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This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.

Scripture: Haggai 1:2-11

Sermon prepared by Pastor George Vander Weit, Grand Rapids, Mich.

A pastor I know has a parishioner whose generosity in giving continually amazes his pastor. If I asked you how much a person should give, most of you would probably tell me that the Old Testament talks about the tithe. People should give 10% of their income. In the New Testament when Jesus talks about giving, he certainly says nothing that detracts from that. In fact, he specifically tells his followers that their righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the religious leaders of his day. Part of that righteousness includes faithfulness in giving.

When the pastor tells his parishioner that, the man exclaims, “10%? I should give 10%? No way! Unbelievable! I can't do that!” And he doesn't! Actually, he gives more! The minimum he gives is 15%. Most of the time it's around 20%, and sometimes it almost reaches 30%.

His pastor has discussed his giving pattern with him a number of times. "Where did you learn to give like that?" he asked. “I learned it from my parents," the man responded. "Do you mean your parents actually took the time to teach you about giving?" the pastor questioned. "Well, not exactly,” the man replied. “I remember that they argued about money frequently, but I really don't ever remember being instructed in this area. I think I just learned from their example. You know the old saying: 'Actions speak louder than words.' I think I'm giving as much to the master as my parents gave — maybe a little more."

By this time his pastor was really interested! “Why do you give so much?” he asked. “Don't you think you'd be a lot better off if you'd cut back on your giving?"

The parishioner stared at his pastor with a startled look on his face, convinced that his pastor really didn’t understand. "Cut back?” he questioned. “Are you kidding? I can't cut back. I've got to give that much. I'm under obligation. I'll admit that there are times when I don't feel like giving, times when I get sick of the whole business, but it's my duty, and I'm faithful to my duty."

"I don't want to offend you," his pastor replied, "but it sounds as if you think the master is some kind of petty tyrant, ready to take a swipe at you if you step out of line."

"You're exactly right," the man replied. "He watches what I give very closely, and he'll come after me if don't give what I should be giving."

The pastor and his parishioner talk about his extraordinary giving from time to time. The pastor always encourages him to reduce his contributions; the parishioner always gives his pastor a hundred reasons why he can't do that.

Now it might seem strange to you that a pastor would give such encouragement and doubly strange that a pastor would do that when the needs of God’s church and Kingdom are crying for Christians to give generously. But you have to understand that this parishioner is giving so generously to Master Card, also known as Visa, Discover, Sears, J.C. Penney’s, Household Finance and all their relatives. (AT THIS POINT THE PERSON PRESENTING THE MESSAGE CAN HOLD UP AN ACCORDION CREDIT CARD HOLDER WITH 5 OR 6 RECOGNIZABLE CREDIT CARDS IN IT AS AN OBJECT LESSON.) If all that money were going to Master Jesus, his pastor would rejoice. His pastor wouldn't encourage him to reduce his giving one bit. But month after month and year after year Master Card scoops up 15-25% every time he puts his hand out. Of course, that doesn't include the percentage that the bank and other institutions would pay the parishioner if he allowed them to use his money instead of he using theirs.

This parishioner is indeed under obligation. He must give to the master. If he doesn't, the master will come after him, breathing all kinds of threats. This parishioner does get sick of it because there is no joy or freedom in this plastic prison into which he has locked himself. And yet, he never breaks the bars that confine him. He continues to do what he hates to do, and by example he teaches his children the same.

Who is this parishioner? Is it you, my friend? Over and over again the Word of God challenges us to make right use of the material resources God has given to us. The passage we have just read is one that challenges us to ask: "Are we handling the Lord's money wisely?"

The prophet is addressing people who, unlike many others, chose not to stay in the country of Babylon with all its comfort and luxury. They wanted to establish themselves in their homeland, and they especially wanted to rebuild the temple of their God that had been destroyed. Their heart was in the right place. They were enthusiastic about committing themselves and their material resources to the things of God, and with joy they began the work of rebuilding. However, it was not long before opposition from a variety of corners halted their work. Unable to rebuild the temple, these people turned to other things — among them the building of their own homes. What luxurious homes they were! In verse 4 the prophet identifies them as paneled houses, meaning that the inside walls were covered or inlaid with costly woodwork, something found in the homes of the rich and more distinguished of the day. And one of the results of such building? Verse 2: "These people say, 'The time has not yet come for the Lord's house to be built.'"

Why not? Because they were involved in their own pursuits, their own luxury, their own comfort, and, perhaps, their own desire to keep up with the Joneses. The things of God were not quite as important as they once were. The things of God could wait.

That speaks to every one of us, doesn't it? That challenges us to look at our priorities! We are surrounded with all sorts of good things. We have been blessed with an abundance of material blessings. We seldom deny ourselves anything we want. We hardly know what it means to wait. Most of the time we get what we want when we want it.

And the Church of Jesus? Frequently, the Church of Jesus goes begging. Frequently, the church wonders if it will have enough money to pay its bills. Frequently, kingdom causes have to make special pleas as they attempt to extend a cup of cold water in the name of the Savior.

What a poor response characterized the people of Israel at this point in their history, and God responds to their unfaithfulness by sending a famine as his judgment upon them. Verses 10 & 11: "Because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands."

And one of the results? The end of verse 6: "You earn wages only to put them in a purse with holes in it." What an interesting phrase that is! People accumulated for themselves all kinds of material goods only to discover that they had nothing to show for it. The same tragedy happens in the lives of many today — not necessarily because of the judgment of God, but because of poor stewardship, misplaced priorities and a lack of discipline in handling the gifts God has given.

I remember a special sale at one of the department stores in our neighborhood. The paper advertised lots of things at tremendous savings! What's more, if you used the department store’s own credit card, you'd get an extra 10% off. There was no extra discount for people who paid cash or wrote a check, of course! I wonder how many people got out the plastic and bought lots of stuff so they could save an extra 10%.

I remember talking to someone who had just purchased a $30 item for only $20. He enthusiastically told me about his wise purchase at one-third off. I asked him, "Did you need it?"

"Didn't you hear me? he responded. ”I just saved $10 on this thing."
"I heard you,” I responded. “Did you need it?"
"Well, no, not really, although you never really know when something like this will come in handy. And just think, I saved $10."
"You didn't save $10,” I replied. “You can't save a penny on something you really don't need no matter how big the mark down is. You just wasted $20." Money is earned and put in a purse with holes in it.

It's tough to discipline ourselves to do anything, isn't it? It's especially tough in this area even for those of us who acknowledge that our material goods are a trust from our God to be used in his service. It's tough to translate the intentions of our hearts and the words of our mouths into actions that validate what we believe and say. It's tough to think about how we spend what we earn.

It's especially tough in a world that continually preaches that peace and joy and blessing will enter our lives via the acquisition of material goods and that we ought to keep up with our neighbor next door. Unfortunately, we find ourselves easily influenced by that false gospel. And it's so easy to buy, isn't it? Here's a gold necklace. (AT THIS POINT THE PERSON DELIVERING THE MESSAGE SHOULD HOLD UP A GOLD NECKLACE AS AN OBJECT LESSON.) Let's say this necklace is worth $100. What would you say if I told you that because you’re my friend, I would only add 20% to the cost of this necklace so you could have it for $120. You'd call me a cheat, wouldn't you? You'd say, "You're trying to pull a fast one on me. There's no way I'm going to buy a $100 necklace for $120. Do you think I'm stupid?"

But Master Card comes along and says: "You deserve this. You deserve to have it now. I'll help you buy it." It's so easy, isn't it — and so deceptive. Our good friend, Master Card extends a special offer to us, and we feel blessed, not cheated. Money is earned and put into a purse with holes in it

How easy it is to live an undisciplined life. How easy it is to get our priorities mixed up. How easy it is to live with the illusion that we can get what we want when we want it because of Master Card. The result is a double tragedy-people who don't set priorities in life and people who contribute more in a year's time to Master Card and his relatives than they do to Master Jesus.

We live in a society where it’s easy to acquire credit cards. That’s not all bad because their convenience is a blessing. But the blessing so easy turns into a curse as month after month and year after year people donate 15 or 18 or 24% to Master Card. “No one can serve two masters,” said our Lord in his Sermon on the Mount. He was right. Unfortunately, countless people today discover that their service of Master Card hinders their service of Master Jesus.

Few of us have money problems. Frankly, there is never enough money no matter how much there is. Most of us have priority and discipline problems that prohibit us from being more effective stewards of God's gifts.

Today is a good day for all of us to focus seriously on our use of the material resources with which God has blessed us. Which Master are you serving?




Suggested Songs from Grey Psalter: 178:1,4,5; 294; (296 can also be used)

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