Enemies of Gratitude - GREED - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Enemies of Gratitude - GREED

Coins.  Spare Change.  They jingle jangle as we drop them in a jar.  We stick them in our purse or pocket with barely a glance.  We collect them for BGMC or STL or Birthline.  We once had a 3-foot-tall Baby Bottle Bank that was full of spare change.  When we went to cash it out, there was a lot more money in there than we thought!

But let’s talk about coins.  If you have a quarter, nickel, dime or penny – pull it out!  Look at it.  Feel it.  What color is it?  What symbols on it.

Do you see the words – In God We Trust?

How many of you remember that days when our coins didn’t have that on there?  Probably none of you!  Congress started requiring it on all coins in 1938 and all currency in 1956.
And while it’s a nice motto – lifted from a phrase in the Star -Spangled Banner – it really hasn’t changed how people live their lives or spend their money. In fact, more people tend to trust in the coin than in God providing their every financial need.

In our passage today, we see this very familiar story where Jesus is asked what to do with this Roman coin.  His answer was surprising and even upsetting to a few, because it skirted the potential legal issue being raised and addressed the heart of the real issue: Humankinds desire to be greedy.   Jesus defined greed in a unique way.  It’s not just wanting more.  And it’s not just wanting what you can’t have and then doing whatever you can do, even unethically at times, to get it.  No, it’s more than that.  Greed is defined as anytime you think more money can solve your problems and Jesus can’t.
Please stand as you are able, as we read together in unison, the passage from Matthew 22:15-22

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

There is an old story.  A fable.  I can recollect sitting in my 2nd grade classroom flipping through a picture book.  Now the story is about a monkey.  Not just any monkey.  But a greedy monkey.  A monkey that want’s something and won’t let go until it can get it – even to the point where it is dangerous for that little monkey!

You may remember this story.  A jar of treats with a skinny opening is left out by the trapper.  As the monkey skips along, it sees the jar and salivates over the treats.  One hand goes in to pinch a treat.  No problem.  You can pinch a treat, pull it up and eat it.  And if you went through this slow process time after time, eventually the jar would be empty.

But no, this monkey must have it all.  So, he reaches in with his hand and grabs a handful.  With his fist closed, he is unable to pull his hand out of the jar.  The only way to be set free, is to let go of all the treats and be content with one. 

Yet this monkey will have none of it.  Despite the words of warning from his animal friends, the correct suggestions and advice freely given him, he insists on holding on to all the treats – remaining trapped by the jar.  Eventually the hunter trapper came back and completed the capture of the greedy monkey.

There is a lesson in there – that desiring something is not bad, gaining something in moderation is ok, but all out greed will capture you and cost you your freedom and your life.

Our scripture passage is sort of like this story.  There’s no question about it.  In this case, the Pharisees and the Herodians set a trap.  They wanted Jesus to fall into it.  They wanted to capture him in a lie, remove his freedom and put things back into the order that they were.
If may recall, the Herodians and the Pharisees were two distinct groups of Jewish leaders.  You could equate them somewhat to political parties.  The Herodians were fans of the King Herod system and wanted the status quo to remain – where even under Roman domination, their clan still ruled somewhat autonomously.  The Pharisees were a religious sect that believed in the Resurrection and didn’t care to much for Roman occupation – or the acquiescence that the Herodians often gave Romans.  Without going into a lot of detail – these two groups did not necessarily get along – but on the Jesus issue, they were willing to work together.  Without getting too political, this would be like Hillary Clinton and the Tea Party joining forces.  It just doesn’t happen!

But in this case, it did.  By teaming up together they could trap Jesus between a rock and a hard place.  If he answered the question one way, he would be up on charges for treason and the Herodians could have him arrested.  If he answered it the other way, the Pharisees could arrest Jesus for heresy.  A perfect plan, until it met the Perfect Man.

And so, our first point.  Our first Antidote to Greed.  1) Trust God with your life.  This is the example Jesus is living out before the gathered crowds.  Either way Jesus answers, death looms.  If there is a time to trust God, this is it.

Our daily situations don’t quite get as hairy scary.  We aren’t put into this situations on a regular basis.  But the principle is true.  If we desire to live a life of gratitude, we must have an antidote to the greed that invades every aspect of our culture.  And it all starts by trusting God with our lives.
Noted author and pastor, Andy Stanley, reminds us that “Greed is not a financial issue.  It’s a heart issue.”  Greed is a spiritual heart disease.  It goes back to the core issue of trust in a relationship.  Do I trust God to provide a way when there seems to be no way?  Do I trust God who has promised multiple times in His Word to take care of me NO MATTER WHAT?  Do I trust the God who has provided every single need in my life to this point (maybe not all my wants, but definitely all my needs) to continue taking care of me?  He who holds the sparrows holds me.  He who counts the hairs on my head – some with thousands – some with none – cares deeply about you and will not abandon you.  He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ!

Twenty-five years ago, or so, the character Gecko Gordon in the movie Wall Street spouted an entire dialogue where he proclaimed Greed was Good.  That mantra, now exists on the lips of many corporate brokers and has permeated its way into every aspect of culture – You don’t have to be a part of the 1 percenters to think this way.  The problem with this attitude is not in the desire to earn an honest living to support your family and take care of the people in your life – it’s the ruthlessness that one will take in hurting others to get your way.  It’s an attitude that no longer cares about what harm is done to others.  An attitude that is much more representative of the Herodians and the Pharisees who are willing to solve a problem at any cost.

Many people are scared they won’t get ahead in life, or out of debt, or a good job, or a halfway decent car unless they slave away to the neglect of their family, their friends, their church, their community.  In the last few decades, charitable giving is down, community service is down, more money flows through people’s back accounts, but generosity is rare.  Our life’s instead of becoming freed from the money that greed brings, becomes entangled and stifled in it.

Am I saying it’s bad to work a good job, or hope for a promotion, or study an extra degree to get a new position?  Absolutely not.  But I am asking you simply – Who are you trusting?  The coin?  Or the God on the coin's inscription?

So, what did Jesus do? Confronted with this tricky question – he gives an unexpected answer.  He doesn’t advocate open tax revolt against the authorities.  Nor does he advocate worshipping the image of the Caesar imprinted on the coin.  He doesn’t complain about spending too much in Roman taxes nor too much for the temple tax – which helped feed the widows and orphans.  He doesn’t complain about how little he has left after he has to pay all his bills.

He simply says this – Pay the little bit you owe in taxes to the government and dedicate the rest of your money to God.  Jesus is not walking away grumbling that he has nothing left.  He is rejoicing that he has given all.  In so doing, he is setting an example for us. 

No, I’m not saying give all your money to this church or any other church. I don’t suggest you spend anything without a plan or a budget. I don’t ask for money for me.  I thank you for giving to support the missionaries we have and for helping this organization meet needs in the community.  In my 3 years serving as pastor, I have never seen what people give.  I have no idea, and I don’t care to know.  That’s between you and God. 

But what I am challenging you today is this – 2) Another antidote to greed is Trying to Out give God.

One of the lessons I learned from my early days writing down in my little ledger book how much newspaper delivery or snow shoveling money I earned as a kid as that I should always give tithes and offerings to the church or ministry I was part of.  I also learned that a tithe – mentioned as 10% in the Old Testament is just a starting place.  I have told people before and I’ll say it again.  It’s not about how much you give, or even the percentage of your income and your time you give.  It’s about a generous hear that shows gratitude. 

The one thing I like about God is that he works with us, he’s patient with us.  Don’t think he can provide for you if you give a 10% tithe?  Than start with a 1%, start with a 2%.  Start with a few dollars. Start by giving up on extra thing this week.  Yes, greed will rear its head and say, you really need that extra package of cookies, that extra caramel macchiato.  I don’t care if you get them – they are fine to have!  But if you find yourself spending more things on the niceties of life that you like than what you are giving to missions or the those who need it in the community, or the ministries of the church – you might have your priorities a little out of focus.

I have never known anyone to out give God.  God always provides our every need.  There was a time when King David, who at one point had been living caves, chased by madmen around the countryside, looked around his comfortable home and realized he had it nice – but the temple has still a tent tabernacle.  The prophet Nathan informed him that while he would not be the one who built the temple, God would still bless David, because from his lineage would be the house that would last forever – Jesus Christ.  God will never be a debtor to anyone.  Jesus pays our debts, he doesn’t incur them.  It doesn’t matter how much we give to God, he will always give it back, pressed down, pouring over, an abundance beyond our imagination.

Try me and see, God says Test me, and I will show you, God says.  This is when we begin to have a grateful attitude – Everything we have is because God has blessed us. 
You would think it would end there.  Jesus pays taxes and gives the rest to God, and so we should do the same.  We should just become Givers.

Philanthropy is good.  Generous donations fund libraries, and hospitals, and the arts, and bunch of other great activities.  But there are a lot of people who give money away that never discover freedom in Christ.  There are people who give tons of money to churches every year that have never discovered gratitude in their lives.  Why is that?  Because the next step is the harder one.
What can be harder than giving away the money I’ve earned?

The answer is simple.  The 3rd antidote to Greed so you have an attitude of Gratitude I this – Become a God coin.

There’s an undercurrent to the words of Jesus in this passage.  There is a context that a quick reading will miss. Everything Jesus teaches on is about discipleship.  Everything Jesus says points back to the role that the Father God has had in creation to the present day.  Every parable, every topic, reveals that God so love us because he has shared his image with us. 
Just as my children have hints of my eyes and my wife’s’ hair – so our spiritual heritage reflects the image of our creator Father.

The trouble is, over years and time, and choices that aren’t always great, sometimes the edges of the coin get worn off, the image becomes dirty, the grooves are filed down.  Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whose face is on that coin.  Dirty, jagged, broken coins are often discarded by the wayside, until someone comes along, picks it up, washes it and restores its value.
That’s what Jesus did at the cross for us.  He took us, coins that are overtaxed, overburdened, and underused and told us we were valuable.

As a fully devoted follower of Christ, we are not just called to give – we are called to live.
Our whole outlook changes when we realize that instead of greed motivating us to get more money, our lives can be motivated by the generosity of living out the most precious gift that God has given.  In other passages, we are the body of Christ, his hands, and his feet.  In this passage, we are the coin of great cost being used to meet the needs of the people in this world.

Oh.  It’s a whole lot easier to begrudgingly give than to have to change my life to reflect his full image. Yes. It is.  But that’s not what God has called us to.  That’s now how we live a life of gratitude.

Humans were created in the image of God. True freedom, then, is not found in moving away from that image but only in living it out. – Roger Olson

If we want to find freedom in our lives – financial freedom, relationship freedom, our task is not to serve ourselves in greed, but to find the image of God and live a life similar to his – characterized by generosity, selflessness, humbleness, forgiveness.  When we serve others, when we give to missions, when we pledge to be 1 in a 1000 to raise money for Speed the Light, when we volunteer at school, when we teach a Sunday School class, when we help the homeless coalition, when we smile and do the extra assignment at work with a grateful heart – this is living out the image of God.

There was a wealthy owner who misplaced a bag of money one day.  It contained 50 gold coins.  A hefty sum at whatever the price of gold is these days.  He looked everywhere for it and encouraged his neighbors and employees to look for it. 

After a week, one man found it and rushed in to the owner all excited. We found it!  We found it!  The owner looked in the bag and counted the coins.  Yep.  All 50 were there.  But being a greedy man and not wanting to pay a reward, he said, but I had 75 coins.  Where is the rest?  The finder pleaded his innocence. The owner, sensing an opportunity, took him to court.  After testimony ensued, and the judge seeing through this fiasco, made his ruling.  This is obviously not the owners bag of money.  This is someone else’s.  And as that person has not filed a missing claim, the money can be returned to the finder. 

Sometimes greed will lose you everything.

Only one of those characters was living out the image of God.  Only one was finding true freedom.

How Do you “spend” your life?

 How do you spend your life?  What do you invest your time in?  There is a place for self-care.  There is a place for getting your own quiet time.  There is a place for investing in your family – But what about the other time and money?  Do you spend it on trivial pursuits and vain labors?  Or do you invest in the lives of others?

This week, be God’s coin – and make a difference in your family, your church, and the world.

Shall we pray.