Sell your Possessions? - 4.8.13

Luke 12:22-34

Last week’s reading was centered on a story that Jesus told - the parable of the rich fool.

And we had to think about why riches are dangerous, and accept the fact that today we in the west are like that rich man. We are so much wealthier than most other people in the world.

I spoke about the website globalrichlist.com. I discovered again just the other week the shocking statistic that 99% of people in the world are poorer than me! It was a sobering exercise. (You should try it if you can).

So through the week I looked at the lectionary to discover the Bible readings for this Sunday today only to see that this challenging subject continues!

In fact, Jesus even seems to ratchet up a gear.

Jesus says “Sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor.”

Well, we’re used to having a collection at church services.

We are used to making a donation to charity.

But “sell all your belongings”…are you kidding!!!?

In all that we have heard today from scripture these words are surely the most astounding.

Could they be any worse for us to hear? Could they be any harder?

And they come after Jesus saying: “Do not be afraid!”

“Don’t be afraid!” and “Sell your possessions.”

Nice combo Jesus!

Do not be afraid and then sell all your possessions!

We want to say to Jesus: “Are you nuts?” That’s about the scariest thing we could do.

And Christians down through the years (with a very few notable exceptions) have decided to sidestep the issue.

Sell all your possessions? – ah…., well…, Jesus doesn’t mean me.

Why do we do that? Why do we decide to ignore these words of Jesus? 

1)     We are scared.

There is the simplest and most obvious answer. What would become of us if we did that? How would we live?

To end up with nothing – nothing at all – for millions of people that is simply the scariest thing in the world.

2)    It’s impractical.

But we also want to rationalise. We say this is impractical.

We say to ourselves that whilst Jesus might have said this to some people we cant all give up everything.

If every one of us gave up all our possessions then all Christians would be beggars – and having to live off the rest of society who don’t even share our faith.

And if Jesus is concerned about the poor, and really considers poverty to be an evil – then we Christians would now be poor ourselves.

And if we gave up everything we had – though that might go towards helping the poor initially – we would end up with nothing more to offer.

And here is a third reason why we don’t take this literally.

3)    Jesus didn’t invite everyone to do this.

Now this is true.

Luke Chapter 12 records that Jesus spoke these words. But this is the only record we have of this message. There is another occasion where he says something similar to the rich young man who confronts him, (Luke 18:18-25), but we know that this was not the central message of Jesus.

In other words, he didn’t invite everyone to do this.

We know too, that Jesus and his disciples were supported by others in terms of finance, food and accommodation, so although the closest disciples may have given up their day jobs to follow Christ, all of Jesus’ followers did not do that.

So when we hear Jesus saying “Sell your belongings and give the money to the poor” we have our excuses all ready.

Well I’ve got good news and bad news.

So here is the good news.

I think we can be pretty sure that Jesus is not calling most of us to literally give up all our possessions.

Here is the bad news.

Do you think it likely that Jesus says to a few people:

“Give up all your belongings”  whilst saying to everyone else:

“Just keep everything you’ve got? Don’t even question your lifestyle?”

I don’t think so!

In other words, a few persons have to give up everything and everyone else has to give up nothing!

I doubt it.

Jesus may not be calling you (or me) to give up everything but you can bet he is calling us to take a long hard look at our stuff, and to think about where our treasure really is.

Now there are some Bible scholars who reckon that they’ve got Jesus’ mind worked out.

Their theory goes like this.

Jesus thought the end of the world was coming really soon.

So it was easy to say, (or at least if not easy), then not so radical.

If you believe the world is about to end - then possessions don’t matter so much.

But that lets us off the hook somewhat.

It allows us to say that Jesus said this because he thought the world would soon end, and (as he was wrong about that), we are now free not to take his words literally!

We can’t be sure whether that is true. It’s all conjecture.

However, there are two things we can be pretty certain about.

1) On the one hand, Jesus didn’t say this kind of thing to many people. This is about the only example along with the rich young man incident.

2) And on the other hand, Jesus had stern warnings about the dangers of wealth - as does the Bible as a whole.

So we are back to what I said a few moments ago.

Jesus may not be calling you (or me) to give up everything but you can bet he is calling us to take a long hard look at our stuff, and to think about where our treasure really is.

And to consider where our security really is.

Giving to the poor is more than just helping others.

It also a demonstration of where our trust and our security is placed.

Is it on our things, our money, our possessions, our stuff - or is it where it should be - on God alone?

I can’t proscribe to you what you must do on hearing these words of Jesus. I know whoever we are we need to take them seriously.

And I know that the church has done a good job over the years of trying to dumb them down.

What we all certainly need to do is to wrestle with what Jesus is saying and take him seriously.

How great it would be if the church worldwide could do this more often. Instead of banging on about subjects on which Jesus had nothing to say how about actually getting to grips with the things he DID say and try to follow his teachings?

Let’s start caring about what Jesus really said and think about these things.

Let’s ask God to guide us to see how we should live as followers of Christ – how we can be the people we are called to be.

“Sell your belongings and give the money to the poor….”

Who gets the benefits when we start questioning our lifestyle and become more generous?

The poorest and neediest get support.

We get the chance to simplify our lifestyles and really put our trust in God. We get the chance to take our faith seriously.

And the church benefits.

How so?

The church benefits because as we move into this post-Christendom world it gives us a chance to show that our faith makes a difference.

Now that the church is right on the margins of society it’s little understood. There are all sorts of notions that people have when they think about the word “church”.

But when the church actually starts doing what we have always been called to do - to really follow Jesus: to live as a radical group of people intent on making this world a better place – intent on living out our faith - what a difference that will make.

If we could be known for the things that Jesus passionately cared about, caring for the poor,

acting as peacemakers,

accepting the stranger,

fighting injustice,

standing up for the weak,

sharing love and compassion to all,

then peoples’ eyes will be opened.

Jesus came to this world to tell us the good news about God and God’s love – and also to challenge us to get involved in expressing God’s concerns – in making this world a better place for everyone.

Our task, as the friends of Jesus, is to wrestle with his example, his words and teaching and ask God to guide us how we should live out our faith in Scotland today.

Lets ask the Spirit to speak to us as we confront some of Jesus most difficult words today and lets ask for strength to live out our Christian faith effectively – a faith that is worth giving our lives to.

Luke 12:22-34