In our sermon series on hard knocks, we’re talking about financial hard knocks today. So did you hear…
The best money managers in the Bible were Noah, who was floating his stock when everyone else was in liquidation, and Pharaoh's daughter, who went down to the bank of the Nile, found Moses, and managed to draw out a little prophet.
Years ago I attended a hospital seminar on pain and pain management. Various kinds of physical pain were discussed, and we looked at emotional pain from trauma, hardship, and grief. Then the presenter surprised me: he introduced another kind of pain I hadn’t thought of in this context: financial pain. All of a sudden, I realized that the distress of not having enough was an identifiable source of real pain, anguish even. We sometimes call it Feeling the Pinch. I recognized that experience, not so much from my own experience, but from my parents’.
My parents had many advantages and privileges – they were white, both college graduates, from stable families. Yet that didn’t insulate them from financial pain: my dad suffered from extended periods of unemployment late in life, and my mom had a debilitating physical and mental illnesses. They had a legal judgment against them when my eldest brother stole and crashed a car at age 16. I often marvel that they managed to pay the rent every month, and put food on the table.
You may, or may not, be familiar with that kind of grinding financial pain. It’s different from being a bit short some months and having to juggle some bills. It’s a constant battle to make ends meet, often robbing Peter to pay Paul. At its extreme, this painful financial condition is poverty. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.
The Bible has a lot to say about poverty and people who are poor.
We heard in Leviticus that God calls for generosity – making sure poor people have enough. (Enough is a concept we’ll come back to.)
In Leviticus, God’s economy was spelled out. Those with capital (primarily land, in those days) are instructed to leave the edges of their fields unharvested, so the poor could come and collect food. Gleaning, it’s called. My friend Gary and I gleaned in a friend’s cornfield when we were in college, to raise money for a trip to visit seminaries.
And there are labor laws, too: Moses commanded that the Hebrews pay a fair wage to their laborers, and always pay workers at the end of each day (otherwise the worker could go hungry that night). God is clearly concerned about the welfare of the whole community, not just the wealth of some individuals. It’s right there in the Bible.
In the Gospel, Jesus calls us to give when someone begs…. We struggle with that today, on the streets, in the subway…
A recent encounter here at church: a man came with $11 in his pocket, needing $69 for a bottle of insulin for his brittle diabetes (just the copay – he actually has insurance, although who knows how long that will last), His next paycheck is 12 days away. He also needs to raise rent money for a hoped-for new apartment in April for his family, including his wife and twin 13 year olds. What should he do?
I gave him what we had in the office to give - $27.
Clearly, God doesn’t want anybody to be poor and desperate. And God has provided enough to support all the people in the world – if we would just share it more equitably. But we don’t.
God’s view of the money and wealth is really very different from ours. God doesn’t measure us by the vacations we take or the houses we remodel or the colleges we attend. God sees us as human beings to be loved, whether we have lots of money or little. If we really felt God’s love for us as beloved persons, we wouldn’t need so many material trappings in life to prop us up. We wouldn’t always feel we have to keep up with the neighbors or the inlaws. We would learn to be content – really happy – if we just have enough.
Enough. Everybody should have enough.
If we looked at people from God’s point of view, we would also have more love for people who truly have too little to live on, because God loves them as God loves us. Our thankfulness for our own lives would blossom into greater generosity for other people. Jesus calls us to give to people who beg, lend to those who need to borrow, leave enough in the fields for the poor to eat; to love our neighbors, and even our enemies.
Jesus calls us to a life of Modesty, Thankfulness, Generosity. I don’t think Jesus hates wealth – he enjoyed the pleasures of the earth, of good food and wine. (He did note that wealth would make it harder for people to enter the Kingdom of God….) Jesus didn’t want poverty for anybody – he saw how the majority of people in his world were beaten down by taxes, landlords, and unjust systems.
The Good News for those of us who do suffer financial pain is that money is not how God measures us. Only the world measures a person by his money. God’s abundant love disregards that. (It still pains me to think of my dad’s deep shame when he couldn’t find a job!) It can really help us when we stop trying to live up to someone else’s expectations, and start living modestly, thankfully, generously, for God.
And God wants to free us from all that binds us, including financial hardship. Not to make us rich, but to make us whole. Our cult of wealth is so damaging to our country! God depends on all of us to make the world fairer, more compassionate on people who are struggling. Financial pain is real, but we know how to reduce it. God will rejoice, not when everybody is rich, but when everybody has enough, when we stop hoarding and start sharing, when we all come to God’s banquet table as one human family. AMEN.