EIGHT MONTHS WAGES OR
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A BASKET OF GROCERIES
Sunday morning of last week we asked you to consider what philanthropy meant from a Christian perspective. We encouraged each of you to participate in the gracious ministry of giving it is a ministry that all of us are a part of. Last Sunday evening at our family meeting we spoke of how this church is involved in what God is doing through many good works. And we laid out some of the facts about our participation in the ministry of giving. The good news is that spending is down. The bad news is that our contributions are down from what we need to maintain all of those good works at our current level. These are simply facts. Theres no guilt or shame. This is a generous church family that does strive to participate in the ministry of giving.
And just this week we have seen a difference in the typical contribution. And we have been blessed by God. I want to give thanks for the generosity of this congregation. I think that needs to be acknowledged. I am not saying that a problem is solved because there wasnt really anything broken that needed to be fixed. Whichever side of the ledger our church budget may end up, each of us needs to be encouraged to participate in the gracious ministry of giving. Whether we have a high income a low income we all need to be encouraged to participate in the gracious ministry of giving because it is about love not money (In Africa, the poorest of the poor place their empty hand in the plate as it is passed to show that they offer themselves).
I will continue to preach and teach what Scripture teaches about giving and the way we are to use our resources. It isnt a seasonal topic or one that comes up in crisis. What I am concerned with is that in our wealth or poverty we look at our opportunities and our resources in the proper way. We need to overcome the mentality that looks at every opportunity as an eight months month pay problem. We need to be inspired to take on the greatest needs with nothing more that a basket of groceries if thats all we have.
What I am talking about comes from Mark 6 ... [Read Text]
This text has giving all through it. There is much giving that takes place before the disciples give the crowd of over 5000 something to eat.
Before we rush to the end, think about the alternate ending to this story. Whats the alternative if the disciples had told Jesus, We just dont have anything? Whats the alternative if the child with the bread and fish had hidden what he had?
Simple: They would have sent the crowd away to get their food. And not only would they have been hungry they wouldnt have followed Jesus. They would still be sheep without a shepherd.
- Give what you have. The disciples look at the problem as an eight months wages problem. This causes them to give up. It cannot be done. Nice idea, great sentiment, but feeding this group will not work.
The disciples had five loaves of bread and two fish. They assessed their resources. Instead of Jesus saying, well that will feed seven, fourteen if we slice it thin the mission remains the same. You feed them.
- They could have patronized the boy with the bread and fish. Hey, thats cute, the little fella is willing to share his groceries thats commendable son, of course we wouldnt ask you for that, but the thought is what counts. (Worse even, they could have told him that he doesnt matter this is grownup business.)
- Paul speaks of the Macedonians and their eagerness to give. They could have been patronized We are so touched that you want to give to help the poor, but you ought to keep what you have because you certainly need it. (Besides we need a lot more than what you are able to give). That would have been eight months wages thinking.
- Learn from the conversation of Jesus and the disciples: Jesus says You feed them. And they say, But that takes more than what we have (eight months wages). Jesus says, Well what DO you have?
- Who is Jesus telling us to feed?
- We do feed people every third Saturday in Hope Park. But we are by no means feeding all the hungry. We just cant it would take eight months pay to feed everyone.
- Latinos There are so many moving to this area. They need to be fed spiritually and they are hungry for community and a place to belong. But it would take eight months pay to do what needs to be done
- People throughout the world do not know the gospel. And the hunger and starvation physically and literally is staggering. But not even eight months pay would be enough to do what needs to be done.
- Think of all the ways CURE [Compassionate Utilization of REsources] feeds people. CURE is able to do so much but what could they do if they had more Resources to Use Compassionately? But we have seen the bill and it would take eight months pay to feed everyone.
- And we have to feed our own! We are not superhuman. We have to be fed also. It would be great to have more volunteers and we definitely need more leaders. And to serve our community we need more personnel, but it would take eight months pay just to get started ...
- Even as we feed our own we think of the ones who are hungry for spiritual food and for a place to belong. College students they need to be fed spiritually. Their numbers are growing. Our youth and children they are growing and they need to be equipped for the challenges that face them. This is so important but it will take eight months worth pay to do all we need to do.
- And Jesus says to us, What DO you have? We need to be careful that we dont terminate what Jesus calls upon us to do before we ever begin. Paul told the Corinthians to Give what they could give rather than give what they could not give. Its one thing to count the cost but it is something else entirely to stick a price tag on something only to make it impossible or unattainable.
- Give it to Jesus - It would have been a very uninteresting story if the disciples had taken the five loaves and two fish and formed a committee meeting in order to decide the distribution. It would have been uninspiring if they had held a lottery to see who gets the bread and fish. On their own, there is no solution they can come up with that works. So they give it to Jesus.
- Have we really given what we have to Jesus? Pay attention to the way we talk about our finances. (Not that anyone needs to be reprimanded, it is just revealing and education when you observe what you say).
- Do we give to Jesus, or to the church? We are the church. So if we give to the church we give back to ourselves. We are self-funding. Where does Christ enter into it?
- Do we give to Jesus or to the works of the church? Again, who is doing the funding? Who supplies the resources for the works of the church.
- Do we give to Jesus or do we help those in need? Nothing wrong with helping those in need, but do we help them with our money or have we taken what we have and given it to Jesus?
- We need to pay attention so that the offering doesnt become the least spiritual and Christ-centered moment in worship. We sing and pray and we have the sense that we are communicating with God. We open ourselves up to the word of God and we know that Scripture is Christ himself the living word that became flesh. We eat the bread and drink the wine and we know are aware of the presence of Christ. But then theres the offering. Well, thats church business. When we have that attitude then offering becomes admission. I heard a wise man once say that the bills and coins and papers we place in the offering plate are just as symbolic as the bread and wine we eat and drink. The papers and coins represent us giving ourselves.
- I want to emphasize that we need to keep the offering Christ-centered. When we give, we give to Jesus. Not even to the church! You see when we give to the church we can get rather opinionated about what we give. And if we are giving to the church that would be fine because we are church. So its alright to have an opinion about what we give or dont give because we dont like whats being done with it or because we are all for whats being done with it. But when we give our five loaves and two fish to Jesus we have given it away. Now Jesus will decide what to do with it. And the good news is that he is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.
- Give Thanks. Jesus does not look down on what they have gathered. Jesus looks up to heaven. Notice what Jesus does with the bread and fish. The bread and fish represented what they had to give. Jesus could have said, Thats it? Try harder. Someone is holding out. He could have scolded the disciples or given them a guilt trip. He could have berated the crowd. But he doesnt give a guilt trip, he gives thanks. He isnt even ashamed of what is given, but he lifts it up and says to the Father and says Thank You! (Just being practical, how much sense does that make? You have a hungry crowd of 5000 and you hold up bread and fish that wont feed more than fifteen? You can just hear Peter saying, Hey Jesus keep those vittles out of sight or they are going to rush you!) But Jesus is going to give thanks.
- How might we give thanks? In what ways even if they seem sort of odd do we need to give thanks? How do we offer our gifts?
- The poor who had nothing to give placed their hands in the plate as it went by. They gave themselves.
- Jesus gives us what we gave him and lets us give it to others. Remember that he told the disciples to feed the crowd. And that is just what they do. Jesus could have done it himself. But the disciples are the ones who need to do the feeding.
- You see, when Jesus first told them to feed the crowd, they thought that they were the suppliers. Thats where the eight months wages mentality came from.
- But Jesus never told them that they were the suppliers. He told them that they were to feed the crowd. Share, distribute, give! So he gives what God supplies to the disciples. And there is enough for everyone. It isnt scarce so that everybody only gets a taste. Theres enough to meet the needs of everyone there. In fact, theres leftovers. Twelve baskets full of leftovers. One for each apostle. Those werent set aside at the start. They are the excess. Even the disciples are fed as they are feeding the crowd.
- Doesnt this put it into perspective? Who is the one that supplies what we need? Who is the one who gives us what we need not only to meet budget but also to do more and to have blessings left over to meet the needs of those who give and serve?
But thats not the way the story ends. And yet, how much can we really get from it, after all this is a miracle story! How can we base what our church does and its finances on a miracle story? How can I really learn anything about my own finances and the way I use wealth from a miracle story? Simple: The same Jesus that gave thanks for that bread is the same Jesus who is Lord and living in this church at this very moment. We are not sheep without a shepherd.
- Give what you have, give it to Jesus, give thanks, and give what Jesus gives you to others!
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 6 August 2006
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