I preached this sermon (on vicarage) at Trinity Lutheran Church in Palo Alto, CA. on August 19, 2012 (11th Sunday after Holy Trinity)
This sermon was part of an assigned series on stewardship.
Give to get or get to give? Do we give in order to get? Or do we get in order to give? Think about it for a second, for this is the aspect of stewardship which we want to unfold this morning. Which one is the right answer?
I’m fairly certain that all of you are leaning toward the second option. We get in order that we can give. You’re baptized believers in Christ Jesus. What Christian man, woman, or child would hold to the first option? Certainly we all know better than to choose that one. Of course we don’t give merely in order to get something back.
“C’mon Vicar, what kind of people do you take us for?”
Right. I know. After all, who among us doesn’t know that “it’s better to give than to receive”? (Acts 20:35)
As we ponder Christian stewardship I would like to think that each of us recognizes that God blesses us with that which we have and that with open hands we receive these blessings from God, extending our arms outward in order to give to God and to our neighbor. For this is how we can sing, “We give Thee but Thine own, Whatever the gift may be; All that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.” (LSB 781) This is why you can so quickly answer,
“We get in order that we can give.”
You understand that everything in this world is God’s and that you’ve been entrusted as stewards, managers of the gifts. That you stand with your palms outstretched receiving whatever it may be that God gives.
Open with me to Luke 19:12-28. It’s page 878 in your pew Bible. Here we see the parable of the ten minas.
He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’” 28 And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
In this parable Jesus talks about a nobleman who left his land, but before doing so he called ten servants to him and gave them each a mina, a mina was worth about three months wages. He told them “Engage in business until I come.” (v. 13) In other words he said to them,
“Here’s some money. I want you to manage it how you see fit until I return.” Think of this in an ‘it takes money to make money’sort of way.
“Here you go guys, here’s some start-up funding. I’m giving you this money, go see how much more you can get with it.”
We learn that upon the nobleman’s return one servant increased his money by tenfold, adding another ten minas to his original one. Another servant, we see in verse 18, saw a 500% return on his investment. Not too shabby! Both these men were greatly rewarded for how well they managed the nobleman’s assets. The third servant, well, not so much. For he took that which he had been given and he hid it away in a handkerchief. That is, while his counterparts were busy investing their funds on Wall Street he tucked that which he had been given under his mattress where it did nothing but collect dust.
Oh wait. These servants had nothing. OK. Then they got money and those that gave it away got it back with interest getting an even greater reward, a grossly extravagant reward, for doing so. OK, so, it would seem that we get in order to give, but that when we give, we also get. Is that right?
Earlier in Luke Jesus says, “give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (6:38) Perhaps we are to give in order to get. But wait, that doesn’t seem right. That would open the door for all kinds of error in thinking.
“If only I give enough, I’ll get back what I want.”
It quickly becomes this Quantum Leap plan of giving. I don’t know if you recall the nineties TV show (or if you’re even a sci-fi geek like me) where Dr. Sam Becket stepped into the quantum leap accelerator and stepped back in time. He was trapped there in someone else’s body with only the aid of a hologram, his friend Al, to guide him. He had to do certain things in order to get what he wanted, to leap back home. Only, he never leaped home, he merely went from one time to another striving to put right what once went wrong. He had to do certain things to get what he wanted. If ever there was a man living under the Law it was poor Sam Becket. There’s no Gospel message there.
“If only I give enough money to the church God will give me what I want. If only I give enough food to the food closet God will see my deeds and give me what I deserve. If only I, if only I, if only I.”
You can see how quickly giving to get reveals in us our inner Pharisee. We find ourselves praying,
“‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men… I give tithes of all that I get…’ (Luke 18:9-14) I give to you in order that you will make note of it in your divine ledger, crediting me with that which I am due. God, I gave to you after all, remember? God, don’t forget about what you know I want. I’ve given to you, I’ve given to my neighbor, now it’s time I get what’s mine. ”
We find ourselves giving polluted offerings to God that do nothing but despise His name. (Malachi 1:6-7)
So then, how do we make heads or tails of “give and it will be given to you,”? For it seems to be this bewildering fuzzy logic of both/and. The servants in our parable seem to be great examples of giving in order to get, but that seems contrary to what we know to be true. These men were servants simply doing their duty. (Luke 17:9-10) Can giving to get be the right answer? Can it work? I’m compelled to say yes… Yes, but not by us.
In 2 Corinthians 9 we read that “Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (v. 6-7) This isn’t a formula to be followed to manipulate God’s system, but rather, a very simple statement of truth. The farmer who sows sparingly obviously won’t reap bountifully. He didn’t plant enough seed. It’s common sense! As for the reluctant giver, well, he’s not worried about giving to get, he’s merely trying to hold on to what he perceives to be his own. That’s a whole different aspect of the question. He wouldn’t have answered yes to either of our options.
Give to get?
“No thanks. I’m good.”
Get to give?
“Nah, no one ever gave me anything, I’ll keep what I have.”
He misses the whole point. He doesn’t understand that he’s not the nobleman but rather the servant who has been charged to do business.
But how about giving under compulsion? Now that’s someone who sees himself as being forced to give. That’s someone who sees that the only way he can get anything is to give something. He is forced to play by God’s rules even though he would rather just tuck his gifts into a handkerchief and call it a day.
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart… God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7) This is where we can really sort out this whole question. For this is where we find Christ! Why do you think God loves a cheerful giver? Why do you think that each of us must decide in our hearts what to give? Well, it’s because our God Himself is a cheerful giver and He decided exactly what He would give. And that was something, no, someone so very precious to Him. His Son, His only Son, Jesus.
C.S. Lewis put it better than I ever could. He said,
“In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only a plenteousness that desires to give. The doctrine that God was under no necessity to create is not a piece of dry scholastic speculation. It is essential. Without it we can hardly avoid the conception of what I can only call a ‘managerial’ God; a Being whose function or nature is to ‘run’ the universe, who stands to it as a head-master to a school… God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already seeing… the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up.”1
You see, giving to get can be the right answer as long as the one who is giving is God, for He has not withheld His Son, His only Son, for me and for you (Gen. 22:12). As John so famously said in chapter 3 of his Gospel, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (v. 16) God gave in order to get, in order to get us, to ransom us back to Him. We, on the other hand, are to stand with our hands outstretched ready to receive all the gifts God gives us through His son’s death and resurrection, in order that upon receiving them we may cheerfully spread the gifts to our neighbor. This is stewardship. This is asset management in its most valuable form. All glory be to God that through the Gospel of Jesus Christ this ultimate gift, the gift of eternal life through the Son who was given up to die on the bloody cross – our Lord and Savior – was given, for without it all would be for not.
To play off our Quantum Leap analogy, God righted that which had once went wrong. He stepped onto the cross shaped machine and graciously made it possible for us to leap home without having to give anything to get there. He gave that we might get. Or in the words of John, “we love because He [God] first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
When I was writing this sermon John’s words rang through my head and I realized that there is a whole other aspect to today’s question. A perspective shift.
It is safe to say that God gives to get. He gave His one and only Son to get all His holy people, the Church, which dear friends includes you and me. Likewise, we can say that it is wrong for us to give to get. It’s an issue of false motives; it pollutes the gift and is contrary to God’s Word.
God, our heavenly Father, extended His hands, giving us the most precious of all gifts and because He did we get to give. But we now also get to give…
As Christians, not only do we open our hands to receive the ultimate gift, Jesus Christ, but as members of His body we get to give our gifts to others. We are not forced to give and we are not prohibited to give, but we get to give. For just as we love because God first loved us, we give because God first gave to us. And what is that gift if not the most precious treasure of all, the good measure which Jesus Himself has pressed down, shaken together, and put into your lap where it is now running over into the lives of those around you? (Luke 6:38) It is the forgiveness of your sins so that you can be in the presence of the most cheerfullest of all givers, your true Father in heaven, the One who decided in His heart that you, precious Christian, you were the most valuable thing to Him, who decided you were worth even the price of His own Son and was willing purchase you on the cross where His Son hung with outstretched hands to get you, His holy people.
1 C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, First American Edition, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1960), 175.