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Feel-Good Giving, C.E. Schuyler

Feel-Good Giving

Haggai 2:1-9; Psalm 145; Luke 19:1-10

Catherine E. Schuyler

Duluth Congregational Church; November 10, 2013

 

We give in life, we take in life, we earn in life, we share in life. Stuff and time and money are all around us, and always have been, and our lives are never free of them. We are physical beings, body and mind and spirit, and we need stuff, physical stuff, to keep on keeping on – food, shelter, clothing, etc. Money is the tool our society uses most often to allow us to acquire stuff we need, no matter where we end up in the ladder of society. Pretty basic economics.

We are asked to give money often. Probably more often than we wish. And we do give money. To kids selling popcorn and cookies, to firemen collecting cash in boots at the corner, to organizations who send us mailing labels, or simply effective requests, to children and grandchildren in need. We give money for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes we give out of embarrassment – it's easier to give a few bucks than to be seen as stingy. Sometimes we give out of guilt – similar, but the feeling is different. Guilt has some noble truth at its heart, even if it feels pretty nasty and rarely works as motivation to do anything but the very least necessary. As we move up the scale, we get to responsibility. It's not a bad motivation to give and it usually makes us feel decently righteous after we've let it move us to action. We have a pretty well-defined moral sense, and doing what we feel we should do, giving what we feel responsible to share rewards that moral sense. We have more than others who need things and so we should share. We most often feel comfortable talking about giving when we do so in terms of responsibility. We can debate the ethics of what we should or shouldn't do; we can listen to the well-explained necessities of those who are in need, and we can make a thoughtful, rational decision about what we should do.

Then there's this witness of Zaccheus. We aren't told all that much about Zaccheus. He's a tax collector, he's short, and he doesn't seem to have many friends. Maybe that's a big leap, but he heads out to the social event of Jesus' arrival by himself. And there is no mention of anyone in the tree with him. Of course, he is a tax collector. Tax collectors were unloved by all. They were Jews who worked for the Romans, collecting the heavy, hated taxes of the oppressor. And they weren't really accountable to anyone, once they paid the Romans their due. So they were legally allowed to charge more than the Roman's tax assessment for their own benefit, and they were usually universally hated for their legal extortion. It's a safe assumption that though Zaccheus had money, he had few friends. Which means that his life was pretty empty. Money is a useful tool, but not such a great companion. That was as true then as it is now.

Today, Zaccheus hears that Jesus is coming to town. What does he know about Jesus? We aren't told. The story comes pretty late in Luke's story, so maybe the word has been out awhile that Jesus is something special. Zaccheus has at least determined that this Jesus is worth checking out, and because he is short and he isn't the only one interested in seeing Jesus, Zaccheus climbs a tree

(Side note: Liz Knuth, who was 4' 11”, liked to entertain that perhaps it was Jesus who was short. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. The 'he' is ambiguous, and it could in fact, refer to Jesus. My Greek isn't great, but I'd say that might be an alternate reading. No-one else mentions that Jesus was short, and there are no other stories of people climbing in trees to see him, but I'm not ready to toss out the possibility completely. However, I'm envisioning Zaccheus as the short one here for today.)

Back to the story, Zaccheus is sitting comfortably in the tree, away from the action, but with a good view of it. He peers carefully and listens as Jesus moseys by, probably speaking to many as he goes. Then Jesus looks up, catches sight of Zaccheus, and calls him down. “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” What? My house? But, but … You can see the grin on Jesus' face as he invites himself to the tax collector's home; everyone who hears the statement is surprised – the crowd, the disciples, and most especially, Zaccheus himself. Zaccheus accepts this backwards invitation. He runs home to make preparation for his guest, and Jesus arrives soon, probably having engaged in a few more conversations on the way, hungry and ready for a solid meal. The text says Zaccheus was happy to welcome him. The well-to-do loner has company, wonderful company, whose attendance at his house engenders grumbling, yes, but also grudging respect. The grumbling is at Jesus, not at his host. We trust Zaccheus serves up a good meal, sharing dates and bread and olives and wine with the celebrity. Jesus treats Zaccheus with respect, enjoys his company as a friend, and Zaccheus responds to the new friendship in joy. Something changes in Zaccheus when Jesus comes to dinner. He who was known only as a rich miser and hated as a tax collector, takes on a new identity – a giver. With Jesus at the table, Zaccheus offers half of his wealth to the poor, and he offers to make good on his past derelictions, paying more back to anyone he has defrauded. Luke does not report any chastisement of Zaccheus from Jesus, only welcome. As I hear the story, Zaccheus gives his money away out of joy. He knows he has a lot – if he can give half of it away, and then begin paying back his cheating, with a percentage on top, he's got a lot to begin with. Guilt and shame haven't had much of an effect on him in the past. Even responsibility hasn't moved him until now, although he clearly has thought about it, so he can come up with a responsible offer, reflecting not only his awareness of the needs of the poor, but also his awareness that he has dealt falsely with those he is supposed to serve. But it isn't until he knows joy that he is moved to give. It isn't until he is accepted and loved, until there is laughter and deep listening at his table, that he is touched deep in his heart so that he can let go of his attachment to wealth and share what he has.

As you've probably guessed, it's stewardship season here at church. The work we do together as church is only possible because people give – of their time, their money, their hearts. I could speak of guilt or shame as reasons you should give to the church, but I don't believe either of those feelings have much to do with the love of God we wish to live out here at Duluth Congregational Church. I could appeal to you through the concept of responsibility, that as members we have committed ourselves to the work of God through this church and your giving is an essential part of that commitment. There is logic in that argument; perhaps there is even merit in it. But instead I'm going to offer you the way of Zaccheus, the option of giving because you are full of joy, full of the love of God, happy to be a part of the work God is up to in this place through the music and worship and feasting and sharing that happens here.

A seminary professor came to speak to a bunch of clergy about stewardship a few years ago, and he shared his method of determining how he gave money to the church. He began his giving plan by considering his responsibility as a church member. He looked at the budget of the church, counted the members, observed that that he was of somewhat above-average wealth in the congregation, and figured his yearly pledge to the church accordingly. Then, he said, then the fun begins. He pays his pledge monthly, as a regular bill. But he gives more to the church when he finds joy in his life. He kicks in money when he gets a new dog, or when his grandchild scores a goal in a soccer game and is thrilled at the accomplishment. He adds a gift to the church when the choir sings especially beautifully and his heart soars to the heavens in worship. He gives a gift to the church when an old friend calls and shares forty-five minutes of laughter and stories and a listening heart. He gives out of his joy. And the joy increases as he gives. He reports that he now focuses more on the joy in his life; he looks for opportunities to celebrate, because it's such fun to give out of joy.

I love this wisdom. I get it. It is such a gift to have enough to give. It's why Christmas is such fun, because it calls forth the joy of giving. Find your own joy in giving. Decide what it is that inspires you to give in joy. Open your eyes to the presence of God's love popping up in your life, and celebrate it by giving. There is wisdom, too, in taking the time to assess the needs of the church and your capacity and responsibility to address those needs, but know, too, that there will always be something wonderful to use your gift for, so don't let a church budget limit your giving. On behalf of the whole church, I encourage you to give, to pledge a generous gift to the church for 2014. And I encourage you to use a system for giving that brings you joy, that touches you deep in your heart, that is a true witness to the love of God which shows up in your life in so many ways. Let joy infuse your gifts, today, and in all the days to come. Amen.

Haggai 2:1-9

In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. 8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. 9The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.

 

 

 

 

Psalm 145

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.

Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.

One generation shall laud your works to another,

and shall declare your mighty acts.

On the glorious splendor of your majesty,

and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,

and I will declare your greatness.

They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,

and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,

and all your faithful shall bless you.

They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,

to make known to all people your mighty deeds,

and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,

and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.

The Lord upholds all who are falling,

and raises up all who are bowed down.

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.

You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.

The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;

he also hears their cry, and saves them.

The Lord watches over all who love him,

but all the wicked he will destroy.

My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,

and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

Luke 19:1-10

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

 

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