< August 19, 2018 >

Commentary on Matthew 6:19-34

 

Preaching Series on Stewardship/Generosity (Week 1 of 3)

One of the common truisms about generosity is that it does as much or more for the giver as it does for the one to whom generosity is given. The idea is that in giving there is a reciprocal benefit to one’s self. Consider the following:

“For it is in giving that we receive.” - Francis of Assisi

“That's what I consider true generosity: You give your all, and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.” - Simone de Beauvoir           

“The wise man does not lay up his own treasures. The more he gives to others, the more he has for his own.” - Lao Tzu

“Children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving.” - Charles Alexander Eastman

“If you are truly concerned about helping people and creating value for them in your business and life, God will take care of you, and the universe will reward you.” - Bernard Kelvin Clive

I am sure there is some truth to this general sentiment, and there are elements of these quotations that may be helpful for framing one’s attitude toward stewardship and giving, but there is something much more radical at stake in the idea, and calling, of stewardship.

This series on stewardship focuses on three texts that present a challenge to the human mind- (and heart-) set. And “generosity,” while not explicitly present in any of these Gospel readings nor (at first blush) in Psalm 51 (parts of which accompany each gospel text), is the key to thinking -- and more importantly to believing and living -- differently when it comes to our own stewardship.

This series is centered on three texts that share the idea “treasure in heaven,” with three different contexts for that shared idea, and three different emphases that flow from it, and present three different challenges to faithful stewardship and generosity: worry, grief, and fear.

Week 1: August 19, 2018

Preaching text: Matthew 6:19-34, emphasis on worry, heart where your treasure is
Accompanying text: Psalm 51:6-9

“Either the key to a man's wallet is in his heart, or the key to a man's heart is in his wallet. So, unless you express your charity, you are locked inside your greed.” Noah benShea

The reference in Matthew’s Gospel to one’s heart being where one’s treasure is, comes in the context of Jesus’ preaching and teaching. It comes in the center chapter of the Sermon on the Mount.

Here, Jesus sets up the tension around stewardship and generosity in terms of where one’s devotion lies, potentially suspended, as it were, between two magnetic poles which may pull at us -- two “masters.” These two “poles” are the earthly and the heavenly, that which is of God, or that which is not: You cannot serve God and wealth.

What is of particular interest in Matthew’s use of this idea, is the way in which Jesus, here, defines that tension; it is a question of worry. Worry, about one’s life, or food and drink, or clothing, worry about the bottom line that comes with those things, about having enough, can threaten to separate us from God. Worry about money separates us from God. This may take any of a number of forms -- too much time earning, too much time managing, too much time spent on the spendable, too much fretting over what is enough and even what to do with what one has, etc. (It might be an interesting question to raise in preaching: What worries you most about your money? Then invite answers from the congregation.) But in each case worry keeps us from right relationship with God.

In the face of this tension, Matthew’s Jesus makes an accusation: “You of little faith,” he calls the worriers. The accusation is that trust is lacking, reliance on God is taken away from God and held in one’s hand as one’s own; erroneously.

He then makes a charge: “Strive for the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness.” Striving isn’t the problem, it is the object of the striving that matters. The assertion at this point is that trust in God -- which is, of course, the faith-claim printed on American money -- must come first. Striving for this trust, and for a worry-free view of money, opens a window to God in the heart.

Psalm 51:6-9 is a helpful prayer as this point, as it offers a life-orienting attitude that is different from worry, “Let me hear joy and gladness.” Joy and gladness, in what one has, and in relationship with the God who clothes the lilies, and who feeds the birds of the air, i.e. trust that our God has got us, can reshape the way we think of our relationship both to God and to wealth.

Worry can separate us from our God and choke out our generosity.

Joy and gladness in our “inward being” are the key to a free and generous stewardship -- where we serve God, and our money is properly an agent of that service.