You Cannot Serve God and Wealth

St Barnabas, Norwich VT

Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson

Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others. Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.  Good morning!  Welcome!

You Cannot Serve God and Wealth

Steward -We don’t possess our own lives. I would say we are stewards of the life that God has given us, and for however long God continues to give us breath. I think of it as being loaned back into life after baptism. -Br. Curtis Almquist

I want to focus on the gospel lesson(s) and by way of introduction, I will share with you some insights about the lesson from my new friend Nancy Rockwell. Nancy wrote a compelling blog about the gospel lesson called The Risks That Make You Rich and I really enjoyed it. Nancy said that Jesus told a story about a fellow who made himself rich twice. He was the bookkeeper for a rich man, a landowner, and the first fortune came from cheating the landowners’ tenants by adding false charges to their bills. He made the landowner really wealthy by doing this, and made himself an indispensable employee.

But then the economy changed. The landowner was losing money fast. And the bookkeeper was really scared about his own future. So he switched his loyalty. He began taking more off people’s bills than they had actually paid, wiping out their debts faster than they had ever imagined.

And the bookkeeper thought to himself, when the economy crashes, I’ll be out of work; and I’m too old to do manual labor; but some of these little folks I’ve helped will look on me kindly, and make sure I don’t starve. This story is commonly known as the tale of the dishonest steward. But Jesus doesn’t call him dishonest. Nor does he call him honest. He calls him wise.

Most folks, in talking about this story, never think about the wisdom in it, because they can’t get over the dishonesty. The fellow belongs in jail, folks say, and they dismiss the story in disgust. In Jesus’ eyes, making friends with the poor by means of ‘unrighteous mammon’ is wise, because in the realm of God’s holiness, the poor are beloved far more than the rich. And so we store up treasure in heaven when we help the poor. Jesus doesn’t stipulate a narrow path for righteous help. Nor does he forbid righteousness to sinners.

Zacchaeus, a tax collector whose profession was known for its stealing from the poor, was declared by Jesus to be a virtuous fellow when he avowed that he gave 40% of all he got to the poor. The widow, who could have used her little bit of money to treat herself to a holiday meal, but instead put her coins, all she had, into the poor box, was held up by Jesus as a shining example of generosity. And the bookkeeper who couldn’t do manual labor, and so helped the poor as insurance against hard times, Jesus declared wise.

Crying Foul! is commonplace among us. But Jesus reminds us that what is Fair, according to God, is siding with those who owe and groan under the weight of their debt, not with those whose ledgers are pristine, and who have never shown mercy to a [Nancy Rockwell]

I love Nancy’s reflection on today’s gospel lesson for two reasons. I believe she draws us closer to a particular truth that we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. The second reason is that I love how she invites us to consider how our sense of fair evolves over time in our social systems. 

First to point out one of my favorite insights about the Lord’s Prayer. God’s will, as taught to us by Jesus in Luke’s 11th chapter is that we all practice forgiveness no matter what. In the translation that we have been taught to pray, the prayer changes one tiny word that makes a huge difference to me in how I think about forgiveness. In the prayer, we pray forgive us our debts (sins), as we forgive others. In Luke’s gospel lesson, Jesus teaches us to pray, forgive us our debts (sins) for we forgive others. What a difference in a tiny little word. In the first instance, there is a kind of equivocation. As long or as well as we are able to forgive others, that is how much we pray that God forgives us. That gets very complicated in our relationships very quickly. “Well…. I can forgive my father for not coming to that soccer game when I was 14, so I guess that means God forgives me for that time I couldn’t show up for my grandson’s birthday?” When we pray with the word for it changes the meaning of the prayer in kind of a big way. Forgiveness then becomes both something God does and we do without any kind of equalizing or shame measured, no equivocation. God forgives all of our debts already, we pray to forgive others as well. AND one of the best spiritual practices is to consider a moral inventory of our daily lives and seek out where it is in our lives we might have caused offense. When we find those places, we seek out the one we believe to have offended and offer amends. We pray to forgive all our own debts to others. There is no equivocation in the bible translation. Such a tiny word. 

The second reason is that I love how she invites us to consider how our sense of fair evolves over time in our social systems. This fall, I am working with UVIP to present information materials to the community inviting people to consider working toward a Moral Economy. There are several points being considered about what contributes to a Moral Economy in this time:

  • A Livable Wage – We can work full time and support our families.
  • Access to Quality Health Care – We can get the care we need when we need it at a reasonable cost.
  • Access to Quality Education – Our children can access a quality education leading to lifelong skills, and we adults can access learning to improve our work skills.
  • Paid Leave When We or Our Family Get Sick – We can stay home when we or a family member is sick without fear of not being able to pay our bills.
  • Access to Quality Child Care – We can go to work knowing our children are in safe hands, and that working is economically better than staying home.
  • Protection from Predatory Lenders – We are not drawn to borrow small sums at enormous interest rates because we can afford to live on what we earn.

Today’s gospel lesson is all about shifting to a moral economy. It is about providing dignity for all those concerned. I recognize the challenge that the gospel provides. It is kind of a radical book when put in the hands of some. It causes us to consider things that challenges our sense of “fairness.” I want to simply invite you to pray about where in the vision of our economy, and in the economy that Jesus proposes in the gospel, you might find a little bit of the radical in yourself. Pray about that and see where it leads you. Perhaps it will be in feeding people who are hungry by making sandwiches, or cooking a meal at Listen, or donating to the Haven. Perhaps is will be in visiting people who are lonely and alone at Bayada, or Valley Terrace, or Brookside or simply people who are isolated in their homes. Perhaps it will be in voting for a higher minimum wage. Perhaps is will be in offering a brand new consideration of a solution for the homeless, the drug addicted and those out of a job.

I opened this sermon with a wisdom quote from Brother Curtis Almquist, Steward -We don’t possess our own lives. I would say we are stewards of the life that God has given us, and for however long God continues to give us breath. I think of it as being loaned back into life after baptism. -Br. Curtis Almquist I want to close with another wisdom quote from Brother Curtis about light.

Light - We’ve been given the light of Christ not to hoard, not to squander, but to receive, to allow to penetrate the deepest crevices of our own darkness and shadows, and then to reflect this light. This is the light we identify with the countenance of Christ, the light of the world, the enlightenment of our soul. Receive the light; teem with that light; mirror that light with all God’s generosity to the whole of creation. -Br. Curtis Almquist

Let us pray. O God, you call us to embrace both you and the children of this world with unconditional love. Give us grace to discern what your love demands of us that, being faithful in things both great and fall, we may serve you with an undivided heart.