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Give It All?
October 9, 1994
Growing for God'Planting Sunday

Mark 10:17-31

Surely we must have heard it wrong! Or, if we did hear it correctly, surely Jesus must not have meant it! Jesus told the young man (Matthew says he was young), Sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. Give it all? Interpreting this passage requires some fancy foot work. How do we dance around this one? Those who claim to take the Bible literally have a challenge with this one. Have you noticed--cynic that I am--that those who claim to be literalists pick out the parts of the Bible they want to take literally?

In this passage, Jesus' message is so startling and discouraging that he frightens one potential convert away, and strikes doubt and despair into the hearts of his own disciples. In the Gospel of Mark, this rich young man is the only person in the entire book who is called to follow Jesus, and refuses.

Jesus said, "Go sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Can't you see him walking away, slowly, dejected, head down? Jesus and his disciples probably watched him with sadness, for Jesus loved him. Jesus' heart went out to the young man when he said he kept the commandments. The young man was trying so hard; he was doing all he knew what to do. He wanted desperately to do what was right, to count for something in this life; and in the life to come, to live eternally. Jesus loved him. Jesus had compassion on him. Jesus watched him leave--hoping, perhaps, that he would turn around, come back and say, "Yes, I will follow you." But, he didn't.

Jesus and the disciples began talking, and what Jesus said shocked the disciples to their core, because what Jesus said turned their world upside down. It was a widespread, popular Jewish belief that wealth is a blessing from God, that prosperity is a sign of God's blessing. But, Jesus shocked them when he said, How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God...It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Jesus said to the young, rich man, Give your money to the poor, and come, follow me. Give it all? When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Give it all?

Yes, give it all--even you and I. We have no choice. We will give it all away. The only choices we have are when and to whom we will give it all away. A bumper sticker reads, The one who dies with the most toys wins. Yet, even he can't take his toys with him. He will give them away. Even if he plans on leaving everything to the kids, he is still giving it away. Or, if he dies without a will, the state takes it all, so he ends up giving all his toys to the government.

All of us will give or spend it all away. We have no choice. The only choices we have are when and to whom. One day, God will hold each of us accountable for when and to whom we gave it all away. Are you ready to meet God and answer the accountability question, "Well, I spent it all on myself."

Bob Buford, a wealthy entrepreneur, is a giver. He summarizes his entire philosophy of giving with one line, "I want to bounce my last check." He knows he isn't taking it with him, so he is deciding where it's going. Buford believes that dying penniless is the point, not the problem. He wants to bounce his last check, thus symbolizing that he has successfully given away all the good gifts he has received from God. And, he is having a ball.

Warren Buffet is the richest man in America--probably worth somewhere over $8 billion dollars. Yet, despite his great wealth, Buffet is not giving it all away. He is not stingy or hard-hearted or operating under the erroneous assumption that he will somehow be able to take it with him. What Warren Buffet believes is that he has been given a gift from God--the gift, the talent, for making money. This billionaire feels he is honoring this gift by continuing to do his best to make money throughout his lifetime. He continues to use the wealth he has already accumulated to help him gain more. Buffett's plan is that upon his death a foundation will be established and a whole team of people will then spend their lifetimes giving that stockpiled wealth away.

An ingenious plan, perhaps, but he is missing something. He is missing the joy of giving and seeing the results of his giving. I recall when I was about 12 years old, I decided to save my allowance and buy Christmas presents for my cousins. On Christmas Eve, we gathered with my mother's family; on Christmas morning, our family opened our gifts; and Christmas dinner and afternoon were spent with my father's family. My mother's family was large. I had lots of cousins, and I gave each one a gift. It wasn't much, a comic book or something similar. But, I had fun--fun shopping, wrapping, and giving. I remember the joy yet today.

Do you remember the first time you made or bought Christmas presents for your family all by yourself/ How good it felt? The joy? That is the kind of child-like delight Jesus wants us to feel every day. Ellie and I enjoy giving. We feel it is a privilege to give to do God's work on this earth. I enjoy writing a $300 check every month to do God's work through our church. We made a pledge which helped our church budget its expenditures for this year. We believe in the causes our church supports. We believe our church is doing God's work. We give a tithe--10%--to do God's work. Most of our tithe is given to our church. It's a joy, a privilege.

Leo and Ruth Branham continue their giving even after they are gone. What they didn't give to God while they were alive, they are giving to God through their estate. They had no children, and 95% of their estate was given to do God's work through the Heifer Project, Red Cross, their university, and our church. 10%--a tithe--of their estate was given to our church, and we now will receive the income generated from an investment of over $200,000. Tithing 10% of your income now, and tithing 10% of your estate through a will, are effective, satisfying ways to give and to continue giving in perpetuity.

All of us are judged by not what we keep, but by what we give. Do you remember several years ago when there was a cranberry scare in the weeks before Thanksgiving? It was alleged that toxic pesticide had tainted the cranberry crop. The cranberry canning company said there was nothing wrong. There was an investigation, but no recall. Still, there was a panic, and many people were afraid to open their cans of cranberry sauce. A leader in our denomination whose family was poor, recalls how they received an annual Thanksgiving basket from their church. That particular year, her family received a Thanksgiving basket with the usual turkey and other items, plus 57 cans of cranberry sauce! The cranberries were not safe enough to eat, but they were safe enough to give to the poor! Charity is giving away what we do not want and cannot use. Christian giving is giving, not what we won't use, but sharing from what we do use. Charity is giving away what doesn't fit anymore. Christian giving is giving, not just out of our abundance, but out of our substance.

In the final analysis, it all belongs to God. We don't own anything--we don't keep any of it forever. It all belongs to God; we are the managers. We take care of the earth and wealth for God, and God takes care of us.

In the final analysis, we will either spend or give it all away. We have no choice. The only choices we have are when and to whom we will give it.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris