Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
10:1Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
Has your Christianity affected your pockets? That's the question John Wesley would sometimes ask about churches he would visit. Has your Christianity affected your pockets?
Yes, today's message is about “stewardship.” I will pause here for all of you who might feel the need to groan or roll your eyes. Look, this is not a lot of fun from this side of the lectern either. It is hard enough to get people to listen to you talk non-stop for 15 to 20 minutes, but when you start talking about things they don't want to hear...well, it is much, much more difficult.
So, here's what I'm going to do: I promise to tell a lot of stories (some old some new) and I'll keep it relatively short and hopefully focused.
There once was a Sunday School Teacher asked her eager students if they would give $1,000,000 to the missionaries. “YES!” they all screamed!! “Would you give $1,000?” Again they shouted “YES!” “How about $100?” “Oh, YES we would!” they all agreed!! “Would you give just a dollar to the missionaries?” she asked. They all exclaimed “YES!” just as before except for little Johnnie. “Johnnie,” the teacher said as she noticed the boy clutching his pocket, “why didn’t you say 'YES’ this time?” “Well,” he stammered, “I actually HAVE a dollar.”
Now that may be funny and you might be tempted to dismiss it's point because it is in a joke and isn't really true, you know, in REAL life, but it's not just a point that only shows up in funny stories, it shows up in real life.
Leighton Farrell was the minister of Highland Park Church in Dallas for many years. He tells of a man in the church who once made a covenant with a former pastor to tithe ten percent of their income every year. They were both young and neither of them had much money. But things changed. The layman tithed one thousand dollars the year he earned ten thousand, ten thousand dollars the year he earned one-hundred thousand, and one- hundred thousand dollars the year he earned one million. But the year he earned six million dollars he just could not bring himself to write out that check for six-hundred thousand dollars to the Church.
He telephoned the minister, long since having moved to another church, and asked to see him. Walking into the pastor’s office the man begged to be let out of the covenant, saying, "This tithing business has to stop. It was fine when my tithe was one thousand dollars, but I just cannot afford six-hundred thousand dollars. You’ve got to do something, Reverend!" The pastor knelt on the floor and prayed silently for a long time. Eventually the man said, "What are you doing? Are you praying that God will let me out of the covenant to tithe?" "No," said the minister. "I am praying for God to reduce your income back to the level where one thousand dollars will be your tithe!"
Stewardship means “taking care of.” In the context of the church we understand it as “taking care of the gifts God gives us” or more specifically, “taking care of the gifts that we are watching over for God.” You see, in the church we recognize that what we have is not by our doings, it is by the grace of God. Or as today's text says, “God has given to us without us giving God anything – without payment.” Some translations say, God has given to us “freely.” The original Greek is something more like God has given to us “gratuitously.”
In the remainder of that part of this verse Jesus tells the disciples to give. It is clear from the language and the context, that he is taking about their talent, their time, their valuables – basically, give of yourself. Further more, he uses the same language here: gratuitously. So, a better translation may be, “You have been given to gratuitously, so give gratuitously.”
Do you give gratuitously? Has your Christianity affected your pockets?
Tony Campolo tells of being invited to speak at a ladies meeting. There were 300 women there. Before he spoke the president of the organization read a letter from a missionary. It was a very moving letter. In the letter the missionary expressed a need for $4,000 to take care of an emergency that had cropped up. So the president of the organization said, "We need to pray that God will provide the resources to meet the need of this missionary. Brother Campolo will you please pray for us?"
Tony Campolo, who is very outspoken said, "No." Startled, she said, "I beg your pardon." He said, "No, I won’t pray for that." He said, "I believe that God has already provided the resources and that all we need to do is give. Tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to step up to this table and give every bit of cash I have in my pocket. And if all of you will do the same thing, I think God has already provided the resources."
The president of the organization chuckled a little bit and said, "Well, I guess we get the point. He is trying to teach us that we all need to give sacrificially." He said, "No, that is not what I am trying to teach you. I’m trying to teach you that God has already provided for this missionary. All we need to do is give it. Here, I’m going to put down all of my money I have with me." He wrote, "I only had $15 in my pocket so I wasn’t too worried about that." So he put down his $15 and then looked at the president of the organization. Reluctantly, she opened her purse and took out all of her money, which was about $40, and put it on the table.
One by one the rest of the ladies filed by and put their money on the table, too. When the money was counted they had collected more than $4,000." Tony Campolo said, "Now, here’s the lesson. God always supplies for our needs, & he supplied for this missionary, too. The only problem was we were keeping it for ourselves. Now let’s pray & thank God for His [sic] provision."
We don’t own any the “things” in our lives. They are gifts given gratuitously from God and we are only stewards. They are things for this life and not the next and we are stewards of them - acting on God’s behalf in this world, in hopes that God’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven – in hopes that we might be lucky enough to experience the kingdom come on earth.
Just as God has given gratuitously to us, God encourages us to be gratuitous givers. God looks to us to give not for recognition, but as a response to God's love for us. We have already been given the greatest gift that we will ever receive. “No greater love as anyone than this, that they lay down their life for their friends.” Jesus gave his life for us, so that we may have the life of eternity. Jesus gave his life for us, so that we may experience an abundant love beyond compare. Jesus gave his life for us, so that we may feel a deep joy that pervades all our relationships. Jesus gave gratuitously.
We are tempted when stewardship season comes around to say, "How much are we supposed to give? How much are we supposed to hand over?" And we must realize that that's the wrong question. Look at it this way, if you opened an account with a stock broker, wouldn't you be surprised, maybe even upset, if the broker asked you how much of the account he or she was supposed to manage? Of course you would be surprised; because your expectation is that they would manage all of it in your interest. It is the same with God. Would Jesus say that we are to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and 2% of our income? I doubt it. Give to God gratuitously.
On World Communion Sunday, the concept of “giving of yourself” is raised to a level few humans achieve – but we are all called to try. We must ask ourselves, as painful as the questions may be and as painful as the answer may be, has my Christianity affected my pockets?
The good news is we can count on God. What we must remember is God is counting on us.