How many of you like meatloaf?
Go ahead. Raise your hands. I love meatloaf. Meatloaf is one of my favorite foods to eat. I have lots of good memories about it; the ketchup topping that somehow made it taste both sweet and savory at the same time, eating it after it came out piping hot from the stove with a big scoop of rice on the side, family meals around the table. And of course, no one makes it like my mom. My mom’s version is the gold standard of meatloaf. If I order it from a restaurant, I can’t help but compare it to hers. You know what I like even better than my mom’s meatloaf? Leftovers the next day. As a kid, I used to love making a meatloaf sandwich for lunch. Put a big chunk of it in-between two slices of bread with some mayonnaise on it. Yum. But as much as I like it, leftover meatloaf just isn’t something I would serve to someone else. Not because it’s meatloaf, but because it’s a leftover. Leftovers might be okay for ourselves, but would you ever serve leftovers to someone who was a guest in your home? Someone you were hoping to date? Would you serve leftovers to your boss? There’s something about leftovers people associate with being “not worthy of my time.” Leftovers are for “other people” once we’re done eating what we want. Leftovers go in the “doggy bag.” Think about it. The “doggy bag.” Because it’s leftover scraps of food that goes to the dogs. Before the invention of the doggy bag, most people wouldn’t even THINK to take leftover food home. It was considered in poor taste even as late as the 1970’s. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love leftovers. Most of you probably do too, but there is something about them people associate with unworthiness. So the question needs to be asked, “Are you giving God your leftovers?”
Before you answer, think about it.
When you go to make your budget every month, you set aside money for the gas bill, the power bill, the water bill, gas for the car, food for your stomach, the rent or mortgage to pay for the roof over your head, do you also put aside money for God? Or does God come AFTER paying the bills? Is God simply getting your leftovers? Let’s face it, God doesn’t need the money. He made the whole world. But giving to God FIRST is a sign of your obedience to God. It’s an indication of where your heart is. Because as we mentioned before, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” You might be thinking to yourself, well what is it I’m supposed to give to God?
As you might expect we can find the answer in Scripture.
Let me give you some background before we get into the Scripture. In this part of the Gospel of Mark, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the chief priests are ganging up on Jesus. The funny thing is these groups other than the chief priests are all political rivals like the Democrats and Republicans. Normally, they would be opposed to each other if for no other reason than to not be like the others. It would have to take something that threatened all of them for them to band together in mutual opposition and that threat was Jesus. These groups were afraid of him, including the chief priests of the temple. Not because he can beat them up or anything, but because he speaks with such authority and conviction he is convincing people to his way of thinking, and he is gathering more and more followers every day. So, these groups attack Jesus verbally in public forums, trying to get him to slip up and make a mistake to ridicule him and tear him down in front of his followers, but Jesus keeps answering every challenge with such skill even more people follow him. Where we pick up in the Scriptures this morning, the Sadducees have just asked him a question about the resurrection and Jesus answers it and throws their knowledge of Scripture right back in their face and apparently, he does so with such conviction and aplomb that this teacher of the law comes forth and asks Jesus a serious question.
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
When you first hear this passage, it doesn’t seem obvious what it has to do with giving.
Jesus tells us the most important commandment is to love the Lord God with ALL your heart and will ALL your soul and with ALL your mind and with ALL your strength. This is the key to what we are supposed to give to God. ALL – that’s the key word in this passage. Give it ALL to God. Because God already gave it all to us. ALL your heart. ALL your understanding. ALL your strength. We’re supposed to give it all. Because God gave us life. He gave us hope. He gave us salvation through our savior, Jesus Christ. Now, we’re supposed to give ourselves back to him. God doesn’t want you to starve. God doesn’t want you to give up your homes. But he does want your heart. All of it. He wants those intangible things that make up the backbone of any good relationship. Your heart, your soul, your mind. And this teacher of the law in our passage today says it so eloquently in verse 33, “To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” What’s so amazing about this verse is that it comes from a teacher of the law. This was a man who made a living from burnt offerings and sacrifices. To the Hebrew people, these sacrifices were meant as an offering of duty, devotion, and love and this teacher says it’s not the things you bring to the table that are important – it’s what’s behind the action that is. It’s those intangible qualities of love made tangible by what we give and why we give that are important.
When we give, we are supposed to give FIRST to God – not because God needs your money.
Not that God needs your burnt offerings and sacrifices. But because God needs your heart. Why you give and what you give indicate your heart for God. Are you putting God first in your life? Or are you giving God your “leftovers?” You might think you are doing the right thing, but our actions speak louder than our words and we have a lot of words about this topic: “Vote with our feet…” “Speak with our wallets…” or this one, “Put your money where your mouth is…” I think that one comes straight from the Bible. It’s a variation of something John wrote to the church in one of his letters. “17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18. “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth!” It’s so easy to put God off. He’s such an understanding guy. And we tend to put off anything that doesn’t demand our attention. But God doesn’t want you to give out of duty or obligation. He doesn’t want you to give because you think you’ll earn a spot in Heaven. He wants you to give from the heart and nothing says “I love you” as much as it does when we put others before ourselves. So as you consider what you are going to give to God this year, think about how putting God first can create in you a stronger relationship with God. God is waiting for you, but it’s up to you to respond to his call. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.