Sermon by The Rev. Rob Gieselmann
September 25, 2016
We apologize for not providing an audio recording this week as the recording was interrupted.
Bye into Heaven
by The Rev. Rob Gieselmann
Money has been the topic of conversation for thousands of years. Our first Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, quipped, “Money isn’t everything, but it [does] … keep you in touch with your children.” Boxer Joe Louis claimed he didn’t like money at all, but then he added, “It certainly quiets my nerves.” Some people marry for money. But you know what they say about the person who marries for money? She earns every penny of it. Singer Sophie Tucker articulated what most of really think, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.”
But money—or wealth—well, it isn’t about the money. It never is. It never was. And yet, money is all about the money. Of course you know that Jesus had more to say about wealth, poverty and money than practically any other subject, save the Kingdom of God.
Use money, tainted as it is, he said, to win friends … and I’m still not sure what that means. Don’t hoard treasures for yourselves on earth—rather open a savings account in heaven. It is far easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God …As if to emphasize the point, Jesus advised the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions, and to give the money to the poor. Money is burdensome—Jesus is saying—but I’m still a little like Joe Louis, it quietens my nerves.
So I have a question: how is it Lazarus made it into heaven? This poor man whose life consisted solely of suffering? Lazarus didn’t exactly follow Jesus. He hadn’t accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. In fact—so far as we know—Lazarus’ only connection to Judaism—or faith at all—came during his afterlife, where we find him now, communing with Father Abraham.
Could the lesson be that God doesn’t stick to formulae? Or perhaps God exhibits, what the theologians call, a preferential treatment for the poor? I don’t know the answer, but I doubt many here would volunteer to assume Lazarus’ life of suffering in order to make it into heaven. But remember—even with Lazarus and the rich man—it isn’t about the money—it never was—even though it is all about the money.
The rich man passed Lazarus every single day, but he never really saw Lazarus, not as a real person. Not as an equal human being—not as someone on whom his life depended. By the way—while we’re on the topic—I don’t know whether you should donate to the beggar at intersection—But I do hope you will look him in the eye and find in him dignity. Because—you see—it is all about money—and it is all about the money because money is all about human relationships.
Perhaps you remember your Econ 101 class—Economics, you learned, is not the study of money—but rather, the study of the allocation of scarce resources. Money is merely a medium of exchange; nothing more, nothing less. Allocation of scarce resources, which is another way of saying that economics is a study about how we all get along. Or don’t. And Jesus wants to know: what is your life’s GPS? Guiding force? Is it money? Or is money merely a vehicle for you to do good?
Now, I suspect that the story about Lazarus didn’t end as presented. Instead, I like to think this: that at the end of the rich man’s conversation with Abraham, he was still was parched, his throat dry and tongue cracked—That at this point, Lazarus got up from Abraham, walked over to some heavenly refrigerator, and poured a lovely tall glass of very cold water. With that water in hand, Lazarus crossed the great chasm, for love breaks down all barriers—kneeled suppliantly before the rich man, looked him in the eye with deep compassion, and said, Here, please drink. Remember? Only when it is well with you is it well with me. So you see, it isn’t about the money. It never was.
We kick-off stewardship season today, the time of the year when your church asks you to pledge toward next year’s budget. This year, your stewardship committee hopes to have a little fun. But my job, as both priest and rector, is to remind you of your spiritual relationship with money—that how you approach money, be you rich or poor, is deeply spiritual.
So, let me share a few thoughts:
1. Some of us are left-brained people, eminently practical. We just want to know what our fair share of the church expenses are. Well—in your pledge letter, you will find a brochure explaining the church budget simply, in terms of income and expenses. From that you can extrapolate a proportionate share. However, the issue of “fair share” is more complicated than just dividing the budget by the number of member families. If you what you really want to know, is: how much does it cost to worship on Sundays? I estimate the cost of each pew seat on a Sunday to be about $25.
But as you know, the life of Ascension extends beyond Sunday worship. When you give to Ascension, your gift enables clergy to sit with people who are suffering. Who have lost a spouse, or a child, or find themselves in the throes of depression. Your pledge also supports Jim Wright and FISH, as they alleviate hunger throughout Knoxville. Your pledge educates children, and provides programs for youth. Fair share? You see, I’m just not sure what that means, anymore. There are the averages—The “average” or median pledge is just shy of $4000. But that average can seem daunting to those just starting out in life—and can seem small to the larger givers. The most common or mode pledge is $1200.
Think widow’s mite, here—and remember, she donated the most. Fair share? Consider Lazarus and the fact that money is about relationships, just like economics is about the allocation of scarce resources. Which leads to a second point.
2. Your giving is deeply spiritual. I don’t mean that the person who gives the most is the most spiritual. Rather—generosity itself is indicative of spirituality—and I can say this about generosity: Nobody ever became generous by holding back. Only by giving. Finally, and this is the matter your stewardship committee is most interested in this year:
3. Can’t we all participate? Did you know that only half of member households pledge to Ascension? Something I struggle to understand. Everybody can pledge something—so why don’t we?
When I was first in seminary, we were in class one afternoon, when all of a sudden, we heard this great chant from down the hall—grow louder and louder—until the chant voice itself entered our classroom. It was the entire seminary student body—pledging their community devotion to us, the new students: I’ll never forget—We’re all in this together. We’re all in this together. Don’t you see? We’re all in this together. That’s the key to unlock the Lazarus and rich man code—were in it together. Which is what the rich man just could not see.
But we do—here at Ascension—and doesn’t that make us the lucky ones?