October 11, 2015 – The Rev. James Richardson

“Jesus, looking at him, loved him…”

Have you ever asked a question you just knew you shouldn’t ask? And when you did, you discovered you just volunteered for something?

In this morning’s gospel lesson, I can almost hear Peter slapping his forehead and groaning, “Oh, now what?”

So let us set our scene: Jesus is out on the road, healing, doing miracles, teaching, attracting crowds. In other words, he is on the job.

A rich man comes and kneels before Jesus. The man is respectful, even reverent toward Jesus, and he asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Not an unfair question.

So Jesus tells him to follow the Ten Commandments.

But the rich man is not satisfied with the answer. He knows that. Anyone could have told him that. He wants to know more.

So Jesus tells him what he doesn’t want to hear:

Do something more with your life besides getting rich. Give all your possessions to the poor and follow me.

But the rich man is so bound to his possessions that he goes away grieving.

He cannot give away his things. Indeed, he is owned by his possessions. His things own him.

Jesus uses this as a teaching moment to tell his followers they must get their priorities straight if they want to touch the Kingdom of God.

Unload the possessions that possess you. Don’t let your things own you.

And that pushes Peter right over the edge.

“Look,” Peter says, “we have left everything and followed you.”

What else do you want us to do?

So Jesus tells Peter: Bring heaven to earth. Serve those who have so little. Use what you have to bring heaven to earth. With God all things are possible.

Stop worrying about the heaven up there and start worrying about the earth down here. Bring heaven to earth.

It is probably no accident that this story appears in the lectionary in the season of harvest, the season when we highlight concepts of stewardship.

As many of you know, this is the season when churches, like this one, are trying to raise financial pledges for the new year to balance budgets.

You might be tempted to slap your forehead like Peter, and tune this out. But stick with me for a few minutes.

So I want to be up front about this:

Every church, every non-profit, needs money to balance their budget.

Why are we different?

So I’d like to go a little deeper with this today. Jesus, after all, does not tell the rich man to give everything to the church to balance the budget.

He tells the rich man to give his money to the poor.

He tells the rich man that life is not about buying your way into heaven.

Rather, do something with your life to bring heaven here.

Eternity will take care of itself. But this earth, our fragile island home, is your responsibility. Bring heaven to earth.

What does this have to do with us?

Start by looking where you are putting the fruits of your labor. Bring heaven to those places that are lonely and wounded and poor and in pain.

Jesus returns to this theme over and over. In what we call the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

And here is what is so remarkable about God’s creation of humankind: All of us are receive gifts from God to make heaven real now. All of us have the gifts to make “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The longer I live, the more I realize that the purpose of life truly is about bringing healing and hope to this hurting world.

And this hurting world is not just outside these walls but it is right here in the pews next to you.

And that is why I’d like you to give to this church.

Yes, we need to balance the budget.

But the real reason we need your gifts is so that this church can transform lives seven days a week.

Ask yourself: how can you pass the gift of this church onto others?

People sometimes ask me what an appropriate financial pledge to the church should be: Is there a set dollar amount?

No. Rather, think of your gift as a percentage of your income.

The Episcopal Church has long supported the biblical standard of giving 10 percent of our income to the work of bringing heaven to earth: the tithe.

There is great wisdom in the concept of the tithe because it is about giving proportionally according to our means. No one is asked to give more than he or she can afford.

But I also know that the idea of giving away 10 percent sounds frightening to some.

So let me suggest if you haven’t given before, start by giving 1 percent. Next year, work your way up to 2 percent, and so forth.

Many years ago, Lori and I made a pledge to ourselves that we would work our way to the tithe.

We started small, and moved up gradually. As we did, we discovered not only a sense of accomplishment but a sense of freedom from being captive to our things.

Speaking for myself, I know how my material possessions – my stuff – can drag me down. Living lighter is living freer.

It took us a few years to adjust our lives, and we’ve done so. We’ve been tithing for many years.

Next year we will be tithing to the Church of Incarnation – ten percent of our income.

I can tell you from my own experience, it is an enormously rewarding feeling to live this way, knowing that we can support the work of bringing heaven to earth.

And all we are doing is giving 10 percent.

So let me pose this another way: What if you lived on 90 percent of what you make and gave the rest away?

Keep 90 percent of everything, and then ask yourself, what could I do to bring heaven to earth by giving 10 percent away to the causes that really pull at your heart?

You might have to rearrange your life to live a little lighter – 10 percent lighter.

But imagine the amazing things you could accomplish with your giving?

That brings me full circle to this church.

The word church means “the gathering.” The word “church” doesn’t mean “organized religion.”

Nor does the word “church” mean “the institution,” though in its history, the church often acts as if the needs of the institution are greater than the people in it.

The word “church” means the gathering, and that is who we are and who we aspire to be.

We gather to hold each other up, to pray together, to support each other when we need it the most.

We gather to laugh together, to cry together, to share and give, and to discover the work God gives us.

I can’t imagine going through life’s struggles alone. I cannot imagine not being in the gathering of the church.

This gathering, this church, brings blessings to each other to the world around us.

When we make our offering this morning, we will be sharing the blessings of our gathering to bring heaven to earth in the days and years ahead.

Sharing our blessings is truly at the heart of a life of faith.

Gather, bless, share – that is who we are, that is what makes us church and that is what brings heaven to earth.

Jesus looked at all of us and loved us. With God all things are possible.