Money as Spiritual Practice

The Rev. Cynthia K.R. Banks– The Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 25—Year C  video
Sirach 35:12-17
Psalm 84:1-6
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

I love this time of year! As I sat on my deck this past Thursday morning and worked on this sermon, I was stunned by the colors blazing across the mountains—this gorgeous palette of red and yellow and orange. Walking our new puppy up the road and coming across these vistas has just been glorious. Has this fall not been breathtaking in beauty? God’s abundance shining all around us? We didn’t create it, we didn’t earn it, we haven’t achieved it; it’s just there for the sheer enjoying if we but take the time to drink it in.

I love that we mark Creation Season in our worship using these expansive language liturgies and singing hymns that draw us into bigger visions of God and the wonders of creation. I love that our prayers draw our hearts and minds to all the ways we are called to steward our lives.

And I love that it’s Annual Giving Season which invites all of us to wrestle with money. Okay, enjoying that last one makes me a little weird, but as a priest it feels so important to invite you into this wrestling. Let me unpack that a bit.

Let’s start by understanding that our relationship to money is part of our spiritual practice. We pray and meditate, why? Because the world is noisy with a thousand messages coming at us, especially right now, and we have to cultivate space and stillness so that we have the capacity to hear and discern God’s voice in the midst of all the noise, so that we can hear what is true and holy and lifegiving. That is spiritual practice.

We read scripture or other books or hear the story of others’ lives that cause us to think more deeply about our lives and about God, why? To remember that there is a story that is always bigger than our own that helps us to see our own story more clearly. That’s spiritual practice.

We come to this table and feed on the bread and wine, why? To remember that there is a hunger that only God can feed, and that there is indeed food for our soul that will sustain us. That’s spiritual practice.

We serve our neighbor out in the community, why? To remember that we are bound to one another, knit together in the human family. That’s spiritual practice.

And we wrestle with money—how we obtain it, how we save it, how we spend it, why? Because the culture is bombarding us with messages that tell us we never have enough, and that message can set us off chasing for things that will never bring us the life we long for. We have to wrestle with money to remember where the ground of our life lies and who the ground of our being is. And this, too, is spiritual practice. Frankly, everything we do is about spiritual practice, because what we do shapes and forms who we are.

I continue to find Lynne Twist’s book The Soul of Money to be the most thought-provoking thing I have ever read about money practice. She talks a lot about the myth of scarcity. And somewhere in this book, she poses an important question. What is the opposite of scarcity? (pause) Our minds immediately go to abundance. But she says that it’s not abundance; it’s sufficiency, or more simply put, enough. The opposite of scarcity is enough.

She goes on to describe how many of us view our lives as a litany of not enough, from the moment we wake up until the moment we lay our head on the pillow at night. When we wake up, what is that first “not enough” message? (pause) What “not enough” messages do we tell ourselves over the course of the day? (pause) And, at night, as we’re thinking back over our day, what are “not enough” messages? (pause)

From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep, we are inundated with a sense of scarcity and never having enough. And how we deal with money is the outward and visible sign of this inward and spiritual sickness in our soul.

So this is about more than dollars and cents. This is about how we shift our spiritual perception to understand that, at the deepest levels, there is a sufficiency present, an enoughness. Twist talks about sufficiency this way: “Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough. Sufficiency resides inside each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness, an attention, an intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances. In our relationship with money, it is using money in a way that expresses our integrity; using it in a way that expresses value rather than determines it…When we live in the context of sufficiency, we find a natural freedom and integrity…We feel naturally called to share the resources that flow through our lives—our time, our money, our wisdom, our energy, at whatever level those resources flow—to serve our highest commitments.” And lest we think Twist is some sort of polyannish type, she’s not. She has worked in some of the most impoverished areas of the world with communities of people that have taught her these lessons in sufficiency and true wealth.

So, there are always two parts to this equation as we talk about Annual Giving at St. Luke’s. First, we have to come to terms with our relationship with money as spiritual practice. This is where we have to wrestle with how much we buy into the myth of scarcity and how we need to be shaped anew into a vision of sufficiency and having enough. This is where we have to wrestle with our values and how our resources are flowing through our lives and ask ourselves if this flow is representative of who we are at the deepest levels. This is remembering that if resources flow in and don’t flow out, we die, just like the Dead Sea; that the flow has to keep flowing if we are to live. Money practice is about getting the flow flowing, which is always where life is.

The practice of giving keeps that flow ever before our eyes. The practice of giving reminds us that it’s all gift. The practice of giving keeps us present and attentive to this aspect of our lives with consciousness and intentionality.

And so we give to help us stay in this flow of enough and to let the flow of resources through our lives express our deepest values and commitments.

And that brings us to the second part of the equation: Why give to St. Luke’s? Beginning this afternoon and running through November 6, we will be gathering in Cottage Meetings to share with you what the Vestry believes we need to support the work of this community. We sent out the detail of the draft budget this past Thursday. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of numbers, and so we will have some graphs and charts at the Cottage Meetings to give you a clearer picture. The Vestry and I are working as hard as we can to be transparent about where we are and what we believe it takes to make this place go. In these gatherings, we want to engage about our vision and mission and the values we hold dear.

Why give to St. Luke’s? Because what we do here matters. Because what we do here expresses your values. Because what we do here shapes your values. Because what happens in this place helps us stand still and stay grounded amidst a swirl of voices and values all around us that shatter a commitment to community and keep us forever in the chase for the elusive “good life.” Where else can we learn how to live well, and die well? Where else do we experience this kind of community that truly spans across the generations? What other place is keeps calling us to respect the dignity of every human being, even if they don’t respect us or the things that we hold dear? Where else do we learn how to discern and name evil and sin and strive for justice, and always with an eye toward peace and reconciliation? Where else can we ask deep questions of meaning? Where else can we engage the rhythms of ritual and music that help us make sense of our lives through all the seasons of our lives? Why give to St. Luke’s? Because what we do here matters.

If the work we do here doesn’t matter to you, if it doesn’t express your deepest values, then you should not support it. And if that’s the case, then I beg you to find and bless those endeavors in the world that do speak to your deepest values and highest commitments because the flow needs to keep flowing through you and your life for you to be whole.

But if the work we do in this place does matter to you, then I am asking you to support it and to support it heartily. How heartily? Well, that’s between you and your family and God. But I do ask that you put all the places where your money flows out before you on the table. Seriously, get post-notes out and write where your money flows by category. Then, think about the values each of those places represents. Is the flow of your resources to these various parts of your life in keeping with your values? Where is the stretch for you and your family that keeps your values and your resources aligned?

The Church has long talked about a tithe of 10% of income as a way to keep us anchored in our deepest values. And before we go down the rabbit hole of 10% of gross or net, when I trained with the Lutherans, they made clear to us that it was gross, but for goodness sake, 10% of either one would be a profound commitment! The point is, the Church has long talked about the tithe as a way to anchor us in our deepest values, as a way to keep the flow flowing. For some of you, you may find that stretch at 1% or 4% or 7%. Others may find that stretch at 15% or 20%. For others, it may be a project or initiative that ignites your passion and compels you to give. It’s different for each household, but what’s important is that we wrestle with it. And if you happen to hit the 10% tithe, keep on going. Keep growing your practice, partly to guard against the smugness of the Pharisee that we hear about in this morning’s gospel—you can tithe 10% and yet the other 90% of your resources might not be flowing in lifegiving ways at all.

For all of us, how much can we get flowing through our life? What freedom might come through really committing to this spiritual practice? If you want to grow your giving practice, try increasing your giving 1% of your income a year. We always want to deepen all our spiritual practices, why on earth would we pick a level of giving and just stay there year after year? Why wouldn’t we want to expand this part of our spiritual life? Why would we deny ourselves the lessons we can surely learn as we wrestle with all of this?

And for some of us, the flow that needs to get unstopped might not be so much in the realm of money, but in the realm of sharing our energy and our time and our gifts and our skills and our wisdom. How are these things flowing? Where are these things flowing? Is the flow of our energy, time, gifts, skills, and wisdom in keeping with our deepest values and highest commitments? Are these things all in alignment?

I’ve focused a lot on money today because I think it is a huge spiritual issue for all of us in this culture, but stewardship is about the whole of our lives—we have to look at all aspects of our lives and see if they are in alignment with our deepest values as those values are informed by the love God and way of Jesus.

So as your priest, I am inviting you into the wrestling because I know there is life to be found here that many of us have not yet begun to taste. I want all of us to experience that sense of sufficiency and enoughness that Twist describes, and to know the freedom that comes in that enoughness. And just as with Jacob last week, I want us to know that in this wrestling, we will be blessed. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
October 23, 2016