Sunday, April 6, 2014

Over the Top

Well here we are, for some of you it is your favorite month of the year at Cornerstone, for others, not so much.  If you are new to Cornerstone or a guest today a little background, each year at Cornerstone during the month of April Denn preaches on Money.  Well to be exact I preach on Stewardship, how we treat what God has given us.
But for most people they just see it as Money Month, when Denn preaches on money.
And it wasn’t just an arbitrary or random decision on my behalf, you know one day I was in my office wondering what I could possibly preach on each April, and I suddenly thought “I know, I’ll preach on money each April, that will draw a crowd.”
That wasn’t it at all.  12 years ago we decided to take a different approach to dealing with finances at Cornerstone.  Instead of dealing with the crisis of finances, that is harping at you every time things got tight financially in the church that instead we would teach the theology of stewardship one month each year. 
Because our church year ends in April we decided that would be a good month and so here we are.  And so if you can handle four messages on stewardship then you get a free pass on the preacher harping at you about money for the rest of the year.   As part of that process we adopted what we call “Step-up Cornerstone”.  Each year, at the end of April, we ask those who make Cornerstone their church home to step out in faith and fill out an “estimate of giving” card.  And just like the name implies, we ask you to estimate what you hope to give for the upcoming year.  We collect those cards at the end of that service and we use that figure to plan our budget for the new church year. 
And there are benefits to that, both for the church and for you.  For the church it gives us a responsible way to plan our budget for the upcoming year.  For the first twenty years of my ministry the churches that I led did what most churches do.  Each year the leadership would pull a budget out of the air.  It was may have been based on the previous year’s budget with a small increase for additional expenses, or perhaps department heads had submitted their wish list for the upcoming year. 
Often it was done by committee but realistically it wasn’t based on any knowledge of what the church income would be for that year.  Often time’s churches would talk about how they were stepping out in faith.  But the result was that the preacher would end up talking about money all the time challenging people to step up and pay a budget that was not rooted in reality. 
In 2002 the leadership at Cornerstone decided to take a different tact.  I would speak on the biblical role of stewardship for a month each year.  And it’s an important topic, and it’s an important part of our spiritual lives. 
And at the end of the month we allow the folks who call Cornerstone home to respond and provide an estimate of what they believe they will be able to give in the upcoming year.  In affect you get to have a say in the budget and say “This is the type of church I would like to have this year.”
I think I handle the mechanics of it well; we try not to embarrass anyone or put anyone on the spot. If you don’t want to participate that is fine, although we encourage everyone to take part.   And we don’t come knocking on your door if you aren’t able to give what you thought you’d be able to, we hope you will after all we have based our budget on those figures.  And we provide you with updates throughout the year about where we are in relation to what was committed and where you are personally in relation to your commitment. 
Last year our theme was “A Blessed Life” and we spoke about Who Gets Blessed, the Blessing of the First Things, The Blessing of Faithfulness and the Blessing of the tenth.  And I don’t know how you felt about the series but I really enjoyed it.
This year our theme is “Over the Top” and that was my thought when I read a portion of the scripture that was read for us this morning. 
Buried in Jesus’ teaching about judging one another and forgiveness we find this statement Luke 6:38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”   
That’s pretty cool.  I heard someone refer to it as “The Law of Self-Administered Returns.”  Or “What you give is what you get.”
It is found in the book of Luke toward the end of a long section of Jesus’ teaching.  This is Luke’s telling of the Sermon on the Mount, and while we are probably more familiar with Matthew’s account it is only in Luke’s account that we find this verse. 
And there are some who make a big deal about the differences that we find in different accounts of Jesus’ teachings, but seriously.  Every person will leave here today with different impressions and memories of what I said, some will remember one point in particular, others will remember something else and others won’t remember a thing.   In some cases it would be hard to believe that we were all listening to the same message, but that doesn’t change the reality that they were. 
And so it was Luke who remembered and recorded this particular snippet of Jesus’ message.  And the temptation here is to pull it out of its context and examine it in isolation.  Especially during “Money Month”, let’s hear it again.  Luke 6:38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”   
Dr. H.C. Wilson, our District Superintendent, spent a number of years down south and he’d say.  “That dog will hunt.”  And while it may server our benefits to see this as only a financial statement it is so much more than that.    Because Jesus never intended it to be taken in isolation, there are other times in the Gospels that Jesus will make a statement that stand’s by itself.  But Luke 6:38 was part of a much larger discussion, and it needs to be taken that way.  Because as one of my College professors was fond of saying “A text out of context is a pretext.” 
So if it’s not just about money then what’s it about?  It’s about the totality of Jesus’ teaching here, and by extension it is about Jesus teaching as a whole.  Jesus it telling us that how we behave in all areas of our lives are interconnected.
So in one sense it is a very practical teaching.  The way you treat others is the way they you should expect to be treated.  In some Eastern religions they use the term “karma” to describe this.  Do good things and good things will happen to you, do bad things and bad things will happen to you.  But practically that is life.  Act like a jerk and in most cases people will treat you like a jerk.  Be pleasant and in most cases, not always but in most cases, people will respond in kind. 
I’ve talked about this before, a smile is contagious.  And it will often open many doors, being pleasant to people very often pays dividends. 
That’s the practical side of this.  We often speak of it in terms of the Golden Rule, which is not contrary to popular belief “He who has the gold makes the rules.”  Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.   A little caution here, sometimes we think that this means that we should treat people the way we would like to be treated.  For example, there are times when there will be someone  in one of our services who probably could be recognized from the platform.  Another preacher perhaps, or someone who attended Cornerstone in the past and has moved away and is now back for a visit.  If I don’t acknowledge them, there inevitably will be an extrovert who after the service ask me why I didn’t acknowledge them.  Because as an extrovert they would want to be acknowledged. 
On the other hand if I did acknowledge them there is an introvert, who won’t say anything but will be thinking, “I can’t believe that Denn singled that person out and put them on the spot like that.”  Because as an introvert they would never want to be pointed out in a crowd.  So really, what the golden rule is saying is treat someone they way they want to be treated.
But that was a tangent, let’s go back to our scripture, Luke 6:38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”  Actually let’s back up another verse to Luke 6:37 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.
First of all It Relates to Judging.  This is the favourite verse of people whose behaviour is being questioned.  If you happen to point out behaviour which doesn’t like up with the teachings fo the New Testament you often hear, “Don’t judge me, the bible tells us not to judge, you have no right to judge me!”  The problem with that rationale is that it’s only a few verses away that Jesus tells his followers how to tell whether a tree is a good tree or a bad tree.  You judge them by the fruit they produce.  And then he goes on to say the same applies to people, that you can tell what type of person they are by their behaviour. Correcting a person’s behaviour is often seen as being judgmental.  But is it?
This is a caution about judging, telling us that we will be judged by the same standards that we judge others.  Remember Jesus asks “How you tell a person that they have a speck of sawdust in their eye if you have a beam in your eye?”  But he doesn’t tell us to not tell the person about the speck in his eye, he just tells us to remove the beam from our eye first. 
It’s not the correcting someone that is wrong, it is the attitude that we do it in.  Let’s go back there again Luke 6:37 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you.  Do you judge with a spirit of correction or a spirit of condemnation?  What’s the difference?  Well when you judge to correct, that simply means you are pointing out their behaviour for their own good.  You understand that the bible says Proverbs 14:12 There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  If you knew that a person was walking along a path that had a dangerous end wouldn’t you feel a responsibility to warn them?   
We should have the same moral responsibility to warn people about eternal danger as we do of earthly dangers. So, when we judge with a spirit of correction it happens with a certain sadness over what happens if they continue their behaviour.   
When we judge someone with a spirit of condemnation there is almost a sense of glee at their fate.  We are glad they got caught and pleased that they will be punished.  And Jesus is telling us that the way we judge others, will be the way we ourselves will be judged by others.  Remember it was Wayne Dyer who wrote,  “When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.”
A good idea it to never judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes.  Because then you are a mile a way and you have their shoes.  Just kidding.
We are told by Jesus brother in James 5:19-20 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. Which leads us to our next point, you see that verse 38 not only relates to Judgement  It Relates to Forgiveness So we are told that if we judge then we will be judged, and the flip side of that is that if we forgive then we will be forgiven. 
And not just a little bit forgiven, we will be granted forgiveness that is pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap.  But if we don’t forgive, Jesus gives us all kinds of warnings.  Over and over again he ties our forgiveness into the forgiveness that we receive from God.
When Jesus teaches us to pray, in the Lord’s prayer you remember that we pray saying:  Matthew 6:12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And in case we miss this, Jesus reminds us of what that means at the end of the Lord’s prayer when he says Matthew 6:14-15 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Jesus tells a story in the gospel of Matthew about a servant who owed his master more than he could ever possibly pay and the master forgave him his entire debt.  But on his way home the servant runs into another man who owed him a paltry sum.  And he immediately demanded that he be paid in full, and when that doesn’t happen he has the man arrested and thrown into debtors prison. When the master heard this he withdrew his forgiveness and demanded payment in full.  When it didn’t happen the master had the servant thrown into prison until he could pay off his debt, which we have already been told would never happen. 
God offers us forgiveness for a life of sinfulness, that is forgiveness that is over the top, and he asks us to forgive those who have hurt us.  He says if you give forgiveness you will get forgiveness, forgiveness that is pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap.
And you are thinking this is an awesome money month sermon, he hasn’t talked about money yet.
But we can’t ignore the fact that when we read Luke 6:38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”  It Relates to our Finances. 
Last year we learned that God blesses his people when they return what rightfully belongs to God.  What is it that belongs to God?  Everything we have.  Why does God bless his people when they support kingdom work?  It’s easy, if God’s work is supported when God’s people return a portion of what God gives them then it only makes sense for God to bless those who are faithful with what he has given them.
Jesus tells us that in the parable of the faithful servant when he says Matthew 25:23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’”
 Solomon writes in  Proverbs 3:9-10 Honour the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine. Some have called that the law of resupply.

There is a really neat story told in the Gospels.  You all remember it, Jesus has been teaching all day and all of a sudden the day is gone and the crowd is hungry.  Do you remember he story?  The disciples go foraging for food and all they can come up with is a kid who has five small loaves of bread, really just rolls and 2 fish.  Jesus blesses the little bit of food and feeds five thousand people with it.  But the really cool things is when he is done we read in Mark 6:43 and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. It doesn’t say what they did with the left overs but it wouldn’t surprise me if he gave them back to the kid.  “Thank you for trusting me with your fish and rolls, here is your reward.”  But what would have happened if the boy had of hid his tuna sandwiches and refused to share?  He would have had just enough for one meal.  Instead he had enough to feed his entire family and more. 
And it appears that J. Paul Getty  agreed with that principle because he said “Money is like manure. You have to spread it around or it smells.”

No comments: