Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Year C
September 26, 2010
Let us pray: O God, help us to trust in you. May we learn to let go of the things that give us illusions of security, and embrace the goodness of your truth and love. Amen.
I thought I would start off today with not really a quiz but a game of fill in the blank. So, let's try it: I'm going to give you the opportunity to fill in the blank that is suggested by the title to this reflection. Hopefully you are not too shy to just speak out the word that comes to mind when you hear it. I'll read it out for you and let's hear what pops out. I expect there may be more than one word or phrase. Here we go: For the love of....
I had at least two answers in mind when I wrote it: For the love of God and For the love of money and sure enough we heard both of those (and perhaps a few more) just now. That phrase came to mind of course because of the readings we just heard.
The reading from the first letter to Timothy contains that often misquoted phrase: it is not money that is the root of all evil, but the love of money. And of course the reading from Luke's gospel where the rich man finds out too late that you can't take it with you.
Perhaps because I knew those readings were the ones for this week, I seemed to be particularly attuned to the ways that talk of money came up. Here is just a short stroll through some of them. We were watching the Oprah Winfrey show the other day – much too late at night, so late that we could not finish it, but the reason we were even watching it all was because she started the program by expressing her shock and dismay at what is happening in many schools in the United States. Using the movie “Waiting for Superman” a documentary which describes a crisis in elementary and high school education she brought the filmmaker, Bill Gates and Washington DC public school board chancellor Michelle Rhee who is on a crusade to make the DC schools better. Well of course you can't have Bill Gates on television without thinking about money. Well known for the place he held for many years as the world's richest person, we recently learned that he has moved down the list, because of the amount of money he has given in philanthropic pursuits. You are perhaps aware of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation which has targeted the disaster caused by HIV/Aids on the African continent. More recently we've heard that the foundation is also interested in the war against Malaria – hoping to eradicate the devastation caused also on the African continent and elsewhere by that disease. But on the Oprah show, Gates Jr. was there to lend his support and considerable fortune to the cause of making the public school system better for the people who can least afford it. I have lots of different feelings about Bill Gates, and certainly Microsoft is not high on my list of favourite corporations, but among the feelings I have for Bill Gates are ones of a certain amount of admiration. The rich are easy targets for condemnation – one can wonder whether some of this condemnation is not based on jealousy – a kind of wondering on our part as to what it would be like if we had the kind of money they have, rather than anything else, but Bill and Melinda Gates have put at least some of their money – and yes they have lots and lots of it – in the pursuit of undeniably good work.
Interestingly enough, it was only a day or two later that the name Bill Gates came into focus again. I read a short headline on one of the news portals that are on my home page which said that Microsoft Executive Steve Ballmer and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos had each contributed $100,000 to a campaign to defeat an income tax that is proposed to tax the rich in Washington State. Initiative 1098 would add an tax surcharge to anyone making more than $200,000 per year. Interestingly enough though, Bill Gates Sr., the father of the former CEO of Microsoft is on the side of those promoting the Initiative. Hmm...
On Tuesday evening I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority because two of the agenda items for the meeting were a panel on Homelessness in Yellowknife and a short film by France Benoit on the foot washing program at the Salvation Army. The panel included people from various agencies in Yellowknife that are working with people who are homeless – the Centre for Northern Families, the Salvation Army, the YWCA, the SideDoor and the YHSSA. The discussion was wide ranging but as you might expect, one of the solutions that was mentioned more than once was the need for more resources and more specifically more money. Several of the panelists said that more money was the only way that some of the deeper issues related to homelessness could ever be addressed.
Also at the beginning of the week I was working on a report from a small committee I was asked to put together as Conference President. The purpose of the committee was to explore some issues which ultimately lead back to the fact that financial resources in the conference are dwindling – leading to the need to do some visioning about our priorities as a church in this conference. Once again, money was uppermost in my mind as I did some wordsmithing on the report.
Almost in synch with this report which will lead us on a process to redefine the work of the conference with fewer dollars and probably fewer paid staff was an announcement from the General Council office of our church that sixteen positions had been terminated in the church and the sad news that the same number of people had been laid off. While these changes are a result of some changes in the priorities determined by the meeting of General Council last summer and the further refining of the work by the General Council Executive last May – we all know that they are also a result of the fewer dollars available to the church because of the not so gradual decline in membership and the flatlining of donations to the Mission and Service fund of our church – which is where the dollars for these positions comes from. It's been a tough week for the staff in our national church office and I know that it's been a tough week for our friend Nora Sanders, the general secretary of the church who was given the unenviable responsibility of telling people about these changes.
Money, money, money. It seemed every where I turned this week – money was either prominent in the excess represented by some of the people I saw on television or in the news, or because some of those people are actually putting their money to the kind of work that we might wish for, or because some of those people were fighting to make sure the government did not get more of their money, or because people were expressing the desire that the government would invest more money in the kinds of programs that would make better the lives of the most vulnerable in our society.
Was it because I read these passages early in the week and therefore they were on my mind as I encountered everything else or was it just one of those expected coincidences that I've come to attribute to the workings of the spirit.
Is it love of money that calls people to want more of it in the work to make lives better? I can hardly think so, but I did ponder that question this week.
The story that Jesus told in the gospel of Luke reminds us that riches are fleeting. We can't take it with us. We all know the truth that wealth is not the source of true happiness, that the best things in life cannot be valued with money, and that it is quite likely when we are ready to depart this earthly life that we will wish we had more money instead of more love. But we also know that it is a constant struggle in our lives to balance the desire for money as a road to some kind of happiness and the coin of true wealth which really comes from everything but money.
Finally let's go back to the fill in the blank phrase which began this reflection. For the love of ...
I think we are called to consider how we fill in that blank in our own lives and then consider how our response fits. The point of Jesus story and really the point of all that Jesus said and did is to finish that phrase this way: For the love of God. Amen.