"Our Money Story: Remember"
The First United Presbyterian Church
“Our Money Story: Remember”
Rev. Amy Morgan
October 11, 2020
The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.
2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.
3 The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.
5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days."
6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, "In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?"
8 And Moses said, "When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him-- what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD."
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, 'Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'"
10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.
11 The LORD spoke to Moses and said,
12 "I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.
14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.
15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.
16 This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.'"
17 The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.
Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near.
2 The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.
3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve;
4 he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them.
5 They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money.
6 So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.
7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.
8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it."
9 They asked him, "Where do you want us to make preparations for it?"
10 "Listen," he said to them, "when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters
11 and say to the owner of the house, 'The teacher asks you, "Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"'
12 He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there."
13 So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him.
15 He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;
16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."
17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves;
18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."
19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.
22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!"
23 Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this.
My general rule for stewardship is: preach about money throughout the year, preach about the church’s mission and vision during stewardship. Well, this year is different. For all kinds of reasons. But the stewardship team and I discerned that it was the right time to talk very honestly and very directly about money. The church’s mission and vision have never been more important. And we will talk about that through this series. But in times of chaos and uncertainty, in times of transition, in liminal, wilderness times like these, exploring our relationship to money, to possessions, to survival and security is deeply meaningful and essential to our faith.
So, for the next four weeks, we are going to be exploring Our Money Story, the narratives, both personal and communal, that shape our relationships with God and one another and influence our stewardship.
We begin today by remembering two stories from our Biblical tradition, ones we don’t always associate with stewardship. In these stories, people who are close to God have a relationship to money (and manna) that is, shall we say, less than exemplary. Our series starts here because we need to remember that God’s love for us, and God’s provision for us, is not contingent on our faithfulness to God. Thank the Lord!
Many of us, when we think of money, and of what we should do with it, remember stories of shame. I remember a time when I was a new mother and I called my mom in tears because I thought we couldn’t afford potatoes. I was consumed by a post-partum craving that couldn’t be satisfied, and it broke me. And I felt like we were poor because we had been bad with money. We’d gotten into debt, blown money on frivolous things, failed to manage our expenses and income. My shame around our poverty just made everything so much worse.
Scripture is clear that that is not what God wants for us. “The Lord helps those who help themselves” is, in fact, not found anywhere in the Bible. Instead, as we read today, the Lord helps those who can’t help themselves, who complain and grumble and would rather be slaves than die in the wilderness. Jesus nourishes with his own body and blood those who will betray him, who will pierce his flesh and spill his blood, for a bag of coins.
Stories of shame are common when it comes to money, and that shame can heavily influence our relationship to God and our neighbors. It also heavily influences our stewardship of money and approach to generosity.
The reason shame and money enjoy such a close association is because money exerts a heavy influence over our identity. Status is closely tied to wealth. Self-esteem is shaped by our income.
I once led a workshop for a group of moms about success vs. goodness. We talked about how their values as a family shaped their children and the hopes they had for their children’s future. When asked what their number one goal was for their children, the vast majority of participants said, “financial independence.” More than a strong faith, healthy relationships, or a generous and kind spirit, these parents wanted their children to have enough money to not be dependent on anyone, including them. Their family values, and therefore personal identity, were shaped around financial independence.
Can you imagine the shame these children would feel if they failed to achieve this goal? If they mismanaged money, made bad investments, found themselves in a tight spot? My heart broke for them. Their identity would be defined by their bank account.
That is not the identity God wants for us. In the Exodus story, we remember the Israelites, God’s covenant people, wandering in the desert. In this time of uncertainty and insecurity, they long to return to dependence on Egypt, to provision from Pharaoh. They are more comfortable with their identity as slaves than as a people cherished by God. God doesn’t desire for them to be independent, to be able to provide for themselves. God wants them to draw near, to depend on God, to know that God will provide for them. There is not shame in their need. They are not even shamed for grumbling and complaining. God hears them, as God heard their cries for liberation in Egypt. And God responds. From this time onward, this story is part of the identity of Israel, a narrative that shapes who they are as a people. They are the ones God brought up out of slavery in Egypt and fed with manna in the wilderness. This story is told again and again throughout the scriptures. Because this story shapes Israel’s relationship to God.
And there is a danger of forgetting this story, forgetting this dependence. Before the Israelites cross into the Promised Land, they are warned not to forget about God’s provision when they experience prosperity: “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Both Psalm 78 and the prophet Nehemiah reference God’s provision of manna in the wilderness in confessing Israel’s ingratitude and unfaithfulness to God.
While this story may not involve money in the sense we think about it today, it is all about dough. This imagery of bread carries through the whole of scripture. In Leviticus, the Israelites are instructed to place in the temple 12 loaves of bread, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. This bread, called the Bread of the Presence, was a symbolic acknowledgment that God was the resource for Israel’s life and nourishment and also served as Israel’s act of thanksgiving to God. Israel’s dependence on God connected directly to their gratitude to God, not to a sense of shame or scarcity.
Bread turns up again in the story of Ruth. When we had to translate this story from Hebrew in one of my seminary classes, I kept translating the phrase “house of bread.” It was really confusing – “house of bread,” over and over – what was that about? I finally sounded it out loud and realized it was Bethlehem. Beth – “house,” Lehem – “bread.” This house of bread connects Naomi and Ruth to the sustenance they need to survive and to the relationship with Boaz from which King David will descend. Later, this house of bread will produce a descendant of David who will identify himself as the “bread of heaven” and the “bread of life,” who will describe his body as bread, and who will share it with all.
Our money stories involve so much more than money. They are about identity, relationship, and hope.
Israel’s money story, or manna story, told them who they were in relationship to God. It defined their relationship to their neighbors. The Hebrew scriptures reiterate again and again that Israel must care for the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the stranger in their midst because of what God had done for them. They were not asked to follow God perfectly, to manage their resources well, or to live in some form of communist poverty. They were commanded, however, to live out their gratitude, to remember what God had done for them and to be generous toward others in remembrance of that generosity.
1st on 4th has had many experiences of wilderness wandering. From being founded in the wilderness of the West to wandering through various locations for 30 years. From merging to re-emerging. Through schism and steady growth. Through tumultuous leaders and financial hardships. This church is no stranger to the wilderness.
And it is no stranger to shame. When I first came here, and even before I arrived, it was clear to me that this church had some self-esteem issues. I was told, “we’re small,” “we’re resourceful” – which translates to “we don’t have a lot of money,” and “we get by on a shoestring budget.” You all didn’t expect much for yourselves. Nothing fancy. New carpet was a big deal, and maybe even an extravagance. You prided yourselves in being scrappy.
But God has shown that you are so much more than that. You are precious to God. You are essential to God’s work in this community. God has provided this church with new members of our family, with abundant gifts and energy, with more than enough to thrive as the “Heart of Christ in the Heart of Loveland.”
In the wilderness we are currently wandering through, God has provided us with caring and compassionate Deacons, wise and discerning elders, and deep bonds of love keeping us connected through this time of physical separation. God has provided young people like Dean and Ramona and Isaac and Opal who run our tech and usher and help us worship in this hybrid model each week. God has provided Angela to lift our spirits with music and keep us connected through our communications. God has provided Sherry to help our kids socialize and have fun together. God has provided grants and loans and pensions dues relief to ease our financial burdens, as well as tremendously faithful and generous members who continue to give and support this ministry. There is so much manna falling from heaven through this pandemic. There is more than enough. Not because we are such good and faithful people all the time, but because we are precious to God.
Our generosity is an act of joyful thanksgiving for all that God has provided. Through 145 years, God has provided for this church, for this community, again and again. Even when there was grumbling and complaining. Even when there was scandal and division. Even when we were unfaithful, self-interested, fearful, lost, or hopeless.
Remembering God’s past faithfulness, even, and maybe especially, in the context of our own mistakes and failings, allows us to respond to God with joy and gratitude and hope. God has been faithful, and God will be faithful. Even when we are not. Our giving is not a sign of our faithfulness, it is a sign of our gratitude.
I want to close today with a prayer from Walter Bruggeman, in his book Inscribing the Text. It is entitled, “On Generosity.”
“On our own, we conclude: there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short
we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.
and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.
It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness….
all things Easter new…..
all around us, toward us and
all things Easter new.
Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.”