Readings are here.
I read in the news that once more we are suffering "compassion fatigue" or perhaps the US economy and worries about gas prices are tightening our generosity impulses. But what if we suddenly found everything swept away and we were totally dependent on neighbors around the world? What if our own government, like the government of Myanmar, was controlling most avenues of assistance? How would we cope? How would we hear the words of Jesus from our gospel today?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-- you of little faith?
Would we say - oh right, sure Jesus - easy for you to say with all those women providing for you along the way so you and your disciples can go on walkabout.
Yet - it was those who were barely making it through each day - who are the ones Jesus is talking with. Jesus talks about money and wealth more frequently than any topic except prayer. His concern is that we become so fearful about our money and things that we fall into loving things and using people instead of loving people and using things.
Jesus offers a variety of views about money, not all are about giving everything away but all are concerned about our anxiety and tendency to live in a scarcity model of being. In the parables, Jesus does not condemn wealth but he does condemn greed. The rich fool stores everything away and then loses it in a moment of bad luck. the unjust steward does not treat those under his control with the same justice as he is granted by his employer. In the story of the rich man and the poor man - Lazurus - it is the lack of concern by the rich man for the poor man outside his door. In the great judgment scene in the Gospel of Matthew, it is those who give material aid those who are sick, naked, in prison, or hungry who are blessed. And although he tells the rich young man to sell all he has and give it to the poor, in the story of Zaccheus - the tax collector is praised for repenting of his greed and giving only half away. The Gospel of Luke tells that good stewards are the ones who invest wisely and make money. The diversity of sayings from Jesus shows that Christians are called to reflect on the gifts we have been given and evaluate our use of them.
One core of Jesus' teaching is that in community we do not have to fear and hoard. Comes around, goes around is a way of life. When I am down - you help me up, when you are down, I reach out a hand.
Recently in Basin, Wyoming, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church showed how this can be done. A family's mother and daughter were in a terrible car wreck. The mother died and the daughter severely injured. A short time later the family house burned to the ground taking everything in the fire. Although several members of the extended family and their families were living there due to job losses and other events - no one was injured. But they were left destitute with only the clothes they were wearing. St. Andrew's and the community rallied to help them. A fund was set up at the local bank, a house was given to the family for shelter, food, clothing and groceries poured in. There is still the grief of loss of life and goods but the love shown by all through these gifts will carry them through the days to come.
Now what happens in a place like Myanmar where the whole community was devastated by a cyclone and the aftermath of flooding and loss of life? Where the government is not helping its own people? Where is the community when everyone is in the same condition? This is when the church can also be community for one another. After Hurricane Katrina, and the tsunami in South Asia and the earthquakes in Pakistan, Episcopalians came forth with amazing generosity and already Episcopal Relief and Development is working with partner churches in Myanmar to help with emergency needs. Although the government until this weekend was blocking aid from the US - ERD was able to work through Anglican churches in the region to get tents, blankets, fresh water, building supplies, medical care and other needed items in through trusted sources in the Anglican Communion. We, then are the neighbor in whom they are entrusting their hope.
You might say - but they are mostly Buddhists or Muslims - our church there is so small and our presence so tiny. When someone asked the Christians in Pakistan why they were helping all those "others" - they looked dumbfounded - and said - that is what Jesus teaches us. We are here as a witness to the love of God in Christ - it is not what we get in return, or that we are often persecuted for our faith, it is about showing what we believe. And so it is that we witness our faith through our gifts around the world. Somedays I think - will it never end - all these needs - I feel like the Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar with all the lepers clinging to him - "heal me, touch me, help me" they chant. And the truth is it will never end - Jesus was right - the poor with always be with us - but it is not just a poor person - it is a moving target - someday it might be me or you - as you know from when the terrible fires stopped short of destroying homes in the Green Knoll Fire.
So, there are two messages in this sermon (which my homiletics professor would tell me is a real no-no!!) One is about the inserts in your bulletin and doing whatever you can to assist Episcopal Relief and Development in this current crisis in Myanmar. The second and long term point is about the evaluation of our wealth and material goods in terms of Jesus call to worship God and not money. When we worship money and things we become fearful and anxious, when we put it in its proper place we are freed from fear and anxiety. We can consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air and live in the present moment. We can plan and provide for ourselves and our families but without the tight grip of fear -- we can hear the words of Jesus saying:
"So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today." And we can rejoice in the beauty in this day - which may be the only one we have.
UPDATE from our diocesan listserve:
I just signed a check for over $8,000 to be sent to the Durney family in Basin. Once again our diocesan family has made me proud. God bless you all for your generosity.
Faithfully yours in Christ
Bishop of Wyoming
Jesus and money ideas from Mastering Mammon at Text Week.