A sermon by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo.
The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 8, 2013
Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; Philemon 1-21
Welcome to the hard sayings of Jesus where Jesus pushes hard against convenient faith and demands more than any of us are willing to give! What you do with these words is up to you, but I doubt you feel comfortable with them. As far as tough lessons go, the 14th chapter of Luke is as hard as a box of rocks. In light of the large crowds following Jesus (presumably to thin out the curiosity seekers), how about these hard ideas meant to separate the wheat from the chaff?
True disciples of Jesus are those who renounce their families so they might be unencumbered as followers of Jesus. Read the text closer and we recognize he’s not just asking that we make our commitments to Jesus a priority over our families – it’s a full-fledged burning of the family bridge. Not even your family is exempt.
The cross he talks about carrying is not an empty euphemism of carrying some unnamed burden or inconvenience – rather, he’s talking of a real wooden cross upon which we’ll be nailed just as literally as was done to him at his execution. Golgotha should send a shudder of fear in all of us who want what he said to somehow not be true.
He asks pointedly, “Have you really thought this through and are you ready to stick with it to the end?”
The capstone to this text, though, is what he says about our material possessions: “Anyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). It was said of Jesus that he had no place to even lay his head. He wandered throughout the Galilee dependent upon the kindness of strangers.
This is the season of generosity when in a few weeks we’ll offer a visible sign our commitment to this church and its ministries by making pledges of our giving for next year. Hopefully you’ve already begun thinking, “What do I plan to give next year?” That question is deeply spiritual in nature and akin to, “How is God challenging me to be generous in my giving to God?”
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, two of the richest men on the planet, believe the world’s billionaires can join forces in generosity and eradicate many of the world’s problems through philanthropy. Their challenge? They have publicly issued a challenge to their fellow billionaires to pledge to give at least 50% of their fortunes to charities. The pledge is known as The Giving Pledge. It’s not a binding contract drawn up by lawyers; rather, it’s more of a moral commitment. They are free to donate their riches to whatever philanthropic cause they wish to support.
Over the last six years, the number of billionaires that have accepted the giving pledge challenge has nearly tripled. Maybe you’re doing the math about how much money will be put back into action on behalf of non-profit causes, but of the estimated thousand billionaires in the world it’s a movement with room to grow and apparently the struggle you might face in considering such a challenge is the same struggle they face in their incredible wealth.
Let me ask a question: Where did you first learn to give? Where did your belief about giving originate? Were your lessons the kind that would suggest you give a nominal amount, one that was more accurately an occasional tip to God? Or did your commitment to give principally and proportionally something that makes a clear statement of your commitment to God? I believe the Bible teaches us to give proportionally of our income as a clear sign of our intent to love God without holding back. I also suspect we learned our giving habits from someone and those habits are either strong or weak. No matter, I’d like us to think about how God wants us to give.
Maybe you’ve heard the well-trod story of the time a scientist had finished a lecture on evolution and an elderly woman came forward to inform him that she believed all that was good and fine. But, she said, she believed the world rested on the back of a giant turtle. The scientist looked down his nose over his glasses at her and asked the obvious question: “And on what does the turtle stand?” She smiled smartly and said, “Silly man! You’re clever, but not clever enough to stump me. Its turtles all the way down.”
And more often than not, the answer we get in return is, “My daddy or my mom or my dear grandmother told me it was so.” Or, or maybe we hear, “Because my Sunday School teacher or my preacher told me it was so.” If you want to press the question further, you could ask, “And who told him or her?” And likely the answer would be, “His Daddy or Mom (or Sunday School teacher or preacher) taught it to him.”
No disrespect upon the faith that’s been handed down from one generation to the other, but when we’re asked why we give to God and give to our church, it’s turtles all the way down. We give because we were taught to do so from our Lord all the way down until now.
From the beginning our Leader made it clear that we are to be honest and thorough about relinquishing our death grip upon our material possessions. He spoke with such clarity we are tempted to discount him when he said, “Anyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
There’s no sleight of hand about how giving and ministry are intertwined. There are no trap doors, no mysteries we speak about but do not explain. The church is only limited in vision and power by our unwillingness to give that puts us as a church in an anemic position where we can see what to do, but can’t find the commitment to open the doors of possibility. Your willingness to tie your gift to God to our joint venture together as a church is an important step. Jesus makes it clear our giving is a sign of our love for God.
It’s that simple. Generosity is a spiritual discipline (a holy habit) we can adopt as a value in life we wish to add to our lives. We are on a mission together as a church and we’ve pledged we’ll do our best to partner with God in the world … and so we have.
How about a final illustration to sort these things out? I’m told that if you fly over the North American Ocean and carefully examine the icebergs floating in those frigid waters, you will see a mass of icebergs floating in one direction, while other icebergs inexplicably float in another direction. The explanation for this phenomenon is that surface winds drive the smaller icebergs while the huge ones are controlled by deep ocean currents.
Our lives are like that. We are driven by opposing forces. Small lives are ordered by the surface winds of selfishness, fear, and negativity. They are also driven by ingratitude and stingy spirits. On the other hand, great lives, gigantic in character and moral stature, are not affected by the surface concerns, but are driven by the deeper movements of God and the currents of faith. Those great souls are steered by a belief in God who always, always provides and who is calling us to be God’s partners in the kingdom God is seeking to bring.
© Dr. Keith D. Herron 2013
 Thanks to Gordon Atkinson this story from his collection of essays, “Turtles All the Way Down,” San Antonio: Consafo Publications, 2009, 94-96