The Rev. Kathy McAdams
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
October 14, 2018 - Proper 23B - RCL
What must we do to inherit eternal life…to enter the Kingdom of God? First, we must be willing to help everyone else get there, too. If we were willing to leave anyone behind, it wouldn’t be the Kingdom of God. So we have to be willing to bring everyone along and to share what we have; to be generous.
When we think of giving of our labors for the Kingdom of God, many of us retreat to a position that says, “I worked hard for this money; I earned it; it’s mine; why should I give it away?” It’s so easy to forget that God gifts each of us with special talents that we develop into skills, and thereby receive compensation for the use of these skills. But, somehow we think the money should be ours. In reality, this income has been co-created with God.
Consider the bread and wine in the Eucharist. God gives us fertile soil, and seed that will grow in it. Human laborers tend the soil and plant the seeds. God provides water and sunshine so the seeds will grow. Soon, from the soil is spouting stalks of wheat and vines full of grapes. But still human hands are necessary for tending, and for harvesting the grains of wheat and the grapes. With the skill that God has given us, we cultivate the best wheat and grapes, we grind the wheat into flour and kneed it into bread. We crush the grapes, and with God’s help they are fermented into wine. Finally, we take this bread and wine that we have co-created with God, and we offer it to God as a sign of our own self-offering. God blesses it and feeds us with it, that it might nourish us to do God’s work in the world.
A man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He assures Jesus that he obeys all the commandments. And “Jesus replies, ‘Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” How hard it is to let go of earthly treasure for the promise of heavenly treasure. What if we were able to dedicate the first hour of each work week to God.
Imagine arriving at work tomorrow morning at 8 or 9 - whenever you normally begin. Before checking your messages or turning on your computer, you say a prayer of thanksgiving for the special gifts and talents that God has given you, for the opportunity to use them to promote good in the world, for the money that you are paid for using them. And out of your sense of gratitude, you dedicate the first hour of labor to God. Maybe you even write out the check before you begin working. If you work a 40-hour week (is that even a thing anymore?), you will be dedicating 2.5% of your income to God, AND you will be bringing that sense of gratitude and special intention to your work. This intention makes your work holy, an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace, also known as a (pause) sacrament. I bet you’ll notice the difference in how you approach your work, not only in that first hour, but in every hour.
But why should we give? I have several answers to that. The first is because it’s who we are. We are made in the image of a generous God, a God who gives us everything we need, who provides for us abundantly. Abundance means that there is plenty of everything that we need on this earth; plenty for everyone to have enough. The problem is that the distribution system is messed up - some people continue to hoard much more than what is essential for their survival, while others don’t have what is essential for theirs. We are made in the image of a God who gave us his only begotten Son. Certainly, we can part with a few percent of our income.
The second answer is related to the first: we should give because we want to further God’s purposes in the world. We are made in the image of God, so the things that are important to God might also be important to us - things like bringing about Justice in the world. That means making sure that everyone has enough; things like working toward peace; things that bring about transformation in our community and in our world. Yes, your money can actually be transformative; it can change peoples’ lives. Ghandi calls us to “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”
Our checkbooks are moral documents, that indicate the things that are most important to us; where we invest our treasure…or should I say, God’s treasure. How are you doing at managing God’s money? Likewise, the budget of a parish, a diocese, or of the Episcopal Church reflects its commitments and priorities. If God is calling you to support something that is not reflected in the budget of St John’s, or not supported by our giving to the diocese and national Episcopal Church, then by all means speak up about what’s important to you. Put your dreams on the bulletin board. Talk to me or a Vestry member. It’s up to all of us to help shape the direction and priorities of this parish and of the larger Church, to make it something that you want to support, so that it can be a way for you to live out your commitment to God.
I’ve been a tither for years, since I first started exploring the idea of ordination. It crossed my mind that part of dedicating my life to God is enacting my commitment to God’s purposes. By giving 10% of my income to the Church, I am living out, even sacramentalizing, that commitment. I was challenged, however, not to stop there when I heard Bishop Catherine Waynick speak about her commitment to increase her giving by ½% each year until God told her to stop. Other speakers at the same conference testified to giving 30, 40, 50% of their income. They even spoke of a businessman in Texas named Robert Gilmore “RG” LeTourneau who gives away 90% of his income. He’s the one who said, “It’s not about how much of my money I give to God; it’s about how much of God’s money I keep for myself.” He and his wife decided that they only needed to keep 10% of the millions they made. Not all of us have the luxury of millions to play with, but would we make that same decision if we did?
I know that when I think of giving away more, the first thing that comes to mind is the fear that I won’t have enough for myself or my family. I go right to that place of scarcity, believing that there’s not enough to go around, rather than trusting in God’s abundance. Dr. Jane Burruss suggests that the fear that we’ll run out of money is what causes greed, and that that fear is just as great for the rich as for the poor. I can attest to that: When I had a full-time job, even though it was not one that I enjoyed or felt called to, it was hard to consider leaving that job to become a part-time Rector. But when I was unemployed, and Ellen and I had pared down our spending, suddenly part-time sounded pretty good. I believe that was how God opened my heart to the possibility of coming to St. John’s. GK Chesterton writes, “There are two ways to get enough. One is to acquire more; the other is to need less.”
What must we do to inherit eternal life? Store up your treasure in heaven. Invest in the Kingdom of God.