November 10, 2019 Reflecting on It's A Wonder-full Life, by Reverend David
Let’s reflect for a moment on our relationship with money – how we have felt scared because we didn’t have enough, or thought we didn’t, how we have felt generous and enjoyed giving, how we have felt jealous of what someone else had or how we have managed in every day ordinary ways to make a difference with who we are and what we have.
It’s a WonderFull Life: Reflecting
When I do marriage counseling for people who are going to get married, as some of you here can attest, I always predict that the couple is going to fight about money at some point in their relationship. Scripture says that the love of money is the root of all evil. I say, money is the root of all fights in our relationships. Well, maybe not all, but a lot of conflict in our relationships revolves around money, because we all have different histories with money and all those histories have some basic confusions and scars to them. All of us are confused about money because our society is.
For the next three weeks of November, we are focusing on money in this sermon series called “It’s a Wonder-full Life.” Pastors often talk about money in at least one sermon at this time of year. William Sloan Coffin called it the Sermon on the Amount. It’s the sermon where the pastor says, “this church survives because of your generosity. Please pledge that you will give sacrificially for the next year.”
That is not what this sermon series is. At least, it’s not the main purpose. We are in the midst of our stewardship drive and you did get those little cards and brochures in your bulletins today. Next week is our Commitment Sunday when we ask you to hand those cards in. All that is true, but the purpose of this series is help us think about our spiritual relationship with money, not the church’s need for your money. We want to think about how we might have a more expansive understanding of our finances, rather than a stuck and limited way of thinking that is stuck in our past hurts about money.
Let me give you an example from my life. I grew up in a working and middle class neighborhood of Cincinnati. There were people around me who were struggling and people who were comfortable financially. My family was on the comfortable end of the spectrum, but I didn’t really know that. Like people who say, “we were poor, but we didn’t know it,” I think that many of us grow up not thinking about our financial circumstances no matter what they are.
My mother told me that my father didn’t even tell her what his salary was. She was a homemaker and she tried to be frugal with her spending, and she was always taken aback when it came to the holidays that all of a sudden, my dad would buy a bunch of lavish gifts that she didn’t know we could afford – & that she couldn’t afford w her allowance or whatever. Lesson #1: Silence around money increases our confusion.
So I picked up my mother’s patterned frugality and at least some of the clashes I’ve had with my partner have been over my not wanting to buy something or spend for something that she thought was perfectly reasonable. I had to learn to be able to express my own wants and desires, and my own limits. Lesson #2.
Jesus could sense the division that money was causing his followers and his fellow Jewish country people, so he was very wary of this question about whether it was right to pay taxes to the Romans. If he said no, he’d get in trouble with the soldiers and the loyalists. If he said yes, pay the tax, his followers and friends who were burdened by the taxes would be devastated. So instead he turned the question around on the questioners. Lesson #3 – avoid pat answers & assumptions around money.
He asked them for a coin. When they produced a coin with Caesar’s likeness on it, they had already lost the argument, because they were showing that they used Roman currency, the money of the conquerer. When they admitted that Caesar was the one on the coin, Jesus dismisses them and says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”.
The answer poses its own question of course, What is Caesar’s and what is God’s? This passage has often been taken and promoted by governments to be an encouragement to pay taxes, but it could just as easily be interpreted as saying everything belongs to God, so give everything to God. lesson #4
We imperfect people who have to live in the real world tend to split the difference, paying taxes and not thinking too much about where it’s going. Every Sunday, I lift the offering plates and say, “all that we are and all that we have belongs to you, O God.” I doubt that there is anybody here who doubts that part of our liturgy and says to themself, “Well, yeah, except for that part that got withheld from my paycheck. That belongs to Caesar, the government.” No, that money too, we hope and pray will somehow be used for the work of God. We suspect that it’s compromised, but we work to make that money too be spent wisely – for people rather than for a few interests.
Today after church we are showing the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We are not showing the movie to try to jumpstart the holidays. We are using the themes of the movie to talk about various ways we deal with money. The characters in the movie represent different attitudes toward money, from spendthrift, to selfish, to generous, to careless.
In the end, (I don’t mean to spoil it, but it has a happy ending) in the end, the movie claims that people are more important than money. Our values, our soul values need to control our relationship with money rather than our need for money controlling our values. Don’t get it mixed up. That means something different in 2019 than it did in 1947. More than one heroic individual living out the values – more about how we can create a community that has bigger values – of integrity & justice.
Because we do get it mixed up. Pamela Haines, my dear friend, recently published a book called Money and Soul in which she points out how our values are subject to the economy rather than the other way around. We value equality, yet economic inequality has reached absurd proportions and its hard for us to be alarmed. We value integrity yet our economic system seems to have no place for conscience. We value simplicity and family values, yet our growth economy requires ever increasing consumption. We value community and care for the stranger, yet our society throws out those on the margins. We value stewardship, yet we are using up finite resources at an alarming rate. We value peace, yet we base our economy on production of weapons and defense of the wealth of the few.
Pamela’s book explores all those values, equality, integrity, simplicity, community, stewardship and peace and suggests ways that we can implement and actualize these values in our economic world. I would like to explore some of those values and some of those points over the next couple of weeks, as we take seriously the point of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” – that it matters that we are here. It matters if we live out our values. It matters if we bring our sense of God as creator of everything we are and everything we have to our economic life. It matters if we pay attention to how much we are using up, how we are spending our money and our time. It matters if we as a church decide to take the lead in switching to solar power. It matters when each of us as individuals decide to give to what we believe in rather than just what makes us comfortable. It matters when we dedicate ourselves to these values and work through the differences in our relationships and live together in a different kind of harmony.
We recognize and pledge ourselves to those values when we dedicate ourselves through the covenant prayer of John Wesley that was put to music and which we now sing. He invites us to praise and follow God in all circumstances: “Let your will be done, and not my own. Let me be employed by You, or laid aside by You. May our covenant with God be ratified in heaven and in every part of our lives.
This is God’s good news. Let’s sing it.
Responsive hymn 3115 Covenant Prayer