Giving in Faith
30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42And all ate and were filled; 43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
A mother wanted to teach her daughter a moral lesson. So she gave the little girl a quarter and a dollar for church. “Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself,” she told the girl.
When they were coming out of the church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given.
“Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the dollar, but just before the collection the man in the pulpit said that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter, so I did.”
Today’s message is about radical generosity. And by radical generosity I mean thorough, drastic, and at times complete giving. I believe that as Christians that we are not called to give the bare minimum, but we are to give our all to God, even when we have no guarantee of any earthly reward. Today I want to look at giving of ourselves in faith and giving of our goods in faith. We will begin by looking at giving of ourselves in faith.
Giving of ourselves in faith
Today’s scripture is the only miracle of Jesus to be recorded in all four gospels in its entirety, and I will be drawing some from other gospels to fill in a few of the details. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell this story with surprising similarity and only slight variance. Our scripture begins as the disciples of Jesus are just getting back from their two by two missions trip. They are likely feeling a combination of excitement because of the fruit of their labors and a sense of fatigue as they have been away from home for a period of time. And as they are getting back they receive the bad news that John the Baptist has been killed. So they are excited, tired, and their hearts are heavy from this bad news and they decide to head off to rest. They jump into a boat to escape from others and head to a place where they can relax and catch up.
Rest is a common theme throughout the New Testament. Jesus often retreated either alone or with his disciples to rest, pray, and rejuvenate himself for his ongoing ministry. I think that it would be great if God had designed us so that we did not need to rest. I waste at least eight hours a day sleeping. Think of all that I could get done if I just didn’t sleep!
No, I don’t think that this need for rest is a design flaw. I believe that God made us so that we need rest because God knew that otherwise our work, labor, and toil could overcome us and we could become obsessed with our productivity and perhaps a quest for wealth.
God showed us himself that it is important to rest. In the Creation story, God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them and then he rested. He commanded the Israelites to rest every seventh day, to rest the land every seventh year, and to rest even their economy every seven periods of seven years (the year of Jubilee).
Rest is important, rest is required. But that day would not be a day for rest for Jesus and his disciples. Many people saw Jesus and his disciples coming in on their boat and they followed them. There would be no rest for the weary that day. That would have to be put off until later. Because Jesus saw the people and he had compassion on them.
If I took a poll today and asked you who would rather be working and who would rather be resting this afternoon, I bet a large majority of you would vote for the rest. It is summer time and a lot of people are going on vacations. We need down time and we need to distance ourselves from work while we are on vacation. But does that include taking a rest from doing the good things that God has called us to do? Do we ever take a break from being a follower of Jesus?
Two weeks ago I spent some time in Ohio visiting friends and family for a few days. While we were staying with my family we received word that a woman from the church that I call home was very sick and in her last days. This woman, her name was Margie, was mentally handicapped and probably about as sweet a person as you could ever imagine; just full of life and joy. And for some reason she looked up to me and liked me (odd, I know). My parents encouraged me to go visit her while I was in Ohio, but I didn’t want to. My dad even told me that I needed to “be a man” and go and see her, implying that I was afraid to see her in her weakened state. But that wasn’t it. I deal with death and dieing all of the time. It is a part of my job. And I think that was the problem.
I think the reason that I didn’t go to see Margie was because I was on vacation and that seemed too much like work. I felt that I needed to distance myself from work to relax, recover, and rejuvenate my soul. And I believe that there is some truth to that. We all need this!
Margie died that week. Today would have been her birthday. Now I don’t believe that if I had visited with Margie that she would have been miraculously healed. From what I have heard she probably wouldn’t have even known that I was there. But that’s not the point. The point is that I missed a chance to be a ministering person.
When Jesus and his disciples were looking for a place to relax and unwind they ran into a bunch of people and Jesus had compassion on them. I want to be like Jesus; I call myself a Christian. So where was my compassion? Yes we need our rest and our vacations. But that should never be viewed as an exemption from being the compassionate people of God that we are called to be. We must give of ourselves in faith.
Giving of our goods
Our story picks back up with Jesus teaching and preaching to the masses. And things are going a little long and remember that they are way out in the middle of nowhere because they were trying to get away from people. So Jesus’ disciples come to him and say, “Hey Jesus. Send these people away. It’s getting late. They (meaning we) are getting hungry and there isn’t anyplace to eat around here.”
Jesus told the disciples to give food to the people, they laugh and say that it is going to take about 200 day’s worth of earnings to buy enough bread for the people. So Jesus tells them to take an inventory of the food in their presence and according to John’s gospel they find a boy with five barley loaves and two fish.
So Jesus takes the food and he blesses and tells the disciples to hand it out to the people. And you know the story, out of this one boy’s packed supper five thousand men are fed and likely as many women and children as well.
I believe that perhaps one of the most significant and often overlooked aspects of this story isn’t that Jesus was able to divide the loves and fish exponentially to the point that all five thousand, not including women and children, were fed and filled, leaving 12 extra baskets. No, I think that the most significant thing about this story is that there was someone that had five loaves and two fish, hadn’t eaten in a long time, was surely hungry himself, and he gave all that he had so that others might be able to eat.
Shane Claiborne tells a story about the time that he spent working with Mother Teresa in India in one of the poorest settings in the world. He says that Mother Teresa was this little woman that was always on the go, full of energy.
It was customary to remove your shoes when entering into the church for worship and one day Shane happened to look at Mother Teresa’s feet. They were terribly deformed. They were calloused, bleeding, and looked painful.
One of the other nuns asked Shane one day if he had noticed Mother Teresa’s feet and he nodded hoping that she would tell him why they looked so bad. The nun told him, “Every so often we get a box of used shoes donated to us. And there are only enough shoes for everyone to get one pair. So she sorts through the box and takes the worst pair of shoes for herself so that nobody else has to have a worse pair of shoes than she does.” When the hungry offer their food to another, when the shoeless offer their shoes, then they are practicing radical hospitality.
And again, it wasn’t just any person that had the food when Jesus sent his disciples around to collect what was there, it was a boy. There is no way that this boy could have known what was going to happen. There is no record of anything like this happening anywhere earlier in the scriptures. John tells us that even the disciples didn’t have a clue what Jesus was about to do with these items as they say, “what good are five loaves and two fish among 5,000?”
I don’t think that I was an overly generous little boy when I was growing up. Maybe you would have given your supper so that someone else could eat, but I can’t imagine that I would have. I hope that I would today, but I can’t guarantee that I would. If I had a guarantee that the food that I was giving up would feed many more than it would have if I had kept it, maybe I would have given it away. Or maybe if I had known that I would still be able to eat plenty and still share with others, I would have. But the boy from the story of the feeding of the 5,000 had no such guarantee. He was willing to sacrifice his own comfort, he was willing to sacrifice his own sustenance to provide for others. He gave all that he had to the Lord with no guarantee of a return on it.
But unselfish giving like this doesn’t just happen in Calcutta and you don’t have to be on the fast-track to sainthood to participate in radical generosity. A couple of weeks ago we received a sizable donation to the church. $6,000 to be exact. It was an anonymous donation that was specifically given for local relief. The donor commented, “I want to make sure some kids have a good Christmas.” I think that is pretty cool.
But what makes this donation even cooler is that it didn’t come from who you might expect. When you see donations like this in the record books it is often from a large company or business at the end of the year so that they can write it off as a tax exemption. Now I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that, I’m just saying that isn’t where the donation came from. It came from a local family struggling through these difficult economic times, just like everyone else.
I asked the donor if he was sure that he didn’t want to put the money toward a new car or home improvements or savings or something along those lines. And he told me, “That was a temptation, but we wanted to give back to the community.” It’s days like that that make my job great. Not because I am going to get rich off this person’s donation, that money isn’t going into my pocket. But it gives me great joy to see people give unselfishly of themselves.
Now I know that many people are a little skeptical when they think about the money that is given away for various local needs. It is one thing to give someone a little help in time of need, such as when unexpected medical bills pile up, there is a death in the family, the loss of a job. You know the special needs that every person comes up against from time to time. But there always seems to be this worry about those that are trying to get a free meal, to get a handout without giving anything in return. And you know what? Those people are out there. And we will likely give some of this local relief donation to someone that is going to want to use it in a way that we don’t think is appropriate. But the donor didn’t give this money on the condition that we guarantee that it won’t be wasted or squandered away on frivolous living. They gave it out of faithfulness that God can and will use it in building his kingdom here on earth.
This story of the anonymous donation and the story of the boy giving his loaves and fish are not meant to guilt you into donating more to the church. I’m actually quite content with the amount of money this church has been receiving in this recession. But I hope to show you that sometimes we are to give for kingdom purposes even when the outcome isn’t all that clear, even when there is no guarantee we give out of our faithfulness to God. We give of ourselves and we give of our goods. We give our all in the name of Jesus Christ.
We all have stories to share of how people have given of their time, money, and goods for the kingdom of God. And it is contagious, this giving in faith. I know that some of you have helped Garlan and Sylvia as they have worked around the Buckhorn in various ways. Glenn has spent his fair share of hours running a backhoe for Garlan. Then I hear how Garlan has been helping out Artis and Gary with some work around their farm. I know that Artis and Gary have donated food and other items to those in need and that Artis continues to work with the Rehoboth Prison Ministry. These are stories of people giving. And not just giving because it feels good to do so, but giving because this is what followers of Jesus Christ do. We give our all because Christ gave his all for us.
Jesus gave up equality with God in heaven to come to this earth, to be subjected to illness, poverty, ridicule, temptations, torture, and death on a cross. He gave all that he could possibly give, giving even of his own blood, spilling it out at Calvary. As followers of Jesus we to are called to give freely; we are called to radical generosity.
2nd Corinthians 8:9 tells us, “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” During this recession and always, let us not withhold from the Lord. I hope that you can say with me, “All I have is your’s, Lord.” Let us live lives of radical generosity, giving freely of ourselves, giving freely of our goods, giving our all in the name of Jesus.