she mentions, or a garage too stuffed to get your car in, or a basement or attic full of so many things, you’re no longer even sure what all is in there? You’re not alone! In fact, nearly 10% of Americans pay on average almost $100/month to store the material overflow of the American dream. The US has more than 50,000 storage facilities – it is $38 billion dollar industry. That’s nearly 3x Hollywood’s annual box office gross, and it is one of the safest real estate investments you can make.

         Why are we so obsessed with our stuff that we would invest that much of our money, space and energy into it? What comfort or attachment do we find in it that prevents us from engaging in, as Marie Kondo might say, “the life-changing magic of” just getting rid of it?

         An answer is to be found in today’s parable, the aptly named story of “the rich fool.” A man’s land produces abundantly, and he finds he has more grain than he can store. He is rich! He has worked hard for that bounteous yield, so as he considers what to do with it, he says, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? I will do this: will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there will store all my grain and my goods.” Did you catch how many personal pronouns that was, how many times he says I or my? Nine times in those two short sentences, nine times! This is a story, you see, about a man who is possessed by his possessions. His possessions has more control over him than he has over them: they are his salvation, his past, present and future, even his god. In giving his possessions this sort of power, he begins to see himself as more trustworthy than God – he puts his trust in things, not in the provider of those things. In stuff he trusts.

         What about us? Do we find our own salvation in what we own? Is that how we measure our success and our future? Are we building more barns for our stuff in order to assure a comfortable future where we can eat, drink, and be merry?

         Luther’s explanation of the first article of the Creed can offer us some insight on questions like these – the same Creed we will confess together in a moment during William’s baptism. Luther writes, “I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses, reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides … all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil.” And here’s the kicker: “All this he has done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, though I do not deserve it.”

         It’s a real reality check! How tempting it is to look around at all that we have – our comfortable homes, our increasing savings accounts, our smart, lucrative investments, our impressive education or experience – to see all of that and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done… and then before we know it, we are putting our trust in those things. But Luther reminds us, “All of this comes from God. God provided all of this. I didn’t provide it for myself – in fact, I don’t even deserve it.”

         How would that rich fool have acted differently if he had read Luther’s Small Catechism, if he had recognized that the “abundantly providing land” that had yielded such a bounty was not something he had given himself, but a gracious gift from God? How would he have acted differently, remembering all that?

         After all, he should have remembered. God had accounted for this possibility, long before Luther penned his Catechism. God addressed it way back in Deuteronomy, when He suggested giving a tithe of your earnings each year back to God, and to the needy. Because a tithe, 10%, is a pretty small fraction of our income… but it is certainly enough to notice. It is just enough to draw our attention each month away from our own successes and back toward the One who has provided all that we need in order to succeed. Or, it might not be enough – you might need to give more than a tithe to really notice! Or on the other hand, a full 10% might be beyond your ability at any given moment in time, depending on your income and your other financial obligations. The exact percentage isn’t what is important, so much as the practice of giving something of our earnings back to God each week, or month, or year, something we will notice, as a concrete way to remind ourselves that all we have comes from God, that God, not our things, provides our salvation, and that it is God, not material wealth, in whom we put our trust. And as Luther writes, “For all of this [we] owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”

         In a moment we will have the opportunity to witness young William’s baptism, as his parents and sponsors trustingly place him in the hands of our Divine Provider. And this is, truly, the epitome of trust – not just for William and those who love him, but for all of us who are baptized. Many of us came to the font as babies, like William: utterly helpless and dependent. What an image that is for faith: that we come also to our God utterly helpless to save ourselves, and utterly dependent on the divine goodness and mercy of our Heavenly Father. And it is in this state that we, and William, receive, with the totally open and trusting heart of a baby, the gift of pure grace that comes with baptism. We receive a welcome into the family of God, the forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting. We receive that gift out of pure trust, though we do not deserve it. “For all of this [we] owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”

         Let us pray… Generous God, it is tempting for us to trust in our own things and abilities. Help us to relinquish our stubborn insistence that our possessions can provide all that we need, and instead to place our trust in you, our Divine Provider. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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