September 29, 2019 – Year C – 16th Sunday after Pentecost
Two of my long-time friends were married in a Scarboro Ontario church about 15 or so years ago. Just as Brian and Darren were about to exchange their vows a group of 3 or 4 scruffy men came into the church to check out what was going on. Brian stopped the proceedings and invited the men to come in and take a seat and join in the festivities. At the end of the wedding ceremony, the 4 men were invited to the reception. Rides were arranged for them and everyone had a great time. The 4 men didn’t bring gifts in the traditional sense, but they more than made up for it in the joy they brought to the gathering. They were some of the last to leave the party.
It is common to hear people say that money is the root of all evil. If pressed on the source of this proverb, many people will point to the Bible, though they will most likely not be able to cite 1 Timothy 6:10. And that is unfortunate, because this is perhaps one of the most misquoted verses in all of Scripture. The Bible does not say that money is root of all evil. Money is itself is not a problem: The problem is what we do with it and how we view it. What the writer of 1 Timothy actually says is that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” There are 2 qualifiers there: 1st, it is the love of money that is the problem, not the money itself. And 2ndly even the love of money is not the root of all evil but a root of all kinds of evil. These points are significant, because this passage is not an attack on the rich for being rich but a warning to the rich (and those who seek to become rich) to make sure that they use their financial assets for good. As the writers of the “Peoples Commentary” point out, the central claim in this passage is that money becomes a problem when it is seen as an end rather than a means to an end. It is a “good servant, but a poor master.”
Milton Schwartzentruber writes in 2004, “No wonder we have such a strong attachment to money. It permits us to do many things that are both pleasant and, yes, even good for us. Vacations and travel can enhance mental health. Being able to buy nutritious food permits our children to grow taller. There is almost no end to the advantages of having money, just as there is almost no end to the disadvantages of having little.
1/3rd of the passages in the gospels have to do with wealth. If one third of the sermons in our churches dealt with the dangers posed by the love of money, many ministers would get turfed out. A few years ago I read a report on the average yearly givings of Canadian churchgoers. Members of the United Church of Canada were near the bottom. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists were at the top. Givings in Newfoundland, considered a poorer province in Canada, were higher than in Ontario, Alberta or B.C., the richest provinces in Canada. Giving does not seem, to have much to do with the amount of resources available. A strong sense of purpose and caring does.
At our February 2019 Congregational Annual Meeting, Our Finance Committee chairperson Colin MacDermott pointed out to us that if every regular giver gave an extra $82 per month, we would have no deficit this year. I’m not sure how many people heard that challenge. I am even less certain how many took up that challenge. In today’s Bulletin material is a different take on the challenge. It is a chart that identifies how many people fit in each giving level. It invites you to step up a level. For most of us, it would be quite easy to step up a level. If you normally give $40 per week, you are encouraged to step up to the $41-$60 per week category. If you give by PAR, just let Marianne know that you want to increase your monthly donation.
Many years ago I saw one of George Bernard Shaw’s play’s at Shaw theatre. I have long forgotten the name of the play, but I have not forgotten one particular scene. The character was outside and held a coin up to the sun and remarked that “you cannot see the sun when money gets in the way.”
The parable from Luke exists in several cultures and many versions. The rich man was clothed in purple and fine linen, a description of the robes of the high priests as well as wealthy citizens. The word used for feasting could be translated “gourmet meals.” He had them every day, even on the Sabbath, which broke the Law of Moses. His mind was closed to the demands of compassion, also a violation of the Law of Moses. The sores on Lazarus were obvious, but the rich man has an even more serious problem or disease of which he is unaware. In those days, food was eaten with the hands. Wealthy folk wiped their fingers on bread and then threw it to the dogs. It was this bread Lazarus came seeking. Note who remains nameless in the story – a real role reversal for those society usually sees as nameless.
The rich man died and was buried. Lazarus went to a feast in heaven while the rich man went to Hades, land of the dead. What was the rich man’s sin? He didn’t order unsightly Lazarus removed from his gate. He had objections to Lazarus taking the bread thrown out for the dogs. He wasn’t deliberately cruel. The rich man’s sin was that he never really noticed Lazarus. He accepted Lazarus’ poverty and illness and his own life of ease, as just the way life is. He did not recognize that the gap between his life situation and that of Lazarus, had also caused a gap in his relationship with God
The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to help him. But Abraham, says the gulf between the, cannot be crossed now. Now we begin to see some concern for, the rich, and toward others. He begs Abraham to send someone back into the world to warn, others not to do what he has done. Abraham declares that there are prophets among us every day if only we would listen.
On this final Sunday of our Stewardship month, we have heard our friends and neighbours speak of their commitment of giving. Some have spoken about giving through PAR. Others have talked about giving both locally and to the Mission and Service Fund. I spoke about tithing. All of these presentations have come from the heart. Hopefully they have inspired and encouraged you to look at your own patterns of giving.
Today, I want to tell you about why I give. When I was in my late teens and working part time while going to school, I gave basically pocket change. I didn’t think much about how much I could afford to give, nor much about what the church needed. But, one day I heard a stewardship appeal, much like this one, and I realized I had never looked at the money I had and considered what God was calling me to give. So, here I was, all of 18 or so, and hearing the challenge to examine my weekly offering. I calculated what I earned and figured out what 10% of my earning would be, and I started tithing. Even through the years I was a student in University, when I was existing on bursaries and savings, I still tithed. There were some very lean years. But the church was my first expense I paid each month. There were times I didn’t know how I was going to buy groceries, yet always a scholarship would arrive when I needed it most. I continue to tithe, in a little different way today. I give to the church, to some causes that augment what the church is not able to support, and I donate time and resources to causes I believe in. So, for the past 46 years I have heard God’s call to give generously. And I try to do that.
In a few minutes we will celebrate the end of stewardship month with a potluck lunch. If you didn’t bring something, don’t worry, there is lots to eat. We will give thanks for the abundance that God has provided. We will look to our friends and neighbours and acknowledge that God has done marvelous things in Penticton United Church. We are good and faithful stewards! Amen.