Delivered at Ames UCC
on August 26, 2018
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
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There are two questions we have to answer for ourselves when confronted by this scripture. Because it is a confrontation between us and Jesus, just as it is between Jesus and the rich man.
One, what authority do we give Jesus in our lives? And, two, what does that authority require us to do with our money?
When we come into a building labeled United Church of Christ, as ours is in such large letters on the east, it is a safe assumption that Jesus is the highest authority in this place; that the in-house ritual worker—me—will describe Jesus’s teachings, and teachings about Jesus, as paramount; and that Jesus will be named as a conclusive expression of the Godhead.
But that does not mean any one of you will accept all or even most of what the church promotes or I have to say. That is not required in our particular branch of the Christian family tree. We do not have a creed or tests of faith. Instead, we have lifelong learning and prayer and discernment about the person, place, and passion of Jesus Christ.
So where are you on that today?
Consider, for a moment, where you are in your conversation with God regarding Jesus.
Maybe you understand him to have been a real, historical man or perhaps a composite of many Jewish zealots and movements. Maybe you believe he physically healed the sick but did not raise the dead. You may accept his death on a cross but reject the idea that God wanted him to die that way.
The longest conversation we have with God is usually about Easter and whether Jesus literally came back from the dead or metaphorically did or did in a way we do not have language for.
Your position on each of those key elements of our story, your own Christology, to use the theological term, will determine in part how you respond to Jesus when he tells you to sell all that you have and give it to the poor.
One answer may be to dodge the question. Because who here is really rich, like the man in the passage?
One percent of our population now owns forty percent of the national wealth. Twenty percent owns ninety percent of the wealth. I don’t know that any of us are in that category. I do know that twenty two percent of the Ames population is working and above the poverty line but not really able to afford living here.
The majority of us who come to this place, though, are affording to live here, have sufficient health care coverage, can do some saving, and can even afford the occasional vacation or new car. Though we may not be dripping with gold and Gucci, we do have more than our daily bread.
So Jesus is addressing us, too.
And if we give him any authority in our lives, we do have to decide how to faithfully use our financial resources.
As you can see on your bulletin, this is the second in a three-part series on stewardship. It’s a lead-up to our fall pledge campaign.
For those of you who are newer to church culture, your elected leadership asks for all participants in the life of the church to name how much money we will give to the church over a calendar year so that they know what ministries they may plan to continue, what may need to end, or what they may implement anew.
Stewardship is not entirely about cash. It is also about our time and our talents. So in the first week, I talked about stewarding the lamp in all of our souls that carries light of God. We cannot show up and be helpful and donate if we cannot even find a way to let God’s grace guide us.
Here’s what I do not understand, though, and you may not either: Why would the organizers of our lectionary, the order of readings, choose this passage as part of a series to boost giving to the church?
Jesus was not interested in reinforcing institutions. He was not risking everything to support spaces that would require committees on coffee and furnace maintenance. This is a man who tore temples down, not built them up.
So after reading this passage, how can I, or our leaders, ask for money for anyone other than the poor?
Because we still have not learned how to give it all away. Because we still have not learned how to follow Jesus with the depth he required and that only a handful have ever given.
We are like the man running to Jesus for guidance, only perpetually so. We are perpetually running up to him for guidance because, though few of us are poor, we all live in an era that is broke and bankrupt in a time of moral, ethical, and relational penury.
We return to Jesus in this place because he is so difficult to find elsewhere.
So, in a world of human miserliness, what is a place to practice divine bigheartedness worth to you?
WORTH TO YOU
What is having Sunday morning and Wednesday afternoon and evening programming centered on respect, generosity, creativity, collaboration, and wonder for children and youth, worth to you?
What is the opportunity to learn and reflect on Christianity and a whole host of religious and secular topics, in worship, in my classes, at Sunday morning’s Learning Center, worth to you?
What is receiving and participating in live music in a beautiful space worth to you?
What is the opportunity to share your pain and your joy, and that of others, without judgement, worth to you?
What is learning how to pray and being prayed for worth to you?
What are the bells of All Saints Day, the candles of Christmas Eve, the ashes of Lent, and the flowers of Easter worth to you?
What is having a team of ministers who maintain our connection with members of the church who are too elderly or infirm to join us for worship worth to you?
What is getting to send cards, little missives of love and solidarity, to people in times of trial, whether you know them or not, worth to you?
What has receiving those cards been worth to you?
What is coming to deeply know other people who share your values of intellectual inquiry, spiritual depth, and civic engagement worth to you?
What is community organizing in partnership with 34 other faith-based and nonprofit institutions around housing, immigration, services for mental illness, and jobs training worth to you?
What is having a traditional building with contemporary messaging in the heart of Ames worth to you?
What is knowing that there is a brick-and-mortar space filled with flesh-and-blood people who reject racism and homophobia and treasure the immigrant and the female worth to you?
What are the waters of baptism and the feast of God worth to you?
What is a blessing at birth and an anointing at dying worth to you?
I said at the beginning that this passage requires us to answer two questions about Jesus’s authority and what that authority calls us to afford. Then I just asked 16 more.
Because despite what other branches of the Christian family tree say, ours is not a faith with pat and permanent answers. It is one with eternal, and an eternal number of, questions.
To be prepared to hear God’s answers and to give our own, we need fellow disciples. We need fellow disciples as perplexed by all Christ asks as we are and as those from long ago were.
We do not need a church to be disciples of Christ, but we do need the accountability for lifelong learning and prayer and discernment about the person, place, and passion of Jesus Christ that a church affords.
And in this impoverished world, the faith and the work of a church like ours is worth a great deal.