(2 Cor 8:9; Mark 11:1-11; 14:3-11)
1. Jesus had been traveling for weeks and weeks, maybe months on his way to Jerusalem. And it comes down to this week. While still high on the mountains of Syria, what the Bible calls Caesarea Philippi, way north of Israel, he had told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, be betrayed into human hands, be killed, and on the third day rise again. It had come down to this day: Jesus was entering Jerusalem to give himself to the world, to give himself to you. Jesus was a giver. And two days later we hear the story of Jesus at the house of Simon the Leper and of the woman with alabaster flask and her extravagant gift to Jesus, so extravagant that Jesus says, “Whenever the good news is proclaimed… what she has done will be told in remembrance of her”--then there was Judas.
2. This week we are concluding a sermon series, “Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die.” Today, Palm Sunday, we are discovering the fifth and final and maybe the most important secret to a full and rewarding life: Give more than you take. Author John Izzo concludes his discussion of the secret with this: “When we give more than we take we connect ourselves to a story bigger than ourselves. And in the act of doing so, happiness finds us.” (p 114)
3. We know that the happiness Izzo describes are blessings from God. The Deuteronomist told us “10 Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.” (15:10). Happiness will find you.
And Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:6-9). The blessings of God will find you.
4. God made us to be givers. And he modeled how we are to live as givers, how we are to find happiness as givers, how we are to be blessed as givers. It has been so since the beginning:
a. God created the universe for our pleasure and gave us dominion over his creation. We are stewards of his creation. As stewards we are givers, and we are connected to a much, much bigger story. Our stewardship links us to the past and connects us to the future. Giving as stewards of God’s creation connects us to the bigger story.
b. And we are connected also to the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” We are connected to the gift of God’s Son, “who though he was rich, gave of himself and became poor for our sake, so that by his poverty we could become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9) We are connected to the greatest story ever told, the greatest act of giving, the ultimate act of giving, and it models how we are to live and give.
1. The Bible talks about the blessings of giving and the dangers of clutching as much as any other topic. Our Gospel stories today are about Jesus, the giver, and Judas, the clutcher. Jesus who said, “13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Then there was Judas who said, “Give me 30 pieces of silver in exchange for my friend.” Giving. Clutching. “He who sows abundantly, reaps abundantly. (2 Cor 9:6) Giving. “He who sows the wind and reaps the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7) Clutching.
2. One of Author Izzo’s wise elders was a barber, Ken, from Iowa. (p 99) Barbers, like beauticians and others that perform personal service, become priests to many, and Ken was a priest to many over the course of 40 years. Ken noted that over the years that he’d attended a great many funerals. He said, “What I have noticed is that there are ten-minute funerals and there are ten-hour funerals. Some people live a life that touches so many people in a positive way that people just want to hang around and talk about that person’s life. Other people live a more self-focused life and this does not seem to happen.” He added, “It seems to me you should live your life as if you want a ten-hour funeral.”
3. What is it that gives life meaning? What is it that makes a life worthy of a ten-hour funeral? What gives life meaning and purpose? Why do some people live full and fruitful lives, lives of meaning and purpose and some not want to live at all?
a. Viktor Frankl was a Viennese psychiatrist who survived the holocaust to include three years in Auschwitz. There he saw people who survived every indignity that one could experience and yet lived, and he saw others who gave up, who did not want to live at all.
b. His search became, why do some people give up and others go on? His answer, published in his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning (Beacon Press, 1959), was that those who believe the world expects something of them have something to live for and find meaning. Those who expect the world owes them something do not. Sounds funny doesn’t it? It seems the opposite of what we might expect. Those for whom the world expects them to give, live to be givers and find meaning. Those who are takers do not.
c. That expectation of giving, that giving could be the care of a child, the teaching of a class, the writing of a book, the creating great art. The giving could be as simple as love for another. But when Frankl’s people knew it was expected of them, they knew they were expected to give love, it gave life meaning and in Izzo’s words, “happiness found them.” I would say they were blessed. “Give liberally…and the Lord will bless you.”
4. We find meaning in giving what is expected of us.
a. Our expectation begins with God. Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment. He replied with an expectation. He said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (Matthew 22:37-39)
b. We are expected to give love, or as we said in our third secret, the third secret we must discover before we die, we are expected to “become love,” to choose to be a loving person. First to love ourselves, then to love those closest to us, and then to love those we might encounter. All the while we are expected to love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our minds. We do that by giving him our obedience, by becoming disciples of his Son, Jesus Christ. We are expected to give love.
c. And in return? On of my favorite Scriptures is Luke 6:38, I think because of its imagery. It says: “38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” Give and it will be given to you—good measure—pressed down—shaken together---running over. You will be blessed.
5. Giving to God, loving God, comes in terms of both service and stewardship.
a. One of Izzo’s wise elders from the Jewish tradition told of how he was taught charity, what is called Tzedakah or righteous giving. (p 105) He said his family had several boxes near the entrance to their house, Tzedakah boxes. Each box was for a different charity. Each night when his father came home, he would drop coins in each of the boxes as an example to his family and so they knew what charities they were giving to.
b. Here’s a picture of one kind of Tzedakah box. This one was inspired by the Biblical book of Ruth, sometimes called the “Song of Songs for Charity.” It’s decorated with barley emblematic of the grain that Ruth gleaned from the field of Boaz. The Jewish sages in explaining the book of Ruth say that “More than the owner does for the poor, the poor does for the owner.” Of course we know that Boaz found happiness with Ruth. They were blessed and in giving were connected to a much greater story. They became the grandparents of King David, and of the linage of Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the King of Givers. Through their giving to one another, they became blessed.
6. Author Stephen Covey has been one of my gurus over the years. He has much to say about service and giving. In his book Principle-Centered Leadership (Summit Books, 1990) he talks about how giving of our service and resources frees us:
a. First, it frees us from greed and materialism: He says, “In order to overcome the worldly restraints of unbridled aspiration and ambition, resolve to dedicate our talents and resources to noble purposes and to provide service to others.” (p 53)
b. He warns of an attitude of “what’s in it for me?” (remember clutching) He warns that if we clutch that “we will have no sense of stewardship—the idea that we don’t own anything, that you give your life to higher principles, causes, and purposes.” (p 53) Give, the operative word of stewardship, give.
c. Then Covey tells us, “We should look at every economic transaction as a test of our moral stewardship.” (p 54)
d. If we approach the way we live with humility, believing that we own nothing, but everything we have is a gift from God given to us in trust, we will know that giving is expected of us, and we will give more than we take.
e. Every economic transaction is a test of our moral stewardship--Giving more that we take.
7. Another guru has much to say about giving. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, you’ve heard of him. One of his most famous sermons, “The Use of Money,” 10 pages, fine print, is often summarized as “earn all you can, so you can save all you can, so you can give all you can.”
a. Earn all you can. Of course he means through righteous means. In Wesley’s day, slave trading would be out. Today, human trafficking would be out. Drug trafficking would be out. Anything that harms or diminishes another would be out. Earn all you can.
b. Save all you can. Practice wise stewardship. Every economic transaction is a test of our moral stewardship.
c. So you can give all you can--for it is all God’s. Wesley did not ask for a vow of poverty but recognized that our own and our family’s needs had to be provided for in prudent ways. Then what ever was left we are able to give to the household of faith and to all, recognizing we are God’s stewards.
d. Interesting that Wesley viewed charity in much the same way that Izzo’s wise elders viewed love. It was to be bestowed first on self, then on those closest to us, and finally on those we will encounter. Love and charity. Those words of giving have been together before.
e. We are givers rather that takers in stewardship. We are givers rather than takers in love. We are givers rather than takers in charity.
8. A common thread in “giving more that you take” is the understanding that we are connected to something much larger than ourselves and that gives life significance. We can walk outside and look at the stars as Abraham was told to do, and even in the face of the vastness of it all, making us seem so small, we can say “that too was made for me.” We are connected. We are significant, we have purpose because we are part of a much larger entity. We find meaning as part of that entity by giving. That is expected of us. We are expected to give and by so doing lose ourselves in the vastness of it all, lose ourselves in the greater story.
9. That may be what Jesus had in mind when we said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”
a. Takers risk losing their lives.
b. Givers lose themselves in the larger story, connected to Jesus Christ, and receive the blessing of eternal life.
c. Izzo in a television interview said it in another way: “What we take from this world dies with us. What we give goes on forever.” (Biography Channel, 2007)
1. Five Secrets: “Be true to yourselves, no regrets, become love, live the moment, give more than you take.” Author Izzo closes his book by telling us it is never too early and never too late to learn and practice the five secrets.
a. Some of the wise elders had seemed to be born with wisdom and had practiced them all of their lives. Others had come late to it.
b. But he says, even if only practiced for a year, “a year lived wisely can erase years of regret.” (p 143)
c. One listener who talked to Izzo remorsefully after realizing terrible regret in the way he had failed to love his family. He empathized with him as he saw tears streaming down his cheeks. Then Izzo recalled and related an old Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” (p143)
2. Jesus told the parable of the laborers in the vineyard that the owner called at different times during the day, one being employed by the owner in the last hour of the day. In the end, their recompense was the same. The best time to give your life to Jesus is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
3. Give more than you take. Be connected to the greatest story ever told. Give you life to Jesus and in so doing the blessings of eternity will find you. Amen.
**Izzo, John. The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publications, Inc., 2008.