Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 25—Year A; Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm; 1; Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
This month we’ve been lifting up stewardship in all kinds of ways—sharing our blessings, insert page reflections, the prayers of the people, the Why I love St. Luke’s video (which will be in your inbox when you get home), and last week Jacque preached about it. Just like Lent gives us a whole season to focus intentionally on our spiritual life and practice, so too this season gives us a chance to focus intentionally on stewardship, and especially on our relationship to and with money. It’s not that our life in God or stewardship or our money practice don’t receive attention the rest of the year—these are all daily practices that need daily attention—but these seasons invite us to go deep in our reflection and to be intentional about these practices, and that’s a good thing.
Money. Oh, most of us don’t like to talk about it. Many of us don’t really want to think about it. What are the things that you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company? (pause) Religion, politics, money. But what did Jesus spend a whole lot of time talking about—religion, politics (in the largest sense of how we structure ourselves as a society), and money. Jesus spends an enormous amount of time addressing issues around money—wealth, greed, riches, poverty—certainly more than he ever spent talking about issues of human sexuality. Still, it’s a daunting task.
I often get anxious when it comes to my turn to preach about this. I can talk about all the aspects of stewardship that involve how we spend our time and energy; I can talk passionately about how we engage our passions, but there is a part of me that wants to walk quickly and lightly over the money stuff. You’re just not supposed to talk about it. It’s nobody’s business; it’s a private matter; don’t go there. But I think I’m over that.
I just finished reading Lynne Twist’s The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life. There are a lot of good books out there on money. Last spring, the Friday Study Group read Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most. It was really helpful, and really hard work. But The Soul of Money pushed me to a whole new place with this stuff. Twist is a global activist who has devoted her life to alleviating poverty and hunger and supporting social justice and environmental sustainability. She has worked across the globe in some of the most resource-poor places on the planet. So, she speaks with a voice that knows full well the deprivation that exists in some parts of the world, as well as the unbelievable excess that exists in other places.
Let me run through her analysis.
Twist unmasks what she calls the toxic myths of scarcity: myth #1—there’s not enough; myth #2—more is better; myth #3—that’s just the way it is. She goes on to say that when we believe there is not enough, when we believe that resources are scarce, then we accept that some will have what they need and some will not, and we rationalize that someone is destined to end up with the short end of the stick. Once we define our world as deficient, the total of our life energy, everything we think, everything we say, and everything we do—particularly with money—[then] becomes an effort to overcome this sense of lack and the fear of losing to others or being left out. There’s not enough generates a fear that drives us to make sure that we’re not the person, or our loved ones aren’t the people, who get crushed, marginalized, or left out. When we believe that more is better, and equate having more with being more—more smart or more able—then people on the short end of that resource stick are assumed to be less smart, less able, even less valuable, as human beings. We feel we have permission to discount them. When we believe that’s just the way things are, then we assume a posture of helplessness. We believe that a problem is unsolvable. We accept that in our human family neither the resource-rich members nor the resource-poor members have enough money, enough food, or enough intelligence or resourcefulness to generate lasting solutions.
She counters all of this with the truth of sufficiency, and to get there, she tells this story. She, and others from the Hunger Project, had been called to work with a tribal people deep in the Sahel desert in Senegal in West Africa. Their village was running out of water, and they needed to find a new source of water or a new place to live. Government services were not extended to these people, not even in times of crisis. They were illiterate people who were not counted in the census. They couldn’t vote, and they had no pull with the government, but they had tremendous resilience. Driving out to the village, Twist described the landscape as a desolate vastness, so bleak that it seemed unimaginable that any human being could live there.
It was a Muslim village, and when the meeting began there was an inner circle of men, who did all the talking, and a second circle of women—the women could see and hear, but they did not speak. Twist says that she could feel the power of the women behind her, and she asked to meet only with the women. The mullah and the chief allowed it. The women drew in close, and several of the tribal women started to speak. They said that it was clear to them that there was an underground lake underneath the area—they could feel; they knew it was there; they had seen it in visions, but the men had not permitted them to dig. The men didn’t believe the women, and digging wells was not women’s work.
In this resource-poor area, these people had what they needed—Twist notes that they weren’t poor, they were eager to find a way through this challenge and they burned with possibility. They were a well of strength, a wealth of perseverance and ingenuity. What they needed from an outside source was a way through to pursue their clear instinct. After many conversations with both the women and the men, they made an agreement with the mullahs and the chief that the work would start with the women because the women had the vision. The women dug, singing, drumming, caring for one another’s children. Deeper and deeper they dug, never doubting the water was there. The men watched skeptically but allowed the work to continue. Down and down they went, digging, digging, and a year into their digging, they reached the underground lake of their visions. They built a pumping system and a water tower, and now, seventeen villages have water. Women’s leadership groups in all seventeen villages are the center of action. There is irrigation and chicken farming, literacy classes and batiking businesses. The whole region was transformed because they were able to reclaim the power of what was there.
Twists states: “Sufficiency isn’t a quantity of anything. [It] 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 one 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 our money in a way that expresses our integrity; using it in a way that expresses value rather than determines value. Sufficiency is an act of generating, distinguishing, making known to ourselves the power and presence of our existing resources, and our inner resources. Sufficiency is a context we bring forth from within that reminds us that if we look around us and within ourselves, we will find what we need. There is always enough.” Twist speaks of using money as “the currency of love and conduit of commitment.”In simpler words, as one of you told me last year—money is energy.
We have to talk about money, we have to think about money, we have to reflect intentionally on our relationship with money because it is an energy, a force, a current in our life and Twists notes—it is meant to flow. When we are buying into the myths of scarcity, we are tempted to scramble for it, be anxious about, hoard it, and when we do that, it stops flowing, and it loses its capacity to carry our deepest aspirations and ideals; it loses its capacity to be a conduit of our commitments, to make manifest the power of our love. So this isn’t a small thing. In fact, to become intentional about our relationship with money is a very, very big thing. And over and over, Twist makes the case that this doesn’t matter if you are dollaraire or billionaire, if you are resource-poor or resource-rich (I love this way of describing it!). People at both ends of the spectrum can be consumed by the toxic myths of scarcity, or can live from a place of deep sufficiency, a place of deep enoughness.
All of us move in this world of money. How we get it matters. How we spend it matters. How we invest it matters. Where we allow it to flow matters. Where we withhold it matters. When we align our interactions with money with our deepest values, then immeasurable amounts of energy are freed up and unleashed toward those values and ideals. When we are unconscious about money, when it’s not flowing freely, when it isn’t lining up with our deepest values and aspirations, then our energy gets blocked, stagnant, and we can’t see the lifegiving possibilities that are swirling around us all the time.
As I read her book, I could sense the power of her stories, her witness; I could sense the energy of her approach; I could taste the freedom she describes, the passion unlocked and unleashed and set free. Isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that what we want for our families and our communities? God created this world overflowingly sufficient, rich with everything we need. There is enough, and when we start from that place, then we start from a place of immense hope and possibility. And Twist has the experience from the most impoverished places in the world to back up this truth. It is worth it to read her book just to hear her tell these stories. The “there’s not enough, more is better, and that’s just the way it is” perspective crumbles in the face of these stories. And if it can be true in the deserts of Senegal and the rural most parts of India and the poorest parts of our cities, then it can be true in your life and in my life and in Boone, North Carolina.
So, yes, I want you to think about money. I want you to break all the rules and talk about money. I want you to explore to the depths your relationship with money. I want all of us to ask if our relationship with money is aligned with our deepest values because I want all of us to be in a place where money is flowing, where money is a currency of our love and a conduit of our commitments. I want our passion and energy to be walking in concert with the flow of resources in and through our lives.
This is so much bigger than where we give our charitable giving; this is about how all of our money flows. In this sense, the questions around money are just one more expression of how we steward all that God has blessed us with. It’s not more important because it’s dollars and cents; it’s so important because it is such a vastly unexamined part of our lives, and one which swallows a ton of our energy, and one in which the cultural forces are hugely stacked against our being intentional in our choices. I love the show Mad Men, but the advertising industry does not want us to be intentional in our choices.
Which brings me to the church. What other place will push you to reflect on this part of your life? And what other place will support you as you swim against the cultural super consumer stream? Where else can we gain support to show our kids a different way to value their worth—a worth based solely on their status as a beloved daughter or son of God and not on what they own or possess or the level of their debt? What other place gives you the opportunity to express your deepest aspirations as you seek to respect the dignity of every human being?
Think about the power of the money that flows through this place. Think about the beauty that inspires us through the music we hear in this space. Think about the peace of this place when it is filled with more than a hundred people holding silence together.
Think about the formation that happens with our children and youth who grow up into the kind of adults that serve women seeking a second chance in New Orleans, or mentally challenged people in Durham, or serve in the Episcopal Young Adult Service Corps or Americorps or the Peace Corps, or who take a deeply formed compassionate ethical worldview into all the places of their work in the world.
Think about the nurture and love that is unleashed as we bless an elder as she makes her rite of passage to assisted living or bless a thirteen year old making their rite of passage into their teenage years. Think about the joy and hope that springs in our hearts as we watched our youngest kids take up the offering or the courage we draw from our brothers and sisters who have allowed us to walk with them as they show us how to die well.
Think about the feeding that happens when we come together at this table. And think about the feeding that happens when we gather in the Mary Boyer Garden, or at FARM Café, or at Hospitality House. Our love is made flesh in the money that flows through our Hunger Basket to WeCan and Hospitality House and the Hunger Coalition and the Community Care Clinic.
The church—this is the place where we wrestle with aligning our values in concert with a God who loves us and a Lord who shows us what it means to live as a human being infused with divinity—this is the place where we can go deep and work out what all this means together—in the Friday Morning Book Study, in the Social Justice Training Group, in the Women’s Group, in the conversations that happen over coffee and around the edges all the time.
St. Luke’s uses the money you give as a currency of love and as a conduit of our deepest shared commitments. Does the church need money to do what we do? Yes. $322,000 worth a year. But I believe, no I know, that we collectively have everything we need to live out the vision of love and commitment that are the heartbeat of this faith community. Some of us are resource-rich and some of us are resource-poor, but we all are wealthy and have something of deep value to contribute to this church and to the world.
Between now and November 9th when we do our ingathering, I want you to engage your relationship with money—go deep with it. Think about how money is flowing through your life. Where is the flow moving freely, where is it stuck and stagnant? Where has the toxic myth of scarcity and plain old fear grabbed you? How is money expressing your highest aspirations and ideals? How is it a currency of love in your life and a conduit of your deepest commitments? Lift all of this up to God; turn it around like a multi-faceted crystal and let God’s light shine through it from every conceivable angle. Think about those places where your money is flowing and ask if those places are aligned with your values and ideals. If they are, support them with joy and passion, knowing that when it’s flowing and aligned money is a powerful expression of your soul. If the places where your money is flowing aren’t aligned with your values, then start that process of redirecting the flow to places that are, knowing and trusting that the energy that will unleash in you can breathe life back into your soul.
On November 9th, you will have the opportunity to make manifest your love and commitment to this place, to this community. And if you can only commit with one dollar, do it, because that is an alignment of your money with your values and that will make a huge difference to you and this community. The culture has told us that we don’t have enough, but this morning, we have pulled back the curtain, and now we know—that’s a lie. Inside each of you are immeasurable resources that can’t be quantified in dollars and cents, underground lakes that are the heartbeat of this community. As you make your commitment on November 9th, bring those forth as well. God will bless it all that all of this may flow as a blessing upon the world.
So, I am glad to talk about money because in this exploration lies the seeds of transformation at the deepest levels of our being. Come on into the waters. In that baptismal spirit that is at the heart of our life, let the myth of scarcity die, and let Jesus pull you into the life that springs from that deep, deep place of gloriously enough. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC; October 26, 2014