Spring Into Giving: Show Me the Money

Spring into Giving | April 26, 2015
“Show Me the Money” Luke 16:1­13
Rev. Mark M. Norman Vickers­ | St. Timothy’s UMC

In the movie, “Jerry McGuire”, Tom Cruise plays a struggling sports agent named Jerry McGuire. A once top level sports agent, undercut by his best friend and fellow agent has to work from the bottom up to regain his credibility and fortune in the ever looming world of professional sports marketing and money.

Jerry McGuire has to start from the bottom after being supplanted by his friend, in what was a story similar to the dishonest manager that we read in Luke this morning. Likewise, nothing was really illegal, just shrewd! A fine line for many in the world but a massive dividing point for others.

As we look at this story in Luke this morning, the concept for giving, earning, and money come into a full spectrum of play in the life of the manager, the master, and the master’s debtors. Once again, money is at the heart of the matter! It may not be the most important part of this story, but it is a driving force behind how our characters act and re­act in this biblical story.

For the past two Sundays we have talked about giving. Giving in love and compassion, and giving in Christian stewardship and service. As I promised last week, this morning we would get to the money part!! But allow me to soften this just a bit. The concept of Christian giving does not place such an emphasis on how much we should give, rather on/in what spirit and desire do we give? What drives us to give and use our money as Christians?

One of the great traits of Christian living is that our lives come from God. The way we use the gift of life and grace are OUR offerings back to God. Therefore it is extremely important that we, as Wesleyan United Methodists understand that both inward and outward holiness matters. It is not just what we do in our actions, whether they be actions of stewardship and service or giving, or in what we offer to God in prayer and contemplation, holiness in all of our matters is what is of concern to God. Therefore, how we respond in various circumstances to those around us, how we utilize our time, how we spend our funds and how we treat others can all be gifts to God when they reflect the holiness of Christ in our lives.

In his sermon on money, John Wesley makes one of his most famous statements of advice, “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can”. he problem with most Wesleyan theology, and bad United Methodist theology is that we stop with that statement. Wesley did not stop with that statement. He didn’t just leave it at that, he went on to talk extensively about what he meant. It’s important when we talk about giving to reflect upon his thoughts because they are inclusive in nature to both time and money which are the two big stewardship elements.

First and foremost, Wesley put some boundaries on his comment, “Gain all you can”. He believed we should earn money but not at the expense of our own health, either physical or spiritual. Nor at the expense of another’s health or well­being. In our modern day world this would rule out gaining through what Sarah Lancaster calls, “workaholism”, or through any means that leads us to cheat, steal, lie, or violate other Christian obligations. I would dare say, that Jerry McGuire’s plea to earn as much money for his athletes and himself would not have passed the test of Mr. Wesley. For Wesley, his understanding of our present day “zero sum game” of business would not have been in line with the benefit of what Wesley called Christian Duty. Christians are to prosper in business by sheer diligence, by ingenuity and excellence in the use of their various skills, and by the superior quality of their work. Anything else violates the commandment to love your neighbor, “on which hang all the law and the prophets” thus equating with “gaining the world at the cost of your soul.” All in all, what we earn should be fitting to a life dedicated to God in Jesus Christ.

Yet “gaining” was not the only thing Wesley focused on. He wanted us to “save” all we can. Now that didn’t mean find the best return on your savings CD, or the best interest rate on the IRA. It meant not splurging for self­interest and refusing to take care of what was essential in our lives. Out of the three, gain, save, and give, I believe this is the most difficult of the three areas. Difficult because we have become such a self­centered, pleasure seeking people (I included). Wesley and scripture, ask us and tell us to move beyond that point in order not to be the humble “pie in the sky” Pharisee, rather which we would have more money to give to others. Wesley’s unique point here is that “The point of saving is not hoarding, it is giving” (Sarah Lancaster). Again, “show me the money, but not for me!!”

Now that we have “earned” and “saved”, it is now time to “give” all we can. The famous saying in the movie Jerry McGuire was when he finally had given all that he had and focused on his athletic clients and he faced his office staff and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Show me the money”!! I can sort of hear John Wesley saying the same thing, but for a different reason.

The response for most of us when we hear those words is “Ouch!!” Giving up what we have worked hard to achieve and save, now we are told to “get rid of it”­ ouch! Most of us don’t give our money very readily. The reason being, I believe, is that we tend to see our giving as selfish. That we are giving up what we believe is ours, when it really is not ours, but God’s! Most of us have heard the cliché’ – “I don’t do well managing my money, but I’m great when it comes to someone else’s money”. Unfortunately, that is not so true when it comes to God’s money, which if we live as Christ teaches us to live, and all money is God’s money.

Wesley placed a huge emphasis on the fact that by giving to others and the church is a reflection of God’s own generosity and thus allows us to participate in God’s work. Ultimately, we are to manage our money and property in order to use it for God’s purpose and God’s glory, not our own!

If we follow this mode of theological thinking carefully, our earning, saving, and giving becomes a spiritual discipline that allows us to move from a mentality of only “giving what is extra in our monetary life” to a point of distributing God’s resources equally; not denying our own needs, but seeing the needs of others to be as legitimate as our own.

In our Gospel this morning we see that in the story of the dishonest manager, whereby he asked the debtors to cut there bill which in turn would have cut his commission, thus making the sacrifice to deny the total outcome of the financial fiasco less for all involved. Truly the dishonest manager in the Gospel story saw that the needs for others was far more legitimate than the need for him to make more money and gain wealth in the system.

Or remember that the essence of the gospel and the gospel story, moves us to a new level above self­worth and self­pride. It moves us to a way of serving out of love. That remembering and reminding ourselves that the essence of God is love and to share that with the world is the most important thing.

Second, to remind ourselves and be reminded through the gospel and life that our service to others is paramount. Henri Nouwen, reminds us that when we give in service we must go to the place where people are in pain, but don’t go alone. Go with others who have learned how to be grateful for the good and the bad in life. Go with those who can sit with others in need, even if problems and pain persist. Let your heart be broken, and rely on Jesus’s example of self­emptying so that you can be filled with God’s strength. Then you will find the Messiah in your midst.

Third, to remind ourselves that giving in money and time is of utmost importance. As Wesley so keenly reminds us, “he fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it...and if we use it according to Christian wisdom it is the manner of doing all good.”

May we all be filled with a desire and movement within our hearts to continue to give in these three ways and to better ourselves in giving to all of God’s creatures.