Net Worth

June 2, 2013 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 7:1–7:10

The Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 1-2, 2013
Luke 7:1-10

“Net Worth”

So, what is your net worth? That is a loaded question, I know. Let me explain: In business, net worth (sometimes called net assets) is the total assets minus total outside liabilities of an individual or a company. Anything tangible or intangible that you have which has positive economic value is considered an asset – bank accounts, equity through insurance, investments, vehicles, real estate, that sort of thing. Simply stated, assets represent value of ownership that can be converted into cash. I’m not an accountant, but I do understand this on a basic level, and of course, the goal here is for one’s assets to be greater than one’s liabilities. When it comes to net worth, I always think of that classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” When the $8000 cash for deposit goes missing, in great desperation George Bailey comes to Mr. Potter and asks for a loan. Remember what Mr. Potter says to George Bailey? “Look at you! You used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world. You once called me a warped, frustrated, old man! What are you but a warped, frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help. No securities, no stocks, no bonds, nothin' but a miserable little $500 equity in a life insurance policy. You’re worth more dead than alive!” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/quotes). That is a terrible thing – to come to the realization that your net worth in terms of dollars and cents is so little that a person despairs of life itself. Fortunately, George Bailey is not left to despair. With help, he re-evaluates his net worth in life, not in terms of money, but in terms of lives impacted and blessed through him – something that in his great desperation he completely overlooked. Maybe you know a real life George Bailey, or maybe that is really you. In today’s Gospel lesson, we are confronted with opposing viewpoints on net worth, and that is the theme for the message this day. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

We have this amazing account of faith in today’s Gospel lesson – faith not of an insider, but an outsider; someone not from the house of Israel, but a Roman centurion from the town of Capernaum. It’s interesting to note that more often than not in the Gospels it is these outsiders who demonstrate real faith in the Lord Jesus. The centurion’s servant is sick, at the point of death, and so a delegation of Jewish elders come to Jesus on his behalf. That in itself is pretty amazing because usually the Roman occupation forces were hated by the locals. The centurion was one of those God-fearing Gentiles who believed in the Lord God, but had not converted to Judaism. He is that “foreigner” that King Solomon prayed about in the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem in today’s Old Testament lesson (1 Kings 8:22-24, 27-29 , 41-43). He had endeared himself to the Jewish population by building their synagogue. And this is where the net worth thing kicks in. From the perspective of the elders, this qualified the centurion to have Jesus heal the man’s servant: “He is worthy to have you do this for him…” (Luke 7:4). That word “worthy” (άξιος) here meant originally tipping the scales, counter-balancing two different things to make them worthy of each other. Jesus’ power to heal was counter-balanced by the centurion’s good deeds. In the view of those elders, the net worth of the centurion’s good deeds qualified him to have Jesus help him. It’s almost as though Jesus owed him in order to restore the balance of net worth here. Do we do the same? We can play that game as much as those elders did. In a warped way of thinking, we can twist net worth into some kind of tool to leverage our good behavior or righteous deeds with God in order to get what we want. But at the end of the day when these things don’t measure up and are wholly inadequate, we can only confess with Isaiah: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6).

Contrast this understanding of net worth with what the centurion himself says through a second delegation sent to Jesus: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:6-7). He recognized he had no claim on Jesus. He didn’t presume to have Jesus even enter his house; in fact, that wasn’t necessary at all. The centurion’s point was this: even though he himself was just a human being, his commands and orders were obeyed by those who served him. How much more must this be true of this great Prophet sent from heaven! He firmly believed that Jesus didn’t need to come in person; all He needed to do was speak a word and it would be done. In truth, Jesus does one better! Note that no mention is made at all that Jesus actually spoke a word of healing for the centurion’s servant. The only thing we are told that Jesus does say is this: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9). For the centurion, his net worth was not in himself, but in the Lord and his power to help and heal.

All of this brings us back to our own net worth. Are we more like those elders or like the centurion? Do we secretly or openly try to prove our worth through good deeds? Do we struggle with whether we are worthy of Jesus’ presence and help? There is a paradox going on here: as sinners we are not worthy, but as redeemed saints we know and believe that Jesus deemed us worth saving through his grace alone. The truth is, most of us are like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” that is, until something shakes us up: a death, an illness, or some other life-changing event that causes us to re-evaluate what is important and what is not. We measure our net worth only in terms of financial assets and liabilities. But God measures things differently. The true worth of our lives is shown by how much God has invested in us: the life of his only Son who shed his blood for us. For our graduating high school seniors whom we recognize on Sunday, this is a powerful truth to hold on to. As these young men and women prepare to transition to the next phase of life, our prayer for them is that they will never lose sight of their net worth in the eyes of the Lord.

From our net worth in Christ, how will we reinvest that worth in service to others? Our net worth in Christ reminds us that everything we are and have comes as a gift from the Lord’s hand, and if the Lord saw fit to invest so generously in us, how can we do otherwise? Today we bring our commitments for “Faith Takes Another Step” to the Lord’s altar, and as we do we give thanks to God for those faithful men and women who have gone before us and who modeled for us generous giving and Christ-centered net worth. May our response to God’s great love in Jesus Christ serve as a living witness of what net worth is all about. Amen.

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