Primary Text: Luke 3:7-14
Welcome to week three of our Advent Conspiracy. In week 1, the challenge was to worship fully by listening for God’s still, small voice. In week, 2 the challenge was to overthrow the standing order of a consumer Christmas by spending less. Now we come to week three, where all that discipline begins to pay off.
You can only keep quiet so long before you want to speak. You can only cut back so long before you have to spend. Which is the point. Don’t just spend less. Give more. Oh look, a preacher asking for money, what a surprise. Don’t worry. This is not a fundraising speech. We’re talking about a biblical principle that will bring more money and more energy into your life, not less.
But before we get there, we have to clear up a misinterpretation. Despite what some people seem to think, Jesus did not come here to establish an ascetic commune, where no one has anything, especially not any fun. Giving is not rule to be obeyed. It’s a principle built into the world, and you will see everywhere, once you learn how to look.
Anybody here ever shopped at Walmart? Right. And you go there because you’re looking for low… prices. It’s certainly not for the customer service. 40 checkout counters and 4 checkers. 2 on this end. 2 on the other with a ten minute line on each, and 32 empty lanes in between.
Last week, it took me 35 minutes to send a MoneyGram because the only person trained to do it went on lunch break just as I arrived. I asked for a manager, she says, “That was the manager.”
Have you noticed they don’t even have ceilings! Can you imagine the meeting to discuss that one? “We need to cut costs. Who has a good idea?” “Umm. How often do shoppers actually look up?” Over the life of the company, how much money have they saved from that one choice? I know it sounds like I’m making fun of them. Ok, I am making fun of them, but all those choices that annoy me, those are exactly the choices that make Walmart one of the most successful companies in the world! Walmart carefully and intentionally loses at customer service in order to win on price.
Anybody here ever shop in the boutiques of Saugatuck or Douglas? Find a lot of low prices? Nope. You know that going in, but in return for that higher price, you get to use words like: unique and quirky, fair-trade, beautiful craftsmanship, and personal attention. Boutiques carefully and intentionally lose at price in order to win at customer service. It’s the same principle as Walmart only in reverse. Spend less to give more.
How does that apply to the Christian life? We carefully and intentionally lose at the game everyone else seems to be playing. Keeping up with the Jones? I lose. Always being right? I lose. Controlling other people? I lose. Why? So I can take all the money and time and energy I was dumping into that endless stupid game and spend it on something better.
Our reading from Luke has a great example of this. John the Baptist is out preaching in the desert, and people start coming out to listen to him. And John, loving and kind pastor that he was said, “You sons of snakes! Who warned you? Since when do you care about God?” How’d you like to hear that on a Sunday morning?
“Our father is Abraham. Our father is Abraham. God made Adam out of dirt. If all he wanted were sons of Abraham, he could make some out of these rocks. God has no grandkids. And you people, born with every advantage, are inches away from losing it all.”
Stunned. They ask the only appropriate question. “What do we do?” And John says “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” That is not communism. Anyone who says otherwise needs to go read it again.
But that’s not even the most interesting part of the story. “Even the tax collectors came to be baptized. And then the soldiers.” Do you get the nuance there? There are people, and then there are tax collectors, and then way over there? Ugh. Soldiers. They are living in occupied territory, under the boot of Roman power. The tax collectors are the traitorous scumbags who collect money on behalf of the oppressor. They betray their people for the institutionalized privilege of skimming off the top. And soldiers? They’re the hired thugs who enforce the whole system.
Imagine the hutzpah it took, for these people to come to John and ask, “What about us? What should we do?” And John says, “You tax collectors should tie a stone around your feet and go jump in a lake. And you soldiers should quit your job in formal protest and take up knitting.”
No. He says, “Don’t collect more than you’re due. Don’t extort people. Be content with your pay. You know that game that every other soldier and every tax collector is playing? You carefully and intentionally lose.” Why? So we can all be poor and our families can starve? Is that what he said? “You who have two shirts, go give your two shirts away so you can freeze to death. And you with more than enough food. Give all your food away so your family can starve.” Is that what he said? No. You fight the temptation of greed, and the demands of your evil bosses, and the expectations of all the people who hate you, and you do a good job. Be a fair tax collector. But a good soldier.
To their ears it sounded like a contradiction in terms, but we know it’s not. They couldn’t see it yet, because they’d never seen it before, and their imaginations were too small. But God’s dream is bigger than our brains, and just because we can’t imagine it, doesn’t make it so. There will come a day when we won’t need soldiers, or tax collectors, or police. There will come a day when we don’t need preachers! Hey! No cheering.
Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, and one faithful soldier, one honest tax-collector might be the very first step toward it. Even if you never know the difference your contribution makes, all those little contributions add up to a change in the system, a world made new. The king is coming, and you still have time to prepare.
Paul said, “I have learned the secret to being content in any situation…” Do you hear the power and the peace in that? To have enough time. To have enough money. To be content. Isn’t that what we all claim to be chasing while we running around all crazy and stressed? Turns out the answer was here all along.
Give more. Obviously that can mean money, but it can mean so much more than money. Giving up a grudge, forgiving an offense, letting go of the need to be right all the time. It all frees you to live. I can’t tell you exactly what that’s going to look like for you, because it’s as different as Walmart and a boutique. When we stop playing everyone else’s game, we are free at last to be ourselves.
For Walmart, it’s low prices. For a boutique, it’s great service. For you? Maybe it’s the best children’s ministry this church has ever seen. Maybe it’s a church budget that runs in the black. Maybe it’s not in the church at all. God’s kingdom is bigger than these four walls. Maybe you’ll start a change that keeps our kids safe from broken people wiht guns. I don’t know what you’ll do, but I know you can’t do it while trying to do everything else at the same time.
That’s the secret swap that everyone sees and nobody notices. It’s not about mission statements, or getting motivated, or gritting your teeth and trying harder. It’s intentionally losing at one game so you can win at another. The thing you don’t do, enables the thing you do. So, worship fully, spend less, and use all the time and energy you get from that, to give more.
Charge to the congregation: Any time we talk about giving up, or giving more, we have to walk a fine line. What about the people who are already giving? What about the people who’ve been used or abused? Should they just keep giving up and giving more? Yes! Give up feeling worthless! Give up feeling like garbage is your due. Give more trust to the promise that you are known and loved. Nothing could stop God’s love for you. Not the boundless depths of time and space. Not the hatred and stupidity of a world in rebellion. Not death itself could stop God from loving you. Give up believing anyone who says otherwise. Do that, and giving more will be as easy as breathing.