September 1, 2019 – 12th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C
Motivational speaker, Sam Keen, began a workshop held in the United States, by passing around a plate and asked everyone to put a dollar bill on it. Then he set it in the middle of the group and set it on fire. No explanation. He just burned the whole plate full of money.
A while later, he passed the plate around again, and this time some of the participants were really reluctant to put the dollar in, but they did anyway. Then Sam took the plate full of money and gave it to one of the participants. “It is yours,” he said. “No, you don’t have to give it back, and you can spend it on whatever you like. Just take it.”
Same passed the plate around for the 3rd time. No explanation. Just put a dollar on the plate. When he had the plate full of dollar bills, he shoved them all in an envelope and said that he was sending them off to a favorite charity.
Finally, Sam Keen passed the plate around a 4th time, again demanding a dollar from each participant. This time he grabbed the whole plate full of bills and shoved them in his pocket. No explanation. Some of the group was boiling mad by this time.
At the end of it all, the group talked about money, and how they felt about it. Everyone realized that money was far more than just currency. It symbolized a whole host of things, from power to envy to greed, and all the way around again. Everyone in that group had a pile of feelings about that money, and they were not entirely proud of all of those feelings. Especially the way money symbolized their sense of status.
Today we begin Stewardship month. We have already heard members of our congregation tell us about their financial sharing practices. By listening to our brothers and sisters of faith we catch a glimpse of their beliefs and commitment to God. We also are privileged to have a mirror held up to us, so that we might examine our own giving practices.
“Look at me, Mommy,” cried the little child. “See how high I can swing.” “Look at us, God, see how generous we can be.”
It was a voice that rose high over the neighbourhood playground that Saturday morning. But in the child’s words were a whole view of life shared by most of us on the playground that morning, children or adults. Look at me. See how high I can go.
Each time we lay our offerings on the offering plate we express our gratitude to God and our willingness to serve generously. We do it inconspicuously. There is no great fanfare. There is just the simple devotion expressed as we sing and pray the doxology.
Our Gospel text focuses on how we treat others. Both the host and guests are reprimanded for selfishness. Trying to make ourselves number 1, and giving only to receive, oppresses the needy, contradicts Christ’s example, and ultimately leads to humiliation. The passage from the letter to the Hebrew people is ethical and moralistic. It commands to love fellow believers, welcome strangers, visit prisoners, honour marriage, not love money, and remember church leaders all the while offering acceptable worship to God. It becomes obvious that true worship occurs in our daily living of how we treat each other and how we conduct ourselves financially and sexually.
As we delve deeper into our Gospel text we see it as a tale about humility. At a dinner party Jesus watches the guests jockeying for position, all wanting the most privileged spot. He says to those who are there, “Don’t grab the best seat.” He speaks to hosts as well as guests, “Think about your motivation! Extend your hospitality not to those who can repay you or do you good (so much for power lunching!) but to be hospitable to those who can’t – the poor, the lame, and the blind,”
We are reminded once again that those whom we often exclude have an important place within God’s realm. In God’s realm, we are all guests, not by right or by worthiness, but by invitation. God’s generous gift of love calls forth from us an equally generous response towards God and others, as we live daily in God’s realm.
It is because of scripture passages such as this that I am so committed to giving to the Mission and Service fund. By giving to the M&S fund I am assured that those in need receive care and compassion. Projects that receive M&S funding ensure that equality is a given. That is the kind of world I dream about.
The founder of the Habitat for humanity movement, Millard Fuller, changed the world we live in by trading in his life of prestige and power for one of self-giving love. Lives all over the globe have been transformed by the habitat experience. In the building of homes that give families a hand up in the world, tangibles such as hammers and nails are transformed into a mysterious and almost sacramental grace.
A church youth group held a car wash, not to raise money, but just to be a good witness in the community. It was their free way of helping people with no strings attached. The teens were told ahead of time by church leaders that they weren’t to take any money (no personal tips), and if someone asked what their motive was or “what the catch was,” they were simply to respond, “there is no catch, we just want to serve our community.” Throughout the day several conflicts developed as a few car owners insisted they pay for the wash. Some were even offended when their money was refused, and in 2 cases the teens had to take a donation to avoid hostility. This payment/reward culture can view a free gift as scandalous.
These young people got what the letter to the Hebrews was trying to say. They got it when it said, “Keep your lives free from the love of money.” The youth-group realized that money was to be put to good use. And they did just that! Will we do any less?
Our food packs that we hand out to the hungry is a great example of this church’s commitment to “keep your lives free from the love of money.” We hand out small snacks of granola bars and puddings, that help the hungry make it until they can get to the Soupateria. We are generous in our outreach. Our hundreds of prayer shawls that are handed out to the bereaved, hurting, and ill are a further example of extravagant giving. Our openness in conducting memorial services for all, is a reminder that one need not pass a means test to receive care and compassion from this church.
Grace transforms our obedience to Christ from “we have to” to “we get to” – from “we are bound to” to “we are free to.”
I like the story historians tell about the funeral of Charlemagne. Charlemagne was the greatest Christian rulers of the early Middle ages
After his death, a mighty funeral procession left his castle for the cathedral at Aix. When the royal casket arrived, with a lot of pomp and circumstance, it was met by the local bishop, who barred the cathedral door.
“Who comes?” the bishop asked, as was the custom.
“Charlemagne, Lord and King of the Holy Roman Empire,” proclaimed the Emperor’s proud herald.
“Him I know not,” the bishop replied. “Who comes?”
The herald, a bit shaken, replied, “Charles the Great, a good and honest man of the earth.”
“Him I know not,” the bishop said again. “Who comes?”
The herald, now completely crushed, responded, “Charles, a lowly sinner, who begs the gift of Christ.”
To which the bishop, Christ representative, responded, “Enter!”
May we all remember who we are and to whom we belong. May we be extravagant in our loving. May we be generous in our giving. May we be faithful in our living. Amen.