Children’s story: Mark 12:41-44
First Lesson: Mark 12:12-17
You haven’t heard me tell much about my grandfather Johan Ludwig Vanderhoven. He was called John in this country and he came to Grand Rapids from Rotterdam in the Netherlands when he was in his early twenties. He was a musician and an artist. He played the piano in concert halls and the organ in churches and he composed music and wrote hymns and gave music lessons. He had a heavy Dutch accent and a gruff way of speaking, and a big bristly while mustache. And pretty much every time I ever saw my grandpa he had a big fat cigar sticking out of one corner of his mouth and smoke swirling around his head.
My Grandpa John and my grandma Katie lived through the great depression with four children in Grand Rapids. Now you know that musicians and song writers aren’t paid very much, ever, and in that depression they were hardly paid at all. So grandpa found some kind of work hanging wall paper and painting and my dad and my uncle had a paper route and my grandma took in borders. But people in those days weren’t having their houses papered and painted very much either, so many days my grandpa didn’t work. And I remember my grandma telling me stories that some days she cried because she had only a quarter to feed four children and nothing at all in the house to eat.
But when my grandpa did make a dollar, he carefully put one dime in the pot on the back of the stove. Or if he made two dollars one day, he put two dimes in the pot on the back of the stove. And on Sunday, whatever was in that pot on the back of the stove went into the collection plate at church. A tenth of what he made. A tenth of whatever came in from that paper route and a tenth of whatever the boarders paid, went into the pot. And into the collection plate at the church.
Now hear this well. Nobody forced my grandpa to do that. No pastor grabbed my grandpa by the neck and told him he had to. And he didn’t do that out of guilt. My grandpa put a dime in the pot on the back of the stove because that’s what he did. He gave a tenth of what he had to God because he gave a tenth of what he had to God. In good times. In bad times. Because for all that big mustache and that gruff exterior and that heavy Dutch accent, and that big fat cigar dangling from his mouth, my grandfather was a very spiritual person. A man of deep faith. A man much devoted to God. And that’s what people of deep faith do. And people who are much devoted to God. They give generously. Even when it’s very hard.
And that’s what Jesus was trying to say to the rich young man. We read the story. That rich young man came running to Jesus and flung himself down on the ground in front of Jesus in great distress and asked, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus was in the middle of doing a hundred other things as he always was, and he was on his way to the next town where more people needed him desperately, as they always did, so he gave the young man a quick answer. He said, “You know the answer to that. Keep the Ten Commandments. Don’t murder anybody. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t sleep with the wrong people. Respect your parents.”
But the young man kept after Jesus. He didn’t accept that quick answer. He said, “I do know all that. I’ve done all that. From the time I was a kid I’ve done all that. What’s next? What else can I do?”
And something about him made Jesus look at him a second time, and he stopped what he was doing. Maybe he recognized sincerity when he saw it. Maybe he looked past the fine clothes and saw a person who needed his attention. Maybe he pulled the young man up from the ground and looked him in the eye for the first time. And there was some of kind of an instant connection between the two of them. Jesus was drawn to him powerfully in that split second. He saw a young man who wanted to take the next step in his spiritual life. He saw a young man who wanted to be deeply committed in his life with God. And a moment of deep sadness came over Jesus just then. And he said to young man, “The next step is hard. Very hard. You’ve got to get free of your stuff. You’ve got to give it all away.”
And it was very sad. Because that well-meaning young man simply wasn’t able to take the next step in his spiritual life. He couldn’t detach himself from his stuff. He couldn’t manage to be really, deep down generous. And he turned his back, sadly, on Jesus, and walked away. And we never hear from him again.
So what we’re talking about this morning is a deeply spiritual matter. When we talk about giving to the church or stewardship, we’re not talking about paying the bills. It’s not that we sit down every month with the master card bill and the Macy’s bill and the cable bill and the phone bill. And then at the end of all that, we say, “well, how much shall we pay to the church this month?” It’s not that we’ve always given a certain amount to the church every month so that’s what we’ll do again this year (although that’s a very good start.) It’s not like that at all. (or maybe it is like that for you, and Jesus is asking you to take the next step in your faith.)
Because here’s what happens. We come to the point in our spiritual lives when Jesus is our companion all through the day. When we are conscious, every moment, that what we are doing and saying we are doing and saying on behalf of Jesus who can’t be here himself at the moment. That what we are doing we are doing in the strong power of God, who is as close to us as our breathing in and out. We realize deep in our bones that everything we have and everything we are is a sheer gift from God. Every moment we breathe and every thought in our head is God breathing and thinking and being through us.
If we’re waiting for results of a medical test, God is there with us. As close to us as our breathing in and out. When we’re struggling at our jobs, God is there with us. When we’re worried about our finances God is there to care for us and reassure us. When somebody we love is dying and we are watching and waiting and grieving, God is beside us. When we are anxious and stressed and uncertain of our futures, God is there to guide our thinking and bring us peace of mind. We sang it a minute ago. From the moment of our borning cry to the time we shut our weary eye, God is our loving companion.
Then our whole life is a prayer with our eyes wide open, and everything about us is a part of God, and God is intimately a part of us. Then Jesus invites us to take the hard step of really generous giving. He invites us to move beyond, “Did I kill anybody today? Or did I say any bad words today? Or did I tell any lies today?” He asks to us move into “Is my heart in the right place? Have I got my priorities straight? Am I truly a follower of Jesus or am I just pretending? Am I living in companionship with Jesus? Or am I so preoccupied with my own stuff and with getting more stuff that I can’t be generous?”
You are generous givers. I’m looking at a church full of generous givers. I get the reports every Monday morning (with no names attached) on the giving of the day before, and I am always grateful. That’s why this congregation is so intent on doing mission – especially local mission. It’s not that we have an extra dollar or two in our pockets and we might as well give it to the Mel Trotter ministries or buy a pair of pajamas for a neighbor child because we don’t have anything else to do with that money. It’s because that’s what Jesus would do and he is smiling broadly when he sees us.
And beyond your financial giving you are generous with your time and the skills that you have honed over a lifetime of living well. And the energy you offer for what needs doing in God’s world.
We’ve been talking these last weeks about what spiritual leaders or spiritual people look like. That’s what spiritual people look like.
That’s the mark of deeply spiritual people who are committed to being followers of Jesus way beyond the easy stuff.
Are you beginning to recognize yourselves?