Tag Archives: giving

Where is God’s heart? [Luke 12:32-40, Hebrews 11:1-3 and 8-16, Genesis 15:1-6]

**sermon art: HD photo by Emily Morter.Moreton Hall. Weston Rhyn. United Kingdom https://unsplash.com/photos/8xAA0f9yQnE

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 11, 2019

[sermon begins after the Bible reading; see end of sermon for readings from the books of Hebrews and Genesis after the hymn and reference citations]

Luke 12:32-40  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

[sermon begins]

 

Where is God’s heart?  Oh, I don’t mean God as an old bearded guy in cartoons.  I don’t even mean God as a guy with an actual blood-pumping heart.  I mean it as an honest question.  Where is God’s heart?  By heart, I mean the will from which God loves us and maybe even longs for us.  As a parent, I’ve often said that having children is like having my heart walking around outside my body.  It’s tough to imagine what having 7 billion human hearts walking around outside God’s heart would be like.  Not to mention all the animal hearts.  It’s a mind-boggling proposition.  One reason I ask about God’s heart is because of the first verse in the Bible reading.  Jesus says to his disciples and the other people listening in, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  This verse connects last Sunday’s gospel reading with ours today.[1]  Last week the challenge was to see our worth beyond our things.  This week we have the opportunity to wonder about treasure and hearts.

Right off the bat, Jesus tells his disciples not to fear.  His endearment is so sweet, calling the disciples “little flock” indirectly referring to himself as their shepherd.  There’s no need to be afraid because the kingdom is given to them by God’s good pleasure.  Neither grumpy, nor capricious, God wills to give.  God desires to give.  God promises to give.  We might even say that God longs to give.  It makes we wonder that in God’s giving, does God’s heart follow?  From God’s treasure of earth, sea, sky, and everything living thing, given freely for God’s good pleasure, we could say that God’s heart is with us.  From God’s treasure of self, given freely through self-sacrifice on a cross, we could say that God’s heart is with us.  For where treasure is, there the heart goes.  Would it not also be true of God’s heart?  And if it’s true of God’s heart, it stands to reason that Jesus would know a thing or two about hearts following treasure.  You know, his being God in human form and all.

It’s not a stretch to see how hearts follow treasure.  Whether you’re a child who’s saved and saved all your pennies for many, many months to buy the Lego Death Star.  Or whether you’re an adult buying your first, new-to-you, used car and now you see that car model everywhere when you never even noticed it before.  What we spend money on raises our awareness of those things and connects us differently to them.  It a process that fits with our experience.  The downside of our experience is that we end up loving things more than we love God or each other.  Like the old saying that we are designed to love God and use things but we end up using God and loving things.  We use God and by extension we use people to gain money and power for ourselves at their expense.  The Bible verses today is a kingdom push that reorders love in the Gospel of Luke by linking treasure and hearts in a specific way.

Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give alms.”[2]  Alms in scripture is money given to people who are poor, people who struggle with the effects of poverty on health, homes, and relationships.  In a direct way, the money and personal items given this morning to Border Servant Corps for people released from ICE detention in El Paso are alms.  There are a many ways to give alms.  Jesus doesn’t describe which people in poverty to help.  There’s nothing there to hang onto if one were inclined to determine worthiness of the recipients.  Simply give alms.  One step further is to work together to create just and compassionate solutions to real world issues of poverty that plague neighbors in our pews, down the street, and far away.  People often ask me how to connect with God in their daily lives.[3]  In these verses, Jesus is inviting us into a very real way to do it.  It’s not complicated.  But it also may not feel easy.  It’s is a real way to connect to God.  God’s heart is with people who need real help. Funny that we’re so inclined to look for other ways.[4]

It’s somehow romantic to think that our hearts define our treasure – that what we love and long for is somehow justified by our love and longing.  Jesus turns that around on us.[5]  That’s kind of his way actually.  Just when we think that we’re all that and a bag of chips on figuring this life thing out, Jesus tells us we have it backwards and reminds us that we’re created in the image of God.  Here’s food for thought – just thinking about being generous “significantly increases the protective antibody salivary immunoglobulin A, a protein used by the immune system.”[6]  Generosity is so hard-wired into us that our brains’ reward centers light up just as strongly around giving AND receiving.  Sometimes the giving centers light up even more strongly.  It’s probably the nurse in me that loves the kind of information that reveals connections across faith and science.  Regardless, our bodies are created to be generous and feel better when we’re giving.

The Archbishop Emeritus of South Africa, Desmond Tutu, describes our need to give this way:

“…there is a very physical example. The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. And we are made much that way, too. I mean, we receive and we must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.”[7]

Bishop Tutu gives one example.  There are others, to be sure.  The world would be a different place if giving replaced greed – if all business owners responded to the needs of workers with living wages so that government subsidies to working people were unnecessary, if all countries prioritized the flourishing of their residents so that fleeing to a safer country or homelessness caused by soaring costs of living or declaring bankruptcy because of health care was a thing of the past.  Ways to give are as numerable as each one of us in this room.  Sincere giving ranges from 5 cents to 50,000 dollars and beyond.  Some of the most unbelievable gifts given are from people with the least to give.  It’s easy to freeze in the face of our neighbors’ needs. Let’s keep it simple and do what we CAN, when we CAN.[8]  After all, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.[9]

God knows a thing or two about treasure and hearts, about the interdependence of all 7 billion of us.  We are God’s heart walking with each other on this tiny blue dot. God’s heart is already with us through God’s self-giving of God’s treasure of creation and of the life-death-and-resurrected-life of Jesus.  For this and for all that God is doing for us, in us, and through us, we can say thanks be to God and amen.

___________________________________________________________________

Hymn of the Day sung after the sermon

ELW 678 God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending[10]

1 God, whose giving knows no ending,
from your rich and endless store:
nature’s wonder, Jesus’ wisdom,
costly cross, grave’s shattered door,
gifted by you, we turn to you,
off’ring up ourselves in praise;
thankful song shall rise forever,
gracious donor of our days.

2 Skills and time are ours for pressing
toward the goals of Christ, your Son:
all at peace in health and freedom,
races joined, the church made one.
Now direct our daily labor,
lest we strive for self alone;
born with talents, make us servants
fit to answer at your throne.

3 Treasure, too, you have entrusted,
gain through pow’rs your grace conferred;
ours to use for home and kindred,
and to spread the gospel word.
Open wide our hands in sharing,
as we heed Christ’s ageless call,
healing, teaching, and reclaiming,
serving you by loving all.

____________________________________________________________

[1] Luke 12:13-21

[2] Luke 12:33a

[3] Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.  Commentary on Luke 12:32-40 for August 11, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4142

[4] Skinner’s commentary in the footnote above is more of this kind of thinking.  Give it a read.

[5] Girardian Lectionary, Proper 14 (August 7-13), Year C.  http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-c/proper14c/

[6] Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Avery: New York, 2016), 264-265.

[7] Tutu, The Book of Joy, ibid. (See footnote above for full citation – better yet, read the book.)

[8] The new name for the now combined Augustana Social/Global/LEAPP/Advocacy ministries is CAN Ministry: Compassion & Action with our Neighbors.

[9] Hebrews 11:1

[10] Robert L. Edwards (1915-2006). “God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending” – Published originally in 1961. Re-published in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, 2006).

_________________________________________________________________

Hebrews 11:1-3 and 8-16  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” 13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Genesis 15:1-6  After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Money in Motion, So Goes the Heart – Luke 12:32-40 and Genesis 15:1-6

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 7, 2016

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 12:32-40 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Genesis 15:1-6 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

[sermon begins]

Right after Jesus’ lovely speech we just heard, Peter says, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”[1]  It’s a classic question.  Is Jesus’ speech a general kind of “all y’all” or is Jesus talking to me?  As if I’ll fly under the radar just as long as I don’t make eye contact with Jesus on this one.

We don’t get to hear Peter’s reply to Jesus in the Bible reading today although it comes as the very next verse in Luke.  Jesus is still talking to the crowd of thousands.  In the verses just before ours today, he warns the crowds.  “Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” He wraps up those verses telling them not to worry about their lives but to strive for the kingdom.

Right away, though, Jesus says:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

This is one of the challenges in the way we read the Bible Sunday-to-Sunday.  If left with the striving of last week’s verses, we could assume wrongly that striving is the whole plan.  It’s an easy move from striving to earning.  Earning God’s pleasure.  Earning God’s salvation.  And with earning comes deserving.  I deserve God’s pleasure.  I deserve God’s salvation.  Until, suddenly, I’m left wondering if I’ve strived enough, earned enough, and am deserving enough.

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”   In scripture, “do not be afraid” is the clue that we’re going to hear about God’s power and promise; God’s mighty deeds.[2]  We hear it multiple times in Luke.  Abram hears it in the Genesis reading.  These promises come from God to Abram, to Luke, and to us – unconditional promise.

Last week, I challenged us to keep our fingers pointing at ourselves to confess our own greed rather than pointing away from ourselves to someone else.  This week, Jesus is offering another way to be on guard against the greed he warns about in the earlier verses.  Jesus says:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[3]

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom!  This means that through this promise, disciples can guard against all kinds of greed and resist the urge to worry 24/7.  Jesus tells us to love our neighbor and then directs us to be generous with money.[4]  Telling us that where our treasure, our money, goes then our hearts will follow.

For Rob and I, this kind of giving starts with our family’s congregations and moves beyond it.  10% of my income comes to Augustana and 5% of his income goes to Lutheran Church of the Master with more going to other non-profits and NGOs.  At this point, we know our money goes to the work of the church impacting not only congregational ministry but also passing through to local, national, and global efforts like Metro Caring in Denver and Lutheran World Relief worldwide.  This has long been important to us although we started off low and slow – well before I began working toward becoming a pastor.  Our giving was about 2.5% when we started into it.

Why does any of that detail matter?  It matters because there’s a tendency to be private about money in a way that becomes unhelpful to anyone.  Money impacts everyone on the planet and we talk gingerly around the topic.  Funny how hesitant we can be as Jesus followers because Jesus didn’t mess around talking about money:

16 out of the 38 parables told by Jesus dealt with money and possessions.

1 out of 10 Gospel verses, 228 verses in all, talk about money directly.[5]

I get it.  The church across denominations worldwide gets into problems with money. Sinners, the lot of us.

As a group of Jesus followers who make up this congregation, we have ongoing opportunities to talk about money and its impact.  Certainly we do in our own households as we grapple with Bible verses like today’s story on our way home after worship.  The opportunities to talk about money also exist congregationally – Stewardship Committee, Congregational Council or Council’s appointed Finance Support Committee.  Recently, in fact, the Finance Support Committee put forward a recommendation to consolidate and track funds differently.  They did a ton of work.  They talked to many people in the congregation.  Council voted unanimously to adopt the recommendation.  Leadership in this congregation is aware of the accountability and works hard on it.

Jesus’ words give us pause to talk about giving and generosity – each of us in our households as well as disciples together congregationally.  This could mean that our assumptions get tossed about a bit.  Jesus is especially good at flipping over assumptions and messing with the way we think things are true.  Being the church, the body of Christ in this place together means that we span pretty much the entire socio-economic spectrum among our households.  It’s a good opportunity to have our assumptions flipped.

As with many things Jesus has to say, there are a couple of ways to hear them.  In regards to generosity, people can easily hear law.  We can hear it as “we must,” or in commandment language, “you shall.”  The other way to hear Jesus words is as “gospel.”  When we hear things as gospel promise we can hear it as “we get to.”

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  Jesus gives faith along with the promise of God’s kingdom.  From his gift of faith to us – Jesus frees us to live generously, less anxiously, and into a future of God’s mercy not based on human merit.[6]  A future toward which the watchfulness commanded by Jesus is not one of uneasy anticipation but rather an secure confidence.[7]

God calls you through your baptism back to God and to neighbor.  God also knows that where your money goes, so goes your hearts.  A heart that is real, beating inside of you, and oxygenating your body is the heart through which God draws us towards each other and into the kingdom life that God gives in the here and now.

To answer Peter’s question, yes, Jesus is talking to you.  This is good news, indeed – for you, for your neighbor, and for the world.  Thanks be to God.

___________________________________________

Link: Lutheran World Relief

Link: Metro Caring

[1] Luke 12:41

[2] David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Commentary on Luke 12:32-40 for WorkingPreacher.org, August 8, 2010.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=729

[3] Luke 12:33-34

[4] Luke 10:25-37 Parable of the Good Samaritan: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

[5] Howard L. Dayton, Jr.  Sermon Illustration: Statistic: Jesus’ Teaching on Money.  (Preaching Today, 1996). http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Economic_LifeSS.pdf?_ga=1.79714647.1553381420.1424715443

[6] David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Commentary on Luke 12:32-40 for WorkingPreacher.org, August 8, 2010.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=729

[7] Ibid.