(Posted July 30, 2016)
Virtually every house of worship these days has financial challenges, based on fewer people going to church and the fact that this is a fluid society where people move away from their home communities – not to mention an increased demand for assistance to the poor. There are often weeks – First Church is no exception – where money is in short demand, even with consistent belt tightening among our ranks. So I often find myself praying and asking God to find us the resources to continue to deliver God’s word and love to the community. This last week was no exception. On Monday morning there was a letter waiting for me. But first, the beginning of that story.
On Monday morning I was preparing Sunday July 31’s service. The Gospel for that morning is all about two squabbling brothers who have come into an inheritance, one of whom comes to Jesus to ask him to direct the other brother to share it. You know the old saying: “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative.” Now it wouldn’t have been unusual for the men to ask a rabbi for his input on a matter that is causing such division in a family. But Jesus had quite a different take on this man’s demand. Jesus warns, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Jesus goes on to tell him the parable of the rich man, whose fields have created a fabulous overabundance of crops, too much for him to use. So instead of sharing this abundance, he decides to build bigger barns so that he can sit back, eat and drink and be idle for the rest of his life.
Isn’t it interesting to see how we react when we’ve been blessed with “a little more” than we need. In contrast to the Gospel story above, our UCC Sermon seeds shared the other story about the Marquis de Lafayette, who helped the American colonists during our War of Independence from Britain. When he returned home to France, he lived on his big estates and did very well. He was in the same social class as the rich man in Jesus' parable, but acted very differently. In 1783, after a poor harvest, Lafayette's workers were still able to fill his barns with wheat. "The bad harvest has raised the price of wheat," said one of his workers. "This is the time to sell." Lafayette thought about the hungry peasants in the surrounding villages. "No," he replied, "this is the time to give."
Oh yes: about that envelope. It was a letter from an attorney, and inside it a generous bequest made out to First Church, from the estate of Janet Dunk. Long time members will remember her better as Janet Blackburn, one of two daughters in the Blackburn family that was so active during the 1940s and 1950s. Her gift was generous but reasonable, the size of bequest many of us would be capable of making. While time, age and distance may have kept Mrs. Dunk apart from us physically, First Church and our mission to bring God to this community was still in her mind. I thanked God for an answer to my prayers. Janet knew that this was time to give.
We can see that this is an important parable because it’s the only parable where God speaks directly to the rich man: “God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God." God gives us a choice: Drown in the greed that chokes us with our own possessions, or be rich toward God. How fortunate are we to have friends who know the better choice. Blessings to all those who do. - Pastor Pat Kriss