Giving it all for God

Pentecost 19

Mark 10:17-33

Marian Free

In the name of God who calls us to rely totally on Him. Amen.

I recently read an article about three young Britons who chose an unusual method to raise funds for their favourite charity (Book Aid International). They gave up their jobs and gave away everything they owned in order to travel around Australia – entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers . I read the article with some skepticism. Their idea of dependence included publicizing their intentions before setting out and seeking and gaining sponsorship – notably the use of a Camper Van. So they were not completely without resources. As well as that, they had the advantage of media attention and were able to use the internet to alert towns and regions to their project and to their imminent arrival. Often they were met at the outskirts of a town with offers of work or accommodation. However, as I read on, I realized that despite the apparent advantages they had, they still did it hard. They had to live with constant uncertainty. There wasn’t always work to be had, a shower to be found or a bed to sleep in. Their diet often consisted of greasy food and their health suffered. They were unable to take care of their appearance. They had said that they would do any work which meant that many people gave them job which they had been putting off for some time, or work that no one else would do.

Anna and her friends raised $22,000. At the end of the journey, she says that the experience changed her. She “no longer shops with the same abandon as she used to. She only buys what she needs.” Her plans to spend her trip painting the outback were overtaken by the need to find shelter, food and work and she realized that creativity “needs time and leisure”. While not claiming that she knows what it is really like to be poor, Anna now feels that she has “a greater empathy for the children she is trying to help.”

These people were not Christians – or at least they were not claiming Christ as the reason for their project – but their action seems to comply with Jesus’ suggestion to the young man in today’s story: “sell everything and follow me.” I am not sure that this particular story is asking all of us to give up everything and to throw ourselves on the mercy of the world. However, I do believe that the gospel challenges all of us to consider carefully our attitudes to money and to what we own. Both the New and Old Testaments have plenty to say about money and our use of it.

When Israel was established, there were very clear guidelines about the care of widows and orphans and of the stranger in their midst. The most vulnerable in the society were to be cared for by those who were better off. There were also injunctions about our responsibilities to God and to the church. For how could the people worship God if the place of worship was not maintained and provided for? In the Old Testament we find the concept of first fruits – giving the first and best of the harvest and the flock to God. We are also introduced to the idea of tithing – giving ten percent of one’s income to God.

Our offering to God, which in today’s church is through our weekly contribution during the service, is first and foremost part of our spiritual development. It is a means of deepening our relationship with God and reducing our dependence on the world. Our offering to God reminds us that the values of this world are not the values of the kingdom. So we give in response to God’s generosity towards us. We give in response to the needs of the world which God loves and we give knowing not only that we have all that we need, but that we have much more besides.

In return, we gain a deeper appreciation of what we really need to live on and a deeper understanding of what it means to truly depend on God. We learn not to take ourselves so seriously and to sit lightly with the values and strivings of a materialistic world. We demonstrate by our satisfaction with what we have a peace with ourselves and the world. Scripture demonstrates this to be true. The widow who uses the last of her oil and flour to make bread for Elijah, discovers that she is never without. The boy who gives his lunch to Jesus discovers that not only is he not hungry, but that his small lunch is able to feed 5,000 others. Luke puts it this way: “give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” And today’s gospel suggests: “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age and in the age to come eternal life.”

When we give all that we can we discover that the blessings that we receive far outweigh the cost of what we have given. When we put ourselves and our lives in God’s hands, when we trust God to meet our most basic and our deepest needs, when we do our best to do all that God asks, we find that our lives rather than being limited or constrained, are enriched and enlarged. A life lived in and for God will be filled with joy, peace and contentment in this life which in turn foreshadow the rewards of the life to come.

This is quite different from the so-called prosperity gospel, which preaches that a sign of faith is the wealth that you have. If faith and wealth went hand in hand, the Christians in the third world would be abounding in riches and the unbelievers in the industrialized countries would be as poor as church mice.

The riches that we receive through faith cannot be measured by human standards, nor do they necessarily conform to ideas of wealth and success in the society in which we find ourselves. But we know that through Jesus, we possess a wealth which the world cannot give, and as our faith grows and deepens we understand that we would be willing to give absolutely everything in order to retain it.

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