The stewardship theme for today is managing our attachments to gain freedom for directing our lives. The following are the story and message for today’s service. The scripture reading is Mark 12:28 through to Mark 13:8.
A Story of Thoughtful Generosity
Have you heard of Justin Beiber? When I teach Junior High Classes, I see his name on desks, binders, whiteboards and books. Many of the girls spend a significant amount of their class time writing his name in their notebooks and binders. Many 13 year old girls would do almost anything for tickets to one of his concerts. Sydney Douglas is a 13 year old girl living in Okotoks, and she was given a pair of Justin Bieber concert tickets for her birthday in September. As stories circulated about what people were willing to pay for tickets to the concert, she thought about what that amount of money could do for others. Sydney decided to use her tickets to raise money for the Alberta Children’s Hospital. She could have auctioned them off to the highest bidder, and that would have earned her a great deal of praise. She knew that many of her classmates could never afford to buy concert tickets, so she decided to raffle them off instead. This gave a lot of people a chance to get the tickets.
In all of this Sydney showed a remarkable degree of freedom. Even though she was a Bieber fan and was going to take her older sister, she saw an opportunity to let go of a treasured gift in order to provide a gift to others: money for the hospital and an opportunity for someone without much money a chance to go to the concert. She was free to let go of the gift.
Prayer: Holy One who gave of yourself so we might exist, thank you for helping us claim our freedom to let go of what we treasure for the sake of your work in this world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Claiming Our Freedom, Giving Our All
George lived an exceptionally generous and thoughtful life as well as working hard and investing carefully. As he was approaching the end of his life, the Archangel Michael visited him. “George,” he said, “God is very pleased with how you have lived, and has decided to make an exception to the rule about taking nothing with you. You will be able to take one thing with you when you die.”
George thought hard about what he would take. He considered his beautiful house, but, he thought, there are mansions in heaven. He considered his Porsche convertible, but he thought there might not be roads or gasoline in heaven. One by one he considered all the things he treasured, and rejected each one. He finally decided to sell everything and convert it to gold. A little later he died and arrived at the Pearly Gates dragging a suitcase full of gold bars.
An angel standing nearby said to his friend, “I wonder why he brought pavement?”
What has value in one situation may have no value in another, and our attachments to things and ideas may hold us back as we try to move forward in our lives. All of us have attachments, and the strength of their hold on us is a measure of our lack of freedom, and a measure of their effectiveness as barriers to following Jesus. Our ability to let go of our attachments indicates our ability to love God. Our reading from Mark relates to a series of attachments.
The first attachment is ego: the two great commandments are to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
Our belief is that loving God starts the path to loving ourselves into wholeness, but it’s hard to love God without holding anything back. Doing this brings us close to living in God’s empire.
An attachment of the Jewish people was to their idolization of King David. Jesus challenged them with his quote of David’s to see David as subservient to the Messiah. What attachments do we have to historical figures, national identity, or group identity that impair our ability to respond well to the new realities to which God has led us?
Jesus criticized the attachment to show and status by the scholars that impaired their ability and freedom to care about the people. In looking at the abuses of position by senior civil servants and political leaders, this attachment is still relevant. It is so easy for status and power to seduce us into seeing ourselves as more deserving of all kinds of things than other people. It explains how an entertainer was able to sexually abuse over 300 young people over an extended period of time or guards in our correctional system physically could abuse a mentally ill teenager. In all this, it helps to remind ourselves that it is hard to be certain we would not exploit those kinds of opportunities if we had them. We need to be careful about being judgmental while considering what we can do to reduce the abusive exploitation of status. Consider how each of us has succeeded in our own lives at not exploiting inappropriately our positions of status and power, but, instead, in being diligent in using status and power to help others.
As Jesus and the disciples walked away from the Temple, he casually mentioned that that magnificent building which included blocks close to the size of Fitzgerald Hall would one day be scattered about. At that point in time, the Temple was the anchor point for all of the different Jewish denominations, a rock for their identity. He also dismissed the inclination of every generation to look for signs to the end times in things like natural disasters and wars.
All institutions eventually die to be replaced by something else, sometimes dramatically, sometimes gradually. We live in a time of institutional decline and replacement, and the ending of the willingness of people to sacrifice for an institution for its own sake. The institutions that survive and thrive are ones perceived as serving a good greater than themselves. People hoping God is about to fix things in disastrous times are warned by Jesus to let go of that hope and get on with the business of dealing with disasters. What attachments to institutions are blocking us from following Jesus? What reliance do we have on divine intervention which serves as an excuse for us to do nothing?
The story of the widow’s mite is a challenging one. There is the story of the chicken and the pig discussing how they could show thanks to the farmer. The chicken suggested a breakfast of bacon and eggs. The pig replied that the chicken was giving from its surplus while the pig would have had to give from its substance. What is surplus? What is substance? What is our all? How much are we able to give? How much freedom do we really have? Is this about more than money?
I am still working on these questions in my own life, so I do not have any simple answers for you. Part of it is found in my attachments. My love for my wife and my children puts limits on what I will give to God in some ways, limits my freedom. What limits your ability to give your all?
How free do we want to be? How do our attachments drag down our lives? What are our attachments? How do they help our lives? May the Holy One who hovered over our creation open our eyes to see what we may not want to see and open our hearts and minds to letting go of those things that make our lives less than what they could be. Amen.