Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The $600 Billion Challenge

If you follow Mama Drama Time Two you may have read that I had the honor of being the guest "preacher" at our church in VT last weekend. I'll be starting my third and final year of my lay-ministry program and I'm trying to get a sense of the direction my "calling" will take me. I enjoyed doing the Sunday service and have been asked to consider being the Chaplain to the Fire Department, but social justice is a passion of mine. So, I'll keep my ears and heart open for signs. Here is the sermon I gave last weekend (Mama Drama suggested I post it.)

“Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett are asking the nation's billionaires to pledge to give at least half their net worth to charity, in their lifetimes or at death. If their campaign succeeds, it could change the face of philanthropy.”

So reads the headlines of the June 16, 2010 on-line Fortune Magazine.

In the August 4 news cycles it was reported that they and 38 (of the estimated 400) billionaires vowed to give away half their fortunes.

Imagine the change this could make in our society if they are as successful as they hope--$600 billion given to charity! It has the potential to dramatically change the charitable behavior of Americans. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a direct line to one of them?

But, I imagine the billionaires are feeling a bit anxious about the whole thing--What does going public with big gifts do to the peace in your life? Won't pleas from charities be unending?

Bill & Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet wanted that “a small group of dedicated philanthropists be somehow assembled to discuss strategies for spreading the gospel to others.”

Luke tells us in today’s reading:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

I don’t know if Bill, Melinda and Warren had this passage in mind when they started the $600 Billion Challenge but it does make me go hmmmmm.

What I do know is that I’m not a billionaire but I do have a very rich life. So what is the message here?

Luke tells us that it is God's good pleasure to give us the kingdom. So, maybe He’s challenging us to give in response to God's gift: sell your possessions and give alms--give to those who are poor.

Some very smart Biblical Scholars tell us that almsgiving, along with prayer and fasting, make up the foundation of Jewish devotion. And this important tradition of almsgiving and praying and fasting continued in the early Christian communities. The giving they did was directed to those who did not have what they needed. Giving had a certain priority, and that priority was concern for the poor. Almsgiving was a way of doing justice.

I don’t believe Jesus is telling us to literally sell everything and give away the proceeds. I think he’s saying to look at our lives and what’s keeping us from His Kingdom. What are we holding onto in this world–stuff that won’t last anyway. Are we good stewards of our gifts? Isn’t the kind of life Jesus is talking about more about choosing to live more simply, choosing to intentionally have less stuff, choosing to cease from amassing more stuff? Isn’t it about choosing to discover our sense of well-being in a just sharing of material possessions?

Be generous in giving to those in need.

If we do this, God will reward us with lasting riches in heaven.

“Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If we read the last verse closely, we see that Jesus tells us that our heart will follow our treasure. Jesus knows that our hearts are quite often not where our stated priorities are -- the heart does not follow the head. Our hearts follow our treasure—our stuff.

Throughout much of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus talks to His disciples about their fears and worries and each time reminds them that God knows where they are and what they need. Jesus also calls His disciples to responsibility—to focus on seeking God's kingdom.

Jesus is teaching us what really matters in life. He is reminding us life is about more than making the next appointment, retrieving all the E-mail, aiming for the next promotion, or taking the dream vacation.

So, whether you’re a billionaire or a farmer, Jesus reminds us of what really matters. He understands our tendency to get wrapped up in the things of this life. Many of these may be good things, but they become a higher priority than knowing God. They become the focus of our lives . . .

Jesus makes it very clear that He wants our treasure to be in heaven.

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