(This sermon was preached by Rev. Laurie Moeller at Pilgrimage UCC. Thanks, Laurie!)
On our back deck we have this enormous poplar tree growing through the middle. Every few years we have to cut the hole a little bigger to accommodate its widening trunk and every year we marvel at how big it has grown since we moved into the house. The tree offers marvelous shade in the summer and plenty of work in the fall clearing off its discarded leaves. We love this tree. One day my oldest daughter was looking up through the dense green leaves flitting about in the breeze and said – wouldn’t it be great if God made this tree grow money. And we all laughed about the perils of having a money tree in our back yard. Neighbors coming over to steal from it. No way to protect it. Eventually someone would come and cut it down while we were away and try to take it away. We all quickly realized that the money tree idea was fraught with problems and potential peril.
. Money can really bring out the worst in people. We know that is true – even in church. Especially in church. Money makes us crazy and irrational. Each and every one of us struggles with having enough – no matter what our accounts contain or what our portfolio shows. Money represents for us a comfort, freedom, status and security we cannot deny now matter how enlightened we are, no matter how captivated by the holy we are, no matter how old or young, no matter who we are or where we are. Money has a hold on us – and it has a hold on our churches.
We of all people should be able to see that our comfort, freedom, status and security come from God and God alone. We of all people should be able to see money as vaporous capital – a mirage of comfort and an imposter of freedom. We of all people should be able to see stewardship as not on only essential to the life of the church in fact it is essential to the life of our souls. This certainly may not be true for you, but is true for your Methodist friends – our sight, our vision, our ability to see clearly about the things of money is impaired.
So how do we address that exactly – our vision problems. Like most everything we face in the church – Jesus addressed our fading eyesight. He heals the blind – with more than just spit and mudpaste.
Jesus one day was walking along the outskirts of town when he saw something – 10 men with leprosy. Luke tells us that he actually heard them before he saw them. They were at a distance as the law would dictate, and they were yelling out for him so he looked up and saw them. And when Jesus saw them – he instructed them to go to the priests – and as they did they were made clean. They were healed. But, one of them, when he saw that he was clean, turned back to praise God.
This 10th guy – this guy received healing not only of this scaly body – but his eyes got fixed as well. It was only when he saw clearly the miracle of his healing that he could turn back. It was only when his gaze fixed not on getting to the priests for approval but on the truth of new life – of his new life that he turned back. His vision was the miracle. And I wonder even in the church – how many times do we see the healing – the gift of new life? How often are we so focused on where we need to go next or whose approval we need now – do we miss it. We miss the holy swirling about our souls healing us and restoring us? If you are like me – we are blind by our business. We are blind by our good intentions and filled calendars. We are blind by the needs of the church so much so that we cannot see the needs of the world.
So I have to ask you – have you at some point been healed of your suffering? Have you at some point felt the lifting of your burden or the easing of your sorrow? Have you at some point awakened with hope after a long dark night of despair? Have you known that Jesus saw you – saw your pain and hoped you would see it healed? If you have, then turn back and praise God.
Have you at some point had enough? Have you found yourself able to sit comfortably at a feast or have you felt welcomed to the table? Have you felt known? Have you felt loved? Have you nourished deeply? If you have, then turn back and praise God!
Has this church – has this congregation experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit? Have you been able to keep the lights on and the pastor paid? Have you come together to give abundantly to those in need? Have you people who champion the cause of human suffering? Have you people who see the need for all to be welcome – for those who are often turned away by your sister churches to have a place? If you have, then turn back and praise God!
That day that my family was so excited about the idea of a tree that grew money – my husband said – yes just think if only this tree produced money instead of oxygen for us to breathe. Just think how wonderful it would be. It wasn’t until he said that – until he helped us see that even as we sighed about not having enough money – we were breathing in life sustaining oxygen given to us by our tree. The very one we wanted to convert into a money tree.
We have to rub the sleep from our eyes and see the abundance of God’s grace all around us before we can ask ourselves what to do with our money. We have to get clear about what is real and powerful and – we have to be the 10% of the population that turns back – that stops and says OH MY! Look what has happened! We have to be that one guy – that one person, that one church who is so very overjoyed with the grace of God that we can do nothing by sing songs of joy and thanksgiving.
This week as you ponder both the needs of the church and the dreams of the church – consider first the abundance of God’s mercy and grace all around you. Take a deep breath – turn back and give thanks!