"A Matter of the Heart"

Scripture: Matthew 19:16-22 

Secret Millionaire

How many of you have ever watched the show, “Secret Millionaire”?  For those of you who aren't familiar with the show, each episode follows a different one of America’s most successful business people for a week.  They leave their homes, their families, and their fancy things behind and travel to a low-income area of a city, where they spend the week living in local housing on welfare-level income. 

During that week, they seek out the most deserving people and community organizations they can find.  They spend time volunteering in a number of different settings, talking with the people who run the organizations as well as those who benefit from the organization, and learning about the level of need in the area.  The millionaires come face-to-face with extraordinary people, many of whom are doing all that they can to make their corner of the world a better place, often with a great deal of personal and financial sacrifice. 

At the end of the week, the millionaire reveals their real identity and their wealth, and they donate some of their money to the organizations and individuals that they volunteered with.  The donations are usually at least $100,000 per show (though often much more than that), with the money usually being split up between three or four service organizations.

There is one episode that I watched recently where the millionaire – an artist named Scott Jacobs who had become wealthy selling his art – went to inner city Newark, New Jersey.  Scott brought along his 19-year-old daughter, Alexa, who had never known or imagined life without being able to have everything she could possibly want.  She began the week happy and acknowledging that she lived a good life, and anxious about going somewhere new and encountering poverty – something that she really knew nothing about.  She knew that having all of the money and things that she wanted left her feeling comfortable, but still unfulfilled. 

Within a couple of hours of arriving in Newark, she was in tears as she realized how blessed she was, and she realized the immense need of others.  She and her dad spent the next 6 days volunteering – reaching out to homeless veterans,  volunteering with a youth service organization, and a youth arts program.  By the end of the week, they had offered a significant amount of their time and energy, and ended up donating over $125,000 to the three organizations.

What strikes me about the show is seeing the transformation that the millionaires go through.  They transform from being spenders and exploiters of their wealth to understanding their wealth as a responsibility to share and serve others.  Never once have I seen an episode where the millionaires are reluctant to give their money away.  It’s usually the other way around – they end up being more generous than they intended when they realize how big of an impact their gift can make.  They begin the week happy because of their money and their comfortable lives, and they end the week joyful and fulfilled because they have used their money to serve others.  It’s clear that giving away their money doesn’t diminish their happiness – rather, it helps lead them toward wholeness and joy.

Called to Give

I love Secret Millionaire.  But I also know that part of the reason why I like it so much is because it’s so much easier to watch somebody else give their money away sacrificially.  I get butterflies in my stomach, I even get a little bit teary-eyed when I watch the show…  Which is silly, because it’s not my money.

It’s easy to watch the show and say, “Well, of course they can give their money away!  They’ve got millions!  If I had millions of dollars, I’d be happy to give a bunch of it away!”

We try to justify those kinds of thoughts with scripture, too, don’t we?  For example, Luke 12:48 says:

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

When we take it out of context, it sounds like we aren’t expected to give abundantly until we have reached some level of financial extravagance.  But put into context, it speaks to us differently – you see, this is one of those instances where Jesus was speaking directly to his disciples…  Not people who were wealthy, but his followers who had already given up any wealth that they had in order to follow.  This wasn’t a message for them in case they become rich, but a message offered because they were already rich with gifts and blessings from God.

Similarly, the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians:

“A gift is appreciated because of what a person can afford, not because of what that person can’t afford, if it’s apparent that it’s done willingly.” 

We are not called to give only when we have accumulated enough wealth to give an extravagant gift – like those given on Secret Millionaire – but when we give out of whatever it is that we have.  A gift is appreciated not because its remarkable dollar amount, but because it is given from the heart.

From The Heart

This is an idea that seems to be important to Jesus, because it is found in multiple places throughout the gospels: Giving is a matter of the heart.  Both Matthew and Luke share extensively about Jesus’ teachings regarding earning, spending, saving, and giving.  One of the teachings that they both share appears in the 6th chapter of Matthew’s gospel and in the 12th chapter of Luke’s gospel.  It reads, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  I find it even more powerful translated literally from the Greek:  “Wherever it is that you store your most precious things, there you will find the center of your whole being.”

Where do you store your precious things?

When I was younger, I had a box that I kept right by the side of my bed.  It was red and blue, and I called it my "buddy box."  The sole purpose of that box was to contain my most prized possession of that given day.  If I got a new stuffed animal, or a new matchbox car, or a new video game...  It would go into that box that I knew right where it was as I slept.  It got pretty full right after Christmas or my birthday, and would slowly get emptied as I cared less and less about the things inside of it.  If I remember correctly, my buddy box was actually a compromise that my mom and I had reached - before the box, I had been storing those things under my pillow or clutched in my hand as I slept. 

Luckily, I grew out of that stage fairly quickly.  I like to think that I have grown into a more healthy understanding of money and possessions...  But I know that I still struggle at times to detach myself from seeing both as symbols of success, achievement, and personal entitlement. 

And while I may be somewhat unique in that I had a buddy box - a literal storehouse for my earthly treasures - I imagine that most of you can probably relate at least a little bit.  It's all too common for us to feel an emotional attachment to our money and our possessions.  I think that's why Jesus found it so important to teach - frequently and without apology - about financial stewardship.

            "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

            "If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.  Then you will have treasure in heaven."

            "You cannot serve two masters...  You cannot serve both God and wealth."

It's A Heart Thing

Giving is a matter of the heart. 

Interpreting Jesus' teachings on stewardship, Martin Luther wrote:

"What a man loves, that is his God.  For he carries it in his heart, he goes about with it night and day, he sleeps and wakes with it; be it what it may: wealth or pelf, pleasure or renown."

Jesus regularly points out that there is an undeniable connection between faith and money, because giving is ultimately a decision of the heart.  People give to the things, the people, and the God that they love.  As author Herb Miller puts it, "We either become emotionally attached to our money, or we become emotionally attached to the God who gives us our money."

What do you hold close to your heart?  What, and who, do you love?  How does your spending, saving, and giving reflect that?

I think that is probably the best thing about watching an episode of the show Secret Millionaire.  It is apparent that, throughout the course of a week, the millionaire featured in the episode has a change of heart.  They stop thinking about themselves and what they can gain for themselves, and instead start thinking about others - thinking about the bigger picture beyond themselves - and think with their hearts rather than with their wallets.

Let us all continue to think about where our hearts are, and how that relates to our money.  Let us consider the kinds of things that we put inside our storehouses of treasure and our buddy boxes.  Let us remember that where we store our treasure and how we invest that treasure has a direct relationship with our hearts and the very centers of our being.

While I don't expect that we have any secret millionaires in our midst, I do hope that you will take this call to financial stewardship seriously.  I hope that you will hear Jesus' teachings for the ways that they speak to you in your life right now.  Consider what you were able to pledge last year, and pray seriously and honestly about whether or not you are giving from your heart, or giving from your comfort.  May your stewardship be an act of faith, offered out of love and trust in God and in what God is doing in your life and in our midst.