Fluid and Flowing – Sept. 22, 2019, Rev. Jeri Viera Dahlke
“I was a young man from a family of modest means. After serving in the Army during WWII, I used the GI Bill to get a college education, a house and a good job with a pension.”
“My spouse has a secure paying job which allows me to work for a better world through the non-profit sector.”
“By good fortune, I came into a sizeable inheritance. Since I don’t need to work, I help people in need and travel.”
Somehow, some way, money makes it into most of our personal stories.
Now, in these personal stories, money/assets flow from one or more sources that potentially multiply.
Assets don’t always flow.
We say that some people, probably a few here, live on a fixed income…
there’s a set amount for the individual to live on with little opportunity for additional funds…like some seniors who live only on their social security check from month to month, like those living on disability income.
Sometimes resources are fixed, sometimes their flowing. That’s just one of a few paradoxes at play today.
Here’s another one.
Money is one of the most talked about topics in the bible—over 2,000 mentions. That’s a lot more than love! Then there are all of the related stories and verses. Just last week we heard Ron Sachs, the Founder and Director of Job’s Shelter talk about giving a cup of water, clothing and visiting those who are the least.
Couples and families, congregations that talk openly and who learn about money, about wise stewardship of assets do a better job with whatever they have.
At the same time, there’s this taboo about money talk. According to the rules of etiquette, money is THE third tier topic—conversations you can have only with your closest friends and family. (In case you’re curious, politics, sex and religion are level two conversations, the weather, hobbies, and pop culture are tier one—you can talk to anyone, including strangers at a party about these.)
I saw the Downton Abbey movie Friday night. England is where the taboo started. There, one’s wealth was, and mostly still is, quite visible. Do you live upstairs or downstairs? You have servants or none? If you have servants, how many? When your wealth is that obvious it just isn’t as much of a topic for discussion outside of the home or castle.
That transferred to the US, but some twists developed because one could become a land/homeowner without much wealth. Since it’s harder to tell how much wealth a person has here, people don’t want to say something that might put someone in an awkward position. Also, folks in any economic class who are stressing about money often work to shield their children.
Everyone needs to learn how to use their tangible assets wisely. Those with inherited wealth have a professional meet with the children as they come of age to inform them of their status and use professionals to guide them throughout their lives.
“Money shouldn’t be discussed” is truly for those for whom money does not matter. It is harmful for everyone else.
Everyone else has to learn or not from somewhere…parents’ conversations and example (good and bad), books, videos, classes. If you are moving to an expensive city, and you know someone who lives there, it makes sense and cents to ask about their rent. As long as no one talks, women and people of color can earn less at certain companies. When people find out what others earn, even asking HR to share what the range is, people know when to ask for a raise. We can learn from our unhoused friends. Most of them know how important it is to learn from each other—they regularly exchange tips and strategies.
Fortunately, entrepreneurs and young people are breaking open that money talk taboo for the rest of us.
Money. It’s complicated. Our relationship to it is complicated. It gets tied to our security, our options, even our sense of self-worth. That makes it emotional—another reason it’s a hot topic.
How life-giving, then, that our holy book tackles this head on and often.
The writer of Luke uses all kinds of devices to get money front and center for his readers/listeners: a song, blessings and woes, a prophesy of Isaiah, Jesus’ sermons, parables. Luke makes it clear that Jesus is not naïve about wealth nor is he oblivious.
“You cannot serve God and wealth” has led to some Christian stereotypes about money. One is the vow of poverty, either people actually make that vow or it is held up as aspirational for Christians. Yes, Jesus did tell a rich man to go and sell all of his possessions. The other one is espousing the sharing of wealth–redistribution, like in Acts chapter 2. Then there’s those who take the prosperity gospel, like Jesus saying, “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.”
Today’s reading challenges any thoughts that Christians are to be naïve about money.
If you’re not squirming in your pew at the topic of money, you might squirm at hearing a story which seems to affirm a man for…
swindling a rich man
seeking wealth and security for himself
giving with an expectation of something in return
To make it worse, Jesus says that people who are NOT followers of Jesus are doing something better than Jesus’ followers. Finally, Jesus encourages us to have a friendly, faithful relationship with our assets.
Just what is Jesus affirming? Shrewdness.
Typical characteristics of Christians:
kind honest helpful giving hard-working
With this text, Christians are to add another word to that list…shrewd—to be wise with our assets.
PLUG: Today’s class with Will will be an opportunity to explore that!
When I work with individuals or groups to simply identify their assets, most people don’t even realize all that they have. That’s just the beginning of learning to be shrewd! This was one of the first steps the core care team for Daina and Arden had to take. And we are all invited to be on the alert for resources, assets that might help.
The manager was realistic about the fixed nature of the assets and debts. He also recognized that he had the power to change that. By changing the contracts, the manager changed the system. The rich man would be bound to honor those contracts. The manager made the assets fluid.
Jesus commends the manager for being shrewd. The manager came up with a way forward that was a win-win-win. True, the rich man got less, but he still got enough. The manager would get reciprocal hospitality and the debtors got their debt lowered.
This is the vision Jesus has for us to pursue individually, as a congregation, as a nation. Yes, we are to have hearts that care for the least of these. More importantly, we are to act in such a way that all have plenty. Yes, some will have more than plenty. The vision is not a vision of wealth. It is not a vision of poverty. It is a vision of helping those in need.
God helps us learn how to be shrewd to reduce suffering.
Jesus makes us whole.
The Spirit revives us when the work is discouraging.
For our reflection today, let’s hear the words of the African American Spiritual, “There Is a Balm, In Gilead.”