Homily: Yr C Proper 32, Nov 8 2015, St. Albans
Readings: Ruth 3.1-5;4.13-17; Ps 146; Heb 9.24-28; Lk 12.13-21, 32-34
There once was a letter sent to Dear Abby by a young woman, and it went like this:
I think that my boyfriend and I should be sharing the cost of my birth control pills, but he hasn’t offered to do so. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know him well enough to talk about money.
Money is a touchy subject, isn’t it? It’s not something that we talk about a lot, certainly not at church.
But when you think about it, that’s kind of strange. Because Jesus is always talking about money. It’s one of his go to subjects, especially in the gospel of Luke from which we read today and from which we’ll be drawing most of our gospel readings in the coming year. We’ll hear Jesus talk about tax collectors, about financial managers, about entrepreneurs. Jesus will answer questions about taxes, he’ll tell parables about stewards, he’ll throw the moneychangers out of the temple and he’ll look at one rich, young man with compassion and tell him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.
Jesus is always talking about money. He knows it’s important to us. He knows that what we do with it says a lot about us. But what Jesus has to say about money is often difficult for us to hear. In the first part of today’s gospel, Jesus tell a parable about a successful farmer who has a bumper crop, such a good crop that his barns are too small to store it all. And so, being not only a good farmer, but a good entrepreneur and businessperson, he uses this opportunity to tear down his old, small barns and replace them with new larger barns which can store all of his harvest. By the standards of our culture, by the rules of our economics, this successful farmer is doing the right things isn’t he? Isn’t this the sort of business investment that our government would encourage? Why then, at the conclusion of the parable, is he called a fool?
Then, just in case we’re not getting the point of the story, Jesus repeats his message about money as a direct statement, clear and to the point. “Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor.”
That’s not a message that goes down well in our culture. We’re more concerned about the middle-class. We’re much more used to hearing messages like “earn as much money as you can.” “Buy stuff.” Save your money so you can buy stuff. Buy things to make yourself beautiful, successful, happy, popular, sexy . . . . You’ve all seen the billboards. You’ve all seen the advertising.
Money is a complicated thing in today’s world. No longer does it simply facilitate the exchange of my wheat for your wool. No, money has become a symbol of much more than this.
I have a couple of good friends who have a friendly competition going on. In the game of life, they say, the one who has the most toys wins. And so when one takes the lead by buying a kayak, the other will surge back in front by buying a high end racing bike. Money of course is the key, the way to win the game of life by accumulating the most toys.
But we see money as much more than a way to accumulate possessions. How would most of you feel if you woke up one morning to find out your pension savings had been wiped out? This isn’t hypothetical, it’s something that happened a few years ago to lots of Nortel employees in this city. What would you feel? I suspect there would be feelings of anxiety, of insecurity. Money, whether it’s in the bank, in the house or in a pension fund, is a symbol of security for us. Stripped of money, we would feel exposed, maybe even naked.
A few years ago a friend of mine and another woman were doing the same job for the same employer. My friend was reasonably satisfied with her salary – that is, until she found out that the other woman with the same qualifications, doing the same work, was being paid quite a bit more. Her reaction was outrage. Why? Because what she was being paid was a measure of her worth, a measure of how she was valued, and it was outrageous to her that her employer should consider her to be less valuable than the coworker.
I remember another occasion when I was working in the technology sector here in Ottawa, and dealing with a venture capitalist. He was a wealthy man, and was content with his lifestyle. One day he confided to me that he didn’t need any more money, but in his investments he tried his darndest to make as much money as possible anyways, because money was his way of keeping score.
I remember when I was 15 years old, I had my first summer job. I worked hard all summer, saved the money I made, and at the end of the summer, I bought myself a stereo for my room. That stereo was for me a source of great pride, and I used it for over thirty years until it finally fell apart. It was a symbol for me of my own capabilities, of my ability to do things for myself, and of the hard-earned independence that I gained as I transitioned from adolescence to adulthood.
I tell you these stories to illustrate why it is that money can gain such a hold over us. It is not just a convenient means of exchange. It is much more than that. It is a symbol of our independence, a measure of our worth, a way of assuring ourselves that we’re doing well in life. It is intricately tied up with our sense of security and our self-esteem, not to mention all the connections advertisers try to make between buying their products and the good life. Both in our conscious thought and deep in our sub-conscience, money has become the means by which we achieve the things that matter to us in life. At least, that’s what we think.
But what if we’re wrong? What if this [hold up a $20 dollar bill] isn’t the thing that matters most? What if it can’t achieve for us the things that matter most?
This happens to be an American 20 dollar bill that I’m holding up. Now there is something very ironic about American money. If you were to look carefully at this 20 dollar bill, and at every other American bill or coin, you would see that there is an inscription written on it.
It says, “In God we trust”. That seems a bit ironic doesn’t it? Because when I look at the way the world works, it seems to me that there are an awful lot more people who trust in money than who trust in God.
In what do you place your trust? In dollar bills, or in God?
If we really trusted in God, I guess we could just do this. [Tear the bill into pieces].
Does that get your attention? How easy would it be to trust God instead of money?
Does it bother you that I tore up that bill?
Well you know what? It bothers me too, and as a result, I’m going to keep the two halves, and I’m going to tape it back together. But it doesn’t bother me because it’s a waste, or because it might even be against some law.
No, the reason that I shouldn’t have torn this bill into two is because it doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to God.
Everything I have is a gift of God which has been entrusted to me for a time and a purpose. I do not own it. I have not earned it. I have no right to do what I please with it. I am simply a steward, a manager, a caretaker who has been entrusted with both a gift and a responsibility.
Despite what the laws of our society say, despite what our economics tells us, the things that we have do not belong to us. They belong to God and they are given to us so that we can use them in accordance with God’s purposes.
The next time you receive your bank statement, I want you to do the following. Where it has your name at the top as the owner of the bank account, cross out your name, and instead write in “God”. Then, below that you can write, in the care of Mark Whittall, 44 Wendover Ave.
And the next time you receive your pay statement or your OSAP cheque, you might also think about scratching out your name, and making it payable to God, care of Mark, in the city of Ottawa.
Or pull out the deed to your house, and imagine that the owner is God, and that the property is only entrusted to you.
What Jesus teaches about money is a radical reversal of the way we think about it and the way we deal with it. And it’s not just about money. All that we have, our time, our health, our lives, our capabilities, all these are not really ours. They belong to God, and they have been entrusted to us for a time and a purpose.
Last year I went to a stewardship conference. And according to some the people at the conference, at least those on the financial side of things, the hope is that when we talk about stewardship, people like you will look at your household income and then prayerfully decide whether you will give 1% or 2% or more to the church as your offering.
But when I listen to what Jesus has to say about money, it seems to me that that sort of thinking has it a bit backwards. Because it makes the assumption that your household income belongs to you!
It doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to God, and you have been charged with managing it on God’s behalf. So the question becomes not how much are you going to give to God, but what are you going to do with God’s money? And after you’ve done the things that God is calling you to do, how much will be left for your own needs? Half of it? 80%? 99%?
Do you find this reversal a bit worrying? Money does after all represent our security, our value, our independence, all those things we talked about before. Are we able to let go?
Today we are launching a stewardship initiative here at St. Albans. And after everything that I’ve been talking about so far, you might be surprised to find out that the stewardship initiative is not primarily about money.
It is first of all about community building. It is about connecting with others in our community here at St. Albans and getting to know each other. It is about deepening relationships. It is a time to learn about each other’s gifts and find ways to use those gifts to strengthen our community. It’s about helping people to become engaged and get involved.
Secondly, it’s about education and communication. It’s about laying out the vision of our parish, and letting people know about all the awesome stuff we’re doing. This initiative is a way of telling people, of telling you, about our student and campus ministries and our support for those experiencing homelessness. About our small groups and our student intern program. About the Open Table, the Big Give and ministry that goes far beyond our community, support for the Church of the North and refugees. I could go on and on. The ministry and mission that we do as the church in our neighbourhood and beyond is awesome.
Thirdly, our Stewardship Initiative is about providing each one of us with the opportunity to reflect a little bit about our own lives, to review our priorities, to decide how and where and why we want to become more engaged, and to pray about how we can best use the gifts that have been entrusted to us to further the work of God’s kingdom here on earth and especially right here at St. Albans.
To help us do that we have a group of Stewardship Visitors who will be contacting and visiting every member of this community over the next three weeks. You will be provided with information and given the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback on our community, its vision and its mission and ministry. And you will be asked to complete and return a pledge form in response, by November 29th at the latest.
As you might guess, the timing of this initiative is not an accident. For four years, the St. Albans community has been subsidized financially by the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. Now, as of December 31 we need to become financially self-sufficient. That is a milestone to celebrate. Most new church plants never get to financial sustainability. By God’s grace and your stewardship of what God has entrusted to you, we have the opportunity to do so.
All that we have, all that we are, is a gift which has been entrusted to us by God for a time and a purpose.