Matthew 6: 25-34
Isaiah 12: 2-6
There were two items on my dad’s dresser when i was a kid, two items always present among the other stuff that came and went. One was a coin bank, and i knew it was usually full enough that i could filch a few coppers for penny candy without anyone knowing. The other item was a box of offering envelopes from our church, for our church. We didn’t talk about those envelopes or what went in them – we were good WASPS, and talking about money was even more taboo than talking about S-E-X, but that box of envelopes showed me at an early age that there were bigger things than my own household, and recipients beyond my own family.
Today’s gospel reading – consider the birds, consider the lilies – is one that most of us can slip into like a soothing bath. Birds and flowers? What’s not to like? Yet, as always with the judo-like way Jesus uses words, this reading flips us onto the mat of the dojo so quickly that we’re lying there, looking at the ceiling, trying to catch our breath. Jesus’ words are not about soothing our anxieties of affluence, but instead Jesus’ words offer us release from the culture that generates anxiety. Anxiety is the baseline in the music of our lives, and anxiety about money is ever-present, that heavy bass thumping away as we fret about the falling Canadian dollar and fret about our pensions and fret about our investments (if we are lucky enough to even have any of those). In counterpoint to the siren song of anxiety, Jesus offers us a move us to abundance. And once we see abundance, we are inspired to generous giving.
I want to tell you a bit about my own journey toward generous giving. And note i say TOWARD, because this is lifelong exploration, with lots yet to discover. Like many of you, i began giving growing up in the church. We children had our own offering envelopes, and each envelope had 2 pockets: one for our own congregation and one that went to support work in the wider world. Two quarters every week…and this is a model i still use, giving equally to Crescent Fort Rouge United and to our denomination’s Mission & Service Fund. (The amount has gone up.) Like many teens, i had a period in my life when i stopped church-going, and during that time, i can’t remember that i gave to anything at all. When i wandered back to church, the new congregation i went to had a Stewardship program and asked people to fill out a pledge card. This was new to me. i thought what i gave was between me and God, not me and whoever counted the offering. But as i read the material, i felt a pull, a challenge – and that challenge wasn’t to give more, the challenge wasn’t about what i give, but why. The challenge wasn’t about what i give, but WHY.
When i began working in the church, my learning curve got steeper. As i looked at the congregational budget, i saw the big ticket item was salary…and i was the only employee at that particular church. Was i supposed to give back money from my own salary to my own salary?? Really?? It took me a couple of years, and some wise layfolk on various stewardship committees, for me to think about that in a different way. Is it important that when the hospital calls the manse in the middle of the night that there is someone who will go? Is it important that there is someone to encourage and train and support the volunteers who visit the shut-ins? And as well as staff, there are things – is it important that our children have Sunday school and Messy Church resources that offer experiences of God to open their eyes to caring for others, that open their eyes to wonder and joy? Is it important that we have a building – and fabulous volunteers – to offer hospitality to funeral families? I give because i believe that God is up to something, and i want to participate in that something.
But there’s a bigger picture, too…which is why i don’t get too fussed about budgets and financial statements – i’m glad there are wise people who are attentive to those things, but i don’t give to pay bills. And i don’t give to receive some service in return. When i’m at my best, I give because it is good for my spirit. I give to break the hold that money has on me. i give because i don’t want to be possessed by my possessions. I give because what i have is not a possession, but a trust. Let me say that another way: what i have is not mine, but mine in trust. It is precious stuff that isn’t my own, but there for both my good and the common good.
It is there to be shared. And then my problem of giving shifts from how little i can give to cost-effectively fund things to how much i can give in sheer delight. “Don’t worry,” says Jesus, “consider the birds, consider the lilies.” Jesus paints a picture of abundance. There is enough for each one’s need on this good earth, but not enough for each one’s greed. There is enough. Everything we need is here – and giving helps us practice distributive justice. This is not charity or a hand-out, but participation as citizens in the kingdom of God, ensuring that God’s gifts – the trust we are entrusted with – are distributed justly.
And so, consider the birds, consider the lilies, consider the abundance of creation. Consider the bread and wine we will soon share, gifts from the God of abundance, distributed justly. Consider.