For the last seven and a half years, I delivered about four hundred sermons here but among them, fewer than three sermons are about money. You already know, I preached on money when I really had to. And today is unfortunately one of those days. But our faith and money… this is a truly vital topic. Money is one of the most critical parts of our life. And it has power to decide many things and change many things. So it is necessary for us to reflect on our stewardship of God-given treasure, and especially, on our practice of giving. What kind of principle of giving should we hold onto as God’s stewards? Let us look into it together.
Who is the most generous person in the world now? So far, according to Forbes, Bill Gates has donated $28 billion with a net worth of $66 billion. Warren Buffet has donated $17.25 billion with a net worth of $46 billion. George Soros has donated $8.5 billion with a net worth of $19 billion. Isn’t it incredible? For me, those numbers are too big to imagine. It’s just surreal. No doubt, they are truly generous people. Then, who is the most generous person in our church? So far, according to Robert, the chair of our finance committee…I’m just kidding! Relax. I don’t even have access to such records. As a pastor, I keep certain ethical conducts regarding finance of the church, and one of them is not to ask anything about personal offering records. So no worries.
Anyway, let’s change the question a bit. Who would be the most generous person Jesus ever encountered? Have you ever thought about this? Do you think Jesus might regard one of the rich guys I mentioned earlier as the most generous person? I’m not sure. But one thing I am quite sure about is this: for Jesus, the most generous persons were not often some people who were rich or famous. In many times, they were the people whose names never make any headlines. And in most cases, they were quite unexpected people like the poor widow we see in today’s Gospel story. She offers two small copper coins that are worth only a penny. But Jesus praises her, saying, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44).
This poor widow clearly shows us: Jesus doesn’t measure the size of one’s generosity by the sum of what he or she gives. However, he measures how much that giving really costs the giver something. In other words, Jesus measures how much sacrifice he or she makes to give to God. So here’s the principle of Jesus. Generosity is not determined by the size of the gift but by the size of the sacrifice. Yes, when we give something to God, it should cost us something, something substantial. Otherwise, it is not a real sacrifice. In our giving, there must be a degree of sacrifice, so it makes our gift valuable. So by this measure, the poor widow deserves praise. While everybody contributes something out of their abundance, she, out of her poverty, puts in everything she has, all she has to live with.
Then, why sacrifice? Why do we have to make sacrifice to give back to God? Can we just give some surplus or leftover? Something that doesn’t affect our finance, our savings? Yes, there may be a lot of questions. But the reason for sacrifice is quite simple and straightforward to us, who believe in Jesus Christ. We make sacrifice to give God what we have, because Jesus made his sacrifice on the cross to save us and give us the precious new life in God. One dictionary defines sacrifice like this: “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.” We all know, what’s more important and worthier in our lives. We all know, our faith in Jesus is the best gift we received from God. So we can give back to God what we value, what we cherish—our time, our treasure, our talents, and even our whole life. We can make our life a living sacrifice to God and God’s vision for a new kingdom of love.
True, there’s no more precious life than the life sacrificed for the purpose of love. There’s no better life than the life of Christians surrendered to the will of God and to the continued life-giving mission of Jesus. And here’s one thing we should also remember. This sacrifice we make for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom isn’t hard or painful. Instead, this holy sacrifice brings us joy. Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). For those who don’t understand the value of this hidden treasure, it’s meaningless to make sacrifice to own it. But for those who understand the surpassing value of living in the kingdom of God—the value of worship and fellowship, the value of ministries that change the world, the value of prayers and practices, making sacrifice can be a joyful thing indeed.
Today, we are called to remember the sacred value of God’s unending love, the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. Do you believe God’s love really matters to you and your life? Yes? Then, you can commit yourself to God, even if it may cost you something. Do you believe the sacrifice of Jesus matters the most to you and your life? Yes? Then, you can surrender yourself to the will of Christ, even if it may cost you everything.
The founder of the Methodist movement John Wesley left us great wisdom on money: “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” Until last week, I thought, the emphases in these sentences are on “you can.” Earn all “you can.” Save all “you can.” Give all “you can.” But last week this phrase came to me anew as I realized, it is “all” that Wesley really wanted to emphasize. Earn “all” you can. Save “all” you can. Give “all” you can. To God, who first came to us and made the covenant relationship with us, to Jesus Christ, who first loved us and sacrificed himself on the cross for our salvation, we can give “all” we can; we can dedicate our whole life. From today, let us be more generous. Let us find true joy as we make more sacrifice to God and serve God’s mission. May God bless us more and grant us more heavenly gifts as we give God something that really cost us and as we gladly make sacrifice of our time, treasure, and talent. Amen.
 Rick Ezell, “The Heart of Generosity,” preaching.com (accessed November 13, 2019, https://www.preaching.com)
An American tourist in Italy met a monk. The monk offered him to show around the monastery where he was staying. On their tour, they visited the monk’s room; the tourist noticed there was no TV and radio, but only one change of clothes, a towel, and a blanket. He asked, “How do you live so simply?” The monk answered, “I noticed you carry only enough things to fill a suitcase; why do you live so simply?” To him the tourist replied, “But I’m just a tourist, I’m only traveling through.” To him the monk said, “So am I, so am I.”
This story tenderly reminds us of how short and transitory our life is. And it certainly helps us realize that we have not much time in this life. We are just traveling through. This is what today’s Hebrew Bible reading also poignantly tells us. Isaiah delivers God’s voice to us, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it” (Isaiah 40:6-7). Yes, our time on earth is limited, and moreover, we don’t know when God calls us back. True. Our life is just a short-term trip.
But in our daily lives, we are not always mindful of this unchanging truth of human life. Why? Because we are so busy and distracted by so many things we should take care of. Competing-time demands are an inevitable part of modern life. And everyone is combatting their busy schedule. But to make our short-term trip more meaningful and valuable, we better be aware of the transient nature of our life always. The Letter of James teaches us, “Come now, you who say, ‘today and tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:13-17).
Like the grass and flower of the field, like a mist that briefly appears and then vanishes, our life is short. So today, the pressing question for all of us is this: “What is the best and most fruitful way to use our limited time?” We can find an answer from Jesus. Here, I am not trying to describe Jesus as the perfect time management expert like in some self-improvement books. Of course, if we look into the Gospels, we can certainly see how Jesus uses his time. But believe or not, what I found last week is that his way of time management is not that different from us. Surprising? Yes, for sure, if you expected a kind of divine or magical way to manage time from Jesus. But the truth is… Jesus did the same thing as we do in time planning.
In fact, Jesus set priorities in spending his time, just as we do. We also spend our time on our priorities right? Look at the grid. Even if we are not aware of it all the time, we try to do the important and urgent things first. We make our to-do list whether we write it down or just keep it in our mind. And we try to keep up with it. Why? It’s simply because we don’t want to waste our time doing not important and not urgent things. Probably for the same reason, Jesus also set his priorities, so that he could accomplish his mission in only three short years of his ministry. Anyway, it is great that Jesus used the same time management method as we do.
But… here comes the difference between Jesus and us. Jesus is different from us in a way that he decided what’s important and what’s not. And here’s an incredible thing. His priorities are not about himself. He prioritized the things that are important to God and to God’s kingdom. But check out our to-do list. We can easily and clearly say that we prioritize the things that are important for us. Yes, Jesus used the same time management method as we do. But his priorities are not quite same as ours.
So what are the priorities of Jesus? From today’s Gospel readings, we can get to know them. Jesus says, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). For Jesus, love is the number one priority. And he actually used his precious time on earth for the purpose of love—love that forgives us, accepts us, and saves us. And with this love, Jesus asks us to go and make disciples of all nations, and build the kingdom of God, the kingdom of love, peace and liberation, wherever we go. Love God and love your neighbor with all your time. Build the kingdom of God whenever you can. Indeed, these two are the overriding priorities that Jesus focused on in his days.
And it is clear that they should be our Christian priorities as we manage our time. We, the Christians, always say, “We want to follow Jesus. We want to be Christ-like believers,” not knowing exactly what to do. But today, we learn one certain way to follow Jesus. Prioritize what Jesus prioritized and make the priorities of Jesus our priorities.
A couple of weeks ago, one news really inspired me and led me to reflect on my priorities in life. It was the news about former President Jimmy Carter helping people build Habitat for Humanity homes in Nashville. It was just one day after he fell at his home and received stitches above his eye. And he has also had some trouble walking after he had a hip replaced in May. But this 95-year old man insisted on coming out and helping build houses even with his shaky hands. And he insisted on teaching Sunday School regularly. To an interviewer, he mentioned, “I had a No. 1 priority and that was to come to Nashville to build houses!”
What’s your number one priority when it comes to time? In your priorities, on you to-do list today… among many items that are important to us, to our family, to our entertainment, is there anything that is important to God and God’s kingdom? Is there any items that Jesus would have also prioritized?
From this Sunday until the end of November, we are having our annual Stewardship Campaign. This is the right time to reflect on how good we are as stewards of our God-given resources. And among the three important resources, I mean, time, treasure, and talent, I think, time is the most precious resource we have. Then, how are we using this resource? Are we using it wisely enough following the overriding priorities of Jesus? There is no enough time for all things, but I’m sure, there is enough time for the most important things. So from today, on our to-do list, why don’t we include more things that are important to God and God’s kingdom? If you attend worship service once a month, why can it be twice a month or three times a month? If you pray for ten minutes a day, why can it be twenty minutes a day from now on? If you spend an hour for church’s mission weekly, why can it be two hours? Let us use more time to love God and love our neighbors. Let us spend more time building the kingdom of God among us. May we bear much fruits of love as we make the priorities of Jesus our priorities in our short lifetime. Amen.
Sometimes people ask me if we believe in saints in The United Methodist Church. And I say, “The answer is both yes and no.” On the one hand, the answer is no, because we don’t really have saints in the way that the Roman Catholic Church does. We don’t formally beatify or canonize people. So we don’t have any officially recognized saints in our tradition—not even John Wesley. On the other hand, the answer is yes, because we do use the word “saint.” But the difference is that we use this word to refer to all believers of Jesus Christ, whether they are still with us or already with God. Yes, in our Methodist tradition, saints are not just a few angelic people with haloes behind their heads. Rather, saints are all believers just like you and me, all believers who follow Jesus here and now, or who have already lived their faithful lives and gone before us.
I’m blessed for I’ve known many saints in my life. They have inspired me to be a better believer and to become a pastor. But honestly, they are not very special people. Their lives are hardly perfect or extraordinary. Just like me, they have suffered the same kinds of challenges; they have struggled with the same kinds of sins; they have received the same God’s grace, just as I do. Yet, they all have lived their ordinary lives with great faithfulness and courage. They are saints to me, not because they are so saintly without any blemish, but because they have faithfully walked their journeys of sanctification through all the ups and downs in life. I believe, you can also talk about such saints in your life, some people around you who have inspired you to become better believers.
Then, what about us? Do you think that we are saints too? Not sure yet? You may ask me, “You said, ‘We all are sinners,’ in your sermon last Sunday. Then, today you tell us, ‘We all are saints,’ all of sudden?” Of course, we all are sinners. That’s for sure. We are always inclined to do something wrong, and we are weak and in need of forgiveness. But still, we can be called saints. Why? It’s not because of who we are, our holiness or righteousness, but because of who Jesus is, his steadfast love that saves us, dwells in us, molds us and shapes us into more Christ-like people each and every day. Yes, in Jesus our Lord, we surely are saints of God on our common journey of sanctification.
In today’s Hebrew Bible and Epistle readings, for all God’s saints God promises many great things. Through the vision of Daniel, God says, in the end time, when the judgments is upon the earth, “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever” (Daniel 7:8). And today’s Epistle reading reminds us, “in Christ, we have obtained an inheritance, the redemption and the promise of the kingdom, and also, in Christ, we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:11; 13). Such grateful words of promise! Thanks and praises be to God who calls us to be saints on earth, who chooses us to inhere the kingdom, and who marks us with the seal of the Holy Spirit.
But for all God’s saints, God doesn’t grant those privileges only. In fact, there are things we should do as saints. Yes, privileges always come with duties, right? Let’s look into the Gospel reading. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus first assures that we are fully blessed even when we are hungry, poor, weeping, and persecuted, and our reward will be great in heaven. So, God’s saints always have a certain reason to rejoice even in the days of suffering. Second, Jesus also warns us that when we indulge in pleasure and comfort from our richness, fame, fullness, that is the time when God’s woe can be upon us. So, God’s saints always check themselves not to be complacent and lose faith when things are going all too well.
Right after this assurance and warning, Jesus finally tells us the things we should do as saints. Let us read them together. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-31).
I know, this to-do list is a kind of impossible-to-do list, or at least, a hard-to-do list. But Jesus is so sure and clear that these are what all saints of God should try and practice in their lives. This list of duties can be summarized in one single sentence: “Practice the love of Jesus”—the love that is unconditional, self-denying, and life-giving. We are saints, because Jesus’ sacred love dwells in us as we believe in him. And as saints, we are called to reveal this love and share it with others. It is not important how much successful we are in practicing love. But we should persevere always. That’s our holy duty. Live out the love of Jesus, and make life more holier, keep relationships more sacred, and change communities gradually into the kingdom of God.
Fellow saints of God, today we are celebrating All Saints Sunday and our 191st Anniversary. Today we shouldn’t forget all those ordinary saints in our church’s history, in the history of First United Methodist Church of Montclair and also in the 186 years of history of Verona United Methodist Church. Indeed, today, in this sanctuary, we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” from both churches’ history. Let us remember our saints and their legacy of faith as we celebrate the joining tougher of the two churches today and as we move ahead toward our future. Because of their love for God, for neighbor, for the two churches, we are here to continue the common history of saints today; we are here to share the same love with others.
Indeed, it was love, from the beginning, the love of Jesus. This love grants us the redemption and consecrates us to be saints at our baptism and to inhere God’s kingdom. It still is this love, today, the love of our Lord. This love marks us with the seal of the Holy Spirit and binds us together in the communion of saints beyond space and time. And it will be the same love, in the future, the unconditional love of Christ. This love will always dwell in us, continuously sanctify us on our spiritual journey, and always call us to the duty of sharing that love with others. As we live out this sacred love and our sainthood, let us be persistent. Let us take up our own crosses and follow Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:3) May God’s grace and love be with all of us in abundance, as we continue the work of saints with great faithfulness and courage just like the saints who have gone before us. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim