Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

God and Things

Stewardship Sunday

Sunday, November 19, 2006

 

 

Matthew 6: 25-34

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

The British writer D.H. Lawrence wrote this in a poem in 1929:

 

“Money is our madness, our vast collective madness.

We quail, money makes us quail.
It has got us down; we grovel before it in strange terror.

if I have no money, they will give me a little bread so I do not die,
but they will make me eat dirt with it.
I shall have to eat dirt, I shall have to eat dirt
if I have no money …”[i]

 

Money is our madness, our vast collectiveness madness.

 

I suspect many of us are not fully sane when it comes to money.

 

Years ago I was mugged and stabbed and hit on the head with the bud of a gun. It was partly my own fault. I was walking home after dark after a thunderstorm wearing a three piece suit, carrying an umbrella and a briefcase. Two men jumped out from behind a bush. One held a gun at my head; the other a knife behind my back.

 

I was so eager to surrender that I raised my arms up in the air as quickly as I could. In the process I accidentally slammed the briefcase into one man’s leg and whacked the other with my umbrella. They thought I was trying to fight back.

 

The wounds weren’t serious and I was out of the hospital in a few hours.

 

But I had psychic wounds that took longer to heal. For a time I was afraid to walk the city sidewalks early in the morning or after dusk, which I guess in retrospect is understandable. But I also experienced for a time almost irresistible impulses to buy things…anything. I still don’t understand what that was about. There were times during the weeks after I was mugged that I was driven to shop.

 

I tried to deal with the impulse by buying newspapers from neighboring cities. They didn’t cost much, had no calories, and I love newspapers.

 

What was this about…this strange, almost visceral need to spend money, to buy something…to get something? I still don’t understand it all these years later, except I suspect deep down I am not fully sane when it comes to money.

 

This helped me to later better sympathize, I think, with a woman who used to pound on the door of a church I served in an impoverished neighborhood in Philadelphia. She obviously had a severe drug habit. She would pound on the door until I opened it and then quickly run past me into the building. Then I’d have to try to persuade her to leave the building.

 

She would ask me over and over again for money. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. When she finally became convinced I would not give her money, she would ask me for a Bible. When I’d tell her that I had already given her two Bibles, she would ask for a hymnal. When I would not give her a hymnal, she would ask for my pen. When I would not give her my pen, she would ask for a pencil from the pew rack. When I would not give her a pencil, she would ask for a bulletin, which I would give her.

 

Then she would leave. If I would not give her money, she desperately needed me to give her something, even if it were only a piece of paper.

 

I suspect we are not fully sane when it comes to money.

 

James Hudnut-Beumler says that one of the most interesting questions to think about in our society is the question: What are you worth?

 

He says the average middleclass American, when asked this question, adds up their stocks, bonds, and personal and real property and subtract their debts owed to others and that is, in their mind, how much they are worth.[ii]

 

But suppose, he says, we were to see our lives through the eyes of children. To a young child, a mother’s or father’s or aunt’s or uncle’s net financial worth means not a thing. But the parent’s or aunt’s or uncle’s presence at a school performance or at story time…that’s worth a lot.

 

We think we are worth what we make or accumulate but the things that are really priceless in our lives often do not have a financial bottom line.

 

I suspect we are not fully sane when it comes to money. Money is our madness, our vast collective madness.

 

Then we who are Christians have Jesus to deal with. To many of us, Jesus seems less than sane to the other extreme when it comes to money.

 

Did you hear the passage from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew this morning? Consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Parent feeds them…Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin. If God clothes the lilies of the field so beautifully, will not God much more clothe you?   Do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ …Indeed your heavenly Parent knows you need all these things. But strive first for the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and all these things shall be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6: 25-34)

 

Sounds very bucolic and romantic – until you look at it more closely.

 

I have been part of several discussions about this passage lately in which people have gotten upset when they really stopped to pay attention to what Jesus is saying. “Don’t worry about what you will eat, drink or wear? God will provide it?” someone said, “I hate to disagree with Jesus but this is not only foolish but irresponsible. What was he thinking?”

 

“Consider the birds of the air?” someone else said, “I’ve seen dead birds all over the place. Is this a part of the Bible that is attributed to Jesus that he never really said?” he asked.  

 

Well, it is not only what Jesus apparently said but the way he apparently lived.  During the years of his ministry at least, he never worked for money. Yet he seems to have eaten well – they called him “a glutton and a drunkard.” (Matt. 11: 19 and Luke 7: 34) He seemed to go to a lot of parties. (Matt. 9:10; Mark 2:15; Luke 11:38; Luke 14:12; John 12:2, for example). He told a lot of stories about banquets. (Matt. 22:2; Matt. 25:10; Luke 14:8) And in at least one case he picked someone out of the crowd he’d never met, an affluent corrupt tax collector named Zacchaeus, and invited himself to the man’s house for dinner, after which the man promised to give most of his money away. (Luke 19: 1-10)

 

Luke says that a group of women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of one of Herod's stewards, and Susanna, and many others, provided for Jesus and his disciples out of their resources. (Luke 8: 3)

 

Jesus apparently practiced what he preached, living from day to day, trusting in his heavenly Parent to care for his needs through the generosity of others. And he appears not to have been shy about asking for what he needed.

 

It is hard for us to fathom this as normative. “What if we all lived this way?” we ask.

 

What Jesus taught and the way he lived doesn’t make sense to us. We ask questions like: “What about the good decent people around the world who are starving…innocent children who are hungry? What about them?”

 

“They were striving for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and it doesn’t appear that all these other things were given to them, does it?”

 

The only problem for me with these questions we want to ask Jesus is that it is my experience that, when I have traveled to Zimbabwe and Liberia and Central America, it is the poor people of these countries who are actually living on the brink of starvation who seem to really truly believe the words of Jesus most deeply…that God really does provide for them.

 

Why do we, who relatively speaking have so much, find it so much harder to believe in God’s providence than they do?

 

I suspect we are not fully sane when it comes to money. Money is our madness, our vast collective madness.

 

I suspect our need for money is as much emotional as it is economic.

 

“If I have no money, they will give me a little bread so I do not die,
but they will make me eat dirt with it.
I shall have to eat dirt, I shall have to eat dirt
if I have no money…”

 

So how do we begin to get saner when it comes to money?

 

Well, as I tried to tell the children this morning, stewardship is a big topic. It has to do with how we take care of everything we have: the earth we live on; the air we breathe; the bodies we inhabit; the money we use or accumulate.

 

Even thinking just about the money part is very complicated. It has to do not only what we give away to church or charity, but how we use all the money we get hold of. 

 

I attended a service of the Methodist campus ministry at American University the other Sunday evening. The Methodist students at AU have voted not to drink Coca-Cola because of some ecologically questionable things the company is doing in India and questionable labor practices in Columbia. This is a big deal for the Methodist students to do at AU given that Asa Candler, founder of the Coca Cola Company was the Mr. Methodist of his time.

 

Most of us choose to live in the money economy. The Methodist students at AU remind us that, not just what we give away, but how we spend the rest is a part of our Christian stewardship.

 

What do we invest in? This is part of our stewardship.

 

How do we handle our accumulated assets? The appreciated homes we live in?

 

When Jesus said “Strive first for the Kingdom of God…and all these things will be given to you as well,” I think the deepest meaning of this for us is to ask the question: is the way I am using my resources, including money, property, all the things I have, consistent with my deepest values?

 

I think churches do their people a disservice when they ask their members to pledge to support the church’s ministries in the year ahead and then act as thought the issue of Christian stewardship were dealt with for the year.

 

The issue of stewardship is to ask myself the question: Am I using my money and all my assets and resources in a way that is consistent with my true and deepest values?

 

Part, but only part of this question, has to do with our giving to ministry and mission through our church.

 

This is Stewardship Sunday and we ask you to make a pledge…an estimate of your giving for the year ahead…so we can plan our ministry.

 

I share with you every year how Jane and I think about this decision. We try to give proportionally – that is a percentage of our income. We try to give 10 percent, a biblical tithe. In our case this year a tithe has been $320 a week for us.

 

If I could rewrite the Bible, I would actually make the tithe graduated like income tax is. I think the more money we have, the higher a portion of it we should give away. If someone earns $20,000 a year 10 percent is much more sacrificial giving that if someone earns $200,000 a year, all other things being equal.

 

Our encouragement to you is to pick a percentage to begin at and to think about growing your giving percentage-wise each year.

 

We are asking our current pledgers who are able to do so to increase your commitment for next year by 10 percent. We know some of you are not able to do that. Some may be able to do more.

 

Also, Jane and I try to practice the biblical principle of first fruits – that is we give to ministry and mission in God’s name first, not what is left over.

 

And we try to prioritize God in our giving.

 

But the commitment we are asking you to make today is only the tip of the iceberg of the discussion about stewardship. It is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to thinking about the way we use money and our assets in our lives of discipleship. We probably ought to be inviting you to think about a formal commitment of your time as well, which for some of us is more valuable than money.

 

Yet money is a special case for us. Money is our madness. So to begin to tame money in our lives, even partially, through our giving to God’s ministry and mission is a good thing. So we are going to ask you to think about your commitment to giving to God through Foundry Church this morning.

 

 

 

www.foundryumc.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[i] D. H. Lawrence, Complete Poems (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics).

[ii] James Hudnut-Bumler, Generous Saint: Congregations Rethinking Ethics and Money, p. 1