Whenever a pastor brings up the issue of money, it seems to create a bit of a stir. Pastors are supposed to talk about spiritual matters, not financial ones. Talk about God's grace. Talk about the stories of Jesus. Talk about hope. Talk about anything else but the taboo subject of money.
Ironically, the same things were being said about Jesus' preaching. In the gospel of Luke, the topic that Jesus speaks the most about is God's love. The second most talked about subject is wealth and possessions. The two topics are linked. If we are going to talk about devotion to God and response to God's love, then the conversation is going to eventually involve money. This is not because God's love is bought, sold, traded, or hoarded. God's love and grace come as the totally free gift of a generous God. So what gives?
In a world that heavily values wealth and possessions, there is bound to be a clash of gods. Remember, Martin Luther defined a god as "that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe [god] with our whole heart." The dominant god in our culture, community, and world is not the God of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Jesus but is rather the Almighty Dollar. More decisions, commitments, risks, relationships, and ideologies are formed as a result of money than any other single factor. Money is power. Keeping, growing, defending, leveraging, influencing, and obtaining monetary power is a religious endeavor pursued with the greatest of devotions and fervor. A truth as real in the first century as Jesus walked through the marketplaces as it is today.
Jesus understood both the power, devotion, and distraction that money created in our spiritual lives. He challenged his disciples to frame possessions in terms of their faith in God. Wealth is to be used for the sake of the gospel - to bring the good news of God's priceless love to a world that remains largely bankrupt. Giving is a spiritual practice that helps to shift the focus from material creation to the Creator of life. When we give, we set our attention to God's purposes and suspend our own.
What is more, giving allows for good things to happen in the context of Christian community. When we give, we support the messaging of God's love in real and tangible ways. It is ironic, but to proclaim the free grace of God in real time and space costs money. Resources are needed to worship, instruct, be present, and reach out. Without the generous support of committed disciples. the church's mission is stunted. Likewise, generous support allows the church's mission to grow and expand.
To build generosity and our capacity for ministry, St. James began Special Offerings a few years back. Three times a year, the community is asked to close the gap between our planned/pledged giving and the actual cost of ministry. Lent is one of those times.
It seems fitting to me that during this season of renewed spiritual focus on Jesus' life and passion, we invite folks to make additional and first-time monetary gifts. The act of considering to make a gift - no matter what size - forces us to think about our priorities.
What is it worth to me for the hospitality of God's love to be shared without cost? What risks am I willing to take so that Jesus presence can be made known in this place? Do I use what I have to advance my agenda or contribute to bringing the kingdom of God a little closer?
Thank you ahead of time for your consideration and for your generosity.
p.s. At the half-way point in the season of Lent we are about 1/3 of our goal for this Special Offering.