Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Proper 21 (26), Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
September 29, 2019
Lessons: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people recognize that money is a neutral tool that can lead to great good and joy or enormous suffering and woe.
Key Scripture: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 1 Timothy 6:10
If you don’t preach about money and its good use this week, you’re missing a gift that’s been dropped right into your homiletical lap. If you do preach about money this week, by all means don’t use this week’s lessons as a springboard for your congregation’s annual pledge drive. So yes, by all means preach about money (the lessons burgeon with preaching and teaching fruit that’s ripe for the picking), but don’t ask for it. You’ll also want to reassure your congregants that they don’t need to keep any tighter grip on their wallets and bank accounts; no bait and switch is scheduled for the offertory.
Paul writes to Timothy about the gains of contentment, “life that really is life,” and why money can be problematic for those who follow Jesus. Paul isn’t anti-money or anti- wealth; in fact, there’s plenty of talk in scripture about wealth being a consequence of God’s abundance, poured out for the good of all. If we trust the record of scripture, we should have no trouble believing that in God’s economy there is plenty for all. Unfortunately, we have a rather large distribution problem because a tiny percentage of the world’s people are hanging on to (hoarding, actually) the majority of the world’s resources.
That means that we have not so much a distribution problem as an attitude problem—no big surprise when one considers that human behavior is quite consistent. How we respond to God’s abundance and tools like money that is what truly matters. Paul reminds Timothy that we brought nothing into this world, so we cannot take anything out of it. He also teaches Timothy to be content with the basics—food and clothing—and to pursue “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness” instead of riches.
It’s a counter-cultural approach, both then and now, because here in the United States we marinate in a cultural milieu that tells us lies, such as, “The one who dies with the most toys wins,” and “The only way not to think about money is to have a great deal of it” (Edith Wharton). Once we have our basic needs met, we start moving up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and emotions and attitudes start to impact our financial decisions and relationship with money. Fear is the root of so much misuse of money. We learn to fear not having enough. Even when we’re awash in abundance, we fear sliding backward in our status and community stature (much of which, unfortunately, is derived from our perceived monetary value), and the lure of other gods drives us away from the one true God who desires to give us real, lasting life.
Yes, money can be an amazing tool for good. Rightly used, financial resources can address hunger, homelessness, poverty, health, injustice, and a whole host of other points of deep brokenness in our society. Wrongly used, money seeds greed, fuels a hunger for power, and turns otherwise lovely sinner/saints into selfish self-centered creatures (I am always reminded of Gollum from J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels). Financial resources entrusted to our beloved communities of faith and faith-based non-profits can do a world of good and bring us closer to the world God intended for all of creation. These same resources can also easily be manipulated for the purposes of power, control, and self-interest.
What’s the good news, then? How do we avoid the blindness of the Rich Man in Luke’s gospel and the fate of those to whom the Prophet Amos proclaims? The good news is found in Paul’s instructions: 1) Rely on God as the source of abundance and not on our own agency; 2) don’t get too big for your britches (financially or otherwise), and 3) be generous, share with others, and let your actions rather than hollow words reflect your faith and faithfulness to God. Money isn’t bad; we just need to remain in Christ and be open to a few “attitude adjustments” along the way.
Consider rewriting Psalm 146 as a litany and prayer for spiritual sight. Perhaps begin something like this:
We will praise God in this beloved community. We will praise God, each beloved soul.
We will praise God as long as we live; we will sing praises to God every day we live….
Make it true to the Psalmist’s intent yet relevant to your congregation’s context and concerns.
You might also craft a sending to charge the congregation with going out to pay attention, to open their eyes to all that is around them, and to not be spiritually blind to the world’s need.
Check out a diagram of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You can find one here, and you can find a good article about world religions and this hierarchy here. Invite youth to discuss how this hierarchy of needs works out, using Luke’s gospel lesson and Paul’s words to Timothy as your “case studies.” What do the youth observe? What questions do they have? What bothers them? What encourages them? How do these stories and Maslow’s hierarchy play out today? In their own lives?
This week’s focus verse is 1 Timothy 6:6 – Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.
Tell a story about a child who has hosted a birthday party and asked guests to bring something to help someone else—such as food for a local food bank or toys for a homeless shelter. Here’s a story to share if you don’t have a personal one.
Invite the children to contemplate how good it feels to give and share. Tell them that from when we were born our brains are even hard-wired to be generous. It’s only when we start hearing other messages that this natural-born tendency is squelched. Have the children share when they gave something to someone else and how it made them feel. Challenge them to be happy with enough and willing to share God’s abundance so that everyone may have a better life. Finish with a short prayer and blessing for each child.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Are you content with what you have? Are you willing to share with others? Contentment and generosity are important attributes of faithful stewards. Pray that God will continue to increase these attributes in your own life.
Stewardship at Home
Are you a member of Thrivent Financial for Christians? If you are, you can apply for two Action Team grants each year to help you and your congregation be more generous and outwardly focused. Check out the grant program here.
If you’d rather do something different, pay forward something this week to help another person. Maybe you pay for someone’s lunch behind you at the fast food counter or pay for some groceries. Practicing awareness of the world’s needs and opening your hands and heart to respond as you are able will help you grow into a more generous and contented disciple. Don’t believe me? Try it!
2016 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2016/09/take-hold-of-real-life/
2013 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/09/true-wealth/
2017 Narrative Lectionary Reflection (Luke 16:19-31): http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/03/invisible/
Images: Alex Cheek; Bev8200; and Clare Black, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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