November 12, 2013

By Phil Maynard

I know of few pastors who look forward to talking about money . . . and few lay persons who enjoy listening! Oddly, Jesus talked more about our relationship to money and things than faith, prayer or forgiveness.  In fact, he spoke more about it than anything but the Kingdom of God.  Why is it that many would rather avoid talking or hearing about something which Jesus spoke about so regularly?    In the next three Blog entries, I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve been learning about “extravagant generosity”, which I wish I knew twenty years ago.

I usually disliked stewardship because it feels like fundraising with God-talk sprinkled in.  Typically, the starting point is the congregation’s need for money.  Sure, the most generous generation, The Builders, are dying off and not being replaced.  Sure, the percent of income given to churches is declining.  Sure, the costs of operating a congregation are escalating while many congregations are experiencing a reduction in worship attendance.  But where is the Good News for disciples in that?  Where is the Spirit’s conviction and our confession that sets us free?  The place to start is not the financial needs of congregations, but disciples seeking to follow Jesus and struggling with the sickness of “affluenza” so typical in our culture.

In the next blog entry, we’ll talk about culture’s “affluenza” from the perspective of Jesus’ teachings.  In the entry after that, we’ll talk about how congregations can cultivate extravagant generosity.  And now: how might we summarize Jesus’ teachings on our relationship to money and things in the context of us learning to love God and our neighbor?

Loving God:  Material blessings are to be received trustingly and thankfully as gifts from God.   That seems clear enough from Scripture, but the reverse is also then true: We should not seek our purpose, self-esteem, fulfillment or security in greedily accumulating or anxiously clinging to money or things.  “And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”  (Luke 12:30-31)   “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15

Loving our neighbor:  We shouldn’t use all of our material blessings on ourselves and ignore the needs of our neighbors.   Therefore, trusting in God’s continuing care, we should choose a lifestyle with margins that free us to respond generously to our neighbor.  Jesus said that we should freely give to others according to their need. (Luke 6:30)  He chastised the Pharisees for tithing mint and dill, but omitting mercy and justice. (Luke 11:42)  And told the story of the rich man who used all his wealth on himself and ignored the needs of poor Lazarus who slept on his door step and dreamed of eating the crumbs from the rich man’s table. (Luke 16:19-31).

Jesus saw what is difficult for us in our day to see: an improper relationship to money and things prevents us from both loving God and our neighbor.  This is about so much more than fundraising.   This is absolutely central to what it means to be a Christ-follower.