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2018-2019

 

J Nichols Adams et al

February 17, 2019, 6th Sunday of Epiphany, 6th Sunday of Ord Time

 

 

LectionAid 1st Quarter 2018-2019

February 17, 2019, 6th Sunday of Epiphany, 6th Sunday of Ord Time

Jesus’ Sudden Flashes

Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17:5-10,1 Cor 15:12-20, Luke 6:17-26

Theme: Turning our Thinking Upside Down

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

Jesus came preaching the empire of God, during the empire of Caesar. He taught that God was bringing about a great reversal of fortunes, through him and his followers. They would forge a new community through the power of the Spirit.
The preacher will want to point out the situation in which these people lived. Ruled by an occupying Roman force, whose plan was power, domination, enlightenment, order, and the ascendancy of Caesar, the wealthy and cooperative were rewarded, and grumblers were punished and marginalized. The Romans were tolerant if people cooperated and gave their allegiance to Caesar. The elevation of power and elite culture left numbers of people marginalized and powerless. Additionally, the Jewish power structure liked the benefits of Roman rule: wealth, power, order, security, culture, and entertainment. Loyalty to Caesar seemed a small price to pay for these benefits. The Judaism practiced by many was exclusivist, teaching that God rewards the righteous and punishes sinners, so that the diseased, the poor, the marginalized were where they were because God was punishing them, and they were to be ostracized and avoided. The disciples of Jesus shared this view and were surprised when Jesus announced that tax collectors and sinners would enter the empire of God before the acknowledged righteous.
Other forces in Jewish society were resentful that Caesar was supplanting God. The Pharisees, Zealots and Essenes each had different answers to this problem. Resistance, rebellion or escapes were strategies advocated by these groups to deal with the Roman presence, which they saw as ungodly oppression. Into this milieu came Jesus, with his notion of a "kingdom" or empire of God, a new community brought into being by God's Spirit. This empire of God would be brought about not through resistance, or open rebellion, or by fleeing to the desert, but by forging a new community within the existing one.
In like manner, those who are rich, full, laughing in derision, popular, lording it over others, will get their comeuppance. As Jesus often said, they have already received all the reward they are going to get. Because the empire of God is based on compassion, generosity, cooperation, blessing, abundance for all, and not on the fearful pettiness, miserliness, jealousy, competition, and scarcity that seems to power the economy of the world. The power of evil is met with love. Jesus compares the persecution of the lowly with the treatment of the prophets of old, and says that only false prophets, who tickled the people's ears with what they wanted to hear, were popular, spoken well of, wined and dined and fawned over.
All this sounds like a great invitation for the preacher to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, but it must be kept in mind that into every life some rain must fall. Every person in any typical congregation will be able to identify in some aspect of their existence with some of the needy who are praised and blessed in this teaching. It is unwise for the preacher to be too smugly condescending toward the rich, the powerful, the influential. And when we preach, we condemn ourselves along with all the other targets. We are never as good as our preaching, as one of my homiletics professors used to remind us.
This is all about turning our thinking upside down. Or if you will turning our thinking right side up. It is a choice we need to make. Jesus was telling us how the world should be. Yet again we meet evil with love.

Exegetical Comments

This body of teaching in Luke is traditionally termed the "Sermon on the Plain." Jesus is teaching at least three groups: the inner circle of apostles, a larger circle of disciples, and a group needing healing who had come to touch him, in hope of being healed. The people had come a long way from a large geographic area: all Judea, the city of Jerusalem, and the coast as far away as the cities of Tyra and Sidon.
This plan of a great reversal explains the apparent irony of Jesus' masterful teaching in verses 20 through 26, the list of blessings and woes. This is timeless teaching about the human condition, relevant today as it was when it was first delivered, for the human condition has not changed. The same deeply human needs, longings, disappointments, power struggles, and oppression exists today, and so the daily newspapers, and your own experience, are full of illustrations of these issues. The counter-cultural import of Jesus' words takes on significance when we understand his plan to inaugurate the empire of God, wherein all the world's values are stood on their heads. The tables are turned in God's perception, where the poor inherit the empire, the hungry are filled, the mourning laugh, and the hated and excluded take center stage. The world turned upside down.
Luke could be reworking the account that occurs in Matthew for thematic reasons, highlighting the aspects of the sermon most applicable to his audience, and framing Jesus’ words based on how they were applied to a broader audience. However, it remains possible that Luke is describing a different sermon than Matthew; given the itinerant nature of Jesus’ ministry, He could have delivered the same teachings, with just slight changes, on different occasions. (Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible Bellingham, WA)
Both Matthew and Luke start with a series of beatitudes. There are differences between the versions of Matthew and Luke, but this one thing is clear—they are a series of bombshells. It may well be that we have read them so often that we have forgotten how revolutionary they are. They are quite unlike the laws which a philosopher or a typical wise man might lay down. Each one is a challenge.
As the scholar Adolf Deissmann said, ‘They are spoken in an electric atmosphere. They are not quiet stars, but flashes of lightning followed by a thunder of surprise and amazement.’ They take the accepted standards and turn them upside down. The people whom Jesus called happy the world would call wretched; and the people Jesus called wretched the world would call happy. Just imagine anyone saying, ‘Happy are the poor, and, Woe to the rich!’ To talk like that is to put an end to the world’s values altogether. (Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Luke (p. 91). Louisville, KY)
Jesus had no doubt which way in the end brought happiness. It has been said that Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble. G. K. Chesterton, whose principles constantly got him into trouble, once said, ‘I like getting into hot water. It keeps you clean!’ It is Jesus’ teaching that the joy of heaven will amply compensate for the trouble of earth. As Paul said, ‘This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure’ (2 Corinthians 4:17). The challenge of the beatitudes is, ‘Will you be happy in the world’s way, or in Christ’s way?’ (Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Luke (p. 92). Louisville, KY)
And a radical version it is. It’s an upside-down code, or perhaps (Jesus might have said) a right-way-up code instead of the upside-down one’s people had been following. God is doing something quite new: as Jesus had emphasized in the synagogue at Nazareth, in chapter 4, he is fulfilling his promises at last, and this will mean good news for all the people who haven’t had any for a long time. The poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are hated: blessings on them! Not that there’s anything virtuous about being poor or hungry in itself. But when injustice is reigning, the world will have to be turned once more the right way up for God’s justice and kingdom to come to birth. And that will provoke opposition from people who like things the way they are. Jesus’ message of promise and warning, of blessing and curse, rang with echoes of the Hebrew prophets of old, and he knew that the reaction would be the same. (Wright, T. (2004). Luke for Everyone (p. 71). London)

Preaching Possibilities

The Big Reversal could be the title of this sermon. You could even call it Jesus Throwing Bombshells. However, it would be much wiser to take the gentler approach of Jesus calling on us to change our thinking. When we start to apply this thinking to modern society, we need care. It is too easy to call the rich evil and the poor good. It is too easy to say make the government do it all. Instead call on all followers of Christ to change their thinking in every part of their lives from politics to everyday living. It calls for compassion and ways of helping.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Jesus thus joins respect for the poor with respect for God. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus also states “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” which is often interpreted as requiring Christians to pay taxes.
Throughout Christian history, taxation has been considered an essential government responsibility.
The Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin drew upon Psalm 72 to argue that a “righteous” government helps the poor. In 16th-century England, “poor laws” were passed to aid “the deserving poor and unemployed.” The “deserving poor” were children, the old and the sick. By contrast, the “undeserving poor” were beggars and criminals and they were usually put in prison. These laws also shaped early American approaches to social welfare.
Over the last two centuries, new economic realities have raised new challenges in applying biblical principles to economic life. Approaches not foreseen in biblical times emerged to respond to new situations.
In the 19th century, organizations like the Salvation Army believed that Christians should go out of the churches and into the streets to care for the destitute. During this period, the United States also saw the rise of the social gospel movement that emphasized biblical ideals of justice and equality. Poverty was considered a social problem that required a comprehensive social – and governmental – response.
While human fulfillment is not just about material comfort, the Church has always maintained that citizens should have access to food, housing and health care. And when it comes to taxes, no one should pay more or less than they are able. As Pope John XXIII wrote in 1961, taxation must “be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.” In other words, believing that helping the poor is simply an individual or private responsibility ignores the scope and complexity of the world we live in.
Human life has become more interconnected. In today’s globalized economy, decisions made in the heartland of China impact the American Midwest. But even with this deepening interdependence, by some measures, inequality has risen worldwide. In the United States alone, the top 1 percent possess an increasingly larger share of national income.
When it comes to helping the poor in these current times, some argue that cutting taxes on individuals and corporations will stimulate economic growth and create jobs – called the “trickle-down effect,” in which money flows from those at the top of the social pyramid down to lower levels. Pope Francis, however, argues that “trickle-down” economics places a “crude and naive trust in those wielding economic power.” In the pope’s view, an ethics of mercy, not the market, should shape society.
But given the Jewish and Christian commitment to the poor, the question is perhaps a factual one: What social policy does the most good? In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus taught: “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full.”
At the very least, this means that people should never be afraid to offer up what they have in order to help those in need. (http://theconversation.com/taxing-the-rich-to-help-the-poor-heres-what-the-bible-says-88627)

A new poll by Politico and Morning Consult, involving 1,993 people from Feb. 1-2, found that 76% of registered voters surveyed think wealthy Americans should pay more taxes. This comes after a recent Fox News survey of 1,008 registered voters found that 70% of Americans — including 54% of Republicans — are in support of raising taxes on those who earn more than $10 million.
"There is a deep wellspring in terms of perception of unfairness in the economy that’s been tapped into here that either didn’t exist five years ago or existed and had not had a chance to be expressed," Michael Cembalest, chairman of market and investment strategy at JPMorgan Asset Management, told Politico. "This is quite a moment in American economic history where all of a sudden in a matter of months this thing has kind of exploded like this."
Liberal Democrats and presidential hopefuls recently proposed major tax overhauls that involve high taxes on the wealthy.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) proposed a 70% tax on those who earn more than $10 million. The idea received support from 59% of respondents in a Hill/HarrisX survey (in addition to the Fox News poll). In the new Politico survey, 45% of respondents favored the plan while 32% were against it.
Yahoo Finance’s Rick Newman recently argued why it is unlikely that there will be a 70% tax rate in the near future for two reasons — trust in the government has plunged and the government is bigger than it used to be.
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) has proposed a 2% wealth tax on individuals with a net worth over $50 million and 3% tax on those over $1 billion. In the Politico poll, 61% of respondents supported it while 20% opposed.
Newman noted the obstacles that Warren will face if she tries to pass her tax proposal include the 16th Amendment, which exempts income taxes from the apportion requirement but makes no mention of a wealth tax.
Warren told Politico that she was not surprised that there was large support for tax plans like hers, adding that "Washington has been working so long for the billionaire class that people around here cannot imagine crossing them.” (https://finance.yahoo.com/news/tax-the-rich-american-voters-212150733.html)

There have been a variety of Christian views on poverty and wealth. At one end of the spectrum is a view which casts wealth and materialism as an evil to be avoided and even combatted. At the other end is a view which casts prosperity and well-being as a blessing from God.
Many taking the former position address the topic in relation to the modern neoliberal capitalism that shapes the Western world. American theologian John B. Cobb has argued that the "economics that rules the West and through it much of the East" is directly opposed to traditional Christian doctrine. Cobb invokes the teaching of Jesus that "man cannot serve both God and Mammon (wealth)". He asserts that it is obvious that "Western society is organized in the service of wealth" and thus wealth has triumphed over God in the West. Scottish theologian Jack Mahoney has characterized the saying of Jesus in Mark 10:23–27 as having "imprinted themselves so deeply on the Christian community through the centuries that those who are well off, or even comfortably off, often feel uneasy and troubled in conscience."
Some Christians argue that a proper understanding of Christian teachings on wealth and poverty needs to take a larger view where the accumulation of wealth is not the central focus of one's life but rather a resource to foster the "good life". Professor David W. Miller has constructed a three-part rubric which presents three prevalent attitudes among Protestants towards wealth. According to this rubric, Protestants have variously viewed wealth as: (1) an offense to the Christian faith (2) an obstacle to faith and (3) the outcome of faith.

The gap between rich and poor continues to widen, both within the U.S. and worldwide. This should be a warning to us, to heed what Jesus says about being captive to wealth, a condition some call "affluenza." Wealth is neutral, neither good nor evil. It is what we do with our wealth that matters. If we handle the blessings God has given us as a stewardship, putting it to work to better our neighbors as well as ourselves; if we see wealth as a tool, a resource, and not an end in itself, we can manage wisely and generously. If our wealth rules us, it has supplanted God in our affections, and the woes pronounced by Jesus will fall on us.

In ministering to a bereaved family recently, I was struck again at how Jesus' blessing of the poor, whether in things or in spirit, is real. Having lost a child, perhaps the hardest of all griefs, they were thrown against God's mercy and consoling presence. More than 500 attended the service, and the parents were overwhelmed with the outpouring of compassion for their loss. They experienced that strange comfort, even joy that the realization of so great and brief a gift can bring. The blessing of God's presence was truly profound.

The annual CROP Hunger Walks, sponsored by Church World Service, engage hundreds of thousands of walkers in raising millions of dollars to provide aid for the hungry around the world. Not only do the funds provide direct assistance in food aid, but also tools and education and development assistance. As the old saying goes, "Give me a fish, and I'll eat for a day. Teach me to fish, and I'll eat for a lifetime." The Hunger Walks were the first fund raisers of their kind, beginning in the early 1970's. Now numerous other organizations sponsor walks and runs for all kinds of causes. But the Hunger Walks, begun by the Church, were first, and they have a powerful symbolic significance: "we walk, because they have to walk," to water, food, or medical care.

The largest organ in the human body is the skin. Billions of nerve receptors in the skin inform by touch, warn and protect through pain, receive nutrients and emollients, and exude waste products. Through touch we experience comfort, pleasure, and pain, receive information, which is processed by our brains and evaluated, and sense pressure, grip, moisture, heat, and cold. It is not surprising that people wanted to touch Jesus, for touch is one of the most vivid relational senses. Through touch we receive affirmation or rejection, connection or disaffection. Power went out from Jesus as he touched others. Power of relationship goes out from us, and is received by us. Pay close attention to the signals you send and receive through touch.

Similarly, on a recent visit to Mt. Etna in Sicily, we noticed the amazing amount of human population and farming going on around the volcano. The cities of Catania, Giardini-Naxos, and numerous small towns like Linguaglossa, Gaggi, and Fiumefreddo are directly threatened should there be a large eruption. This is true of Vesuvius, on the mainland of Italy, as well. It seems volcanic ash and lava makes the soil very fertile. People always marvel that populations continue to settle around these active volcanoes, but there are certain benefits conferred by the eruptions, as well as dangers.

Certain species of pines do not drop their cones or reproduce except in the presence of high heat. Natural fires, such as those resulting from lightning strikes, while seeming to be very destructive, are part of the natural life cycle of forests, and are quite beneficial in the long run.

An old Jewish legend tells of a rabbi who encountered the prophet Elijah going to and fro in the earth. "May I accompany you on your journeys?" the Rabbi asked. "Only if you ask no questions; the moment you ask a question, you will have to depart from me," the prophet replied. There then followed the most bewildering array of seeming injustices at the hand of the prophet: a poor man's only cow died, a rich man's ruined wall was miraculously rebuilt, and a town filled with inhospitable people was suddenly blessed beyond measure, the prophet declaring "May you all be rulers and select men!" After the third injustice, the rabbi could control himself no longer, and blurted, "Why have you done these things?" "If I tell you, you must leave me at once," replied the prophet. "I knew that that night, it was appointed that the poor man's wife was to die, so I asked God to take the cow instead. Below where the rich man was to dig the foundation for his wall is a treasure buried; by building the wall for him, he will not be puffed up with further wealth. As for the miserly and inhospitable people, if they all become rulers, much quarreling will result, their counsels will come to naught, and their place will be undone, for where there is more than one ruler, confusion reigns! Ask not, foolish mortal, to understand the ways of God. Let it be your task to obey with thanksgiving." And with that, the prophet vanished from his sight. (Adapted from H.M. Nahmad, A Portion In Paradise and Other Jewish Folktales [New York: the Viking Press, 1970, pp. 35-38])

In an Italian family we know well, there is a wonderful aunt. She has never traveled far from her little village, has a simple education, has never married, and has little money. Each day she visits the homes of her relatives, looking for little chores: washing dishes, washing or ironing or hanging out clothes to dry. She does these things with a beautiful smile, and a contagiously loving spirit. She is terrific at these mundane, every day tasks, and the fruit of her labors: clean dishes, bright, sparkling, pressed and folded clothing, in addition to the work spared others, make her feel so good. In the eyes of the world she is poor- but in God's eyes she is rich indeed, since she has learned the power of servanthood.

Virtue is in the eye of the beholder, and is often paradoxical. Poet Robert Lowell was sentenced to five months in prison for refusing to serve in the Army. While waiting to be transferred to a Federal Prison in Connecticut, Lowell was held in the West Street Jail in New York City, in a cell next to Louie Lepke, a convicted hit man for Murder Incorporated. "I'm in for killing," said Lepke, "What are you in for?" Lowell replied, "Oh, I'm in for refusing to kill." (Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes, [Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 2000, p. 357])

Luke's form of the Beatitudes could well apply to Harry Potter in the fifth novel of the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In this book Harry is pilloried in the press for sticking to his story that he did see and fight against a returned Lord Voldemort. The Ministry of Magic has disavowed this, even though the head of Hogwarts, Prof. Dumbledore, backs up his student. The Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge, aided by the evil Lucius Malfoy, mounts a vicious campaign to discredit them both, which makes Harry's life among his classmates at Hogwarts miserable, in that most believe the pernicious stories printed about Harry. Supported by his loyal friends and the Headmaster, Harry perseveres to the end. Two of Jesus' Beatitudes and woes especially describe the situation of Harry and his arch enemy, fellow student Draco Malfoy, the first applying to Harry, and the woes to Malfoy: "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you…. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."

"(The poor) have to labor in the face of the majes-tic equality of the law, which forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, to steal bread." (Anatole France, LeLys Rouge, 1894)

"When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work, ask him, 'Whose?'" (Don Marquis, quoted in The Sun, Jan. 2003)

"When Europe's ruined after the war and the kids are starving and the old people dropping dead like flies, everybody sick, and without any hats or shoes, you'll see, we'll make a fortune." (Christina Stead, A Little Tea, A Little Chat, 1948)

Although Jesus showed great concern for those who were least in his society, we tend to limit the care and protection we extend to those who are at the bottom of our society. The Boston Globe (9/2/03) reported that some government officials are beginning to consider ways that poor people might be given more protection, especially homeless people. What prompted the new concern was videotape that police retrieved from a car full of teenagers in Chicago. The majority of the tape showed the youngsters driving around the city, smoking marijuana, honking at girls, and pretending to be rap stars. But the final minutes of the tape presented disturbing images of the youths pulling up beside a homeless man and asking him for a lighter. As he searched his pockets to find one, the teens jumped from their car and proceeded to beat the man mercilessly as one of the friends taped what they were doing. From there the teens continued. They stopped time and again and savagely attacked homeless people around the city, including one man who was lying asleep on a park bench. When the teens were arrested, they claimed that all of the homeless men had agreed to be beaten on tape as part of a documentary. The police subsequently tracked down three of the homeless people, who denied they were voluntarily assaulted. All of the teens were then charged with felonies. Those attacks in Chicago occurred five days after four teenage boys used a stun gun on six homeless men in Cleveland. The Cleveland youths also videotaped their deeds. Back in July a homeless man in New Jersey lost his left eye when he was shot 20 times with paint balls by a group of teenage boys. The National Coalition of the Homeless has been lobbying Congress to strengthen hate crime legislation to cover such incidents, but so far with no success. There are no official statistics as to how many homeless people are assaulted each year. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics have never done such a study.

A September 2003 stewardship newsletter from the Willow Creek Association observed that while a search on Amazon.com brought up over 4,400 listings under "rich" and nearly 2,300 hits under "wealth," the word "contentment" only resulted in 131 selections.

According to a CBS Market Watch poll (7/25/03), home ownership was listed at the top of what Americans say it takes to live the good life. Of those surveyed, 89% said that was an essential ingredient for real happiness. That response was followed by good health
and a happy marriage
. Further down the list, 64% of those questioned indicated that spiritual enrichment was crucial. Although it was rather far from the top of the list, at least spirituality beat out having a home entertainment center, which 39% claimed was vital for having a good life.

In Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Ron Sider observes that while many Christians quite readily acknowledge that sexual sins should be a matter of deep concern to the church, they don't as quickly recognize the harmfulness of greed. But Sider calls our attention to the fact that while Paul urges the Corinthians to excommunicate a church member who is engaged in sexual sin by living with his father's wife (1 Cor 5:1-5), in that same paragraph Paul urges the church to not even associate with Christians who are guilty of greed.

Does wealth bring lasting happiness? According to economist Richard Easterlin of the University of Southern California the answer is no. By examining the results of surveys of 1,500 people over a 28-year period he concluded that while healthy people are generally happier than unhealthy people and married people tend to be happier than unmarried folk, an increase in wealth or material possessions does not yield a lasting improvement in overall happiness. This past August Easterlin issued that opinion and explained the phenomenon as being an example of hedonic adaptation and social comparison. Put simply, if you get something new, the thrill quickly wears off. Moreover, even if you get something newer or better than what you had before, there are still other people who have even newer and better things than you have, and that tends to diminish the joy we experience. Based on his study, the professor suggests that people would be well advised to stop their pursuit of wealth, focusing instead on spending more time with family and friends, activities that yield a lasting happiness benefit.

Vast amounts of wealth can quickly disappear, causing a significant reversal in people's lives. For instance, boxer Mike Tyson once had riches totaling more than $300 million. But now that money is all gone, and last year he had to file for bankruptcy. Likewise, rap singer M. C. Hammer spent his way through all his money, blowing $30 million on a lavish house and paying a 40-member staff $500,000 a month until his bank account was empty. He also had to file for bankruptcy in 2003.

Maybe the best way to take people's attention away from money is to make it less attractive. According to a Reuters report this past August, the currency that circulates in Bangladesh has become so smelly that many people don't want to get anywhere near it. Many merchants are finding that their customers are refusing to accept paper currency as change, insisting instead on being paid in coins. Government officials are planning to deal with the stinky money problem by issuing new paper currency in the near future.

Should wealth be obtained any way possible? One mutual fund sought to earn income for its investors by putting money solely into "sin" stocks. The MorganFunShares, a closed-end mutual fund, mainly consisted of a portfolio of drinking, smoking, and gambling stocks. Their philosophy was that no matter what shape the economy is in, people are going to indulge in those activities. The fund began in 1994, but it was disbanded this past year when its total assets declined to about $8 million. The relatively small capitalization made it no longer feasible for the fund to continue. Mutual funds generally require about $50 million in investments to make them profitable.

Sometimes people experience rapid reversals in their financial situations. USA Today (3/8/03) reported that a modest soybean farmer in Fairfax, Missouri, found a strange-looking rock in his field when he was walking the ground in preparation for his harvest. The rock turned out to be a rare meteorite that some experts say could be worth as much as $1 million. That unexpected discovery could significantly change that farmer's life.

Some churches in England are going through significant reversals in their status. One such church is St. Paul's in the city of Bristol. After sitting empty for 15 years, during which time the building was the target of vandals, thieves, and arsonists, the church is going to reopen as a school for acrobats and tightrope walkers. According to The Christian Science Monitor (5/1/03), the Church of England is actively searching for ways to convert unoccupied church buildings to new uses. Some such churches throughout Britain are now being used as schools for circus training and for bagpipe playing. The transformation, though, does come at a cost. The church in Bristol required more than $3 million in renovation work to make it usable for its new purposes. Despite the new tenants, however, the church is going to remain consecrated, and occasional worship services will continue to take place there. Currently there are more than 300 vacant Anglican church buildings that are being cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. The empty churches are primarily due to changes in local populations and a shortage of clergy to serve the parishes. Of the 15,000 or so Anglican churches in Britain, approximately 40 churches are shut down each year. The Churches Conservation Trust hopes to find new purposes for many of those buildings.

There are occasions when great blessings come from unexpected sources. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reported this past September about a man who made a surprising donation to his church. Melvin Doyle informed the priest at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in New Hope/Plymouth, Minnesota, that he wanted to contribute his coin collection to the church. At first the priest imagined that the congregation would be receiving a few glass jars full of pennies. But when Doyle gathered his coins together to take to the bank to deposit, it took three pickup trucks and 12 men to do it. Doyle told reporters that he never thought of himself as a coin collector. Rather he viewed himself as a coin hoarder. As a result, his home ended up overflowing with buckets, jars, bags, and jugs of coins. Young people from his church volunteered to count and roll the coins that didn't have any particular collector's value. There were 1,340 pounds of pennies, worth about $2,000. In all, the coins they rolled totaled around $41,000. Hundreds of the coins, however, were considered to have value among numismatists. An auction was expected to bring in more than $75,000 for those coins. The donation has been earmarked to support the church's effort to expand and remodel its worship area. Doyle, who is 90, said he started hoarding coins when he was around 5 years old.

Sometimes true wealth comes to those people who seem to be least likely to obtain it. Reuters (3/14/02) reported that a five-year-old British girl had more successful stock selections than a financial analyst and an astrologer. Not only did Tia Lavern Roberts outperform her competitors, but while the London stock index (the FTSE 100) dropped by 16% during the contest period, her picks increased in value by nearly 6%. The stockbroker's recommended buys lost 46% in value over the course of the year, and the astrologer suffered a 6% decline during the same period.

Many churches are pursuing rather unorthodox ways of obtaining the wealth they need to operate. USA Today (7/26/03) noted that a Benedictine order wanted to build a $2.5 million headquarters and monastery in the Poconos. Since they were having difficulty reaching that goal, they decided to auction off the naming rights to the facility, much in the same way that many sports stadiums have sold their naming rights to various corporate sponsors. In particular, they were offering businesses or individuals to have their names associated with the church building and grounds, the monastery, the retreat center, and the bell tower. The local archbishop commented that for "people who have money who want to do good and also have a way to memorialize their family or loved one, this is a perfect opportunity for them." That Benedictine order follows the teachings of the Old Catholic Church, which separated from the Roman Catholic Church more than a century ago over a dispute about papal infallibility.

"That happiness is to be attained through limitless material acquisition is denied by every religion and philosophy known to man but is preached incessantly by every American television set." (Ronald J. Sider)

"Tell me what you think about money, and I can tell you what you think about God." (Billy Graham)

"In this world it is not what we take up, but what we give up that makes us rich." (Henry Ward Beecher)

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship

Leader: Happy are those who do not take the advice of the wicked,
People: Or follow sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers.
Leader: But their delight is in the law of the Lord,
People: And on God's law they meditate day and night.
Leader: They are like trees planted by streams of water,
People: Which yield their fruit in its season; in all they do, they prosper.

Prayer of Confession

O God, who knows our true intentions and understands our motives, forgive us when wealth and security take Your place in our hearts. Have mercy on us when we forget the poor and needy and ignore our neighbors in their plight. Bring to our remembrance Your admonition to be wary when all speak well of us, for that is how they treated the false prophets of old. Make our hearts true and focused, that we may glorify You in our thoughts, words and deeds.

Prayer of Dedication

O Risen Lord, take these offerings which we return to Your service. May wealth never enthrall us. May blessings abound through us. May those who suffer woe be comforted by Your Word and work and may the mission and ministry of Your Church be strengthened as we glorify You, grateful for all You have provided to us, to be used in Your service, through Christ. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Healing and reconciling God open our eyes to see Your blessings all around and within us. Give us awareness of the needs of neighbors, and in our competitive and high-pressure world, remind us of Your point of view. Help us to see the world through Your eyes, rather than the glitzy distraction of high-pressure advertising, idolatrous icons of popular culture and fashion. Show us who would be on the cover if You edited the magazine.
Grant that we may know the blessedness of walking in Your light. When we are troubled, let us look for signs of Your comfort, intimations of Your presence, touchstones of Your consolation. When we are poor, remind us of Your kingdom. When we are hungry, fill us with Your presence. When we weep, bring us to laughter at the foibles of the world that ignores Your existence and Your gifts. When we are excluded or reviled or defamed for standing up for Your glory, remind us that so they treated the faithful prophets of old. Yet, let us not grow arrogant or smug; instead, use us as instruments of Your peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.