Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gain all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can

With thanks to Rev. Rich Bolin who sermon I liberally borrowed from!
Mark 12: 41-44
>"Wesleyan Economics 1: Gain All You Can" (first of three sermons)
My colleague Rev. Rich Bolin of the Culver City United Methodist Church told me the story of about he started to think about Wesleyan Economics. Last Spring the Culver City United Methodist Women hosted their annual Flower Festival with the very appropriate and timely theme of caring for our planet. Each of the tables was decorated with a Green theme, such as water conservation or the diversity of grains that sustain life on this earth. Rich says: “I was a little surprised when Darlene (one of the women) asked to borrow a volume of John Wesley’s sermons as an aid in decorating her table. She was looking for John Wesley’s sermon on “The Use of Money.” Now I suppose that could be considered a “Green” theme, but I didn’t think that was quite the angle that the planners had in mind. Then Darlene explained to me that Wesley’s instructions to the people called Methodists regarding the use of money could be applied to our stewardship of all creation. In brief, Wesley urged Methodists to “gain all you can,” “save all you can,” and “give all you can.” Darlene piqued my interest, so I went back and read Wesley’s sermon myself. Sure enough, what I found there is wisdom for the ages. Wesleyan economics is Biblical economics, which is kingdom of God economics, which happens to be what our lives and our planet need to survive and to thrive.”
After I heard this story, my interest was piqued as well, and so I read the sermon and then discovered the same thing Rich did: Wesleyan economics is wisdom for our age. I then presented the idea to the Finance committee, they became interested and so today is the first of three sermons on Wesleyan economics as we think about stewardship. The key is to realize that God calls us to be good stewards, of our green/money, our time and our use of our talents and gifts.
Consider the way Jesus contrasts the two attitudes of those who are giving at the Temple in Jerusalem.First, Jesus teaches about the scribes: for the sake of appearance, of, considered by Jesus to be self-serving and call attention to themselves. They were dishonest, and “Devour widow’s houses”. That is they gain their wealth by unjust means. Jesus then compares this with the widow, one who puts two small coins into the treasury. She is giving all she has, all she has to live on. Jesus compares her attitude with the rich give out of abundance, but she gives out of poverty. Jesus then teaches that this poor widow, has “put more than all those who are contributing to the treasury”. Why? Because Jesus sees what is in her heart and soul, she is giving out of devotion, out of a desire to contribute all that she has. God knows the difference between those who give out of selfish desires or out of an attitude to serve God.Mother Teresa said it this way: “If you give what you do not need, it is not giving”. Jesus teaches that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, with all our strength, and how we live our daily living, how we use our time and energy, gifts and graces, as well as our green resources has everything to do with being a faithful disciple, to transforming the world. Wesley certainly believed that how we use our money is connected to faith.
Wesley’s instructions are easy to summarize: “Gain all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”
Of course, Wesley says to “give all you can.” What preacher wouldn’t? But “Gain all you can”? Is this an appropriate Christian maxim? Bill told me last week of the story of a preacher who announced from the pulpit, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is we have enough money to retire the mortgage on the church.”

A sigh of relief went through the congregation.

The preacher continued, “The bad news is the money is still in your pockets.”

Wesley immediately points out that though the scripture says, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” it is not money itself that is the problem. “The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it.” Rather, says Wesley, money “is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked…. It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent.”
This past weekend I attended the fall meeting of the Board of Congregational Development, a time when we consider the funding proposals for new and revitalizing churches in the Southern California and Hawaii area. The basic concept is this: when there is a need for a new ministry, a plan is developed, refined reviewed by various committees and then makes it way to the Board. Only the most viable, sustainable projects are forwarded for our work, plans that do not include certain information, fail to provide a step by step plan, developed with a expert, or does not seem wise right now, does not have the right leadership, are all returned to the group who submitted the plan. Even then, the proposals far outnumber the amount the Board has to grant. This means, when we finish our work, we both celebrate for the projects that are able to use talents and gifts, money to make new disciples for Jesus Christ, and we mourn the projects that we were not able to fund, due to a lack of funds, or proposals that do not seem quite ready. A portion of your offering is forwarded to the Board every year, so we can start new ministries in places like, Fontana, a new development in San Diego County, Guam, Fullerton, La Puente. What you do with your money influences what we can do to grow new congregations, new disciples for Jesus Christ.
So Wesley encourages us to “Gain all you can, but …” Ah, now Mr. Wesley starts meddling. He has the audacity to suggest that the means by which we make money matters. He goes so far as to say that some professions are not appropriate for Christian people. “Gain all you can, But … we ought not to gain money at the expense of life, nor at the expense of our health…. We are to gain all we can without hurting our neighbor.”
John Wesley follows his instruction to gain all you can with a long list of don’ts. Do not work at a job that is destructive to your health, mental or physical. Do not put yourself in an environment where the air you breathe is unhealthy, or where proper time is not allowed to eat and to rest. Do not work at a job that expects you to cheat or lie. “If we are already engaged in such an employ, we should exchange it as soon as possible for some which, if it lessen our gain, will, however not lessen our health” or risk the loss of our souls.
Is it any wonder that Methodists have historically been at the forefront of advocating for worker’s rights? The first official Methodist Social Creed in 1908 called for an end to child labor, a 40-hour workweek, a living wage and the rights of workers to organize.This monument in Moscow city depicts the children (standing in the middle) surrounded by filthy grown ups - each grown up has its own flaw or sin, one of the most common sins of the modern society, together they like stand around the innocent children that have nowhere to go - going to either side would lead to some kind of attachment.
“Gain all you can,” says Wesley, without hurting your neighbor. Here Wesley, goes into such detail and calls into question common business practices. Do not devour your neighbors’ lands and houses by saddling them with debt and charging excessive interest. Do not sell your goods below the market rate in order to ruin your neighbor’s trade. Do not entice away your competitor’s employees.
In addition, do not make stuff that is bad for people! Wesley put it a little more properly: “Neither may we gain by hurting our neighbor in his body. Therefore we may not sell anything which tends to impair health.” Gain all you can, Wesley urges us, but if you are maximizing your profits by selling tobacco to anybody and alcohol to alcoholics, and if you are Las Vegas, enticing people to check their ethical behavior at the boarder, then stop it and find another way to make a living!
Gain all you can, says Wesley. So how are we supposed to gain all we can? Through honest effort and disciplined living: “These cautions and restrictions being observed, it is the bounden duty of all who are engaged in worldly business to observe that first and great rule of Christian wisdom with respect to money, ‘Gain all you can.’ Gain all you can by honest industry. Use all possible diligence in your calling. Lose no time. … Never leave anything until tomorrow, which you can do today. Moreover, do it as well as possible. Do not sleep or yawn over it: Put your whole strength to the work. Spare no pains. Let nothing be done by halves, or in a slight and careless manner. Let nothing in your business be left undone if it can be done by labour or patience.”
“Gain all you can, by common sense, by using in your business all the understanding which God has given you. … You should be continually learning, from the experience of others, or from your own experience, reading, and reflection, to do everything you have to do better today than you did yesterday. And see that you practice whatever you learn, that you may make the best of all that is in your hands.”
Then, “Having gained all you can, by honest wisdom and unwearied diligence, the second rule of Christian prudence is, ‘Save all you can.’
“But let not anyone imagine that he has done anything, barely by going thus far, by ‘gaining and saving all he can,’ if he were to stop here. All this is nothing. … Having, First, gained all you can, and, secondly saved all you can, then ‘give all you can.’”
However, I am getting ahead of myself. We will consider “save all you can” and “give all you can” over the next two weeks.
Wesleyan economics is Biblical economics is kingdom of God economics, which, I dare say, is not Wall Street economics. According to Sondra Wheeler, a Wesleyan scholar and professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C., “… to take Wesley’s sermon ‘The Use of Money’ seriously would require a whole new way of thinking about how we earn and use money in a world in which others are in want.”
We all have some thinking to do … and not just about our individual choices or how much to put in the offering. We also have some thinking to do about how we order this local and global economy, so that we all might have healthy, life-affirming choices available to us to make a living, providing for our families, and ourselves and sharing generously where there is need.
One day a certain old, rich man of a miserable disposition visited a rabbi, who took the rich man by the hand and led him to a window. “Look out there,” he said. The rich man looked into the street. “What do you see?” asked the rabbi.

“I see men, women and children,” answered the rich man.

Again, the rabbi took him by the hand and this time led him to a mirror. “Now what do you see?”

“Now I see myself,” the rich man replied.

Then the rabbi said, “Behold, in the window there is glass, and in the mirror there is glass. But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little silver. No sooner is the silver added than you cease to see others but see only yourself.”
O Lord, help us to give selflessly, with gratitude for the God who has given us everything. Amen.

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