10/14/18: What Must I Do? Mark 10:17-31
What Must I Do?
First in the series, Life in the Kin-Dom
First Lesson: Psalm 90:12-17
Second Lesson: Mark 10:17-31
Rev. Scott Dickison
Kelsey shared with me an exercise that the youth did this past Sunday as part of the first lesson of a Sunday school series they’re doing this month on stewardship. She asked them to imagine that they somehow came upon different amounts of money with no strings attached. What would they do with it? Very open-ended. They started with $1. If you came upon $1 in the street, what would you do with it? She said just about all of them, to a person, said something to the affect of “ehh.” Just a dollar. If someone needed it, I’d give it to them.
If a friend needed it, I’d absolutely give it to them.
I could still part with it—bear in mind, they hadn’t been asked if they would give it to a friend in need, this is just where there turned. At least until the next dollar amount:
Well…I would like to buy a car.
Wow, I could do a lot of traveling for that.
I could buy a house. I could pay for college.
The ideas just kept coming, getting wilder and more extravagant. And then someone, almost as an afterthought, said from the back of the room:
Well, I suppose I’d give some of it away, too.
At first blush there answers may be surprising: that the impulse toward generosity or even compassion would decrease as the amount of money they were imagining increased. But this kind of shift seems to be born out in science, too.
There was a study done by the Chronicle of Philanthropy a few years ago in 2012, when we still were coming out of the Great Recession, that compared giving trends from 6 years earlier, just before the Great Recession. They found that the wealthiest Americans, folks who earned at least $200,000, gave nearly 5% lessto charity in 2012 than they had in 2006. It was similar for folks who took home between $100,000 and $200,000—they gave a little over 3% lessin 2012 than they had in 2006.
Now, these findings alone might not have been surprising, that folks would give less during the recession than they did before. Except they found in that same time period, middle and low-income Americans—all those who made less than $100,000—gave, on average, 5% morein 2012 than they had in 2006. What was even more striking was that in that same time period during the Great Recession, the Chronicle found that the poorest Americans—those who made $25,000 or less—increased their giving by nearly 17%.
In interpreting these findings, Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said, “The downturn was a shock to so many of [the wealthy], and they’ve been nervous and cautious.” On the other hand, she said, “Lower and middle-income people know people who lost their jobs or are homeless, and they worry that they themselves are a day away from losing their jobs. They’re very sensitive to the needs of other people and recognize that these years have been hard.” It reminds me of that quote we mentioned just a few weeks ago from Dorthy Day: To live the gospel is to stay close to the poor.
Youth group thought experiments and scientific research seem to support what Jesus knew and what the wealthy young man in our gospel lesson today found out, which is that wealth is risky. It’s risky because while it of course allows you to do great things, honorable things, generous things—and we should say that this church nor just about any other church I know of in world would be able to survive without wealthier people supporting it through the generations—wealth also has a way of shifting our priorities. The stakes feel higher when we think we have more to lose. It was when the young man was invited to let go of all that he had—which it turns out was quite a lot (though we’re never told just how much!)—that he realized the cost was too great.
And here we should pause and consider how we should feel about this young man. At least, other gospels tell us he was young—Mark just tells us he’s a man. But his questions at least suggest a youthful naïveté, even a bravado. We’re almost conditioned not to like him. He may remind us of some of the spoiled brats we’ve known or even ourselves at a younger age. Even in the painting on the cover of this morning’s bulletin the young man is dressed resplendently, with his hand on his hip listening to Jesus with a wary look, as two destitute people listen in from the shadows. It’s hard to feel a lot of sympathy for his young man—and yet how would we respond to Jesus’ demands?At what point does what we have become to great to part with?
And even more—see how Jesus responds to him. The young man tells Jesus he has followed all the commandments since his youth, and we’re told,
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, You lack one thing…
He looked at him and loved him.
It’s the only time in Mark where Jesus is said to have loved a single individual.
Why did Jesus look at this young man—foolishly confident, insulated by wealth as he may have been—and love him? Is it because that’s just what Jesus does—Jesus looks at people and loves them? Maybe, except, elsewhere in Mark, Jesus would not be nearly as charitable with his own disciples when they fail to fully grasp the demands of this new world of God's own dreaming. So why are we told that he loved this spoiled brat?
I don't know for sure, but I wonder if it’s because Jesus knew this young man—naive and brash as he may have been—was asking the question we all want answered: How do I do the right thing?
Isn’t that what he wanted to know?
Isn’t this what we all want to know? How to do the right thing?
How do I become a good person?
How do I become a kind person, a generous person?
How do I raise kind, generous children?
I want to do the right thing—tell me how I do the right thing.
What must I do?the young man asked Jesus. My God, isn’t this the question we wish the bible would answer for us most?!
It’s an honest question. A necessary question, even. And it may be a question the church doesn’t answer enough. Maybe we spend too much time up in the clouds and not enough time talking about what those clouds have to do with us down here on the ground. Questions of why and what are important—no doubt. But maybe we should talk more about the “how” of life.
And I think about this especially generosity and giving. If the young man did fail in this story it was in not understanding that what he did with his possessions mattered—but we know better. We know what we do with what we have, what we’ve been given, matters in the eyes of God. We just struggle with knowing what we’re to do with it. We wonder, with the young man, What must I do?
If you didn’t grow up in church it’s hard to know just what the expectations around giving are. And unless our families were open to talking about how they gave, even many of us who grew up in church may not know much about how and what to give. And we know why not many of us know these things. Talk about money is awkward! It feels intimate and invasive, almost. But that’s because when we talk about our money we talk about our heart—about what’s most important to us. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, Jesus says elsewhere in the gospels.
So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about giving over the course of these next few weeks leading up to commitment Sunday, and starting right here and now. Here’s a guide to giving to the church in 4 easy steps.
1. Giving should be intentional.We should think about what we give in the same way we think about what we earn and what we spend. This means giving with a plan—deciding how much and how often we’d like to give. The best way to be intentional about giving is to be consistent in it and the easiest way to do that is to give in the same rhythm in which we earn and spend. This may mean giving weekly or every other week, monthly, or even seasonally. Whenever we earn, for most of us, this should be when we give.
And as for the actual means by which we give, plenty of folks still drop an envelope in the offering plate each week, but more and more people, and us included, have set up an automatic draft through their bank. It couldn’t be easier, it’s free for you and the church, and I know that my bank sends me an email every Sunday telling us when our gift has been drawn. Last year we also added an online giving platform to our church website which many folks have started to use. You can give once or set up a recurring plan. There is a 3% service charge, but it’s convenient and there’s even an app you can download. Any of these options work great and help you make a plan and stick to it in a way you can feel good about. The point is that you give with intentionality and purpose.
2. Giving should be generous.We should feel what we give. In other words, it should be something meaningful to us. It should challenge us, even. We should give enough to where it affects how we spend the rest of our money. Giving is a spiritual practice. It’s a discipline that helps shape us into the people we want to be—people who act from our deepest convictions. Generous giving ensures that we have our priorities in line. And the best way to know what kind of giving is generous leads us to the third step, which is that…
3. Giving should be proportionate. Too often the church gets caught up in the same thinking as the rest of the world and values the dollar amount. But scripture teaches us time and time again that we should each give how they’re able. The easiest way to give proportionately isn’t to start with a dollar amount but to come up with a percentage of our earnings that we want to give. Of course, 10% has been the standard benchmark—but it’s just that, a benchmark. For some it’s what we should work up to because it’s helpful to have a goal. But for others it’s something that once we’ve reached it we can work from. But if you’re just starting out, don’tget hung up on 10%! Dostart with a percentage you can feel good about. Maybe it’s 2%, maybe it’s 3 or 4 or 5%. Just make sure it’s something you can feel and something you can feel good about. And then plan to grow from there.
And finally, step 4: It’s never too early or too late to start.Those of us with children should talk about giving with them. Come up with practices to help them learn how to give and let them know how and why we give. There are some great resources around this that I’d be happy to talk more with you about. Maybe we can do some workshops with our younger families here at the church to share ideas and encouragement—I’d love that.
And if you’ve never given consistently before, know that it’s never to late to start—and I absolutely mean this.
I’d never noticed this before, but I think it’s significant that Mark tells us it was just as Jesus was about to set out on a journey that this young man approaches him. Journey is where this story begins. And giving—like faith—is a journey. And all journey’s have to start somewhere. Don’t be ashamed. Be bold.
Next Sunday at homecoming we’ll celebrate the journey this church has been on together for generations, and I hope you’ll join us when we do. But it’s also true that we’ve been on a journey together here over these last few years. A journey of acting from our greatest convictions. It’s a journey that has come at some cost, but a journey I’m proud of. It’s a journey that, with God’s help and our stewardship, we’ll continue together.
“Wealthy Americans Are Giving Less of Their Incomes to Charity While Poor are Donating More,” Katia Savchuk, Forbes, October 6, 2014. Accessed October 12, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/katiasavchuk/2014/10/06/wealthy-americans-are-giving-less-of-their-incomes-to-charity-while-poor-are-donating-more/#4f6913dd1264