This Gospel passage this morning is one that appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke – each with a few small differences in details – but all with the same exacting demands of following Jesus and with the over-the-top illustration of a camel attempting to go through the eye of a needle. I said last week that Jesus often makes challenging statements, things that are really hard; if you ever thought Christian discipleship and following Jesus was a comfy-arm-chair sort of faith, you would be sadly mistaken. There is comfort, yes, and peace and joy and healing – but there is also challenge, and the need for strength and courage and spiritual fitness.
So here is Jesus, speaking to a rich man who has many possessions, whose place in the community is assured and whose status of being blessed by God is taken for granted by others because of his wealth. The attitude of the day was that riches were a sign of God’s favor and blessing. What Jesus says to the man knocks the wind out of his sails, rocks the disciples who are witnessing the conversation; Jesus up-ends the conventional spiritual wisdom and piety of his day.
And here we are in the season where we focus on our stewardship in a concentrated way. There is much that could be said about this passage – far more than any single sermon could encompass. So rather than make a single, sustained analysis or argument, I’d like to touch briefly on three things: possessions, talent and money.
First off, possessions.
My siblings and I own a wonderfully cranky two-hundred year-old house in a beautiful part of Connecticut; it came to us when our parents died nearly five years ago. Besides having been our parents’ home for the last twenty years of their life, it is also full of family possessions – furniture, books, paintings, photos, dishes (both antique china and everyday crockery), all kinds of memorabilia that stretch back (in some cases) nearly six generations. Some of it may have financial value; nearly all of it has emotional value.
What do we do with all this stuff? How do we divide it up? What do we do with the huge painting of our great-great grandmother that’s really not very good? What do we do with the things that have surrounded us for our whole lives, these possessions?
There are certainly practical questions here, and emotional, and relational, but fundamentally these are spiritual questions – about God, and home, and family and stewardship.
Next, I want to say something about talent.
When we talk about stewardship we so often mention the “holy trinity” of time, talent and treasure – and for good reason – but so often think of them only in the context of what we will give explicitly to the Church. Today we have an opportunity to experience talent (backed up by time and treasure) in our Community Art Show. It’s being held in the Parish Hall; we have 16 artists – children and adults, parishioners and community members – who have offered their artistic talents to share with all of us, and with the public. And there are additional people who have worked hard and spent some funds to make the show come together - and why?
Because by pursuing their God-given talent, by honing it through practice and time and hard work and commitment, by being willing to share it with the rest of us, they are honoring God.
Each artist is opening a door into another way of seeing, and inviting us to come along, to look in the same direction they are looking, to have a glimpse of what reality looks like from their perspective. They are making themselves vulnerable so that we may have a wider picture of truth and beauty and the way God is in the world.
I hope that you will take time this afternoon to come and experience this show; I know I am profoundly grateful for the talent that has been shared – a giving away to others of God’s gifts.
Finally, I’d like to ask each one of you to do something right now.
Please reach into your pocket or wallet and take out a coin or a bill – it doesn’t matter which. Look at one side or the other until you find the motto: “In God we trust.” Those words have been on some of our coins since the Civil War, and on all of our currency since 1956. Like the Gospel reading, there’s a much longer story involved – some of it having to do with northern states that wanted to proclaim their sense of God being on their side during the Civil War, and other chapters that had to do with our nation’s response to the fear of atheism engendered by Communism.
But think about those words on our money – “In God We Trust;” is that true? Do we trust God with our money? And if we do, then how does that trust guide the decisions we make about how we spend, how we save, who we share it with, what we give away, what we keep?
If we trust God, if we have a life-giving relationship of love and reliance on God, then the way we use our money will be less anxious, less constrained, less under our control than it would be if we did not trust in God. God knows each of our hearts, God also knows each of our needs and what will bring us joy and inner freedom.
Perhaps the next time you take out a coin or a bill – and by extension, a check or a credit card – you can think about the way God wants you to use the treasure he has given you. I don’t know what the answer to that is, but God does, and he would love to have a conversation with you about it; just ask him – he’ll get back to you with answer in one way or another.
So – possessions, talent and money; they all come from God, God has given them to us for our use, for the benefit of others and for God’s glory. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 14, 2012