When you stop and think about it, it’s the little things, the minutiae. I can get my head around the miracles in the New Testament, miracles are by definition miracles. You either believe them or you don’t. So I don’t struggle with how Jesus fed the five thousand that was a God thing, a miracle and by definition miracles are miraculous. He took the little bit the boy had to offer and multiplied it to feed thousands. And there are all kinds of lessons we learn from that miracle, the concern that Jesus had for the hungry crowd, the sacrifice that the boy was willing to make and the faith that the apostles had when they started handing out the food. It is a great story and one that I’ve preached on before. It would definitely fit in with the “Taking the My out of Money” theme from this year.
And so I don’t ever wonder about the mechanics of how Jesus fed thousands of people one afternoon but on the other hand I do wonder how he fed the twelve, day after day, week after week and month after month for three years. And where they slept each night and what they did when their sandals wore out. You know the little things the minutiae.
You ever wonder about stuff like that? Probably not, maybe before today it never crossed your mind. And probably the vast majority of people who heard Jesus preach and watched him heal the sick and those who ate tuna fish sandwiches on a hillside two thousand years ago never gave it a second thought.
They enjoyed the teaching they heard, they laughed when Jesus told stories of men straining a gnat out of their drink but swallowing a huge camel and people with beams in their eyes trying to take sawdust specks out of the eyes of others. They marvelled at the beatitudes and pondered the parables that he told, but they never really thought about the little things, the minutiae.
And maybe if people had brought up the little stuff that needed taken care of the response of some would be “Don’t sweat the little stuff” or “you just have to trust that God will take care of those things.”
But that didn’t mean that the little things weren’t important, as a matter of fact if the little things hadn’t been taken care of than the big things wouldn’t have happened. How long could the ministry have continued without Peter, James and John and the other nine guys eating? Or finding a place to crash at the end of the day. And so we have the scripture that was read earlier this morning.
Luke tells us in chapter 8 that Jesus travelled from town to village teaching and preaching about the Kingdom. And apparently he didn’t go alone because we are told Luke 8:1-3 . . .He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others . . .
Kind of interesting the mix we have here. There are the twelve apostles, which of course is to be expected. And then we are told that there were some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. We really don’t know how many women there were in the group, only three are actually named, and of those three this is the only time we hear the name Susanna. But we are told that there were many others.
I think it’s neat though what we know about the other two, we are told that Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her and that is really all we know about Mary.
I think it’s neat though what we know about the other two, we are told that Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her and that is really all we know about Mary.
And you might be thinking, “But I thought?” I know what you thought, through the centuries she has been cast in roles as diverse as being a prostitute or being the wife of Christ.
But all we know is that she had seven demons cast out of her and she was from Magdala and she was a follower of Christ. When the Da Vinci code came out as a movie I preached a message called “There is Something About Mary” and if you want more information about Mary let me know and I will send you the manuscript.
With Easter next week here is an interesting story. According to one legend we owe Easter Eggs to Mary. One tradition says that following the death and resurrection of Jesus, Mary used her position to gain an invitation to a banquet given by Emperor Tiberius Caesar. When she met him, she held a plain egg in her hand and exclaimed “Christ is risen!” Caesar laughed, and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished speaking, the egg in her hand turned a bright red, and she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house.
That was a freebie.
And then there was Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager. But business manager doesn’t say it all, the Greek word used here is ἐπίτροπος, epitropos. This was the man who would look after all of King Herod’s financial interest.
He was Herod’s CFO ( Chief Financial Officer) so to speak, one of the most important people in Herod’s court. And things like that fascinate me, how did Joanna hear about Jesus? What made her decide to follow him? How different she must have been from the common Mary from the little village of Magdala.
But then again Jim Irving’s wife Jean is a committed believer who grew up on a farm outside of Peticodiac New Brunswick.
I think it’s interesting that these woman are first mentioned at the beginning of Christ’s ministry and then we read in Luke 24:1 But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.
We are just a week away from Easter and so you probably recognize that as Luke’s account of the resurrection. And maybe you thinking: so what?
The so what comes in Luke 24:10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. Mary Magdalene and Joanna, right? And tradition has held that Susanna was one of the several other women who were mentioned. As a matter of fact, in the Orthodox tradition they are known as the Myrrh-Bearing Women and are celebrated on the second Sunday after Easter. It called the Sunday of Myrrh Bearing Women, kind of catchy. This year it is the same day as our commitment Sunday.
What were they doing at the tomb, they were preparing to give their final gift to Jesus.
It is April which means that it’s stewardship month at Cornerstone and so as fascinating as all of that is we are going to focus on Luke 8:2-3 Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.
So what can we learn from this one verse?
Things get mentioned because they are out of the ordinary. If people giving to Jesus’ ministry had been the norm than it wouldn’t have warranted a line in Luke’s account.
I love the story my Dad tells about the First Mate who returned from an evening ashore and the next day he noticed that the Captain had written in the ship’s log: “The mate came aboard drunk tonight.” Well, the mate wasn’t amused and protested to the captain saying it had never happened before to which the captain told him that he couldn’t change the log and it was a record of significant events in the life of the ship.
Well the next night the Mate was standing watch and the Captain returned from an evening ashore and the mate noted in the log “The Captain came aboard sober tonight.”
So Luke records this event because he thought it was pretty special that these individuals had taken it upon themselves to see the kingdom of God advanced.
So apparently, there were two groups of people who availed themselves of Christ’s ministry 2000 years ago. Those who supported it financially and those who were just along for the ride. It seems that some things never change.
Those Who Didn’t Give
So if some people never gave I guess there is a question that is 2000 years old but the answers are probably still the same. What Were their Reasons for Not Giving? Seriously if some people gave and some didn’t there must have been reasons why they didn’t. And after 35 years of pastoral ministry I’ve heard a lot of reasons why people don’t give to the ministry of the local church. I would suspect that at least some of those reasons are the same.
For Some There Was No Reason to Give These were folks who had no interest in Jesus or his message, they never stopped to hear him preach, no one they knew or cared about had been touched by Jesus. Their lives hadn’t been changed by the carpenter from Nazareth.
If Jesus stopped preaching and teaching and healing it would have no impact on their lives at all, and really there was no reason for them to give. I am sure that Jesus never expected those people to contribute to his ministry. Just as he never really expected the Roman Empire or the Jewish establishment to support what he was doing.
And I don’t think those who have no connection with Cornerstone should be expected to support Cornerstone. Those who never come through the door, who don’t call Cornerstone their church home should not feel obliged to support financially a ministry that has little or no direct impact on their lives. If we closed Cornerstone tomorrow and someone bought it for a used car lot those people’s lives would not change one little bit.
And is the same way there is no obligation for the government, municipal, federal or provincial to assist the Church. Although sometimes they do, we received money from our municipal counsellor to help with the paving, the provincial Government paid for the playground equipment we have and every year the Federal Government graciously allows you to deduct your giving to Cornerstone from the income tax you pay. And that is a bonus but it is not something that we should expect them to do.
And if the time comes that the government no longer allows us to deduct our giving, that isn’t persecution. Being persecuted for your faith means you could lose your life or your freedom not an income tax deduction.
But I would suspect that there were people who listened to Christ’s teaching and enjoyed the benefits of the miracles he performed who weren’t included in that list of those who contributed from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. They weren’t shy about giving Jesus the credit for the difference that he made in their lives but he wasn’t getting their cash.
So how come, why didn’t they give? Probably the same reason some don’t give today.
Some Never Thought About It Strangely enough there were some in the crowd who never connected the dots. They arrived and Jesus and the 12 were there, and they left and never gave it a second thought about where the group would eat or sleep or who would pay the bills at the end of the day.
They may have even experienced a healing because of Jesus or maybe they had a “Got It” moment about the kingdom, a life changing revelation, or maybe it was a spouse who heard Jesus teaching and had decided to make the marriage work. But they never really clued in to the fact that if Jesus was going to continue to teach and heal and change lives it would require someone to come to the party and help pay the bills.
I don’t think they were stupid, it just had never crossed their minds. If they thought of it at all it was simply to think that somehow it just happened. I don’t think I actually even thought about how the bills got paid when I first started attending church.
There are those like that in every church in the world, including Cornerstone. They come to the church; enjoy the preaching and the music. Maybe their life has been changed, or their marriage has been saved or their kids have been impacted by the children’s ministry or youth group.
But they don’t connect the dots. There isn’t an “aha moment” when they suddenly realize that there are mortgage payments to be made, and power bills to be paid, and pay cheques to be written. Somehow, they figure it just happens that maybe the church has a magic pot in a back room that generates money or some mysterious benefactor somewhere who somehow pays the freight.
Some Figured Someone Else Would Do It. There were others in the crowd who had made the connection, they knew that there were bills that had to be paid but they were content to let someone else do it. And there were probably a couple of different reasons for that, maybe they figured others could afford it more than they could, after all they had bills to pay and kids to feed, and the chariot needed new wheels this year and apparently, those who were able to contribute to the ministry of Christ didn’t face those challenges.
And then there was Joanna, Chuza’s wife, she could probably pay for all of Jesus’ expenses by herself. That problem comes up time and time again in any situation that Mrs. Irving is involved in, people automatically assume that Jean should pay for it.
And there are still people like that in the church today. They have this expense and that expense and they know they are unique. They know that other people don’t have to pay the mortgage and car payment, other people don’t have to feed their children or pay for hockey and so those other people can afford to give to the church.
It’s easy to define luxury as something that someone else has that I don’t have, and at the same time declare that everything I have is stuff I need.
Some Saw No Value In What they Received These were folks who enjoyed what Jesus had to say, and perhaps they had directly benefited maybe they had enjoyed one of the spontaneous banquets that sometimes happened after he spoke.
But they found it difficult to assign an intrinsic value to what he had to offer. They felt they couldn’t justify giving to Jesus’ ministry because it wasn’t benefiting them, at least not in what they felt was a tangible way.
Maybe if he had of promised them material blessings they could have found their way to give as kind of an investment. But they knew that when Jesus made statements like he did in Matthew 19:29 Jesus said “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.” That he wasn’t talking about the here and now he was talking about the there and then.
And add to that the statements he made like Matthew 5:11-12 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.
And there are still people like that today, they attend church but they don’t really see the value in it, and if their church closed tomorrow they would just drift up or down the street and settle into another church they wouldn’t support.
And Some Just Weren’t There Yet. They were new in their faith and just hadn’t grown to that point yet. It was Martin Luther who said “People go through 3 conversions: their head, their heart and their pocketbook. Unfortunately, not all at the same time.” And so while they had gotten it here in their head, and that had made the transition to here in their heart, it still hadn’t made it all the way to the wallet in their back pocket.
Giving is part of the growth process in the Christian faith, and as you grow and mature in your faith your commitment to God increases and your trust in God increases and that is evidenced in your behaviour. Seriously some people talk about how much they trust that Jesus is in control and will provide their needs but they won’t take their hands off their money long enough for him to prove it. Instead you’ve simply proven the old adage The tighter we hold onto our money the tighter our money holds unto us.
But those aren’t the people we are talking about this morning; instead we are talking about those who contributed from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.
Those Who Did Give And contrary to popular opinion the folks who gave probably weren’t rolling in money wondering where they could throw it away. They probably had the same bills and expenses that everyone else had. And the money they gave was money that would be missed and money that could have been used somewhere else, but instead they chose to use that money to support Jesus and his disciples. So, the question is why? And that question has the same answers today as it had 2000 years ago.
I suppose that I could go back over the original list and tell you they gave because They Realized There Was a Need, They understood that If They Didn’t Do it It wouldn’t Get Done, They saw Value In What they Received and they Had Grown to That Point in their Spiritual Life.
But I am not going to do that, because you figured that out on the first trip through.
So here it is, the reasons why some people did and do contribute from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. You’ll want to write this down and reflect on it because it is deep.
They Gave Because They Loved Jesus
They Gave Because They Believed in the Mission
That’s it, they gave because they loved Jesus and believed in the mission. That’s it. I guess I could have said that twenty minutes ago and let you go home, oh well.
In three weeks, we will challenge you about your giving for the upcoming year. And between now and then you will be processing all kinds of information that we give you but in the end your commitment will be based on those same two things, you will give because you “Love Jesus and because you Believe in the Mission.”