There are some who think that godliness is a way to make money! Actually, godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy with what you already have. We didn’t bring anything into the world and so we can’t take anything out of it: we’ll be happy with food and clothing. But people who are trying to get rich fall into temptation. They are trapped by many stupid and harmful passions that plunge people into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves with a lot of pain because they made money their goal. But as for you, run away from all these things. Instead, pursue righteousness, holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness. Compete in the good fight of faith. Grab hold of eternal life – you were called to it, and you made a good confession of it in the presence of many witnesses. I command you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and Christ Jesus, who made the good confession when testifying before Pontius Pilate. Obey this order without fault or failure until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. The timing of this appearance is revealed by God alone, who is the blessed and only master, the King of kings and Lord of lords. God alone has immortality and lives in light that no one can come near. No human being has ever seen or is able to see God. Honor and eternal power belong to God. Amen. Tell people who are rich at this time not to become egotistical and not to place their hope on their finances, which are uncertain. Instead, they need to hope in God, who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.Tell them to do good, to be rich in the good things they do, to be generous, and to share with others. When they do these things, they will save a treasure for themselves that is a good foundation for the future. That way they can take hold of what is truly life.
The clip we saw from the 1946 classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life was a scene between the hero, George Bailey, a man who had to adjust his vision of what he’d dreamed his life would be, eventually accepting and rejoicing in the wonderful life he had; and the cold-hearted villain of the story, a one-dimensional, selfish and mean man named Mr. Potter. Far from being just a Christmas movie (other than that it’s set on Christmas Eve) It’s a Wonderful Life represents the inner and outer world of money and values. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made,
I don’t ever think “Oh goody it’s the finance campaign and now I can share my confidence and expertise in raising money.” I was relieved to read in the book we’re using for this sermon series and during our October finance campaign, Integrating Money and Meaning: Practices for a Heart-Centered Life, that the emphasis isn’t on just raising money, but it’s also exploring how we can begin to heal anxiety about money so that our giving feels right and purposeful. The author, Maggie Kulyk, writes, “If I were to ask a group of people at an event to share their latest tax returns with everyone in the room, they would be horrified. Most would more willingly talk about what they did in the bedroom the night before than divulge their finances. A survey of 2000 millennials found that 39% of participants said they would rather disclose a preexisting sexually transmitted disease to a potential partner than reveal their debt.” Reading this I thought, “Wow, it wasn’t just my mother who believed that nice people don’t talk about religion, politics, or money.”
Maggie Kulyk is a financial planner, and a retirement planning counselor. She continues: “This secretiveness around money adds fuel to the fire of angst and pain in our relationship to it and gives it power. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in our spiritual lives. In our society, we have a money life and a spiritual life, and never the twain shall meet. But being honest about money is exactly what we must do if our goal is wholeness on a personal level and in the wider world. Examining our relationship with money and our struggles around it in an effort to align our money lives with our spiritual lives must become among the most important practices of our age.”
In the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, we come to see, as George himself does, the riches of love, family, friends and purpose, of all that makes for a wonderful life. In contrast to the riches of George’s life, we see the rigid and restricted life of Mr. Potter, whose only love is making and owning money, so much so that and he lied and cheated, and was willing to ruin George’s life over it. This movie has given us the theme for our October finance campaign, A Wonder-Full Life, and it invites us to look at how our money practices reflect our values, and if they serve our vision of the world set right (in religious language that is our vision of the Kingdom of God come on earth as it is in heaven.)
I read a piece of the letter written to Timothy, to one of the earliest churches, that seems to echo the theme of our movie. What makes for a Wonder-Full Life? This letter says it’s mindfulness (respect, if you will) of both the good and evil of money; and of a love-relationship with Jesus Christ; of gratitude for all we’ve been given; and of the need to share our wealth and resources with others. There’s a warning to the rich that the love of money can lead to a damaged soul and a hardened heart. Instead those with money are to “do good, be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, thus storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future… to take hold of the life that is really life.”
It’s a Wonderful Life, and Maggie Kulyk’s book, and now this letter to Timothy, all tell us: money is a spiritual issue, and how we spend it, invest it, and think about it is a spiritual practice, and part of our soul’s work.
During the Roman Empire, the time when Timothy’s letter was written, some wealthy people earned their riches by cooperating with the Roman authorities and contributing to the systematic oppression of the poor. Christians were called to be a counter-culture movement, to share their resources, to provide for the needs of all the people. In some of the gospel stories there are rich people who supported Jesus and other teachers and apostles. The church throughout the ages and still today depends on the generous giving of our wealth, our riches, our resources of time and energy and talents, to support our vision of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. This letter to Timothy doesn’t criticize those with wealth, but makes clear that hoarding it, and even worrying about it, demonstrates a lack of Kingdom values and vision.
The picture on the front of the bulletin today is of red tennis shoes. I’ve never forgotten hearing Bishop Shamana saying that our money puts shoes on God’s dreams. I hadn’t before that realized that God needs what I give, and that my giving makes God known in the world. Our giving makes God known here, in this place; makes it possible for us to maintain and improve this wonderful spiritual home for us, for our community, and for generations to come. Our giving allows us to have staff to lead us in worship and discipleship and outreach. Our giving supports schools like Africa University, and missionaries like Katherine Parker, who works with women and children and water sanitation in Nepal. Our giving puts red tennis shoes on God’s dreams all over the world, here in Napa and in some of the poorest and most desperate places we’ll never see. The red tennis shoes are a reminder that money is a spiritual practice, a heart-centered practice, and how we use it and share it reveals our values and our vision of God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
Maggie Kulyk, (again, the author of Money and Meaning) writes that sometimes churches tell her they don’t like to deal with money because “it’s icky.” Money in the church does have some funky history. Money has been misspent, and the needs of the poor and suffering have been ignored. The prosperity gospel, the belief that wealth is God’s reward for faithfulness, is preached every Sunday on tv, and it’s a message as seductive as it is corrupt. Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus equate wealth and faithfulness or wealth and worthiness. Instead Jesus gave His compassionate attention to the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised, and He criticized those who spiritualized but ignored the cries of the needy. Maggie Kulyk’s words speak to me: “Compassion and care for others is a central component of the spiritual path. Spending money for the good of others can help the recipient, but it also helps the person who gives. In spite of a general idea in our society that ‘money will buy you happiness’ studies don’t support this premise. At least, spending money on yourself doesn’t seem to have much to do with your own happiness. Instead, spending money on others does. A series of experiments found that people who gave money away reported a higher level of happiness than those who spent it on themselves. The dollar amount didn’t matter – it was the act of giving that brought up these positive feelings.”
For the past two full days I’ve been in Sacramento with pastors and people from thirty Methodist churches in our Conference, including seventeen-year-old David Tokar, and Vicki Poli, our Sunday school leader, and Keith Calara, our youth director, at a gathering called the “Growing Young Summit.” Thirty churches were chosen to participate in a year-long process with Fuller Theological Seminary’s Fuller Youth Institute, on how to engage and include young people in every aspect of the church, and giving them keys to the health and vitality and heartbeat of the church. This is a ballsy vision (ballsy is my word, not Fuller Youth Institute) for a denomination that’s been steadily declining and aging for multiple decades, but I’ve given my heart to this courageous vision that the church can thrive and continue to bless generations of elders, middlers, youth, and children, for decades to come… if we meet and listen to and give authority to the young people who are here, and who are not here yet but are searching for a spiritual home. This is a vision I want to invest in. I took seventeen pages of notes at the summit, which was the second of twelve conferences and webinars, most of which are paid for by our denomination. I look forward to sharing this with you, and learning with you how to invite, engage, and include young people in this treasured place, this spiritual home.
Everyone wants a place to belong, a place to be at home where they’re known and loved and valued, where whatever gifts they have to give are celebrated used to support and nurture life. This is my vision of the church, my vision of the Kingdom of God. All this month, we’re singing “Be Thou My Vision” as we look at money as a spiritual practice, and giving as a way of supporting our vision of God’s Kingdom come to earth.
In the pews is a letter, similar to what you may have received in the mail but with some more details about our finance campaign. There’s also a pledge card. Whether or not you’ve received a pledge card in the mail I invite you to take another one with you… put it in your purse or in your car or at your computer as a prayerful reminder of how your treasures – money, time, energy, and talents – reflect your values and vision.
Maggie Kulyk believes that this soul work, or spiritual practice, can be enhanced through education, conversation, creating positive habits, gratitude, and giving. “Life” she writes, is filled with pain, mess, joy, laughter, sorrow, peace. Ultimately we are all part of one story. It’s the same with spiritual practice, which is deeply personal and grounded in each person’s unique and circuitous journey. But there’s a beautiful irony to this individual journey: the goal is to dissolve the illusion that we are separate from each other, from the [world out there], from the divine. Spiritual practices help us experience beautiful moment of connection and enhance our experiences of compassion, love, empathy, beauty, and at home with our heart-centers and all of reality. [Dealing with money] and in all aspects of our lives, we need to listen to our inner heart. We must draw from our experiences and knowledge [with money], experiment with new avenues and ways of thinking, and connect in a real way with each other and with the planet. This can help us weave together the elements of our lives, including money into spiritual alignment.” To that I say, amen.
And now… A Moment of Creative Silence
This moment of silence invites us to “wonder” in awe at the abundance of our lives by noticing the “rich” beauty around us, the presence of “treasured” people, and new and unexpected “gems” that cross our paths. Let’s commit to engage our creativity to multiply good in the world!