Within Wesley’s sermon, there is a concept, highlighted by James Harnish in the last chapter of Earn. Save. Give.: the “Farther End.” Earning and saving “all you can” is not enough. They must be aimed at a “farther end” – a life of Christ-centered generosity in which we find the joy in “giving all we can.”
Wesley was not preaching in order to raise money for the church. His sole motive was to encourage his listeners to become more Christ-like. His whole reason for this sermon was to teach his people how to live a life shaped by the image of an extravagantly generous God.
I hope you believe me when I say the same. This is a matter of the spiritual commitment of us all. If you can give God your finances, you can give God anything! If you can let God see into your checkbook, give him the login info for your internet banking, let him hold your purse, you are truly in a close, trusting relationship with God!
Here’s what John Wesley said:
“Let not any man imagine that he has done anything by going thus far, by gaining and saving all he can. If he were to stop here . . . if he does not point all this to a farther end . . . you may as well throw your money into the sea.”
Let me paraphrase: If all we do is “earn all you can,” and “save all you can,” that’s good, but not enough. We could still be in danger of the idolatry of greed, worshiping your money. If that’s all we did, we’d be no better than the rich man whose land produced a bountiful crop.
16 Then he told them a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. 17 He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! 18 Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. 19 I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.”
We can stop at ‘earning” and “saving,” but you might still “seek happiness in riches” only to find that you are “striving to drink from empty cups.” To truly follow God’s wisdom about money, to be “rich toward God,” we must give.
The “Farther End”, the goal of all this, is a life that:
- Fulfills God’s best purpose for the use of our resources
- Equips us to participate in God’s loving, saving, and healing of the world.
To illustrate, we turn to the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. 2 A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but, being a short man, he couldn’t because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” 6 So Zacchaeus came down at once, happy to welcome Jesus.
7 Everyone who saw this grumbled, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today, salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 The Human One[a] came to seek and save the lost.”
Some of us can’t hear that story without singing the song we learned as children: “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he . . .” Zacchaeus was a small man in stature. After all, we have learned, he was so short he had to climb a tree to see Jesus! As children in Sunday School, we all snickered at how odd that was.
It’s time for the adult version of the story: Zacchaeus was a “wee little man” – with “wee little” heart! His relationship with money had not yet found the “Farther End.” Not only was he stuck in the “Earn/Save Mode,” he was going about it with dishonesty and greed. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were renowned for their greed. They collected taxes, sure, but also collected more. That’s how they got paid! Apparently, Zacchaeus had “paid himself” a healthy salary! His earning and saving came at the expense of his neighbor. Anathema to those who wish to follow God’s wisdom, according to Wesley.
But – I wonder why Zacchaeus went to such great lengths to see Jesus? The word “trying,” in verse 3 is translated as “seeking,” “searching,” or “striving” elsewhere in Luke. Could it be he just wanted to see what all the commotion was about? He just wanted to see who it was that was drawing this crowd? Whatever it was, it caused him to try pretty hard! A lot harder than some of us might try.
Much to his surprise – when he thought he was looking for Jesus – Jesus was looking for him! When Jesus found him, and Zacchaeus came down from the tree, his “wee little” heart was changed.
James W. Moore, former pastor of Highland Park UMC in Dallas, Texas, says:
“When the light of Christ spilled into his life, Zacchaeus was exposed in al, his littleness. Perhaps for the very first time, Zacchaeus saw himself as he really was: greedy, self-centered, a traitor, a cheat, a con man. He didn’t like what he saw. He was ashamed. But he realized that help was available for his dark heart.”
This kind of transformation is available for all of us! Moore reminds us that, for this change to happen, three things must come together: grit, grace, and gratitude.
- “Grit” was Zacchaeus’ ability to seize the moment. He used his wits to discover a way to see “who Jesus was.” He went to any length necessary to find Jesus, even climbing a tree like a boy!
- “Grace,” we know grace. It is the healing, forgiving, freely-given love of God that we hear in Jesus’ words, “Zacchaeus come down at once! I must stay in your home today.” When he could have received condemnation (he’d certainly earned it!), Jesus gave Zacchaeus full acceptance and love. That is what changes lives!
- “Gratitude” is the spirit of thanksgiving and appreciation that is a true response to divine grace. It changes our lives forever. The Greek used in Zacchaeus’ words says his commitment was on-going. His response was not a one-time thing; he would keep giving, keep repaying. He would forever be grateful.
Back to Wesley – we can reach the “Farther End,” the place where our earning and saving is accompanied by giving, but it will take the same level of grit and determination that Zacchaeus had. We must work to silence the worldly voices of greed and affluence; stop listening when the world tells us we need more, we need better, we need newer things. It will take grit to learn to trust God to provide, admitting that we ourselves are not the “be all and end all” of what goes on in our lives.
When we strive to see Jesus, we realize that he has already been looking for us – that’s what grace is! Condemnation and guilt does not change hearts, only grace can do that. Condemnation and guilt may temporarily change behaviors. Life-long, continual change happens only by grace! That grace, that acceptance is here for us all. Jesus loves us. Jesus forgives us. Jesus will never leave us!
When Jesus gives us our life back – from the evil forces of greed and acquisition – we respond with gratitude! That what this whole month of sermons has been about. I pray that all of us might meet Jesus, have our wee little hearts changed, and live a life of gratitude and giving in response. Reach the “Farther End.”
The “Farther End” is what “Christian Perfection” looks like; it is the evidence of our growth in trust of God and the practical means by which we participate in the Kingdom of God. By “going on to” the “Farther End,” we learn how our money can be “of unspeakable service . . .”
“food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothing for the naked, defense for the oppressed, health for the sick, ease for those in pain, eyes to the blind, feet for the lame, a lifter up from the gates of death.”