Sunday, October 10, 2021
Have you ever written a money autobiography? Basically, the exercise is to take time to journal a few pages and reflect on how you feel about money, and what you were taught about money growing up. Here are a few examples of questions to answer that you are welcome to think more about later this week:
What attitude did your mother have about money? What attitude did your father have? Did you feel poor or rich growing up? Did you worry about money?
What role did money play in your life as a young adult, as a parent, at age 45, 50, 65? How have your attitudes and feelings shifted at the different stages of your life?
Do you spend money easily on yourself?
Do you take risks with your money?
Do you feel guilty about the money you have?
Have you made a will? If not, why not? Have you included anyone or any charitable organizations in your will other than your family?
Do you tithe and how do you really feel about tithing?
If you lacked money, how would you feel about others helping you out? If you have money, how do you feel about subsidizing a friend’s rent or paying more than your fair share of things?
We may not think a whole lot about questions like these on a daily basis, especially if we are living more comfortably financially, but we make financial decisions almost every day, when you think about it. Should I cook for dinner or get takeout? Will these shoes last one more season or should I buy new ones? What should we do for our summer vacation? Our daily mail and email asks us to donate to so and so’s election campaign, or to support our favorite charities, to take advantage of sales and coupons and to pay our utility bills. Money questions are always in the background of our minds. Here’s the thing, Jesus talks more about money than any other topic in the gospels except for talking about what the kingdom of God is like. Jesus knows that we often have money on our minds, and that our relationship with money affects our spiritual lives positively or negatively. When we think more intentionally about our relationship with money, we can see where we may need to make some adjustments so that we can put following Jesus first in our lives and try to be faithful in our relationship to money.
In our gospel for today, a man wants to ask Jesus about how to inherit eternal life, and Jesus turns the conversation to money. We might first think Jesus turns a spiritual question into a financial question, OR rather that Jesus helps the man understand that financial questions are connected to spiritual questions. How would the man feel if he sold everything he owned and gave the money to the poor? He’d still have treasure in heaven, the most important thing. Jesus says this to him in love. He looks at him with love. Out of love, Jesus wants to know if following him is truly the most important thing. But the man is shocked that Jesus would suggest such a radical idea and goes away grieving, because he knows he can’t do it. He can’t give up all of his stuff to follow Jesus. His wealth is more important to him than he thought and is getting in the way of his relationship with God.
Regardless of how we feel about money personally, pretty much everyone here in this room is wealthy by Jesus’ standards, if not by Syosset’s standards. It is difficult for us, just like it was for the rich man in Mark, to hear Jesus’ words, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Percentage-wise, studies show that still today, the more wealthy people are, the less generous they are, sadly. Charitable contributions drop as wealth accumulates. The more we have, the harder it is to give it away. Partly, this is because we look at our possessions as OUR possessions, and not as gifts from God on loan to us to use wisely, which includes giving to others and not just spending and saving for ourselves. Partly, we turn possessions into a kind of idol or god instead of putting God first above all else. It is very difficult for us, just like it was for this rich man, to extricate ourselves from the consumerist culture around us that never lets us be satisfied with what we have, that tells us we always need more, newer, better, bigger, and so on. It is very easy to look to money as a source of our salvation. Money gets in the way of our relationship with God.
Thank God the conversation with Jesus doesn’t end with the rich man going away grieving. Even the disciples, who have given up much of their possessions and have left their families to travel with Jesus say, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus is setting an impossibly high standard! Thankfully, Jesus answers, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” As followers of Jesus, our relationship with money ought to be an uneasy one. We might look at money as security, a way to achieve lifelong dreams on our bucket list, an inheritance for our children and grandchildren, even as a hobby to play the stock markets or go gambling. But Jesus reminds us, money won’t save us. Our earthly wealth is not treasure in heaven. It is God who saves us, no matter how wealthy or generous or miserly we are. And while money certainly makes some things possible, it is God alone who can make the impossible possible.
Today, we are also giving thanks to God for the 69th anniversary of our congregation as we look forward to celebrating our 70th anniversary next fall. This congregation has a history of God working through what seemed like impossible situations to make them possible. The congregation started worshipping not in this beautiful sanctuary but in people’s homes including the parsonage. Sunday school, worship, and even weddings and funerals were held in our current basement, and somehow the church grew anyway! Several years ago, the financial situation of our church was so dire that the church had to have serious conversations about closing, but people recommitted to the church with prayer and financial support and here we are today. We may still wonder why we don’t have the 300 people in Sunday School and worship that we had in the 1950s, like many churches of all different denominations all across the United States. A global pandemic has stretched on much longer than expected keeping our members apart, closing our Nursery School and threatening our financial position once again. We can list many impossibilities and struggles of our church and of THE Church.
But despite these perceived impossibilities and concerns, which include worries about money in the church, of course, God continues to make the impossible possible. Generous donors in the middle of a pandemic stepped up to replace windows that should’ve been replaced ten years ago, with extra money to put towards replacing the library and office windows that also need to be replaced! New people have become a part of our faith community. Our small groups are smaller in size than the 1950s but mighty in faith, with a thriving adult Bible study, Sunday School, confirmation class and even a middle school youth group this summer. Members and friends who can’t be with us physically for all kinds of reasons can be with us right now on Facebook Live and feel more connected. Jesus looks at us like he looks upon the rich man with love and asks us to put our trust in God above all else, because when we give up and say “It’s impossible,” that’s when God says, “No, it’s not!” We see a lot of ministry happen because of your financial generosity, and we also see we can do a lot with little to no resources required if our mission aligns with God’s mission. God can use us to make things happen!
So today, as we begin a year of celebrating 70 years of ministry and mission in Syosset, let’s allow ourselves to dream. If for God all things are possible, what ministry could we be a part of if we truly believe this? What projects could we commit to if we put our concerns about money, time, people power, and other resources aside? Where is Christ calling us to serve, to give ourselves away for the sake of others so that we might teach, preach, and share God’s love in Christ in even bigger ways? What do we need to be willing to let go of personally to put Jesus first, and what do we gain by doing so? Jesus says for starters, we have treasure in heaven. And possibilities beyond our imagining. May God bless our next seventy years and beyond. Amen.