Pastor Andy Stanley tells the story of Milton Scott in his book Fields of Gold. In all appearances, Mr. Scott was an average man, who died at the age of 106. He worked from the time he was 25 until he was 102 in a textile mill. He lived his entire working life in the same house, driving a simple car. He owned only four suits and four pairs of shoes. By all appearances, Mr. Scott was living a less than middle class ideal life. But what people didn’t know was that he was a fearless giver. As his income grew over the years, he kept his life style the same. Appearances or being noticeable were not among his priorities. Funding the work of ministry was his priority. He helped widows and orphans. He smuggled thousands of Bibles into Russia before the iron curtain fell. He didn’t save money for a rainy day or worry about tomorrow. He didn’t ask the “what if” questions about money we talked about last week. He was simply wrapped up in the joy of giving for the Kingdom of God. By the end of his life it was conservatively estimated that he gave away 70-80 percent of what he earned for the work of God.
Where would you say that Milton Scott’s treasure was? In the gospel of Matthew this morning Jesus is teaching his followers about money and possessions - asking them where their treasure is stored - on earth or in heaven. Telling them that where their treasure is, that’s where their heart is.
My guess is that the Milton Scott story made some of us uncomfortable. We cannot even fathom parting with that much money for the work of God. For others of us we simply dismiss the story by citing how this man had more money to give so of course he gave more away. But the story of Milton Scott isn’t about the specific details. Or how much money he made. The story of Milton Scott challenges us past where we may be comfortable with questions like: how much am I willing to give to the work of the Kingdom of God? Is advancing the Kingdom of God my priority no matter what the cost?
Or in the words of Pastor Stanley, “What if God called you to give beyond your comfort level?” Where is our treasure? Where is our heart?
I think the fact that this passage of scripture is found in scripture points to the fact that the tug of war between generosity and self-preservation is age old. Part of us wants to save money “just in case” and buy things for ourselves because “we deserve it”. We get caught up in questions of what if: what if the harvest isn’t good this year? What if I get a pay cut? What if my bills increase? What if the stock market crashes? So we focus on self-preservation, letting the fear of the “what if?” block our generosity. Let me be clear - I am not telling us to be irresponsible with our money - going into debt for the Kingdom of God. Instead, I’m asking us to examine our lifestyle, live below our means, and look past the “what ifs” for the sake of the Kingdom.
Stanley admonishes that “as believers we have the responsibility to leverage our wealth for kingdom purposes”. In other words our giving to the work of the Kingdom tells where our heart is. Tells where our treasure is stored. Church folk feel pretty okay when the pastor brings up working for the Kingdom of God. They feel comfortable with the idea of growing in their relationship with Jesus Christ. However, resistance comes when talking about putting our money where our mouth, and our heart is, for God. Its as if money is where we hit our limit with trusting God. We don’t quite trust God financially. And as a result we don’t sow for the eternal harvest with our money - it just seems like a little too much to ask. But in the words of Stanley “Sowing in faith results in an eternal crop. Cowering in field yields empty fields”
I’m not trying to make you feel nervous, uncomfortable, or angry. But I can understand why those emotions may be present because of this sermon series. Instead, I’m asking you if you trust God financially? If your check book reveals your heart chasing after God? If you are trying to grow in your stewardship? Because its not until we start to ask these questions that we can find freedom. Its not until we start examining our hearts that we can truly seek the Kingdom of God first.
Here’s the thing - every person in this room, including myself, has a threshold when it comes to giving. Just as everyone in that crowd gathered around Jesus as he taught about where our treasure is, so our heart is, had a threshold for what they would give. Thresholds are natural for humans. They are the dollar amount or percentage of money that we feel comfortable giving. When we step out in faith beyond our threshold, thats when we become uncomfortable. But the question is are we willing to step out in faith, beyond our threshold? Are we willing to surrender control of our money to God? Or are we going to let our fear be in control? Stanley shares his own threshold moment to which he responded, “God I’m not 100 percent comfortable with giving this money but I’m too uncomfortable not to give it”.
In the church there are typically two types of people who give in the offering plate throughout the year. The first are those who give out of what is left over - after all of the bills are paid and they see what is left over. The second type of giver takes a risk and gives off of the top. One way is not better then another, but the order in which we write our checks speaks of our priorities. Speaks of what makes us more comfortable - giving up front or giving what’s left over?
Do we become more uncomfortable with not giving then we are with giving an amount that scares us? Are we more focused on sowing for the kingdom or taking care of ourselves in potential situations in the future?
If God has given us all that we have, including the money we get from our vocation, and the offering plate belongs to God, why are we still fearful? If all of our treasures belong to God, why do we invest so much time and money into protecting them? And do we offer the same level of care and money into the work of God among us?
United Methodist consultant Cliff Christopher points out “Stewardship is a journey that is grounded in gratitude, revealed in prayers, and lived in faith.” We are not going to let go of our fear around finances tomorrow. It comes one little step at a time. One percentage more in our giving each year. God is inviting us to a lifestyle of generosity vs. Fear, but the choice is ours as to what we will choose. Money and our attitude towards possessions speak directly to what we choose. So I ask you - wheres your treasure this day - on earth or in heaven? And where would you like them to be even if it is beyond our comfort level? Amen.