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Grace+Gratitude=Generosity

October 5th 2014 by Joel Schultz

Today is the first week of the Inspire Phase of our Capital Campaign entitles "Immeasurably More". In the message today, we hear about two rich men and the different ways that they respond to Jesus. Read or listen to find out more...

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Capital Campaign Inspire Weekend 1 – “Grace + Gratitude = Generosity” – Luke 18:18-27 & Luke 19:1-10 – October 5, 2014

Two men stand at the center of a pair of wonderful and connected stories in Luke’s Gospel. Both men are rich, both are powerful, both come looking for Jesus. One is, in everyone’s eyes, a “good guy,” probably the president of his congregation, possibly a national officer of his religious body. The other man is universally seen as a “bad guy”, not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector. The twist that surprises everyone – or at least all the “good” people – is that the good guy goes away sad and the bad guy winds up being called a son of Abraham at a feast of joy with Jesus as the self-invited guest. And the lesson to be learned by all of us is one in God’s mathematics: Grace + Gratitude = Generosity.

Here’s part one: the story of the Rich Ruler, from Luke 18:18-27. And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

What a sad story about such a nice guy. This is the kind of person most congregations would love to have as a member: pious, dependable, beyond reproach – Oh, and did I mention he was rich? This is also the kind of person who, when he dies, people come to the funeral home and say, “He was a good man. If anybody is going to be there in heaven, he surely will be. He was a GOOD man.”

And that was the problem with this man. He was a good man. But even he, in his heart, must have known that he wasn’t good enough. The only goodness that cuts it with God is the goodness of God Himself. That may have been what was behind that little exchange at the beginning of the story where Jesus says, “No one is good but God alone.” And the only way we get that goodness is if God Himself gives it to us as a free gift through the merit of Jesus Christ.

But the Rich Ruler was not looking for a gift from God. He was looking to bargain with God. “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?” It was a question of the Law, and so Jesus dealt with him according to the Law. And to those who heard the conversation, it would appear that if anyone could gain eternal life by the Law, this good man could certainly do it. Jesus starts listing all these commandments: no adultery, no stealing, no murder, no lying, honor your parents. And the Rich Ruler says, “All these I have kept from my youth.” Now, be honest, do you think YOU could say that? Never even told a lie to his mother when he was a kid? Always came when he was called? This was a good man. Jesus didn’t even argue with him on that.

But what Jesus did was to change the agenda from the Rich Ruler’s agenda to God’s agenda. The Rich Ruler followed the law, but it was in pursuit of his agenda not God’s agenda. It was doing good to get what he wanted. It was not living under the “kingdom” or the rule of God. It was being in control of his own life and destiny. So Jesus says, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, … and come, follow me.”

And suddenly it was as though all the air was being released from this proud, good man, and he collapsed in a pile looking up with sadness into the eyes of Jesus, who said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

Remember that stanza from “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”? … “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won. The Kingdom ours remaineth.”

You know, I find that it was a lot easier to sing that song when I was in college and had no goods, fame, child and wife than it is now that I have more of those things.

The potential problem with wealth is that it makes you less willing to be under the kingdom or rule of God and more desirous to be under your own rule or control of what you think is your own life and your own things.

And so the story closes with these words: “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” (Because they all thought the same way.) Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Over the years, I have had a couple reactions to this story. First, I have been distracted trying to imagine how a camel might fit through the eye of a needle. Head first? Tail first? One hump? Two humps? Just impossible. Secondly, I felt that while Jesus offered some hope for the rich, He never seemed to say how.

But He did. There is another story of another rich man that comes just a few verses later in Luke’s Gospel – the story of the man named Zacchaeus, from Luke 19:1-10. Listen to that text one more time: [Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Did you catch what happened in that story? A camel just went through the eye of a needle and a rich man entered the kingdom of God, and what is impossible for men became possible for God. And it all happened with Zacchaeus sitting there like a fig in a tree waiting to be picked by a gracious God reaching out to seek and to save even what the world would consider the worst of sinners.

It is the same grace of God that claimed you and me in baptism when we were either helpless infants with nothing to offer God or helpless adults who realized we were more like Zacchaeus than like the Rich Ruler. That grace which cannot be bought with money or good works was bought as Luther said, “not with gold or silver, but with [Jesus’] holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom.”

That’s how we enter into the kingdom of God, and that is what motivates us to serve Him. The crowd just didn’t get it, grumbling and mumbling because Jesus was going to eat with sinners. They were still back there with that Rich Ruler, lying like a deflated balloon in a pool of sadness, more interested in having their good works serve them than in serving God.

But Zacchaeus got it. He knew he was being offered a gift, the gift of forgiveness of sins which brings life, hope, and salvation, and all he could do was celebrate it. Someone has said that the story of Zacchaeus is a story of God’s math: Grace + Gratitude = Generosity.

Zacchaeus’ reaction to Jesus’ invitation was one of gratitude. He knew he did not deserve this visit from the Lord. He heard the mumbling of the crowd, and he knew they were right. But he also saw the love of one who would risk the mocking of the crowd and the wrath of the “good” people to seek out someone like him. The Son of Man had come to seek and to save the lost, and now salvation had come by God’s free gift to Zacchaeus’ house.

The result of grace and gratitude was generosity. Jesus never told Zacchaeus “You must make this restitution.” or “You need to give this much to the poor.” Zacchaeus’ generosity flowed out of gratitude for the grace of God. The Rich Ruler asked, “What must I DO in order to gain eternal life?” Zacchaeus, on the other hand, knew he had been given eternal life as a gift from his Lord. His question, then, was “Since God has given me eternal life in Christ, how shall I live that new life now?”

You and I have been given the same gift that was given to Zacchaeus by the grace of God: the Good News that our sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ and that we now are heirs of life, hope, and salvation through faith in Him.

Our Immeasurably More Capital Campaign will provide an opportunity for each of us to ask as Zacchaeus did: “Since God has given me new life in Christ, how shall I live that new life now?”

What we see in these two stories is that an approach based on the Law and duty will often result in grumbling and sadness. When we start with the grace of God, we wind up with a generosity that flows from thanksgiving and a sincere desire to live our lives under the kingdom of God. For Zacchaeus the formula was Grace + Gratitude = Generosity.

The days of this Immeasurably More campaign provide opportunity to reflect upon the significance of God’s grace in our lives and to begin to think of what a “generous” response to God’s grace will mean as we seek to be part of the mission set forth in this capital campaign. It will be an exciting journey as we learn what it means when the catechism says “to live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.” Amen.

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