Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity September 12, 1999
231, 439, 442, 48
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God. So far the Holy Word.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who came to serve others, rather than Himself, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
A topic came up in a class not long ago that prompted quite a bit of discussion. It’s a topic that, I must say, bothers me quite a bit. I wonder if it bothers you, too. The topic is charity…giving.
If you read the Bible at all, it doesn’t take you very long to figure out that the Scriptures have a lot to say about giving. Much of Jesus’ teaching has to do with how we treat our neighbor in general, and with giving in particular. He criticized the hypocritical giving of the Pharisees; He told the rich young man to sell everything he had and give to the poor; He gave detailed instruction to his disciples on giving. Does all this prick your conscience at all? It does mine. When I look back in my check register, I don’t see a whole lot of entries marked, “money for the poor!” Maybe it’s time we reviewed our attitude toward giving. Today’s text offers an important lesson—a lesson that can help implant a healthy Christian charity in our lives. Our theme is:
Some of the most interesting conversations occur over the dinner table. It’s true in our day, and it was certainly true in the life of Christ. This week we are privileged to listen in on the “table talk” of our Savior. Jesus was invited to eat at the home of a Pharisee, and it was this very invitation that provided the basis for a lesson on giving.
At first glance, it might seem a poor time to criticize his host for lack of charity. After all, to “give” a dinner means that you give away food to those who dine with you, doesn’t it?—Not necessarily. Jesus knew what his host’s motivation was for giving the dinner, and it certainly wasn’t charity! Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours. (Why not?) …lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee
Giving to those who can pay you back yields limited returns. The Pharisees often put on lavish dinners, but only for each other. In fact, it was a point of pride for them that they only ate at the homes of other upstanding members of their own sect. The big dinners made them look generous, and the exclusive guest list made them look more holy. It also gave them the advantage of knowing that, no matter how much one Pharisee spent on his own dinner, he’d get it all back in invitations to the homes of the others. Jesus said that charity like this—charity that really has an earthly profit motive behind it—isn’t really very profitable in the long run. On another occasion He told His disciples, “When you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”—Mat 6:2. You do get a reward for giving that way…but it’s very small, Jesus says, and it doesn’t last very long!
Now it’s easy for us to sit back and condemn the Pharisees. But what about us? Sure, we give. Each of us gives a lot, in fact. But who do we give to? Parents given generously to their own children, of course. Adult children often give to support their aged parents. Many of us will write a check to a local group, like the volunteer fire department, for instance, but only because we’re getting protection from fire in return. Most of us would give money to a good friend, but we generally do it when there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to get our money back again, maybe even with interest. If that’s what our “charity” is like, with a hidden profit motive behind each check we write, then we’re never going to get much out of it. Jesus said, “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back.”—Luke 6:33-34.
Let’s look at Christ Himself for an example. Jesus Christ gave the highest sacrifice—He went to the cross for us, suffering the punishment we deserved in order to redeem us from sin. But what if Christ’s giving was like most of OUR giving? What if He had given that sacrifice only for His friends? Then Good Friday would never have happened…because all of us were by nature God’s enemies. What if God required us to pay Him back for that sacrifice? Then none of us would get to heaven…for “the redemption of our souls is precious,” far more than we could ever repay.
Here is the definition of grace. By any earthly terms, it was highly unprofitable for Jesus to love us sinners, and to die for us on the cross. But He did it anyway! Praise our God that He made that sacrifice despite our unworthiness, and despite our utter inability to pay Him back. When you look at it closely, the second part of our text describes Jesus down to the ground: But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. It’s not the rich that Jesus invites to His feast of forgiveness, but spiritually impoverished, morally broke sinners like you and me! Once the disciples of John the Baptist came to find out who Jesus was. Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.”—Luke 7:22.
Jesus wants to let us in, too, on the secret of selfless giving. With His great gift to us as our motivation, we can learn to get the most the most out of our own giving. And the first lesson is this: giving to those who can’t pay you back yields invaluable returns.
Do you know what the word “invaluable” means? It doesn’t mean that something is without value…just the opposite. It means that the object so described has such great value that it’s impossible to estimate how much it’s worth. The famous Hope Diamond is the most valuable blue diamond on earth, with a total weight in the hundreds of carats. It’s been appraised at upwards of $40 million, but one gem collector admitted, “You can’t really put a value on it. It’s unique, the best, the only one of its kind. It is literally invaluable.”
Well, if someone offered you the Hope Diamond if you would open your checkbook and give something to the poor, why, you’d clean out your account, and in a big hurry! It would be worth it. But Christ holds out to you just such invaluable returns when you give to those who can’t pay you back. Again, the picture of a banquet: But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee.
This blessedness is a promise, not a possibility; a sure thing, not a gamble. When you give out of love for the Lord, with no hope of repayment, you will be blessed. For one thing, God is liable to give you back more, even in earthly terms, than you gave in the first place. A wealthy philanthropist was once asked, “How can you explain the fact that the more money you give away, the richer you seem to get?” “Well,” he said, “I shovel it out, and God shovels it back in. But God’s got a bigger shovel!” It’s true, Christian charity never put anybody in the poor house—rather the reverse. God promises, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.”—Luke 6:38. Many of us have enjoyed lives so full of blessings that we too have had to admit: our God does indeed have a very big shovel!
Even in terms of cold cash, Christian giving is worth it. But to really understand how we get the most out of giving, we have to look at the everlasting returns. Those are truly “invaluable.” Our text says, And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
Charity and love can’t save a person—only Jesus does that. But charity and love are among the marks that identify a saved Christian. And those marks won’t be missed on Judgement Day. On that Day, Christ our King “…will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”—Mat 25:34-40.
I can’t describe the joys of heaven—I don’t think anyone can. Someone once suggested you should think back to the happiest moment of your life, and imagine being ten times that happy for the rest of eternity. Maybe that comes close to describing what it will be like when we “enter into the joy of our Lord.” That’s the happiness Christ has earned for us, the happiness we’re just waiting to inherit. And when we get there, Scripture says, our works will follow us. All the unsung fruits of your faith—all the works you did out of love for your Redeemer—will shine in heaven like precious gems. They may be things you weren’t even aware you did. They may be things you’ve forgotten. But God won’t forget them. The Apostle John, in Revelation, said, “I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.”—Rev 14:13.
Do you want to get the most out of your giving? Then go for the invaluable returns, the eternal returns. Give to those who can’t pay you back! Give to the stranger who knocks on your door. Help the stranded motorist by the side of the road. Lend to people even when (no—especially when!) you know they can’t pay you back. You say you haven’t seen many people who fit Jesus’ description of “the maimed, the lame, and the blind?” There are splendid charities, such as Association of Disabled Americans, the March of Dimes and the National Council for the Prevention of Blindness, that would welcome your support. Especially effective are those efforts by which our own church gives to the poor not only material support, but the richness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With your mission offerings, our Church of the Lutheran Confession helps support and train Christian pastors in Nigeria. Our CLC Project KINSHIP provides physical and spiritual nourishment for orphan children in South India.
There are a lot more ways to exercise your Christian giving than I have time to describe for you. I’m sure you could think of many. And each one of them, if done out of love for Christ, brings with it an invaluable return—an eternal return, more precious than anything money can buy!
When we speak of the Pharisees, we tend to think of them all as hypocrites, who never really listened to a word Jesus said. That’s not quite true, though. There was at least one who listened…and he was present in the room when Jesus spoke the words of our text. And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God. He got the message. He knew what Jesus was talking about, and he longed for the heavenly blessings that Jesus was promising. God grant that we may listen, too. God grant that we may take our Lord’s words to heart, and put them into practice in our lives as redeemed children of God. Then we will truly GET THE MOST OUT OF GIVING. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.