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God's Abundance

Sermon - 10/01/06
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

I have been told by a long-time member that my preaching is predictable.  It appears that after you sit Sunday after Sunday for 15 years to listen to what I have to say, if you're paying attention, that evidently you have a good idea of the kinds of things I say.  This sounds reasonable, right?  So that being the case, you all know what time of year this is.  After worship, we're having our annual stewardship dinner at which you'll receive your estimate of giving card.  So turn that in, make it big, and GO DUCKS! J

Like I said, I'm predictable.

The cover of Time magazine a couple of weeks ago had this on the cover:  "Does God want you to be rich?"  Should we take a poll?  They did.  The story covered what's known as 'prosperity theology', or the gospel of wealth.  It appears that a number of preachers throughout the country are telling their flock that if not exactly that God wants you to be rich, at least God wants you to prosper.  God wants you to do well, to get ahead in life.  

Joel Osteen, for instance, in Houston (in one of the largest mega-churches in the country) says "I preach that anybody can improve their lives.  I think God wants us to be prosperous.  I think he wants us to be happy.  To me, you need to have money to pay your bills.  I think God wants us to send our kids to college.  I think he wants us to be a blessing to other people.  But I don't think I'd say that God wants us to be rich.  It's all relative, isn't it?".

Sounds good.  And then the authors of the article add this little tidbit:  "The room's warm lamplight reflects softly off his crocodile shoes".  Good writing.

What does that suggest?  If reminds me of this song:

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a color T.V.
Oh Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town.
I'm counting on you Lord, please don't let me down.
Prove that you love me, and buy the next round.
Oh Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town.

And everybody is supposed to sing, but we'll pass on that.  

The authors of that article note that though the Bible refers thousands and thousands of times to poverty and wealth and money and riches, they say the relative absence of sermons about money is one of the more stunning omissions in American religion.  Stunning omission.

For instance, sociologist Robert Wuthnow says:  "There has long been a taboo on talking candidly about money in church".  Well folks, may I be candid?  You promise you won't get offended?  Maybe not, that's OK.

It's not about money.  It really isn't.  It's about what we put on our money.  Remember -- "In God We Trust".  And the question is:  do we really?  What do we have to show for it?  Can people see that that's true?  

At City Club this week there was a debate on measure 48, you may have read about it in the paper yesterday.  Measure 48 is one of those government spending limits -- sets a formula to control spending by population and inflation combined.  The author of the measure, Donn McIntyre, was here, debating Senator Westlund on the opposing side.  If you want to know more about that and other measures, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon has a voter's guide that we have available, help yourself to that.  Some of it is just informative, EMO does take a stand on some of the measures, so you can read more about that there.

At any rate, at that debate, someone asked:  if churches and synagogues can get by for thousands of years on 10%, why can't the government?  Well, the debaters obviously didn't know a whole lot about finances of the church because they didn't question the premise.  In fact, I don't know a church in this country that receives 10% of the income of its members.  Except maybe the Amish -- may God be with them.  Even the Mormons don't quite reach that biblical standard, though they are doing much better than most of us.  The reality is that the average contribution among protestants is somewhere between 2.4 and 2.5% of their income.  Among Catholics it's much less.  

So stop and think -- the difference between a congregation that is average and a congregation that meets that biblical standard is four-fold.  Think about the possibilities of what we, and any church, can achieve.

Now, wouldn't you like to be better than average?  Don't we all want to be better than average?  Then we have to put our money where our mouth is, or our trust where God is.  In fact, this congregation is better than average.  A recent look at the Christian Church reveals that among the 33 Disciples churches in Oregon, we rank 6th in per-capita giving.  I think that's significant, something we can feel good about.  Yet the potential is there for so much more.

Time conducted a poll among Christians, and they asked 'Who has the greatest influence on your thinking about finances?'  And the people responded:

- 7% said books by religious leaders
- 14% said their financial advisers
- 18% said their pastors 
- 47% said the Bible.

      (If you trust me over your financial advisor on such matters, you're in trouble J)

It's interesting, in that same poll 48% agreed with this statement:  "Jesus was not rich, and we should follow his example".  What I find interesting is that 44% disagreed with this statement.  And I wondered, which part did they disagree with?  Did they think Jesus was rich, or that we shouldn't follow his example?

But since more people are influenced by scripture than they are by preachers (by an order of at least two and a half times), I would suggest that everyone of us go home and read our Bibles.  That's all we need to do for a good campaign.  You might read about tithing in the book of Deuteronomy.  You might read about the greedy plunderers in the book of Joshua.  You might read about that poor widow who put her last 2 cents in the treasury and Jesus said she has contributed more than all the others.  You might read about that rich young ruler who could not give up his riches to follow Jesus.  And remember what Jesus said?  That it's harder for the rich to enter the kingdom of God than a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  You might read about that poor man that begged for the crumbs from the table of Lazarus, and their fortunes are reversed in the next life.  You might read about Zacchaeus, that wee little man, came down from that tree when Jesus invited himself over for dinner, and remember Zacchaeus' response?  "Today I will give half of my income to the poor".  You might read the sermon on the mount:  'Do not worry about your life, what you eat, what you drink.  Consider the lilies of the field, how God has clothed them in such great splendor, greater than Solomon in all his riches".  You might read about the parable of the talents, that foolish servant who didn't even invest his master's money, stuck it in the ground.  You might read about Ananias and Sapphira, remember them in the book of Acts?  When the church held all things in common, but they wanted to hold a little bit for themselves, you know, invest in an IRA, set up a pension plan.  Remember what happened to them?  They were put in the commoners plot, 6 feet under.  You might read about James' condemnation of the rich for oppressing the poor.  

You might read again this text from Luke 12, and consider the true abundance that we have from God.  And I ask you:  is it stuff?  Is it the size of your car or the size of your house?  Is it how much is in your wallet or how much is in your closet?  On your dying day, will you look back and say "Boy, I'm sure glad I collected all that junk in my garage"?

What is the true abundance we have from God if it is not love?  Joy, relationships, family, and knowing the love of the Lord.

When you're done reading all of that, I would invite you to read one more book.  It's this one -- your checkbook.  And I invite you to compare it to this one (the Bible).  It reminds me of that moment in Al Gore's film [An Inconvenient Truth], that we saw last Friday night, in this portion he's talking about a conference in which the balance between the economy and the environment is portrayed in this graph.

"We have here a scale that balances two different things.  On one side we have gold bars -- mmmm, mmmm, don't they look good.  I'd just like to have some of those gold bars.  On the other side of the scales, the entire planet!  Hmmmm, hmmmm."   

And so we have two books.  Two treasures.  In which will you place your trust?  In which will you place your heart?  That's all I have to say.  I hope it wasn't too much.


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