Sunday, August 28, 2016

Year C, Proper 17, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 “For the Love of Money”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
“Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." So we can say with confidence,
"The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?"

What can anyone do to me????
Well, quite a bit when it comes right down to it.
                And that is what we fear.

There are very few of us that would want to admit that we have a “love of money”, but the truth is that we devote ourselves and much of our lives to achieving the financial security that money brings. 

We don’t spend a lot of time examining our own relationship with money, until it becomes an issue in our lives, though it dominates much of what we do.  I mean, after all, we live in a cash based economy.  Everything we do, it seems, is dependent in some way on the money that we have.  One of our greatest fears is not having enough money.

Two illustrations come to mind from my own life:
The first is from a conversation I was part of when I first visited Russia a number of years ago.  We were part of a sister congregation program and had begun a relationship with St. Nikolai Lutheran Church in Novgorod, Russia.  A member from one of my former parishes was serving that congregation as a missionary, and a delegation from our congregation in Sandpoint went to Russia to visit with them.

One evening, after dinner, we were having a conversation with them about the different ways of life of our two countries.  A major point of interest was to check out what we had heard about each other’s country, much of which was part of the propaganda of the Cold War era.

There was one question that our Russian friends asked us that really struck home.
“Is it true, what we have heard, that there are poor people in the United States?”
“Yes,” we had to answer, “there certainly were poor people.”

My mind went two different directions.  I wanted to share with them that though there were poor people, even our poor, on welfare, had more than many of them.  That was true.  Between welfare, and food stamps, and programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the “poor” in our country were in many ways far better off than most of the people in Russia.  But then, I also thought about the homeless, those who fell between the cracks, those who lived from handout to handout, who slept under bridges in our cities, and I had to simply admit, “Yes, there were poor people in America.”

“And how can that be?” was their response.
“How can it be that there are poor people in your country that is so rich?”

They went on to talk about the hardships that they had experienced as a nation, and at the time, Russia was in a financial crisis.  They had very little, perhaps a $100 or so a month to live on.  But what they shared was that as bad as it was, they all prospered together or suffered together.  They simply could not understand how there could be rich and poor, living side by side, in our country.  Why didn’t the rich share with the poor?
And so I had to ask myself, is it our love of money that causes some of us to hoard so much, while others go hungry?  It’s a question we probably should be asking ourselves.

And then, the other illustration comes from my own experiences over the last few years.
In 2012, my congregation in Sandpoint allowed us to purchase our own home, as opposed to living in the parsonage, and so for me, this was a dream come true.  I had lived in parsonages growing up, and had lived in a parsonage as a pastor through my adult life with the exception of the early years of our marriage when we rented, prior to becoming a pastor.
We’d never owned our own home, now we did.

But within a few months of purchasing a home, I hit my rock bottom as an alcoholic, and in addition, was in the midst of a major bout with depression.
I successfully completed a chemical dependency treatment program for my alcoholism, and remain sober to this day, but the depression didn’t lift.
It actually became worse.

So much so that I couldn’t continue to work, and both for my sake, and the sake of my congregation, I had to resign my call and go on disability.  The result was a significant drop in income at a time when we were just getting used to having a major house payment to make on our mortgage.  As it turned out, in part because we finished paying off our two cars, and in part because disability benefits were not taxable, we ended up being alright.
But then, suddenly, and without warning, I was told last year that the disability payments would stop.  All of a sudden I was left without any income, and we were faced with having to get by on my wife’s modest income alone. 

I was afraid.
But then, a phone call later, I was hired on at the cabinet shop where I still work, and again, the crisis was averted.

Last spring, with my health having been restored, I was ready to return to ministry and so sat down with Bishop Wells to talk about it.  That’s when he mentioned your congregation.  And as of your decision last week, I’m looking forward to serving as your pastor, and with that, comes the financial security of a salary package that will help, together with my cabinet job, to restore our income to what it once was.

This comes at a time when there are significant changes of leadership at my wife’s place of employment, and with that, questions about how that will impact her.  The uncertainty alone is enough to produce significant fear within me.  That is until I realized that God had already provided adequately for us with my returning to parish ministry.
There will be enough.

My fears, real as though they may be, are unfounded.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." So we can say with confidence,
"The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.

What can anyone do to me?"

After these experiences, I’m growing in my understanding of these verses from today’s readings. 
Be content with what you have.
I will never forsake you.
The Lord is my helper.

Through it all, the most important lesson for me has been about, what I would call, the “Grace of Sufficiency”.  God gives us enough.

God doesn’t promise that we will have everything we want, that our every desire will be met.  But God gives us enough.  Be content with what you have, it is a gift, and it is enough.
In contrast to that, if we give ourselves over to the love of money, it is never sufficient.  There simply is no limit to our appetite for more, if we “love” money. 
I got a taste of this over the last few years as well.

Every day as I drive to and from work, there is this big bill board advertizing the lottery.
Have you ever imagined what you would do if you won the lottery?  I have.  My imagination runs wild.  I’ve imagined the house I would buy, the things I would do, the investments I would make (so that I could have even more), and how charitable I would be if only given the opportunity.

My imagination runs so wild, that an interesting thing happens.  Not only do I imagine winning the lottery, but I find myself more tempted to buy tickets when the pot is 500 million dollars, than when it is a mere 50 million dollars. 
If we give ourselves over to the love of money, it is never enough.

What is enough, though, is the grace of God that provides for our every need in a sufficient way.

One of the things we are going to miss as a society in the coming years is the witness of those people who grew up and lived through the Great Depression of the 1930’s. 
Karla’s mom used to talk about that a lot.  She grew up in North Dakota during that time, and North Dakota was clearly part of the dust bowl.  The rains stopped, there were no crops to speak of, and with no crops, there were no paychecks coming in.

But when Becky would remember that time, what she remembered was not going hungry, but rather how much they had.  Even though the rain didn’t fall, they always had enough water to raise a garden, and to keep a dairy cow.  And that was sufficient to keep food on the table. They had no money, but they had each other.   And together, with family helping family, and neighbors helping neighbors, they got by.

There were two things that they had that were priceless:
                The love they shared.
And an appreciation for God’s grace, and these words:
"The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?"

One closing thought.
The book of Job details how Job lost everything, and how he struggled as a result of that.  In response to his loss, he says:
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

As I think of these words of Job, what strikes me is that if we recognize that we have nothing, then everything is a gift.  We are born with nothing, we will die with nothing.  Everything we have in between times is pure gift.
That is grace.


No comments:

Post a Comment