Simple Gifts – August 11, 2019

by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens

You know it to be true: you’ve seen it in the relationships around you; in bickering couples disputing the restaurant bill; in a heated conversation about how much a pair of shoes cost or whether we really NEED at new flat screen TV or a new fancy car, an argument about who’s making the money in the family and who’s spending the money. You know it’s true and in a 2009 study at Utah State University – the proof confirmed it:  Professor Jeffery Dew studied 2,800 couples and his finding: Couples who reported disagreeing about finances once a week were over 30 percent more likely to get divorced than couples who reported disagreeing about finances a few times a month. (1) Money disrupts our relationships with one another, whether it be in a marriage or a loan between family members, an inheritance from a dear aunt who’s passed away, rent owed to a landlord… Money – and our worries, anxiety and desperation for money –  disrupts our relationships with those we love and with God. (One of the most-repeated reasons people don’t want to come to church is because “They’re always asking for money…”)

And so, when we encounter Jesus talking about money, it is our task as followers of this Teacher, to listen to his words and discover how they can apply to us. Do they apply – or are they only appropriate for the disciples of HIS time and HIS culture? Does this ancient story have anything to do with us?

In my humble opinion, as your pastor, I think it does! And part of my job, my task, my calling is to look at what Jesus says and point out where it DOES apply to us – to say, “Look! This can help us!” 

And so we begin here in the gospel of Luke. Now as we begin it is notable that Jesus talked about money more than anything else except the Kingdom of God. (My thought is that Jesus talked about the Kingdom first and then about Money as a barrier to the Kingdom) In fact, 11 of 39 Jesus’ parables talk about money and it is particularly important to the writer of Luke: 1 of every 7 verses in the Gospel of Luke talk about money.

We begin with Jesus comforting the “flock” – calming their fears and assuring them of God’s provision:

Luke 12:32-40

32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell 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. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

So here is the central theme of the text: We have been given the Kingdom, so we must – very literally – share the wealth. “You have the Kingdom, Jesus says, what more do you need? Sell your stuff and give to the poor – those in need. And by giving away what you have, you will earn a treasure in heaven. And where your treasure is…. There your heart will be also.” 

“You have been given the Kingdom,” Jesus says, “so give of your gifts to others. And do this because it is what is expected of you, my followers… And be ready, Jesus says, because I will be checking your work.” 

35“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be 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. 37Blessed 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. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.”

Our scripture lesson ends at verse 40, but continuing in the text, in verse 41 Peter asks a pertinent question. “Now Jesus, Is this lesson for us or for others? For everyone? Everyone else but not us?” 

Jesus tells them another story about “prudent managers” which ends with this, one of my favorite phrases, in verse 48: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

As you may know, I am your pastor but  – five years ago – I started a non-profit organization called Friends of Padhar Schools, organized to raise money to support the schools in a small village in central India. We area small organization and we depend on small amounts of money that can do a lot of meaningful work. Sometimes, our donors are surprised at how far their donations can stretch.

Last year, we were the recipients of a donation of $500 and the donor wanted honor her father for his birthday. We went through our list of projects and decided on supplying school uniforms for the students at the Padhar Mission Primary School. The donation was to be anonymous, but the teachers at the school wanted to know the full story, so after some negotiation with the family, I was allowed to tell them who the man was and share a photo. And then I got these photos of the uniform distribution: with a giant sign with the man’s face on it! Honoring him and the donation! This one donation was able to provide new school uniforms for the 250 students of the primary school and their gratitude was overflowing! 

In my work with Friends of Padhar Schools and with the church, I am constantly asking for money. We do ask for money a lot in the church. We ask every week for money for this, money for that. But we don’t  – as a church – collect it and store it up. Money is a tool for us to do the work of God in the world. Money and the possessions it brings us, allow us to have more Bible study classes, to offer Sunday School and child care, to send kids to camp, to provide our children, our youth, and our adults in every stage of life more services and opportunities to grow in our relationships with God. We ask for money so that we can give more to those in need, to make sure God’s children  – near and far – are fed, clothed and able to encounter God in their own lives.  

Money is a tool for all of us and is not inherently evil…. It is, as Paul writes to Timothy, the LOVE of money that is the root of all evil. Not the money itself, but our love of it. (1 Timothy 6:10)

How can we use the tools we’ve been given to glorify the name of God? How can we use the tools we’ve been given to care for the needs of our neighbors? How can we use the tools we’ve been given to do the work of God in this world? 

One way, Jesus tells us, is to live as though possessions are tools for our living. This simple thought can lead us to an understanding of living that is more about what we can do in this world, rather than what we can HAVE in this world. 

In 1848 Elder Joseph Brackett composed a song for the Shaker community. The Shakers were Christians who believed that Jesus would return to judge the world, so they had better be ready. Men and women were separated in Shaker villages and agreed to lead celibate lives to be ready when Jesus came. They lived simply, with few personal possessions. But they worshipped just as vigourously as they worked. They worked hard and danced hard, and Elder Brackett wrote ‘Simple Gifts’ as a dancing song denoted with the words in the song about bowing and bending and turning, and the Shakers actually did these motions as they sang those words. “The song was both an instruction for dancing as well as an instruction for life.” (2) And it goes like this:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right

Let us keep turning, keep changing, keep learning until we come round right. Let us keep looking for that spark of generosity that calls us to give of ourselves for others. Let us strive to understand our possessions, our wealth, as a tool for God’s abundant love to work in the world. And when we find ourselves in that place just right, it will be in the valley of love and delight. Amen.

  1. New York Times,