How many of you like meatloaf?
Meatloaf is one of my favorite foods to eat. And of course, no one makes it like my mom. My mom’s version is the gold standard of meatloaf. When I order it from a restaurant, I can’t help but compare it to hers. But you know what’s even better than my mom’s meatloaf? Mom’s meatloaf leftovers. As a kid, my favorite lunch was bringing a meatloaf sandwich to school. Put a big chunk of it in-between two slices of bread slathered with mayonnaise and that was heaven. Yum. But as much as I like leftover meatloaf, it’s not something I’d serve to someone else no matter how good it was. Not because I’m hoarding it for myself (which I might very well be doing), but because it’s a leftover. Leftovers are fine for us, but you wouldn’t serve it to someone you were trying to impress. There’s a connotation of the word “leftover” that says, “you’re not worthy of my time.” Think about it. Leftovers go in the “doggy bag.” The idea for the doggy bag was that these were scraps only worthy of your dog. 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 (right or wrong) 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 all ganging up on Jesus. The funny thing is these groups (other than the chief priests) are all political rivals like Democrats and Republicans. Normally, they would never work together! It would have to take something HUGE for them to put aside their differences. It would have to be a threat so large it affected them all. And to them, that threat was Jesus. They were all afraid of him, including the chief priests. Not because Jesus was going to beat them up after school on the playground, 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, in public these groups try to trick Jesus into saying something they could use to discredit him, to ruin his reputation, but Jesus is way too smart for that and avoids their traps. And with every failure, Jesus keeps gathering new followers. 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 that a 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. – Mark 12:28-34
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. ALL – that’s the key word in this passage. Give it ALL to God. Because God already gave it all to us. Life. Hope. Salvation through Jesus. That doesn’t mean God wants you to starve. God doesn’t want you to give up your home. God simply 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 says it just right, “To love him with all your heart…is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” What’s amazing about what he said 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 all about why you do it.
When we give, we are supposed to give FIRST to God.
Not that God needs your money or your burnt offerings and sacrifices. But because God wants your heart. Are you putting God first in your life? Or are you giving God your “leftovers?” Is God a priority in your life? If so, then think about how that’s reflected in what you do. Not just in what you give out of your wallet, but of your time and talent and witness. As John wrote in one of his letters to the church, “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). 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. Do you have a heart for God? Challenge yourself to give more this year in whatever way you are able – more of your time, more of your talents, more of your gifts, and see if that doesn’t bring you closer to God.