Here is the information, prayer and message for November 3, 2013.
Psalm 119:137-144; Luke 19:1-27
Loving God, in a culture that promotes self-indulgence and gives value to people on the basis of wealth, status, and fame, we often yield to these pressures and fail to live fully as followers of Jesus. We pursue goods and experiences that do not satisfy. We see others the way we have been trained by our culture to see them instead of seeing them as our brothers and sisters. We fail to see them as your children, loved and valued by you, and to be loved by us. We worry about things that do not really matter, and ignore things that do. We thank you for Jesus whose life and teachings as reported by his followers show us a better way to live. And we thank you for the ways, people, and events that help us follow your better way. We now offer to you our personal regrets, hopes, and requests.
Holy One, hear our prayers…
Message: Much Ado About Money
Rebecca’s parents and Rachel’s parents sacrificed to help their daughters gain their teaching degrees. Rebecca went off to work in a poor community in Ghana, and her parents helped pay her transportation costs. Rachel got a position with her home school division. How did their parents’ feel about their decisions?
Our second story in our reading today, given as a follow-up to having a meal with Zacchaeus, challenges the priorities of many people, and a common idea about fairness. We tend to make fairness the same as equality, and Jesus undermines that idea in this story. As it was a response to the beginning story, I guess that Luke intended it to contain the man point of this whole story. We are provided with what we need to make a difference in the world. The first slave took big risks in putting the master’s money to work for the greatest possible gain, and he was rewarded by getting the money stashed away by the third slave. This seemed unfair to the other slaves in the story, and it probably seems unfair to most of us upon first reading. In reality, life tends to appear unfair to those people who work hard but avoid risk as much as possible. Their savings almost always become worth less the longer they hold them as inflation tends to be higher than the interest rates paid to those who take few risks, though some goods become cheaper in time. They get less recognition, and usually less joy in life.
We are given and acquire a variety of gifts that can be used in advancing the reign of God in the world: talents, knowledge, connections, skills, experiences, money, homes, and so on. As followers of Jesus, we are asked to take risks with those gifts. In the Comprehensive Review process, I heard several times how important it is to many members of the United Church of Canada that we speak and act for social justice, and that we try to be welcoming to everyone who chooses to become part of our community. Speaking out on issues in ways that challenge authorities invites consequences. The federal government did not like the readiness of faith-based organizations to speak out on social issues.
It severely cut or eliminated funds for programs they ran that benefitted thousands to hundreds of thousands of people.
A First Nations woman chose to advocate for equal treatment of First Nations children, and the government had people following her and recording everything she did as she tried to force them to behave more justly. The issue here is that the Federal government spends far less per child in a reserve school than is spent by provinces on Non-First Nations children, even though the First Nations children have more challenges.
In the United States, many church people were beaten and/or murdered as they advocated for civil rights for all. Journalists in many countries are murdered for naming truth.
There are some people in churches who get upset when others dare to act as though what happens in the world is important to God and should be important to us. Speaking out invites many kinds of risks.
Caring about and welcoming anyone who chooses to be part of our community also invites risks. As we learn about them and their experiences, we may discover the need to change some of our beliefs or attitudes, and most people do not like change being pushed on them. New people may bring new challenges. If they are vision-impaired, the need to accommodate their needs challenges us to work on appropriate changes. There are many other special issues people may face, and, if we are to be a truly caring and welcoming community, we need to be ready to see what we can do to lovingly accommodate them. Being welcoming to all invites a variety of risks.
I regret that, as courageous as church leaders have been in addressing many issues, they have been less willing to take other kinds of risks. One is evangelism: to reveal our faith interests to others, and to invite them to share with us in our faith community is a risk most mainline church people avoid. Another is to talk about stewardship. Part of the problem for that is that many stewardship programs focus on money, or on talents, time and money. And it is easier for people in our culture to talk about sex than it is to talk about money; it is almost like the reluctance of the wizards in the Harry Potter series to name Lord Voldemort or others today or in the past to use the name of Satan.
Stewardship is about much more than money or time or talents. It begins with strengthening our faith through prayers, discussions, study and actions. It includes developing and holding up visions, missions and goals. It requires careful and deliberate nurturing of relationships within the congregation and with others outside of the congregation. It goes on to establishing and communicating the needs of the congregation and inviting people to meet those needs.
Every step along the way incurs risks. And we are invited by Jesus/God/Spirit to take those risks for the sake of the people in this world and the rest of creation.
Now that I have examined the end of our story, it is time to go the beginning. Money, and our relationships with it, significantly affect our lives. Zacchaeus would have been a wealthy man before he bought the position of chief tax collector, and would have been doubly hated by his neighbours, first for being wealthier than them, and secondly for serving the interests of their oppressors, the Romans. He took a risk in buying the position of chief tax collector What he did with his money was of little concern for them:
what mattered was how much he had and how he got some of it. There are deceptive edges to this story. The first is the uncertainty in the original Greek text as to who was short: Jesus or Zacchaeus. The second, perhaps because of how we have heard this passage preached on in the past, or because of what we may be looking for in the story, it can be easy to assume that having Jesus visit him caused him to become generous and honest. However, in the RSV translation and others I examined, Zacchaeus had already given half of his income to the poor and paid four-fold compensation to anyone he wronged. He was not changed by the visit of Jesus. However his status was changed. Jesus, by choosing to have a meal with him, rebuked the attitude of his neighbours, and claimed Zacchaeus had a rightful place in the Jewish community . This rebuke was reinforced by the story he told.
Why take risks if there can be negative consequences.? The first slave in the story told by Jesus knew the answer to that. Risk-taking brings internal rewards of fulfillment and the joy of succeeding after taking a big risk, and there are external rewards for many, such as the extra money given to this slave. It is in our risk-taking that we explore the breadth and depth of our humanity, and that we provide opportunities for God to add extra blessings to our lives, to have new experiences of God’s love for us. To not take risks is to not fully engage in life, to allow death instead to provide the colours for our living.
I heard at Learning Day that the enemy of happiness is comparison, and these two stories play on that theme, inviting us to consider how we relate to money: our money and the wealth of others.
Finding complacency in looking at the failings of others can be used to excuse our failings.
Resenting the success of others can blind us to the good and the opportunities we have.
In my opening story, all the parents were pleased. Rebecca’s parents raised their daughter to be generous in spirit and eager to make the best possible difference in the world. Rachel’s parents raised their daughter to strive for cultural signs of success, and she did. The story of the slave and the money invite us to consider what kind of success for us fits our role as followers of Jesus? For what and with what are we invited to take risks.
May our choices reflect the best of what is in us and serve the reign of God well. Amen.