A sermon delivered by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City Mo., on September 5, 2010.
Luke 14 is as hard as a box of rocks. Welcome to the hard sayings of Jesus where Jesus pushes hard against a common sense level of 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. If you pay close attention to what he says and actually listen to him, the words stick in your throat at amazement of just how tough Jesus is on those who want to follow him – particularly those who don’t want to crowd him by following too close.
True disciples of Jesus are those who renounce their families so they might be unencumbered to be Jesus’ followers. But read the text closer and we are forced to recognize it’s not just making our commitment to Jesus above that we give to our families – it’s a full-fledged burning of the family bridge and hating them. The cross he talks about carrying is not an empty euphemism of carrying some unnamed burden of inconvenience – rather, he’s talking about a real wooden cross upon which we’ll be nailed just as literally as in his execution. And there are the cold calculations we must make in determining we will follow Jesus. These are weighty matters, and Jesus demands we consider his full disclosure of the cost of faith.
The capstone to this text, though, is what he says about our material possessions: “Everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33, NAB).
This is the Sunday before next Sunday’s Consecration Service when we’ll show our commitment to this church and its ministries by making pledges of our planned giving for next year. Hopefully you’ve begun asking yourself, “What do I plan to give next year?” What kind of giving is God asking of me?
In the past year or two, I’ve developed a strong curiosity about the power of generosity not for you or about you … but for and about me. I’m intrigued by the ways in which I’ve come to see how miserly I can be with God, but also with you and with others. When I peel back the surface of my life in absolute honesty, I realize I hold back a lot from giving to the world around me, and this is something I want to do something about. I want to live more honestly and more generously … how about you? Just imagine, what would the world be like if we took our foot off the brake and let our lives travel down the path of life sharing freely and joyfully out of all we’ve been generously given by God?
Two of the richest men on the planet, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, believe the world’s billionaires can 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, known as The Giving Pledge, is not a binding contract drawn up by lawyers, but that it’s more of “a moral commitment.” These individuals are free to donate their riches to whatever cause they wish to support and so far about 40 billionaires have accepted the giving pledge challenge. Maybe you’re doing the math about how much money will be put back into action on behalf of non-profit activities, but there are something like a thousand billionaires in the world so 40 is not much of a beginning. Nevertheless, it is a beginning.
Our worship today will lead us to the table of Christ’s love and it’s a generous table! Full of food and fellowship and the sweet savor of Jesus’ love for those he called his friends. We believe the table has extended through time and we understand it’s a table that brings all of us together to this place where we experience the presence of Christ. “In remembrance” we believe Christ’s presence gives us hope. While Jesus had hard things to say about how serious we are to take our commitment to being his follower, we’re held by God’s constant, generous grace.
Where did you first learn to give? How was the spiritual discipline of giving generously passed on to you?
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 … it’s turtles all the way down.”
You may think that’s a cute story but wonder what meaning it has. Maybe it’s familiar because sometimes we ask one another, “Why do you believe the Bible is true?”
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).”
No disrespect upon the Bible or 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. It’s simple and here’s how it works.
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 so clearly we often refuse to hear him on the subject when he said, “Everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
There’s no slight of hand about how all this works. There are no trap doors and no mysteries we speak about but do not explain. It’s much like what the old preacher told the church, “We took a good offering last week but we spent it. Now we need to take another if we’re to get through the week to come!” 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 two forces. Small lives are ordered by the surface winds of selfishness, fear and negativity. Unfortunately, they are also driven by ingratitude and stingy spirits. On the other hand, great lives, gigantic in character and moral stature, cannot possibly be moved by the surface concerns, but only by the deepest movements and currents of faith. They are steered only by a belief in God who will always, always provide.
 Thanks to Gordon Atkinson for making sense of the story from his collection of essays, “Turtles All the Way Down,” San Antonio: Consafo Publications, 2009, 94-96
After serving as bridge pastor at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Missouri, during the past year, Herron moved recently to Lawrence, Kansas, where he will continue to minister in interim settings. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).