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Working Through the Joy
November 6, 1977

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

LUKE 12:13-21

Jesus had a great deal to say about money and possessions. In fact, Jesus had more to say about money and possessions than any other single item. Why? Certainly he wasn't raising money. Certainly he wasn't a fundraiser. He wasn't asking for contributions. He had no buildings, no mortgage payments, no utility bills, no salaries, no office, no postage, no mimeograph. He was not a fundraiser. He was not asking for money. He had no such ulterior motive. He had no vested interest in raising money. Why did he have so much to say about money and possessions? 

Because Jesus saw what the wrong use of money did to people. Jesus saw the disastrous effects on people who have the wrong attitude towards money and possessions. He saw what happens to people and Jesus’ first concern was always for people. Therefore, he had much to say about money. The New Testament lesson today declares that Jesus’ goal for all of us is to become rich in God's sight. He told the story of the man who had such a bountiful, plentiful harvest, he didn't know what to do with it, so he tore down his barns and built new, larger, bigger barns in which to store his harvest. He had all these illusions of grandeur and said to himself, “Wow, if I can just get enough together, then I can take it easy. I can sit back. I can eat, drink and be merry”. And Jesus said, “If he should die that very day, who would get all the stuff?” What was the purpose of all his hoarding? 

Jesus then said, “A person's true life is not made up of things” which are owned. A person's true life, the essence of his or her life is not made up of things which are owned. If we know people by what they own, like who is John Smith? Oh, don't you know John Smith? He lives over on such and such road. He's the one with the big barn. He is the one with the new Mercedes. He’s the one with all the stuff. That is not the person's true life. That's not the essence of their life. Do you want to be known by what you own? If all there is to know about John Smith is that he owns those big barns, if that's what his life is about, if that's what he truly cares about, if that captures the goal of his life, he is in sorry shape! His true life is in his barns, in his possessions. We would rather be known by our true lives. 

Jesus goes on to say that the piling up of riches does not make one rich in God's sight. The piling up of riches, and becoming rich in God's sight are two different things. The true joy of life, the deep meaning and satisfaction in one's life, the peace of mind, the hope for the future, a faith that under undergirds and sustains us so that we don't have to worry about food or clothing or shelter or physical needs—that kind of faith, that kind of joy, that kind of hope is not equated with the piling up of riches and things. This is so difficult for us to understand. We are money oriented. We are things oriented. We’re taught by our advertisers from the time we can see the tube, read newspapers and magazines, watch the billboards and listen to the radio. We're taught from the time we're born that a good American is one who buys things. We're taught that the goal of life is to gather things and accumulate things. We're taught that joy, peace and happiness will come when you get enough things together, and you get your big barns. Our economy is built upon the accumulation of things with greed as a motivator. 

It's so difficult for us to understand that the accumulating of things is not equated with joy. The piling up of riches does not make one rich in God's sight. I saw this week one of those desk sets that hold a pen inscribed,“A truly rich man is one whose children will run into his arms when his hands are empty.” A truly rich man is one whose children will run into his arms  when he has nothing to give them, when he has bought nothing for them, when there are no things, no trinkets, no bribery—just open arms. Money cannot buy the affection of children. Money cannot buy love, money cannot buy friends, money cannot buy joy and meaning, money cannot buy the riches of God. A truly rich man is one who has the joy, peace, and satisfaction that comes from God. 

John Wesley, the founding spirit of the United Methodist Church, once wrote in his journal, “When I have any money, I get rid of it as quickly as possible, lest it should find its way into my heart.” “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Now, how to get rid of the money is another question. Money management is a key issue in contemporary life. In fact, as I read what psychologists are saying, the number one cause of trouble in a marriage that leads to divorce today is money—disagreements over money, mismanagement of money, putting them in such debt that they can't keep their heads above water. What Jesus had to say about money more than any other single item is a very real life factor in our happiness. 

What to do with money: I suggest the ancient Christian biblical attitude towards our things, towards our money, towards our lives. We are not owners of what we have and who we are. Money is a trust from God. God has appointed you and me trustees of what has been given to us, including our minds, our talents, our bodies. God gave us our bodies for a short period on this earth. He entrusted them to us to take care of them. He gives us our wealth, he gives us our abundance as a trust to take care of for a short time on this earth. Jesus said in Luke 9:11. “If then you have not been faithful in handling worldly wealth, how can you be trusted with true wealth?” If you can't handle money, how can you handle anything else? If you can't be faithful with the little things God has given you, how can you be trusted with the huge things of faith and eternity? God trusts you with what you've been given, puts it in your hands and appoints you trustee over it. The Bible word is “steward”. 

Appoint a steward not to hoard, not to put in barns. In another parable, Jesus came down hard on the servant who went and buried the owner’s money to protect it. Our money, our wealth is not given to us to hoard, nor is it given to us to waste, to mismanage, to let it run through our fingers like water. It's given been given to us to take care of it, to increase it, to multiply it. In Jesus’ parable, he praised the servant who multiplied, who invested the resources wisely.

For what reason does God entrust our possessions and our money in our care, to take care of them, to increase, to multiply them? To do God's work, to be his people to serve, to support causes to take care of the poor, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to spread the gospel, to minister. In this day and age that requires buildings, mimeographs and PG&E. God entrusts what you have for you to do God's work. You and I are stewards. How we could orient our lives in a much more wholesome fashion if we could get that into our heads. All that we have has been given to us to take care of, not to own. It’s when we begin to think that we own things that we get it all twisted up. It's when we begin to think that this is mine that we get all twisted up. When we think this is mine, we hoard and try to pile up riches and try to buy joy, but we can't buy joy. 

When the tribe of the Franks became Christians back in the early Middle Ages, they were a warring barbarian tribe. They became Christians by the multitudes and presented themselves at the river for baptism to walk down into the river, be immersed and walk out as Christians. They were ready to become Christians, but they didn't like Jesus’ peacemaker words. They couldn't buy that part of Christianity. So when they walked down into the river to be baptized, tradition tells us that they held their weapon high in one hand, so that it would not go into the water. They said, “This hand was never baptized,” and they continued with their warring ways. You and I still do the same thing. We've held our weapons high in one hand. We’re not quite ready to buy the peacemaking words of Jesus. We want to keep our guns just in case an enemy comes. 

And in the other hand held high above the water of baptism is our purse, our billfold, our checkbook, because we're not ready to believe that we are stewards. We think we are happier and more comfortable if we can keep our money out of the water and say, “This is mine. It was never baptized, I can do with my money as I please.” That's a miserable religion. Trying to keep something back from God makes for discomfort and frustration. We lose the joy that comes from a total commitment to God's way. 

Let's try God's way. It just may work! I challenge you in this area of money. Try taking seriously being a steward. The Bible and Christian tradition have spelled out very specifically what that means. We've been given a system. It’s called the tithe, an ancient practice in the pages of the Old Testament that has continued into the church. One tenth, a tithe, comes off the top and is given. If you don't know what that means, it's written on the back of the insert this morning. It’s spelled out what it means in relation to one's income. This practice came to us came to us from the Old Testament. It was the Mosaic law that tithes go to the house of the Lord- 1/10th of the fruit, 1/10th of the seeds, 1/10th of the herds, 1/10th of their money is holy to the Lord. It is this specific practical system, this habit, that helps us keep our priorities straight. It helps us in our attitude towards our use of money. It is this very practical system that keeps our priorities straight. 

When you talk to people who seriously tithe, they usually say three things. Number one, they say, “I didn't believe it in the beginning, I had all kinds of doubts. I just didn't think it would work. I didn't see how I would live. But I decided to try it with a little faith. I took a chance and tried it.” That's the first thing they'll say. 

Then they will say, secondly,  “I found deep seated joy! It came over my being at the satisfaction of being a partner, the joy of being a steward, the great meaning I found in my life when I started this practice.”

Then thirdly, they will say, “It was a miracle how God blessed the other 9/10. It was miraculous how the other 9/10ths stretched and covered everything I needed, how my needs were met, my physical needs were taken care of. It was just miraculous how things worked out and how a much better money manager I became. How much better I could manage the resources I had left because I was faithful.” They had number one in its place with the priorities straight. 

Jesus talked a great deal about money because a wrong use of money and a wrong attitude towards money can get our lives and our marriages all twisted up. Work through to joy and try being a steward.

© 1977 Douglas I. Norris