Sermon from December 12, 2010

Spend Less, Give More

December 12, 2010

Matthew 11:2-12

We are continuing this morning with a three part series called Wake up to a simpler, deeper Christmas.  We are looking today at the 2nd part of a three part formula for doing that [formula coined by Adam Hamilton, Leawood, KS].  Spend less, give more.  Last week we talked about worship fully, next week we’ll look at the admonition to love all.  But this morning it is spend less, give more.  The full version actually would be this: Spend less on what you don’t really need, and give more toward that which people really need.  What we’ll talk about is our motivation, why do that?  And then I’ll close with a few practical suggestions on HOW to carry that out.  Spend less, give more.

One time I was between services here and I was fixing a cup of tea and I was telling someone I was deciding to have it decaffeinated and without creamer or sweetener and someone else overheard me and remarked, Why bother?!  I believe they even have that as a name of a selection at coffee shops now.  Why bother?!  But this morning we ask why bother spending less and giving more.

Sometimes people experience what I call Christmas doubts.  Some people express it directly, others its just kind of deep inside, but we wonder is all the good things people seem to do at Christmas worth it; I mean, think about it.  Christmas comes every year, every year people give lots to charities and we have all this good intentions and then January comes and the world goes on and our lives to on with all the same problems if not worse.  Why bother?!

In this passage from Matthew 11 John the Baptist had some doubts.  He was concerned that maybe he’d missed the boat in proclaiming this Jesus guy as God’s messiah, the solution and savior to all the world’s moral and practical challenges.  If you remember we talked last week about how John urged people to prepare for Jesus’ ministry by changing their hearts and lives and he talked about Jesus baptizing in fire and the Holy Spirit and he probably had in mind the cleansing and purging of all that was wrong in people’s lives and in society.  He also had some expectation that frankly this messiah would be in the tradition of the Davidic warrior king and would march to Jerusalem and take names and kick some proverbial you know what and straighten out all the corruption and apostasy going on among both Roman and Judean leaders of the day.  So here is John, in prison because of his honest and righteous criticism of the Judean Leader Herod Antipas, and he justifiably says thru his messengers to Jesus, ‘Are you the one, or should we expect another.  The Greek has two words for another that John could have used.  One would mean should we expect someone similar to you, but not you, another one of the same category the same type?  The other word he could’ve used would mean ‘should we expect a totally different kind of person, another type of Messiah than you have turned out to be so far?  He uses the 2nd kind, heteros – he’s looking for a different kind of messiah.  John’s expectations are not being met here.

Have you ever wished, like John, that some leader would emerge, some miracle worker would emerge who would deal with all the fraud and waste and excess and corruption in this world that locks us into seemingly intractable social problems?  Christmas comes and goes and nothing ever changes.  What we need, sometimes we think, is someone to literally take some names and kick some of that proverbial derrière  and straighten out all the people in power who are messing up us regular peoples’ lives.  We maybe want to say it out loud but don’t we sometimes want to say with John, this is what we need Jesus – this is the job description.  Are you it – or not?!

And look at Jesus’ answer.  Tell John, he says (verse 4-5) … and he quotes two passages from the prophet Isaiah.  Interestingly both passages talk about vengeance and recompense and payback for evil and oppression and corruption.  But both speak of it not in terms of punishing  bad out of people, but rather in terms of lifting up those most negatively affected, the last, the least and the lost in practical ways.  Tell John, Jesus says what you hear and see, the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news preached to them — which is essentially the instructions Jesus had just given to his disciples.

So it is like he is answering John’s and our question with 2 affirmations.  Why bother all this practical help?  Why do something like spend less give more.  Why bother?  Two reasons: one is it is part of a greater all-encompassing reality.  You see, John and others were fully expecting Jesus to come and purge and punish all the bad out of people first, and then all these blessings would come.  Jesus says no, the blessings of Isaiah 35 and 61 are here now in me.  The purging and straightening out of evil and who is responsible for what wrongs will be cared for.  Your job now is though is to be part of this practical blessing.  These are just samples of even greater blessing to come.  Why bother?  Its all part of a greater all encompassing reality.  People aren’t raised just to die and decay again.  Lepers aren’t cleansed only so they can be punished later.  All I will do, Jesus says by quoting Isaiah, is not finished yet, so what you are doing now is not futile.

Why bother?!  These practical blessings are part of a greater all-encompassing reality, so it’s not futile.  Second reason: it’s sort of below the surface here but we’ll talk about it more next week.  You are to be involved, Jesus says, in the blessing of the lost, the last, and the least, not because they deserve it, but because God deserves it.  You see, in Jesus we see the face of the character of God.  Later in Matthew Jesus would say, when you’ve done it to or for the least of these you have done it to me, you have done it for me.  Its not your birthday, its Jesus’ birthday.  We reach out to the needy not because they deserve it, per se, but because God deserves it.  He deserves our gratitude for grace.

Of course sometimes people actually get this.  Everywhere I’ve served, including here, not a lot, but several persons each year put an envelope in my hand and say, use this for something somebody really needs.  They never care in particular who it goes to, simply that they have a need.  Why do people do that?  Its not because a nice guy came into the world long ago.  Lots of nice guys and gals have come into this world but nobody in history has motivated the kind of giving that Christmas generates.  God came into the world in Jesus, and he is coming again, and in his face we see the character of God, and in his practical blessing of the least, the last and the lost we see the very heart of God, and he simply deserves it.

And so we seek to spend less on what we and our household really doesn’t need and give more to what the least last and lost really need.  How do we do that practically?  Three practical suggestions and I give them to you with two caveats.  One is the confession that my family has never successfully implemented any of them – yet.  So let’s help each other here.  The other is to think about incorporating one or more or a combination of these in future Christmases, next year if in your thinking and praying these ideas come back to mind you’ll know its from God.  Think this Christmas about how you will do next Christmas to be really intentional about it.  Ok here they are: 1 idea.  $100 Christmas: Spend $100 on gifts for your entire household; give what you would spend beyond that away.  Idea 2: 3 gift Christmas.  Nobody in the house gets more than 3 gifts.  If three gifts were good enough for Jesus they are good enough for us.  Remember: its not your birthday.  Take what you would spend beyond that and figure out a creative way to give it away.  Idea 3: Adopt a family in need, and whatever you spend on your household for Christmas gifts, spend or give to that family as well.  One family who did this project continued it all year round.  They partnered with a single mother and her children and the dad talked about every time he would buy new sneakers or whatever for his son, he would at first grumble and complain and say ugghh, now I have to get the same thing for Alicia’s kids but after a while it became part of their lives.  And you better believe that the children of the family who partnered with Alicia’s family – they grew up knowing that following Jesus means there is this grateful  balance that comes between what we spend on ourselves and what we give to those in need, at Christmas and all year round.  So families with children at home, start talking now about what you are going to do for Christmas next year.  Get them in on the decisions and creativity of it.  It will absolutely shape their faith and life.

What about John the Baptist’s faith and life?  What about Jesus famous forerunner?  He was in a why bother mood when he asked Jesus, are you it or what?  Sometimes we get that way, even or especially at Christmas.  You know what happened to John though?  He was in prison at the time for speaking the truth in love to a bad man named Herod, and we know that eventually John was executed, beheaded because of someone else’s petty jealousy.  What kind of world is that?  What kind of world do we live in today?  All I know is it cost John his life, but because of what Jesus said to John, he died in hope.  And when John was killed, do you know what Jesus did?  When he heard of it, he didn’t storm angrily into Jerusalem and kick Herod into the depths of fiery hell as he so richly deserved.  Instead he went out and got by himself in sadness, and soon some people showed up, and perhaps thinking of John, the one in whose face we see the very heart of God fed over 5000 hungry souls.  I don’t care what kind of world this is, because I know the kind of God I serve.

This Christmas I hope you’re thankful you don’t have go give you head on a platter, but we can all probably spend less and give more.  Why bother?   Its part of a greater all encompassing spiritual blessing God continues to bring into the world.  It’s not futile.  2nd we do it not because any of us deserves it, but because the God who sent that kind of Son, the God who sent that particular Son  — deserves it.

Why Bother?  God bothered.  So can we.

And so may we.

David B. Humphrey

Asbury United Methodist Church

Smyrna, Delaware

December 12, 2010

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