Baruch attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam. Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of eternity. Amen.
* * *
My husband likes to say he succumbs to the sin of uxoriousness.
That’s the sin of loving your wife more than God.
To which I reply, “thanks?”
Uxoriousness—use it in a sentence today…
This is of course a form of idolatry,
a way to put something else in the place of God,
to make something or someone, in effect, your God.
Lots of things can be idols—golden calves, trophies, a career, money,
…and insert a deeply-felt groan here
because you’ve just realized it’s that time of year again…
It’s time for speeches about how we need your money,
heart-felt speeches saying essentially,
“give it up you tightwads, this stuff ain’t free,
oh and here’s some scripture to make you feel guilty”
that’s right, it’s stewardship season!
So, while we’re being honest about how we feel
about stewardship sermons
let’s be honest about why we don’t give more
—it’s because we come from an attitude of scarcity.
We think we ought to trust God for everything, right?
God’s the Creator and everything,
but what kind of return does God give on a $1000 investment?
What’s the deductible on God’s insurance plan?
No, God’s all right and all, but we need to trust something else,
something tangible or measurable. Something real…
We trust other things, put other things in the place of God
because we don’t think God will be enough
we don’t think there will be enough…whatever…to go around.
Now, I’m not saying we should all stop planning for the future,
but those plans are not God.
That future is usually anything but
what we expect it to be.
It is uncertain and it fills us with fear.
So we plan and worry and save and hoard
and become greedy for what we already have
—God’s promise that it will all be okay
in the end, right? And if it’s not okay…
[it’s not the end]
Here’s an example—
there are two documents in your house,
or on whatever tech device you use,
that will tell me exactly what you care about and what you fear.
They are your credit card statement and your calendar.
One will tell me what you spend your money on
—and what you don’t spend your money on—
and the other what you spend your time on.
These two paint a picture of who you are in the real world,
where your treasure and your heart are.
You might say they’re moral documents
You might say that they show us the idols we worship.
But what does that mean, “the idols we worship”?
What does it mean to worship anything?
Worship is intense devotion of time and energy.
Worship is giving worth—ultimate worth—to something.
Worship shows what comes before anything else in our lives.
Worship involves joy, maybe a tinge of fear, and a sense of awe.
It’s not unlike the devotion we show to sports teams in this town.
Now, I’m not going to lie, my team of choice is amazing
—they go out there and hustle,
they work hard, and they bring home the victory,
so there’s a reason the Cincinnati Rollergirls
are my favorite and that I’ve got tickets
to the next three bouts
—but I don’t worship them.
I used to have very disconcerting conversations
with parents of teenagers
about how their kids couldn’t come to confirmation class
Their conscious, adult choice to follow Jesus
Where they’re confirming they’ll try to love God
with all their hearts and souls
and minds and strengths
a class which lasted only 8 weeks—
they couldn’t come because the Bengals were playing
If that isn’t an obvious choice between God and an idol,
I don’t know what is.
No one wants to be called out on idolatry—
it’s uncomfortable, we fight such negative words,
and, really, it’s not us who are the problem
In the Colossians reading today, Paul equates idolatry with being greedy,
and no one wants to be called greedy either…
so we define it away from ourselves.
Greed is something people much richer than we are
have to struggle with.
Greed is extreme, greed is ugly, greed is unnecessary.
We could never be like that.
And this is precisely why folks don’t care for stewardship season—
readings like Colossians
which basically call us out on our inherent self-interest
when the church is also trying to butter us up
to give more money.
Essentially, “You’re a big sinner and you should be ashamed
—but pay up and it’ll be okay.”
Don’t get me wrong, we do some amazing things with the money
—but don’t give because we need it,
give because you need to give your stuff and yourself away,
give because giving removes the temptation
to trust in something not God
give away because you need to know just how filled
your life really is.
Here’s the deal:
whether it’s a little or a lot, acquiring and holding on to wealth
is the lens we see the world through.
Giving away wealth in any amount
is the lens God sees the world through.
We come at things from an attitude of scarcity,
God comes from a posture of abundance.
Let me tell you a story:
several years ago, the Episcopal Diocesan Convention
—Synod Assembly to y’all—was in Columbus.
We’d spent a good portion of the convention talking about money
and what we should do with what we had
—some thought we had too much,
some thought not enough—
typical conversations at convention.
Our closing Eucharist took place in the chapel at my seminary
and the place was packed.
When it came time for the ushers to bring
the offerings of bread, wine, and money forward to the altar,
it was like a comedy of errors.
Two ushers had the three plates of bread
which looked like cartoonish stacks of pancakes
—easily a foot tall each.
There were two enormous cruets of wine.
And the money was the most ridiculous.
I don’t know if someone forgot to get the larger baskets
or if people were particularly generous,
but as the ushers came forwards, the baskets were so full,
dollar bills fell out onto the floor.
They’d stop to pick them up and more would fall out.
They got to the altar and somehow crammed everything
onto the surface
and I could see our bishop just grinning
and saying “marvelous, marvelous.”
And it was.
There was such abundance there that day,
we all could see God’s kingdom right there in front of us—
there’s enough—no, more than enough—to go around.
How wonderful, how marvelous,
how ridiculously generous of God to give us such gifts.
We are far richer than we allow ourselves to believe,
in money, yes, and in talent and in time and in love
—wouldn’t we want to share that?
Wouldn’t we want to offer it to everyone we meet?
Wouldn’t it be a relief to let go of the fear and the scarcity
and the worry and the idolatry and the greed?
Wouldn’t we want to allow the resurrection
—Jesus’ ridiculously generous offer of life—to mean something? Wouldn’t we want to participate in the building of the Kingdom
of justice and mercy and abundance here and now?
Brothers and sisters, this life we’re offered in Jesus
is a celebration of abundance
This worship service every single week is a celebration of abundance
—so let’s party!