Read Matthew 19:16-30, Deuteronomy 15:7-11 here.
You’ve probably heard this old joke: The pastor stood before the congregation and said, “I have bad news, I have good news, and I have more bad news.” The congregation got quiet. “The bad news is: the church needs a new roof!” the pastor said. The congregation groaned. “The good news is: we have enough money for the new roof.” A sigh of relief was heard rippling through the gathered group. “The bad news is: it’s still in your pockets.”
Apparently writer Tony Campolo decided to put this old joke into practice one day. He was speaking at a women’s conference where the president of the organization read a letter from a missionary asking for $4000 to fund an urgent need of the mission. The president asked Tony to pray that God would meet that need. Tony refused, saying the money the mission needed was already there in the room. “God has already provided for this,” he said, “and all we need to do is give. Here is what I have in my pocket.” And he pulled out $20 and put it on the table. The president frowned and hesitated, but then took out her wallet and put $40 on the table. One by one, all the ladies present put money on the table, and when they counted it, they found that they had more than $4000, more than enough to meet the request from the missionary.
I do wonder if that could happen today, since we carry cash much less than we used to now that we all have debit cards. Actually, if we’re like those in a recent study, only half of us have any cash in our wallets at all. And maybe the last thing you might expect me to do would be to ask you to empty your pockets into the offering plate today. We are more likely to take vaguely about money in the church. It’s uncomfortable. But Jesus didn’t shy away from it. He encouraged us to live generously.
What does a generous life look like? The passage we read from Deuteronomy gives us a picture. It says….
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. –Deuteronomy 15:7
Do not be hardhearted or tightfisted.
All week, I’ve been pondering those two words. They go together in a variety of ways. Make your hand into fist. You probably already know that your heart is about the size of your fist. Hardhearted and tightfisted.
What kinds of words or emotions go with having our hands like this?
How does holding our hands like this make us feel?
What can’t we do if our hand is always in a fist?
Let’s release our hands, as I read the very next verse in Deuteronomy:
Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. –Deuteronomy 15:8
Be openhanded. Be generous.
Verse 10 says it again:
Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. –Deut 15:10
Give generously and God will bless you for being generous – in everything you put your hands to.
Not like this (fist) but like this (open hand). Twice in what we read this morning, the Bible tells us to be openhanded.
Be openhanded. –Deut. 15:8,11
Be generous. There will always be people who need help, so look for them and help them.
I’m guessing it’s not a surprise to anyone that the Bible tells us to be generous. We know we’re supposed to share what we have. We learned that in preschool. Studies show that those of us in the church are already the most likely to be givers.
33% of all giving in North America goes to religious organizations.
We are made in the image of God, we are reflections of our creator, and our God is a generous God, and God calls us to be generous back to him. In the very next chapter of Deuteronomy, in instructions for coming to the religious festivals, the Bible says…
They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed; all shall give as they are able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you. –Deut. 16:16-17
Giving is deeply ingrained in us, maybe because this is one of the verses that set a standard that has continued to this day. But it’s not just there. The idea of giving is throughout the Bible.
In our chapter for this week in the book our small groups are reading, Beyond the Offering Plate, David King says that “we learn by giving.” We grow by giving. There is biblical foundation for this idea in Romans 12:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. — Romans 12:1-2
Presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice means that we make our whole selves an offering to God. In doing this, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. When we give we are changed. We usually think about this in terms of time – making time to pray and volunteer and talk to people. We don’t usually think about this verse as connected to money, but it is, because it’s about giving everything – time, and money. We are transformed by giving.
And when we think about Romans 12 as talking about giving, then maybe we see the story we read from Matthew today in a different light. It might be a familiar story. We find it in Luke and Mark as well. A man comes to talk to Jesus, asking him,
“What good deeds must I do to have eternal life?” –Matthew 19:16
Some of you might already see a problem with that question. What’s the problem? (We don’t earn eternal life. It’s a gift from God, given by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.)
We can’t earn salvation.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” –Ephesians 2:8-9
But that’s the road the man is on, so Jesus gives him this answer:
“If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” –Matthew 19:17
Or as the Message version puts it, “If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you.”
He was sorry he asked that, because Jesus replies…
“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” –Matt 19:21
If you wish to be perfect…
In other words, if you want to do more, if you want to grow…
“…present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” –Romans 12:1
“…be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” –Romans 12:2
The man wanted to grow, and Jesus told him how – through giving, sacrificial giving, giving that involved trusting God. And in doing that he would learn how to know what is good and acceptable and perfect.
And the man went away sad because this was a very hard thing to do. Jesus knew it was hard. He compared it to a camel, the largest animal in that region, going through the eye of a needle, the smallest opening they had.
Becoming perfect is impossible for us on our own, earning our salvation is impossible, but “with God all things are possible.” –Matthew 19:26
God gives us everything we need, even the faith it takes to trust him with everything. Through faith in Jesus, we become perfect in God’s eyes. But we struggle to trust God fully. We hold on to our old ways.
Jesus’ words here are a call to each of us to let go of whatever we are being tightfisted and hardhearted with. Jesus knew what was in the man’s heart, and knew that his possessions and wealth were coming between the man and God. Each of us has to decide for ourselves what it is that comes between us and God.
That’s why 1 Timothy 6:10 is our memory verse this week. It’s probably already familiar:
This verse often gets quoted wrong. It’s not money itself that is the root of all kinds of evil. It’s the love of money that is the problem. We hold on tight to whatever we love. Money is something that can easily have too much power over us. So can all the things connected to it. When we fear losing something or being without something, and those fears make us tightfisted and hardhearted, we have a problem.
What are we holding onto so tightly that it’s keeping us from trusting God? What keeps us from living generously?
How is Jesus making a difference in our lives? Our challenge for this week is to think about what we are holding on to. When we make a fist, what’s in there? Where in our lives are we having trouble being generous?
What does it look like to have a generous life? How can we grow by giving in new or different or more sacrificial ways?
Maybe that means giving extra to help fund a special ministry. One opportunity to do that is by giving to CarePortal, the ministry we’re working with to provide help to foster and adoptive families in Rice County.
Maybe that means getting rid of something that’s become a drag on our time or money. We had a friend who decided his house was costing him too much money and keeping him from being able to say yes to God about ministry opportunities, so he sold his house and moved into a smaller one.
Maybe that means looking for ways to acknowledge someone else’s generosity. You all have been quite generous with me and my family. The house we live in is a result of your generosity. So is the daycare that is housed here, and the community and college concerts that happen here. Our new Wellspring Woods children’s area is a result of your generosity. So is your strong commitment to helping one another.
One of the questions we’re going to discuss in our small groups tonight and tomorrow night is, “Who are our generosity heroes?” One of mine is here with us today – my dad.
Some people are famous for their generosity – people like Mother Teresa
and Bill Gates.
Bill Gates is famous for being the one who has given the most money. $84 billion. 32% of his net worth.
One who not so well known is Charles Feeney. Feeney has only given only $6 billion, but that is 420,000% of his net worth. Feeney is committed to giving away all of his money before he dies. He’s definitely a generosity hero.
Another is Althea Glasby. She’s not famous, so I couldn’t find a picture of her. She’s a woman who was a friend of a young girl’s father. The father mentioned to Althea that his young daughter loved to read, and so Althea started sending the girl beautiful, expensively bound, lavishly illustrated books, one for every birthday and every Christmas. The girl is Geraldine Brooks, who grew up to be a Pulitzer-prize-winning author. Brooks says she never met Althea Glasby, but those books fueled her love for the written word that grew into a career and a calling.
Living a generous life is a high calling. It comes from God, and has been demonstrated by God who gave us his only son so that we could know the joy of eternal life with him. The picture of a generous life looks different for each one of us, but we know it involves being openhanded and thankful.
How will you live a generous life?
 Beyond the Offering Plate: A Holistic Approach to Stewardship (p. 37). Presbyterian Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid., p. 36.
 Michael Wilkins, NIV Application Commentary: Matthew (Zondervan) pg 650.
 Source: story details in McCrindle, The Power of Good, Hybrid Publishers 2011, found at https://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/generosity/