Wednesday, November 11, 2015

“What If the Purpose of Money Isn’t Survival?” (Mark 12:38-44)

He continued teaching. “Watch out for the religion scholars. They love to walk around in academic gowns, preening in the radiance of public flattery, basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function. And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. The longer their prayers, the worse they get. But they’ll pay for it in the end.” Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.” (Mark 12:38-44)

A group of young and not so young adults were comparing Halloweens. “Back when I was young,” said the oldest person in the group, “There weren’t snack-sized candy bars, just penny candy. And there weren’t businesses and churches that handed out candy. We walked door to door to get one stick of gum or jawbreaker or apple. It took hours to fill up a pillowcase.”

A younger adult interrupted, “Are you kidding me? Our children’s buckets were filled within thirty minutes. Our workplace always dresses up on the Friday closest to Halloween and hands out candy from their desks. The friendly ghosts tossed HANDFULS of small chocolate bars in the buckets. Our children had over ten pounds of candy before going door-to-door in the neighborhood. We counted at least four full-sized candy bars, too. Need some chocolate? We’ll share!”

Another young adult added, “Well we definitely benefitted from snack-sized everything when I was a child. I don’t care what size the Reece’s Peanut Butter cup is, I’ll take it! What’s funny is that I hardly ate any of the candy in my bucket once I collected it. I thought it was special. So I saved it in the bottom drawer of the study desk in my room. I had brothers, you know, so I had to be clever. About the following Easter my mom would DEMAND I throw it away…before the Easter bunny came by with a basket full of candy!”

All three of these persons described our life with money as they talked about Halloween candy—sometimes we work very hard for very little, sometimes we work very little for a lot, sometimes the work and the benefit is proportionate, and sometimes we are so impressed by money we put it away so no one can touch it—and sometimes we are so thankful we share.

A story Jesus told about life with God comes to mind: 
“It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.

“After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

“The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

“The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

“The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest. 

“‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’” (Matthew 25:14-30)

In this parable, we understand that God is the MASTER and you and I are the gifted servants. And gifted we are! Everyone has gifts of the spirit—those marvelous inner qualities such as hope and patience and hospitality and teaching, as well as material possessions, to enhance the lives of others! And that’s the point…you and I here to honor God and neighbor with our living…not for God and neighbor to honor us.

Isn’t that why Jesus shames the scribes in our lesson from the Gospel of Mark? Their robes are costumes, according to Jesus—they use religion for status.

What we hear in Jesus’ parable about investment is God’s invitation to us to live a “take a risk, play it big” kind of life. It’s simply not okay with God for us to keep our lives small; to turn our gifts in on ourselves…to secure our own survival and let everything and everyone else figure out this thing called life all by their selves. Jesus was incredibly active in community. He met the needs of others. He never worried where the next meal, or the next bed, was going to come from.

What we learn from the life of Christ is that we, too, are instruments of God’s presence and God’s peace. We are to stay in circulation. We are to use what we’ve been given to build up others. We are to act out of our experience of God’s abundance—which includes our neighbors.  

A few months ago a young man sat down with me. He wanted to talk about work. He just couldn’t find a place to work where he actually LIKED what he did and who he got to be while he worked. For the past five years he’s bounced around. “I’m getting nowhere,” he said to me, “I think I’m going to go try my luck in the oil field.” “No wonder you’re struggling,” I told him, “You only see your wealth in terms of money. By bouncing around you haven’t built up any significant relationships with people. You know, people resources are just as important as monetary resources. Money can’t change the tire on your car, give you a ride to work, suggest a doctor when your child is sick, take you to lunch, give you a promotion at work, or celebrate your birthday.”

Whenever Jesus tells a story he’s offering his audience the opportunity to see the world—it’s people—the way God sees them.

We are used to seeing ourselves the way the world sees us—we are familiar with the rules of status and power and wealth. We know how to adjust our lives so that people are pleased, money is banked, and power is incurred.

God, on the other hand, does not play by the rules of status and power and wealth. These hold no value in the kingdom of God. Love holds the highest place of value; love of God, love of neighbor.

As Jesus watched the crowd putting money into the temple treasury, he knew his friends were watching the activity through the eye the world had equipped them with---the one that would be impressed by the AMOUNT of money.

Jesus directs the disciples eyes away from the wealthy temple patrons and sets them on the poor widow, whom he praises for truly giving the largest gift.

Jesus intercedes to correct their vision. The woman’s financial gift was very small to be sure, but with WHAT she gave to the temple treasury was quite large—she gave with the heart of faith. Faith knows that our well-being depends on God and neighbor. The widow was not afraid to live without a couple of coins even though they were, as the scripture says, “All she had.” Why? Because what she knows is that all she really has is God and community—she lost nothing in the transaction—and gained everything.

The world would say that it takes a lot of courage to follow Jesus …to choose his way in the world…because it will always involve sacrifice. Faith would say that it takes a lot of courage to go it alone, to live as if there were no God and no neighbor.

Sacrifice means to “deliberately forsake the security of satisfying our own needs with our own resources in the faith and hope that God will sustain us.” Through the widow’s gift Jesus teaches us that call to discipleship is a call to the congregation to so arrange our life together that we live on the edge materialistically so that God meets us and saves us over and over again—as opposed to us saving our self. How can we truly experience the amazing support of God and neighbor…if we don’t need anything?

Let Us Pray: Loving God, thank you for meeting us in our time of need...thank you for preparing our hearts to meet the needs of others, and most amazingly of all—to meet you! Amen.

(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener at Central Christian Church in Billings on November 8, 2015.) 


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