Earn, Save, Give 4
Passage: Luke 19:1–19:10, Mark 12:41–12:44
So it wasn’t a great idea for y’all to come to church today. I mean I love that you’re here but you really might have wished you’d stay home. Before I get into too much trouble, let me explain. The last few weeks we have been looking at Wesley’s rules for the use of money. The working principle has been that when it comes to our finances we really don’t need more money, although sometimes it feels like we do. But really what we need is wisdom when it comes to using our money. If we had wisdom we’d realize that God has already blessed us with all we need and more to thrive. Wesley’s first rule was to earn all you can. Work hard, succeed, be wise when it comes to earning money. There are caveats like you can’t earn all you can by immoral means or by ways that hurt others. You shouldn’t earn all you can at the expense of your family or your soul. But do earn all that you can through hard work and industry.
Once you have earned all you can you ought to save all you can. Don’t waste money, don’t trifle away money. Come to see the money you have as God’s and manage that money the way God would want you to. What would God want you to do with that money? Get something you don’t particularly need? Or hold it as God’s steward?
That’s what we have looked at the last three weeks. And here’s the thing: if we’d just stop now I think we’d all be happy. Because earning all we can and saving all we can, well that’s how we get rich! If we could work hard and succeed and advance and earn all we can and then we have discipline to save all we can, we’re going to amass more and more and more wealth. And isn’t that the dream? Or at least the American dream?
But there is a third rule. And it’s a rule that’s going to ruin that dream of getting rich.
And to talk about that rule we are going to look at a story of a man who had his life ruined by Jesus. Or saved. It’s really all in how you look at it.
Luke 19: 1-10
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.
Some context here might be helpful. Being a tax collector in the ancient world wasn’t like working for the IRS where you’d get a salary from the IRS as you processed people’s taxes. Instead in the ancient world if you were a tax collector you had an amount of money you were supposed to return to your boss. But there wasn’t necessarily a standard tax. There was what you, as the tax collector, told the person they owed. And again, you aren’t getting a salary from your boss. Your salary came from overcharging the people in your jurisdiction.
So when we hear that Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector here’s what that code means: he was a cheat. He cheated his own people to pay the hated Romans who were the occupying force and he cheated his own people so that he could have a reward. His wealth came from taking from his neighbors.
But in some respects, Zacchaeus lived the American Dream. He worked hard and got wealthy. The American Dream doesn’t necessarily care how we get rich, although we as people of faith might. The American dream is that we can get rich, by whatever means we need to. And so Zacchaeus is an economic success story. We have no other information about him other than he worked hard at his job and he was wealthy.
3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
Fun fact, the Bible doesn’t tell us to whom the “he” refers. It says “he was short” but doesn’t say whether it was to Jesus or Zacchaeus the pronoun referred. I have this theory that we’re all gonna get to heaven to see that Zacchaeus was really like 6’4, that it was Jesus who was short, and he’s going to have haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaated all the wee little man songs. But that’s for another day.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
So Jesus says he is going to share a meal with Zacchaeus and the people are shocked. Why is Jesus eating with this despised person they ask. And in that brief exchange we get the sense that maybe money can’t buy everything. Maybe Zacchaeus doesn’t really have it all.
Zacchaeus worked hard, albeit in a less than reputable field, but nevertheless he worked hard. He gained fortune and in some respects gained fame. People knew who he was. When Jesus said he was going to Zacchaeus’ house, people knew what that meant. And as a wealthy person, I’m sure Zacchaeus was accustomed to hosting other wealthy and important people; I wonder if he expected to host Jesus? I wonder if he expected Jesus would want to stay with him?
Because in many respects Zacchaeus traded in love, community, and fellowship for fame and wealth. Zacchaeus made himself despised by his community by cheating them and low key stealing from them in order not just to earn a living, but to earn more than he needed. In that respect he violated one of Wesley’s caveats to the first rule. Wesley said earn all you can but never pay more than something is worth. In earning all he could Zacchaeus paid for his wealth with his relationships, with the bonds with those in his community.
But in spite of all of this, or perhaps because of all of this, Jesus says he is going to stay with Zacchaeus. A number of things happen that we’re going to get to, but at the end it is pronounced that salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus. And there are two distinct ways that we can interpret this pronouncement that salvation had come to Zacchaeus that day.
One way we can talk about it is the fact that Zacchaeus was welcomed into relationship with Jesus. How many of us have felt salvation come into our lives when we encounter Jesus? Jesus offers to come stay with Zacchaeus and in that encounter, in that relationship, salvation comes to Zacchaeus’ home. When we talk about salvation often times what we are talking about is justification, a restoration of relationship between us and God. And in that restored relationship we hear the promise that we will be loved by, live with, and know God forever. God calls us child, God invites us into relationship with Him, and in that promises us love and grace and mercy for eternity.
But something else happens. When Jesus says he will be staying with Zacchaeus, when Jesus opens the door for a relationship with Zacchaeus, something happens. Zacchaeus promises to give half of his possessions away and what’s more to the people he’s cheated he will repay four times the amount. In the ancient world, if you were found guilty of cheating someone the proper restitution was to repay the cheated amount double. So if I stole $5 from you and wanted to atone for that, I’d give you $10 and we’d be all cool. Here Zacchaeus is saying he is going to go over and beyond that. He is going to pay double restitution. If he cheated you he’s going to give you four times what he took.
Before we talk about what this has to do with salvation I want to layer this story with a common story from the Bible about money.
Mark 12: 41-44
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Zacchaeus gives half of his possessions and gives double restitution for those whom he cheated. A poor widow gives all she has. And in this we see salvation.
Now wait a second Pastor Matt, didn’t the Protestant church literally begin because the Catholics were allowing people to buy their salvation? True, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is what happens when our hearts are overwhelmed by the love of God we find in relationship with God.
Oftentimes we want to separate what happens in our lives spiritually and how we live our lives in the world. We have our spiritual lives and we make certain decisions within a spiritual sphere and we have our world lives and we made certain decisions within a world sphere. And sometimes we want to pretend like the two aren’t related and that each is separate and discrete. But its just not true.
What we see plainly in these two stories are that what happens in our hearts, in our spirits, in our souls, radiates outward into our interactions and relationships with others in the world. Zacchaeus’ story underscores the deep reality that salvation is not merely a spiritual experience that prepares us for life after death. Salvation is the way God transforms every area of life so that we become a part of God’s saving work in this world. Salvation changes our hearts by changing the fundamental orientation of our living, including the way we use our money. Salvation sets us free from bondage to narrow self-interest and opens our lives to the way the Spirit of God can work through us in the lives of others. Jesus says he is coming to stay with Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus is overwhelmed by this offer of relationship and what immediately happens is a change in behavior in Zacchaeus. He realizes he can no longer cheat his neighbors. He realizes that he can no longer accrue wealth on the backs of his community. So he gives it all away.
The poor widow wants so badly to come into the presence of God she is willing to give everything she has in order to make that happen. Her gift reveals her heart because she is giving everything; in giving everything for God she reveals what her priorities truly are.
The first two rules in our sermon series thus far have provided general wisdom on the use of money. In some respects they are Christian but in others they are ways to not feel anxious about money. Earn all you can and save all you can. The first week we talked about needing wisdom around our finances, that for many of us what we need isn’t more money it’s wisdom in properly using our money. That if we had wisdom we would find ourselves blessed. And if we employed wisdom in earning all we can and saving all we can I imagine so many of us would no longer feel the anxiety around money that permeates so much of our lives and thoughts.
But all along we have talked about how these rules would help us to faithfully use our money. To let our financial lives reveal and speak to our faith. So that’s where this week comes in.
Wesley’s final rule on the use of money was that having earned all you can and saved all you can, you give all you can to the work of God in the world.
We are coming to the end of our sermon series on the use of money and we are going to ask you today, if you have not already done so, to make a financial commitment to Spirit & Life Church for the upcoming year. And oftentimes what happens is the church asks you to give money or asks you to give more money and you do so but it causes you greater anxiety. Because we are keenly aware that money is a finite resource. We only have so much of it. And there are so many competing demands for our money. So when the church asks you for more money you think about the things that you won’t be able to buy, the things that will take longer to save for, the things you’ll have to take out in order to give more to the church.
But for Zacchaeus and for the widow, giving wasn’t something done with anxiety or begrudgingly. Giving was done joyfully. And the hope is that when we can see where God has blessed us, if we can see how God has blessed us, giving and being generous can be done joyfully.
If we earn all we can and save all we can, we see that we have abundance. God has given to us in abundance. And when it comes time to give, we are not giving out of scarcity, instead we give out of abundance. And I don’t know about you, but its easier for me to be joyful about giving when its coming from a place of perceived abundance rather than a place of perceived scarcity. If I have a lot of cookies, I’m gonna be pretty willing to give you a cookie. If I’m down to my last cookie, it’s gonna be harder for me to part with that last cookie. I’m probably keeping that last cookie for myself. And you can substitute pretty much anything in for cookies in that analogy.
My belief here is that most of you want to be more generous. You aren’t actually sad that you came to the give all you can sermon. But what holds you back from being more generous, whether to the church or to other organizations or to people, is the scarcity we all feel around our finances. If we can figure out how to employ our wisdom, if we can live out earning all we can and saving all we can, we can find ourselves freed up to give all we can.
But here’s where we are going to end today. It all comes down to a choice, to a commitment. Zacchaeus had to decide to climb down from that tree, to make restitution, to give. The widow had to decide to put all she had in the collection box. Today we are going to offer you a similar choice. We are going to ask you to make a similar commitment. We’re going to close today in a moment of silent prayer, meditation, and reflection. If you have not filled out your pledge card, please pray about what commitment you can make and fill out this sheet of paper. And then in a few moments as you come forward for communion, please place it in the offering basket. This is your time to make a choice, make a commitment. How are you going to move forward? Take a few moments to pray and reflect.