Sermon: It’s All About…
Date: September 21st, 2014
Preacher: Rev'd Mike Rayson, OSL
Church: Nameoki United Methodist
“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Matthew 25:14-30, NRSV
Pink Floyd sang about it… Bernie Madoff went to jail because of it… Dave Ramsey talks about it… and we all need it!
I hate preaching about money! I’d rather preach about the other 4 membership promises of a United Methodist… but not money. Let me speak on grace… or evangelism… or ANYTHING else than money! So here we go! But you’re here now, and unless you very visibly get up and walk out, you’re about to hear a sermon about… Money!! Today we’re going to have a bit of a no-hold-barred look about one of the promises of a United Methodist as we continue our series on the Parables of Jesus. What does it mean to be set free to offer your ‘gifts’ in the service of God’s Kingdom.
As the story goes, a one-dollar bill met a fifty-dollar bill and said, “Hey, I haven’t seen you around here much. Where have you been?” The fifty-dollar bill answered, “Oh, I spent some time around casinos and playing the lottery, and then I went on a cruise and made the rounds on the ship. I came back to the United States for a while, went to a couple of pro football games, to the mall—that kind of stuff. Where have you been?
The one-dollar bill said, “You know, same old place—church, church, church.”
There are many who believe that the pastor of a church should not open his or her mouth about money. Some even think that by making an appeal, taking up an offering, or in raising funds for missions, we simply turn the church into a business – and some folks simply don’t like it and quit the church. Actually, a national church survey says that there are currently 3 reasons why people are quitting on the church. The first is ‘Church is too boring’. The second – ‘Church is not relevant to my life’. The third… ‘All the church ever wants from me is my money’.
All you need do is turn on the TV once in a while, and flick on over to the religious channels to discover why people believe that all the church wants is money.
Now I know I’m a bit cynical – it comes with the nature of being an Australian – but I’m not big on TV evangelists. There are one or two that do some pretty neat work, but for the most part, all I see and hear are elaborate religious themed pitches to make the preacher rich.
Televangelist Benny Hinn is credited as saying…
God will begin to prosper you, for money always follows righteousness
No – no Benny it does not. And nowhere in the bible will you find this kind of teaching. How in the very name of God can you take such a foul and twisted statement like that and apply it to, say, a faithful pastor in Liberia who exists on almost nothing – but still preaches the word of God faithfully in and out of season.
Televangelist Creflo Dollar – and I tell you, if you are going to be a televangelist asking for money, what better name to have than ‘Dollar’ – said on one of his tv programmes…
We established last night that you are not whole until you get your money. Amen.” “Well, you need to hear about money, because you ain't gonna have no love and joy and peace until you get some money!… You got to get some MONEY
Now that’s Star Trek theology – taking the word of God to where the word of God has never gone before!!
And then there is the ‘Believers Voice of Victory’ under the helm of popular money maker televangelist Kenneth Copeland.
All right, reach out here like there's a big ol' lever stickin' up there in front and git ahold of it, and I mean you git it in your hand. You got your teeth gritted, you got a good grip on it? Rip it down some more. And say this ... money come out to me now! Money come out to me now! Money come out to me now!
Mind you, this is the same guy that prophesied in 1996 before the presidential election…
WHOSOEVER IS ELECTED AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES WILL HEAR AND OBEY THE VOICE OF GOD ALMIGHTY FOR THE NEXT FOUR YEARS IN THIS NATION
And then came Bill Clinton.
Then there’s TV evangelist Marilyn Hickey out of Denver…
What do you need? Start creating it. Start speaking about it. Start speaking it into being. Speak to your billfold. Say, "You big, thick billfold full of money." Speak to your checkbook. Say, "You, checkbook, you. You've never been so prosperous since I owned you. You're just jammed full of money."
Now just in case there might be some truth in Marilyn’s statement here, I thought I might try it! (to the offering plate) – you offering plate you… you’ve never been so prosperous since I owned you. You’re just jammed full of money!!!!!!
Is it any wonder people think that all the church wants is your money.
Before I go on, let me make something abundantly clear. Don’t watch these people, don’t listen to these people, don’t give these people your money or the time of day.
If you are an avid watcher of religious television, turn it off and pick up a bible instead. Or watch something else. Anything else. Even something not vaguely spiritual at all – CSI, Law and Order, NCIS… even the new car crash of a program called Utopia … the kind of reality show that you really don’t want to watch but you watch anyway just to see what else can happen… even Utopia is less harmful than most of the televangelists out there trying to fleece you of your money. Jesus didn’t die to make us all stinking rich… and to turn the gospel into our own sanctified credit card cheapens the most expensive gift ever given to us by God – Jesus.
But I digress… I’m here to tell you this morning that God isn’t interested in your money. God isn’t interested in your money, and at the end of the day, God really doesn’t need it. What God is interested in is your faithfulness. What God is interested in is how faithful are you going to be with the riches you have already inherited, be they small or large.
We’ve talked at length both in church and in bible study about how the parables of Jesus sometimes confound our thinking. I think that, at least in the western church, we have dumbed down the parables of Jesus to suit ourselves. Yet when Jesus tells these stories, he often provokes strong feelings among those listening in response.
Last week, we heard the parable of the good Samaritan read to us. A story about how the most unlikely person to help becomes the hero of the story. If we translate that particular parable into the 21st century, it’s like saying a member of Al Qaeda the terrorist group came along and pulled a Christian out of the throes of death after he’d been beaten by ISIS. There was nothing GOOD about a Samaritan… they were the heretics, the heathen, the outcast… and no self respecting Jew would ever dare to think a Samaritan was worth their – or God’s time of day.
When it comes to the parable of the talents, I think we’ve dumbed down the parable again and often fail to see the outrageous nature of the story.
What is a talent?
A hundred bucks? A thousand maybe…
Well, prepare to be surprised.
A talent – a single unit of currency – was worth around 20 years of paid work for a single adult at minimum wage in Jesus day. Let me translate about what that means…
In Illinois, the minimum wage is $8.25 an hour. Say an adult making minimum wage works 40 hours a week in a calendar year. Per week, they make $330. Per year, it’s $17160. Per 20 years it’s $343200.
Since 1994, the minimum wage has almost doubled in Illinois, so let’s assume it will almost double in the next 20 years. If my calculations allowing for that increase are correct, Jesus parable would read like this in our community.
For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave $2.574 million dollars, to another $1 million 29600, to another $514800, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
How does that revelation change the way you hear this parable?
To you, 2.5 million… to you 1 million… to you half a million.
Can you imagine what people are thinking…? $2.5 million dollars? $1 million? A half million? For someone making minimum wage, these figures are mind blowingly unattainable. And this master is giving these sums of money to… a slave. One forced into a life of servitude. Minimum wage is one thing… slavery is another.
And then the master comes back after his extended trip away and calls these servants to account.
In the hands of slave #1, the investment of $2.5 million is now $5 million. In the hands of slave #2, the investment of over a million is now well over $2 million. And you know the story… a half a million in the hands of slave number #3 stays at a half a million.
I wouldn’t mind these kinds of investment odds by the way. The masters investment of roughly $4 million and change has returned $7.5 million.
No wonder slave #3 hid the talent… he’s dealing with a half million dollars here. I’d probably panic if someone gave me that much money to invest. It makes sense to hide it. Imagine if someone got their hands on that half million. Imagine if you invested it in an internet startup company that went belly up the next day – which by the way is exactly what I did earlier this year!!!! Not pleasant!
When we add a dollar value to this parable of Jesus and we crunch the numbers, this parable is dealing with numbers that for most people are unthinkable.
Now, I’m going to be honest with you. What I am about to say you might find somewhat shocking. It is not my intention to make you feel bad, nor is it my intention to make you feel guilty. I’m simply going to throw out some more numbers.
In many ways, we are a wealthy church. Certainly when we compare ourselves to other churches in our conference and other churches around the world, we are a very wealthy church. Extremely wealthy in fact. Now we might not have the kinds of resources that those TV evangelist shysters are pulling in, but we own a building that’s paid off – we’ve made capital improvements – and as much as we might grumble at finance meeting or church council, we’re doing ok.
But are we doing ok in terms of what God is asking of us?
From whom much is given the bible says, much is required.
Now before I run some shocking numbers for you about our church specifically, and the basic – yes the basic – call upon the Nameoki Church in terms of giving, let me tell you about my own approach to giving as pastor.
I simply do not know, nor do we care to know, how much you give. Now some pastors make it their business to know who gives what and when, but not me.
I don’t believe it’s not my job as your pastor to monitor your personal finances. I also do not know, and I have deliberately not tried to find out, who among us carries a healthy bank balance. These kinds of things are between you and God and God and you – and there’s no need to have me triangulated in on the discussion.
The only person that knows the facts and figures on personal giving here at Nameoki is our financial secretary. This is so you can receive a letter each year telling you how much you can deduct from your taxes.
So… here’s my numbers. Prepare to be shocked.
In Granite City, the median household income for 2012 – which is the most recent figure I can find – was $40,953. Now some of you make a whole lot less than that, and others make a whole lot more. Actually, to be honest, our church in particular likely has a medium income per household that is quite a bit higher than that – maybe at a guess 30-50% higher. But for sake of argument, let’s stick with the actual figure. The medium, average, family household income in the 62040 zip code is $40,953.
Nameoki United Methodist Church serves 312 separate households. Now, not everyone listed in our directory attends of course… however, that’s how many family units we have listed as attached to our church. So, simple math says that our family of faith earns $12,777,336 per year. Not bad eh! In fact, compared to the rest of the world, we’re not only rich – we are stinking rich. More outrageously rich in fact than the master in Jesus parable.
Out of our combined income, a tithe of that… 10% of our income… which is the basic unit of giving the bible talks about in terms of God’s people… is $1,277,733.60.
Let that number sink in for a minute. Almost $1.3 million.
That’s a simple tithe for Nameoki United Methodist Church. Now, for many a tithe is the difference between giving and food on the table or electricity in the house. But… I would dare to suggest that this is only true for a very very small portion of our church community.
For most, a tithe is actually a flat out cop out. The difference between giving and a new car, giving and a new flat screen one million inch TV, or giving and a new house.
The numbers tell a common story. The people of God at Nameoki just like the people of God in almost every western nation of the world do not take giving seriously enough. We give out of our disposable income which is left over after everything else… and we rarely give out of our providence or in response to what God has given to us.
I could pretty up the numbers… but then I’d be telling you half truths. They are what they are. Is God calling you to be a kingdom giver, or to hold onto your wealth at all costs? The average United Methodist gives around 2.5% of their income.
So far as I can work out, our church is well below this average. Which is a huge turnaround from the way our denominational founder gave. John Wesley gave 90% of everything he made and lived on 10%. That’s called reverse tithing.
Enough with the numbers. They tell a common story from the pews of most western churches, not just ours.
Now with that out of the way… John Wesley had a lot to say on the subject of how we handle our own personal finances… and his wisdom is worth repeating – especially this question he often asked himself.
In spending this money – am I acting as if I own it, or am I acting as the Lord’s trustee?
Imagine if we dared apply this kind of logic to how we use our money personally. Everything we have is… a gift from God. Every dollar sign we have in the bank was given to us by… God.
Every purchase we make or gift we give brings with it the opportunity to invest in the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of us.
Now you could be sitting there thinking – this is all about the preacher trying to tell me that I should give more money in the offering each week – how dare he. May I suggest that if you are feeling that kind of conviction, perhaps you need to!! But it’s certainly not my primary intention today to increase the offering plate… my primary intention is to point you in the direction of God’s gift of freedom in terms of our finances personally, and corporately.
What if every move we made in terms of what we have and what we spent fell under the heading of ‘am I acting as if I own it, or am I acting as the Lord’s trustee’?
What could $1.3 million dollars do in terms of mission. If we continued to live on our current budget – even with our renovations - we would have around $1 million to share in our community and in the world EVERY SINGLE YEAR.
Imagine how a million dollars a year from Nameoki alone, one of 34,000 United Methodist congregations in the United States alone, could transform the breakfast ministry… or TWIGS… or the state of poverty in Granite City… or the fight globally against Ebola… the struggle in other countries over the status and role of women… initiatives that are targeted at the prevalence of domestic violence.
It literally blows…your…mind.
Simply by being faithful with a small amount of the resources we have been blessed with and given by God, our church alone could change the world in the name of Jesus.
I read a study sometime back that claimed that humans need between 2000 and 2500 calories a day in order to live a healthy and sustainable life. When it comes to food production, the world produces approximately 2720 calories of food per human per day.
Yet we pray and we ask God, implore God even, to end world hunger. Well, God already has. And he has given us around 10% more than we actually need to end world hunger.
And it’s the same on a smaller scale with us. God has given us already exactly what we need. More even. To whom much is given, much is required. So what do we do with what we’ve been given… do we double it, or hide it. And if we hide it, what right do we have to hear or claim that phrase, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master?”
Instead… “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?
Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Wow. Just… wow.
Now I’ve mentioned tithing already – the act of giving 10% of what you earn back to God. Well, let me say quite emphatically that giving of what we have to the kingdom of God is not about a magical figure of 10%. For some of you, 10% is not a sacrifice that means the difference between whether we have the next cable package or not, it’s the difference between food in the grocery store verses food on the table.
But for most of us, me included, 10% represents giving only out of what we already have in abundance. Or to put it another way, I don’t miss 10% and I personally find the 10% tithe an easy goal to achieve.
The biblical principal at work I see is this. God is faithful. God has faithfully bestowed upon us everything we have. The money in the bank, the food on the table, the time on your hands… everything is given to us by God. So what are you going to do with what God has given you to do with?
Will you be faithful in giving back that which God has given you? Not just to the church of course, but in every area of your life?
I mentioned the giving habits of John Wesley earlier. He enjoyed an annual income of 120 pounds – but so meticulous was he, that he lived on 28 pounds each year, and gave all the rest away – even once remarking that if he died with more than 10 pounds in his pocket, he would be no more than a common thief. He died with 6 pounds to his name – a pound of which was given to each of the men who prepared his funeral, and acted as pall bearers.
Now I’m not for a minute suggesting you must all go home this minute and cancel your cable, buy a smaller car, and live on beans and rice – although if you follow Dave Ramsey on the radio, he might suggest the beans and rice part!
All we have INCLUDING the beans and rice belongs to God – and all we give is not our benevolent gift to God, it is releasing something already given to us by God. And when we are released from something – often times a contract, a burden, a debt – we suddenly feel free.
As we approach giving from the perspective of Liberty, what we put in the plate on Sunday morning is not meant to be a burden from God, but the participation in the amazing freedom we have to give of ourselves and our wallets, responding with soaring hearts to the goodness of God to us and the world.
That’s why I said in the very beginning that God isn’t interested in your money per se – he’s interested in your faithfulness - what you DO with what you have.
What we give – and how faithful we are in the giving – can sometimes give us a leading clue into what God TRULY means to us personally?
For half of us, and I’m not trying to make you feel guilty, just stating the statistic, we give 2.5% or LESS of our annual income. Remember, 2.5% is the average.
God has been faithful to you. He has given you everything. What are you prepared to give back – specifically when it comes to the issue of money? 1%, 2.5%, 10%, 60%, 90%, or everything God ever calls you to give, and then some.
This plate matters friends. It matters. It matters not because of the dollar amount that we count after the service, but because it represents our lives poured back in thankfulness to the very faithfulness of God, whose mercies are new every morning, and who is faithful with all – even when we’re faithful with just a little.
Be faithful with everything, and watch God change your life, your church, your community, your nation and your world. That is a rock solid biblical promise. Anything less, and we are shortchanging God.