1. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. This is the final Sunday in our focus on Empowered by Grace to Tithe. The text for our message from God’s Word today is from Luke 12:13-21: Especially verse 21 which reads, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” The message is entitled, “How to be Rich Toward God,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Jack Benny, a comedian from the past, used to joke about his stinginess. In one of his routines a mugger holds him up, shoves a gun into his back, and shouts: “Your money or your life!” (there is silence) The mugger repeats his line. (there is more silence) Repeats again! Jack finally blurts out: “I’m thinking it over” This line is funny because it contains so much truth. We can become so attached to money and material things…wanting more… bigger…fancier…that it seems as important as our very lives!
3. In our text from Luke 12, a man asks Jesus to command his brother to divide the family inheritance with him. Jesus ignores the argument and instead uses this situation to teach a vital lesson on the subject of greed. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus goes on to tell the story of a successful and wealthy farmer. His fields produce abundant crops. He knows how to strike the most profitable deals. He loves his work and everything he does seems to turn to gold! Unfortunately, this farmer considered doing bigger and bigger deals a more valuable use of his time than seeking God! This is an easy pattern to fall into, isn’t it?
4. The farmer’s fields continue to produce very well! Eventually, he has to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to hold all his grain and goods! Bursting with pride, the farmer exclaims, “I’ve got tons of money in the bank; my future is secure; now I’ll eat, drink and be merry!” Then God said, “You fool!” This is shocking! A fool? At his funeral, everyone said, “He was a genius, a smart business man, a wise investor!” Notice that the world looks at things in a much different way than God does. Our Lord goes on to say, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you!”
5. The question, then, is what good did his barn full of grains and goods do him then? The farmer invested all his energy in storing up mountains of riches, but he invested nothing in what mattered most, and he stood before God empty-handed. Jesus concludes, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
6. So here’s what’s important: we need to be rich toward God! What does that mean? It means to invest our lives in a relationship with God! We spend so much time and money investing in education, work, friends, families, pleasures, and we may be rich in these things, but are we rich toward God? Jesus taught, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:20). As followers of Jesus we need to learn to invest our lives in loving God and meeting the needs of others. After all, he who dies with the most toys still dies. And so the parable of the rich man, so focused on the stuff of this age and gathering it in, that he was a fool. He forgot all about the truth Job spoke in the Old Testament, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return.” (Job 1:21). We can carry none of the stuff we call our own with us out of this world. But, every last one of us is headed out of it, daily drawing closer to the Day of Judgment. If we aren’t fools, but wise, we’ll remember the lasting treasures. The deeds done in faith and love that will accompany us on that day.
7. An important way for us to be rich toward God is through our faithful giving. Giving one tenth or tithing was the amount given in the Old and New Testaments. But, because of the freedom Jesus won for us through His perfect life and death on the cross, we’re no longer bound to Ceremonial Laws. We aren’t commanded to tithe, but, just as Jesus encouraged the Pharisees to continue their tithing (Matthew 23:23), we’re encouraged to use the tithe as the “training wheels” for our giving. The amount we give is less important than our attitude toward giving. God is honored even if we give less than the tithe when we give our gifts cheerfully. Within the principle of tithing are giving principles found in Scripture that help us to be RICH TOWARD GOD.
8. We are rich toward God when we give to God first. Exodus 23:19 says: “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.” In a non-agricultural society, rather than bringing in our crops, we give from the firstfruits of our income. Our greediness can cause us to spend all of our income, but not have any left over to give. Budget the money to give to extend God’s Kingdom FIRST. How much should be budgeted? For an answer to that question, we should understand that the tithe acts as a guide. Many Christians see tithing as a healthy goal. In 1 Corinthians 16:2 the Apostle Paul wrote: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income . . .”
9. We are rich toward God when we give generously. 2 Corinthians 9:11 says: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” And, in Ephesians 4:28 Paul wrote: “He… must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need!” The reason you have what you have is not to experience a higher standard of living, not to buy a bigger house, but to give generously! When we get a raise, we normally think, “Now I can afford that 50” TV.” We ought to think differently! A raise, now I can give more! We need to think as disciples and ask ourselves, “How do I honor God by my lifestyle and my giving? How can I be rich toward God?” Now the Bible does want us to plan wisely for the future and also enjoy the pleasures of life that God has given to us. I Timothy 6:17, 18 says: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, Who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” We are to enjoy the pleasures of life as gifts from God and be generous in giving.
10. We are rich toward God when we give cheerfully, “…for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). The church should never make people feel guilty about giving. We give under God’s grace. When we generously give our firstfruits to God cheerfully, we become rich toward God. God is pleased when we give our gifts from loving and thankful hearts.
11. Very few of us give as generously as we should. I know I don’t. Very few of us obey God in any area as we should: Bible study, prayer, spiritual gifts, loving others – I don’t do any of that very well, but God still loves me. Even if you didn’t give a cent, God wouldn’t love you any less. Christ died for all our sins, including our lack of generous giving! The Bible says, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ effected the redemption of all mankind in that act of sacrifice. Therefore, we now count ourselves “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11), and the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament, continues His work of sanctifying us.
12. We can be generous with our earthly treasures, for in Jesus we’ve learned that we have a Heavenly Father who clothes us, feeds us, shelters us, and keeps us. To focus on stuff is to serve up the liturgy of worry, constant fretting over what we’re bound to lose. Instead of such liturgy, our Lord invites us into His liturgy of thanksgiving. Our Heavenly Father clothes us not just with earthly garments, but He wraps us in the garment of His Son Jesus’ holiness when we were baptized into Jesus and so received the robe of His righteousness. We have a Heavenly Father who feeds us not just earthly food, but who has provided a banquet table for us to feast from, giving us His Son’s true body and blood, forgiveness of our sins, and life eternal. We have a Father in Heaven who delights to give to us a Kingdom.
13. So our Lord invites us to toss the fear overboard. To dare to be kind, giving and cheerful. We’ve got God’s Kingdom as our greatest possession, and death can’t take it from us. As we understand more what God’s done for us in Jesus, as we see the love of God shown to us by the death of His Son, as we see that Jesus gave Himself, we’re prompted by the Holy Spirit to respond by sharing the resources that God’s given us to meet those in need. We give because it’s an expression of the depth of our relationship with God, our maturity as disciples, our understanding of what’s really important in life. It’s becoming rich toward God! May the power of the Holy Spirit work in us so can be rich toward God. Please pray with me: Dear Heavenly Father, for the sake of our Savior, Jesus Christ, grant us true wisdom that while it is still day we may gather in the true riches that do not fade away when the sun of this life goes down. Let us, in Your Holy Word, find the pardon in the blood of Your Son for all that we have done wrong, comfort in every trial, strength for any battle, and the sure hope that after the night of death there will be the eternal day of bliss with you in heaven. In Jesus’ name we ask it. Amen.