Monday, August 31, 2020

Our Money Story: Release

This has been another rough week. Something, it seems, that is to be expected in this year of years, 2020. This week we are witnessing devastation in our world due to weather events, including hurricanes and typhoons, and extreme temperatures and wildfires, here and in other parts of the world. We’ve also been witness this week to the tragedy in Wisconsin. And to the continuing pandemic that has taken over 180,000 lives in our country alone. This has been another rough week. And in the midst of it, today, we are talking about release. About letting go.

We read from the gospel of Luke, the 11th chapter. 

Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.’” --Luke 11:2-4 (CEB)

The verse in Luke 11 that is central to our conversation this morning is verse 3. “Give us the bread we need for today.” So, how does this passage connect up with the idea of release?

The concept of release in scripture is closely connected to the Year of Jubilee, which is set forth for Israel as a command in the book of Deuteronomy.  Every seven years, all prisoners and slaves were to be released. All debts forgiven. All property returned to its original owners. Anyone bound by a labor contract was released from it. All labor was to cease for one year. So, during this Year of Jubilee, not only was the land able to rest and experience a Sabbath, but so, too, were the people. For an entire year.

Now, we might look at this and just shake our heads. How was this even possible? How could this even happen? And why was this even necessary? The idea is almost beyond our current cultural comprehension.

But, the idea of release is not all that we learn from Deuteronomy. In this fifth book of the Torah, sin is not connected with one’s own piety, about doing right and wrong. Instead, sin was an economic term. It was about how (or not) you cared for yourself and your neighbor. Because this is how you honored God. So, if you robbed someone of their wages, you sinned. If you failed to release someone from their debt, you sinned. If you made someone a slave, you sinned. If you had too much food and you didn’t give any to your hungry neighbor, you sinned. Sin was an economic term.

All of this was about leveling the playing field. Giving everyone the ability to take care of themselves and their families. And, also, ensuring that, if someone couldn’t, they would be cared for.

But, it was about something even more. It was about idolatry.

In Jesus’ day, much like our own, the underlying economic system encouraged faith and trust in the holding of possessions. Consider the man in Matthew 19. He comes to Jesus asks how he might gain eternal life. He has fulfilled all of the commandments, he tells Jesus. But, Jesus knows what is truly enslaving him. And so, Jesus tells him that, to gain eternal life, he must release all of his possessions and give them to the poor. He can’t. Because he has come to believe that it is his possessions that will save him.

Our every instinct as human beings is towards idolatry. To close in and protect ourselves and our possessions from others. I know this from my own money story.

I grew up on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. I never knew as a child that we were dirt poor. Because it always seemed as though there was enough. Enough food on our table. And enough clothing to wear. We had really no toys to speak of. Yet, there was always something for us to play with. Maybe it was an empty box that we could make a house out of. Maybe it was tall weeds that we could stomp down for a pretend village. Maybe it was simply the dirt in the grove of trees behind our house that my brother and I used to form and shape a little town for the few Matchbox cars we had. Whatever we had always seemed to be enough.

But, that changed as I became an adult and started to make money. It then became all about collecting stuff. Whatever it was. Clothing. Household stuff. Knick knacks. You name it, I probably had it. So much stuff. Stuff that I thought I needed. And along with the stuff came greed. Because I wasn’t buying stuff for anyone else. Only for myself. Until 2012 and my layoff. I learned pretty quickly how useless this stuff was. And how little I actually needed to live on. And what was really important. And what wasn’t.  

Yesterday, in our Saturday morning study, we were asked this question: What is essential in your life, and what is trivial? In other words, what can we release in our lives and what should we hold onto. I’m wondering whether this pandemic and the times in which we are living haven’t begun to reveal for us what is truly important. And what isn’t.  

Christianity has, honestly, become a twisted mess in our country. We have lost what is essential to our faith. That we simply be lovers of God and lovers of people. This is at the heart of who and what God calls us to. To release us from the things that keep us from God. To release us from the shame, the anxiety, the guilt, the greed, or anything else that keeps us from freedom and wholeness. To release us from the idea that our worth is tied to our productivity, or our activity or our business. To let go of these elements of our money story that prevent us from fully living in God’s abundance. And trusting God’s promise - that God will save us. That God will provide for our daily needs. All of this, so that we might then let go of our abundance in love, to serve our neighbor.   

It’s a stunning idea, isn’t it? A terrifying one, too! Yet maybe this is the invitation God is giving us. To simply let go and become part of the great festive banquet that God has prepared for all of God’s people. The banquet, the party, that is a sign that God is acting at last to rescue God’s people and wipe away all tears from all eyes. Or, as Tom Wright says, “Give us this day our daily bread” means simply, “Let the party continue.”

So, let go. Release yourself from whatever keeps you from trusting God's promise. Then, come! And join the party!  

Preached August 30, 2020, online at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Pentecost 13
Readings: Luke 11:2-4; Psalm 145:10-18

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