Rich Toward God

The famous preacher, theologian and seminary professor, Charles H. Spurgeon, was emphasizing to his class the importance of making the facial expression harmonize with the speech.

"When you speak of heaven," he said, "let your face light up, let it be irradiated with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with reflected glory. But when you speak of hell-well, then your ordinary face will do."

Today's sermon title is 'Rich Toward God." It's the last sentence of today's Gospel lesson. I read to you out of the translation of Eugene Peterson [included at the end], THE MESSAGE as you followed along in your lesson sheet that is from the New Revised Standard Version, which ends with "rich toward God." Peterson translates, "you fill your barns with Self, and not with God." That means, Jesus is saying to the people, you are more concerned with treating yourself good, and giving yourself the credit than you are in thanking God for all your many blessings.

Being "rich toward God" is good for us. It is now an accepted scientific fact that a grateful heart, and an attitude of gratitude, is healthy. It releases good chemicals in our bodies that benefit us. Being "rich toward God" is not about giving money to the church. Your offerings to the church have nothing to do with the church and everything to do with your relationship with God.

I have a question I ask couples in pre-marital counseling. I ask, "What would you do if you had all the money you wanted?" The response, almost without fail, is that they say they would help family and friends, give to good causes and lastly they mention something for themselves. You see, when you FEEL rich, you're generous. It has nothing to do with how much money you have. If you recognize how much God has done for you, you feel rich and can't help but give back to God a grateful response. If you feel rich, you're generous.

In their minds, many people focus on what they don't have materially, how they have to scrape along. They don't feel rich, and they don't feel entirely grateful to God. People who have chronic diseases that go on for years, or (and I'm at the point of gagging when I hear this) people say "it's no fun getting old" as they catalog their physical ailments. All I can say is that there are many, many people who didn't live to your age who would gladly trade the ailments for a chance to live as long as you have.

It's not that I'm unsympathetic to your ailments; I've got some of my own. I understand. But don't be ungrateful that you're alive. Don't be rich toward yourself in sympathy and not rich to God in gratitude that you have another day to experience God's love on this earth. Even as you face a day of pain, God is with you every step of the way, going through it with you. Jesus knows the pain you are suffering, whether physical or emotional. He knew emotional pain because his friends deserted him. People he was good to turned on him. God knows what you're going through.

If you have an ungrateful heart, you are not open to the love that God is sending your way. There is nothing greater in this world than love. As we are "rich toward God," being grateful, it can only benefit us.

Now some folks get themselves into a little pity party frame of mind. It's not that it's always evident to others. But there are tell-tale signs. They are half-hearted in their gratitude. They have lurking thoughts that really say they aren't all that blessed. They see perhaps that they have had a financial setback, or lots of family problems and they don't feel very grateful to God. But my dear friends, God has been walking with you through it all. The measure that you have let God into your life and heart is the measure you will feel grateful. Notice, I didn't say the measure you have let God into your life is the measure you will have setbacks or problems. I said the measure you have let God into your life and heart is the measure you will feel grateful. If you don't feel very grateful, then you can be certain you haven't let God very deeply into your life; you haven't let God give you every good thing God wants to give you. It won't matter what challenge you're facing in your life, you will still feel grateful, feel rich and therefore be "rich toward God."

We get ourselves into some awful messes because of our attitudes. God helps us get out of the messes-if we let God. But if we have filled our barns with Self, and not with God, we're not getting the full benefit of God's presence. We are believers, so we have opened the door of out heart to God and receive some benefits, but if we lack of gratitude, or aren't open to all the assistance God wants to give, we haven't opened the door very far.

It isn't that God is going to make challenges disappear, but if we open ourselves fully to God's help, we will be able to cope and not be overwhelmed, and we hopefully will learn what to do and not to do in facing challenges, and that will give our lives a new direction.

The more we are "rich toward God" in our gratitude, the more we will see just how blessed we are and we will feel rich and we will be generous toward God.

I want to read some more to you from the Peterson translation that continues right after today's verses. I want to read them because they explain even more what it means to be "rich toward God," which then can only be of benefit to any one of us to be that.

The verses that immediately follow then, read, "Jesus continues this subject with his disciples. Don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or if the clothes in your closet are in fashion [and that can also mean fussing about having the latest tools or car or pickup truck]. There is far more to your inner life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body [or the pickup you drive or the latest gadgets you have]. And who of you by fussing or worrying can add even an hour to your life? Why fuss or worry at all? Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don't fuss with their appearance-but have you ever seen color and design quite like it?...If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never seen, don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?"

And Peterson continues with what Jesus is saying. "What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works, fuss over these things, but you both know God and know how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don't be afraid of missing out. You're my dear friends. The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself!" [That is, seek the kingdom first, and these things will be given to you as well.]

That's a class I hope to start this fall, "Seeking God's Kingdom: A new, spiritual way of thinking."

Let's look at that last bit I read from Peterson. Jesus explains that being "rich toward God" means being grateful, having an attitude of gratitude, but it also means being open to receiving what God provides us with. Many times because of our 'pride,' we don't see how God is trying to provide for us. We aren't open to it. But isn't it wonderful that Jesus says, "What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God's giving."

So, being "rich toward God," means relaxing first of all. Relaxing is a gift from God. God created the Sabbath, a day of rest for humans (which can be ANY day, not just Sunday, but it must be a day of rest in which you think about how God is impacting your life; think about your relationship to God; think about how you respond to God's many daily blessings; think about what you may be doing to block the fullness of God's love coming to you.)

Being "rich toward God," means not being preoccupied with getting so we, each one of us in our relationship to God, so that we can respond to God's giving. Think about it. Being "rich toward God," means responding to what God want to GIVE us! Paying attention to what God is trying to do for us is what God expects of us. It means we shouldn't think that what we earn or do is entirely our doing.

It doesn't mean if you start giving God the credit as the one who provides for you, that that's going to get you more money. It means that you will see that money is not the measure of all you have. It means that you will feel rich once you start recognizing ALL that God is giving you. You will feel rich and will not lead your life from an attitude of lack.

There was a time in my life that I lived on a thousand dollars a year and lived in a cabin in the woods in a small village in California. But I never felt lack. I can't adequately explain how God blessed me in those days. The wonderful things that took place in that cabin in the woods can't really be described. People from many parts of the country and world found their way to that cabin; people I didn't know, but who were directed there by folks who had been there. They brought blessings and received blessings. People met there and shared ideas and hopes and dreams and shared their deep belief in God and shared their experience of God.

There were healings that took place; there were lives that were changed and set in a new direction. There was always enough food (and I have no idea how) and always enough space for whomever came. It was a special time and place.

I was "rich toward God," because I recognized how much God was a part of my life and how blessed I was. There were times in my life after that where all God asked of me was to "be": to be open, to be giving, to be loving, to be caring, to be present. When you feel rich, the generosity of God's love flows out through you to others AND returns to you to make you even richer. Being "rich toward God," can only benefit you.

So, today, don't let yourself focus on any sort of lack. When you focus on lack you can't see how rich you are. No one ever got 'richer' in any way by focusing on lack. You don't solve a problem by focusing on the problem, but on the SOLUTION to the problem. So don't focus on lack but on the abundance that is available to you.

And finally I will just say, that I have been thinking all week about this sermon, but sat down and wrote it at the computer from six to eight pm last night. And when I got to the last of it was when I recognized that this sermon was for me as much as it was for any one of you.

I keep trying to fulfill all the pastoral needs on my own without fully letting the Holy Spirit help me. There are so many pastoral needs that I get to feeling guilty that I can't meet them all, that I am not fulfilling my call as a pastor; that I am letting the flock down that I was called to shepherd. But I have to keep reminding myself that I'm not in charge-God is. I need to daily remind myself, daily all through the day, that the Holy Spirit will give me support and strength, IF I will let the Spirit do that. I'm not being "rich toward God," if I am not responding to all that God has to GIVE me to give to you. This is God's church. You are God's people. If I am more open to what God has to give, I will see how God will meet your pastoral needs without it having to be me that meets them all.

AND most of all, that sometimes all it will take is me being, being totally present with and for you so that God's love can flow through me to you to support and sustain you.

May we all strive to be "richer toward God" each day so that we will recognize, receive and respond to all that God is giving us.


Read more sermons by Pastor Brie