Lord of light and hope, be with us this day as we have gathered to hear your word. Help us open our hearts to the commandments to love, even when loving is difficult. Help us to be open to your call to care, when caring is a challenge. Help us to be generous, even when giving of ourselves feels impossible. Grant us the courage to be a people who will commit their whole lives to your service and to your glory. God of Community, Holy in One, hear us as we pray…
Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 8: 10-18 & Ephesians 4: 1-24
Sermon: “Trees, Time, Talent and Treasure”
In my teenage years I was part of a club swim team. I was a proud St. Johns Sea Lion! It took me a while to figure this out… but I was, and remain to this day, a fairly pathetic swimmer. I can swim. But just definitely not fast… The thing that I was especially bad at was getting off the block.
Every race I would step up to the diving block with an expert confidence- so poised, and I’d take my mark in perfect form and in total concentration, but as soon as the buzzer sounded I would dive straight out like a frog, limbs splayed in a sort of half dive, half belly flop position into the pool. It was this unique straight out and then straight down kind of plummet while frozen in frog position… So, of course I would sink and have to recover in the water to rebuild all of the momentum that I lost. Sadly there are picture of this… My coaches, bless them, stayed after practice dozens of time attempting to correct my dive to little avail…
I have this keepsake box of all of my childhood metals and school certificates. And if you were to look in there you would find a really thick stack of rainbow tie-dye color participation ribbons from my years on the swim team. They affirm the fact that I tried.
I loved swimming! I did! But I was terrible at it!
Well, every October I get that feeling again, like I’m 14 years old crouched on the diving block listening for the sound of that buzzer- feeling prepared. But rather than looking out on the water and the bobbing lane markers -I am looking out at the flood of holidays that await me. A very different kind of race.
Soon the buzzer will sound and I’ll be diving into costumes and candy, diving into whirlwind trips to make hand turkeys with my niece and nephew. I’ll be diving into a mountain of wrapping paper, and craft projects, and twinkle lights, and shopping! O’ the shopping, shopping, shopping…
As prepared as I try to be every year for this long marathon of holidays and family “get-togethers”… if history is to repeat itself as it faithfully does …I know that this is going to be another flailing financial belly-flop situation…
I, together with the whole of America it seems, will issue a groan of defeat as I check my account balances on January 1st.
I wish they still issued rainbow tie-dyed participation ribbons to adults… something like: “Good job trying to stay on budget!”
This happens every year! I set aside a little money, and time, and energy for gifts and travels… but I get swept up in the fun and the joy of the race and I just stop caring… even if my credit card and my day planner begins to smoke a little. Then I’m left to try and regain momentum and control in the middle of the race… Anybody else have this struggle?
Here are some fun (and rather shaming…) statistics for us this morning:
– Last year Americans spent $370 million on pet costumes. (I contributed to that, Brewster makes an adorable Robin Hood- with his little feathered hat and bow and arrow quiver) and we spend $2.8 billion on Halloween candy.
– Americans also spent $5 billion annually on ring tones, and spent $117 billion on fast-food.
– When gyms set sales goals for the New Year they do so with the expectation that only 18% of those who purchase annual memberships will show up to work out.
– Approximately $2 billion worth of gift cards go unredeemed each year.
– And here is the biggy: Collectively Americans owe over $800 billion in credit-card debit. And given that the average credit card interest rate is between 13% and 15%… we don’t even have to do the math to know that debt is big business.
Now let’s put that into greater context:
According to the Human Development Report that is issued annually by the United Nations, in 2016:
– 1.2 billion people attempt to live on less than $1.25 per day. They note that this kind of poverty is accompanied by additional deprivations like: lowered health and life expectancy, inconsistent access to education, and far substandard living conditions.
– The eighty-five wealthiest people in the world have the combined equivalent wealth of the 3.5 billion poorest people on the planet.
– Also, the Worldwatch Institute reports that the United States represents a little less than 5% of the global population yet consumes 25% of the world’s fossil-fuel resources. Each day the US consumes on average 18.5 million barrels of oil. China comes in second at nearly 10 million barrels per day (keep in mind that China has four times the US population). And the 203 countries at the bottom of the consumption ranking use less than 500 barrels per day.
-Lastly, Americans generate about 251 million tons of trash per year, that is 4.38 pounds per person per day.
We are a consuming culture! We are a rampantly consuming culture.
And the Bible from Genesis to Revelation has a lot to say about that.
One of the earliest stories of Scripture is that of Cain and Able. Remember them? Children of Adam and Eve. Cain murders his brother. And God comes to Cain and asks him “Where is Able?” And Cain, rather snippy like replied, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) And while God does not directly answer this rhetorical kind of question, God does nevertheless make it blatantly clear that the only acceptable answer is “yes!”
I think it would be a good bet to say that we too are guilty of this. Not of murdering our brothers. But we are guilty of ignoring this directive.
Yet, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that Americans consume the majority of the world’s resources and in turn that we litter it with the majority of its trash. We cannot turn a blind eye to global (and local) disparities of wealth and opportunity… we cannot ignore the face that our culture of self-indulgence does little to alleviate the suffering and oppression of our brothers and sisters.
“We are our brother’s keeper.”
We cannot, cannot, continue to ignore that our spending testifies to our understanding of God and our relationship to God. The flow of our resources is the truest indicator of what we worship and whom we worship.
Tim Keller, used this example: If you went to the doctor one day, and you went for a sort of general appointment wanting to improve your health, and you said, “Doctor I feel terrible. I’m tired all the time. I’m constantly getting sick. Can you help me?” The doctor would respond, “Yeah, but your going to have to tell me everything. You need to talk to me about how you’re sleeping, how your eating, about life’s stressors. Are you content at work? How’s your family life?”
And we say, “Woe woe woe, wait. You’re a doctor. Give me a physical check up. I don’t want to tell you about things that aren’t your business. I don’t want to tell you about my stress, or my work, or my family drama. You need to just deal with the health of my body… that’s your job.”
But to that the doctor would have to say, “Listen, I’m sorry, but those things are all connected. You can’t just break your life apart. You have to bring all of that to the table if we are going to talk about bettering your health. … The mind, the body, the soul. They are all connected.”
And in the same way, God says, “You come to me and you want meaning, your want renewal, healing, strength… forgiveness! Then you have got to let me talk to you about this stuff too. The hard stuff. We need to talk about how your spend your money, how you use or waste your time, we need to talk about the things that pull your focus away from me. Because it is all connected.”
The passage from Ephesians that Virginia read for us this morning talks about how we as Christians “put off our old selves and put on a new identity.” Paul writes that while preaching that the culture of the world, the way of the gentiles, is futile/vain and ignorant… Paul says that it is a way of hardened hearts, one that is greedy and consumed with the self… But that the Body of Christ is to live a different way/ that Christians are to stand in contrast and model a new way of living.
Paul tells us that we are not children to be tossed to and fro by the waves of what is fleeting.
So, what does it look like to stand in contrast to a consumerist kind of world?
Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.”
From our Old Testament reading, Deuteronomy 8:18, “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who give you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”
so, again, what does it look like to stand in contrast to a consumerist kind of world?
It’s good godly stewardship. (Which I put the definition of in your bulletin hand out.) Stewardship is receiving God’s gifts gratefully, cherishing and tending them in a responsible and accountable manner, sharing them in justice and love with others, and returning them with increase to the Lord. Stewardship is a complete lifestyle of accountability and responsibility acknowledging God as the Creator and owner of all.
We are called to be a people who care.
Now, being good stewards, is what we would call a spiritual disciple. It is not something that is mastered in a moment, but it is something that we faithfully work at and grow into throughout our whole lives. It is something that we learn as children around a jar of change poured out on the floor… wondering what we could do with those riches. Being responsible and accountable to what God gives us… that is a big deal.
God has blessed us mightily. We have comfortable homes and good jobs. Loving and challenging families. We live in one of the most beautiful area of the country. We have a wonderful meeting house that is open to this charming and often odd community.
We are to receive these things with open hands and open hearts! We are to praise God with the joy that they bring to us! But to be good stewards we are not to stop there… but we are to work towards their betterment and growth.
Practically, this means that:
We are to care about the concerns and sufferings of our neighbor… and to do what we can to help with what we have. For we are our brother’s keeper.
We are to care about the earth and her resources… to think twice about what we throw in the garbage, to be mindful of wastefulness and to seek ways to live more sustainably. For we are this garden’s tenders.
We are to care about and nurture our own abilities/ our spiritual gifts… For to use our gifts to further the Kingdom of God is an act of worship.
Tereasa of Avila said:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks,
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet, with which he walks to do good,
Your are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
And if I may add… Christ has no wallet or time on earth but ours either.
We are responsible and accountable to how we use all of that: our labor and our resources.
This week, I want you all to carefully consider this. This week I want you to examine your budgets and your calendars.
These are the two main currencies in our lives: time and money. And what we do with both is very revealing. They will tell you who and what you worship.
They are theological documents. Ones of our own making, formed through years of practice.
When you are looking at them, ask yourselves:
How am I spending my money? My time?
Am I being a good steward of both, being held responsible/ accountable?
Also, for a does of perspective… I included in your bulletin the address for the Global Rich List. It will tell you exactly where you sit in comparison to the world’s wealth. I’m not going to tell you where I’m at now (because you all know what I make… and I want you to do this for yourselves… but when I was in seminary and working 25 hours a week for $8/ hour as an office assistant I was the 697,254,427th richest person on the planet.
This will really give you something to think about as we wonder what it is to be our brother’s keeper.
Through the rest of October we are going to be talking about acting with intention. Being thoughtful and decisive disciples with our resources- our time, our talents, and our treasures. To prepare for that: this week, I just encourage you to figure out what stewardship looks like in your life right now.
– If you open your checkbook/ or your online banking app – what does it say you worship?
– There are now apps on your phone that will calculate how much screen time you having every day – check it out.
– think about the little moments… how is your time adding up – because how you spend your moments is how you spend your life.
– where are you offering your passions, gifts and talents… are they the right places for you/ for now?
– what are you doing to be your brother’s keeper? What are you blessing forward from your income? Is it right, is it good? Perhaps in your homework/ your reflection you can identify areas that need a closer look… and we will walk on together from that place. Amen.