Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Our Money Story: Remember

This morning we begin the first of three weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer. We also begin four weeks thinking together about stewardship. Now, you may say that connecting these two things  makes no sense whatsoever. How in the world does money connect with prayer? 

Well, if you’re at all like me, this makes perfect sense. Because for many of us, I would imagine, at some time in our lives we have spoken a desperate prayer to God, asking for money. Maybe it was at the end of the month, when the money from our paycheck was no more. Wondering how we might make it to the end of the month. Put food on the table for our families. Pay our electricity bill to keep the lights on. I dare say that the connection of money and prayer makes perfect sense.

So, today, we read the Lord’s Prayer, not as we generally know it, from Matthew. But, from Luke. A shorter, more condensed prayer. To the point. Just like the direct conversation about money we will be having over these next weeks. 

For us to think and to speak directly of money is to automatically invite tension into this space. We quickly want to avoid the conversation. Yet, money and possessions are one of the most common topics in scripture. Jesus talked about money more than faith. Or prayer. So, our money story is a spiritual story. Over these next weeks, you will be invited to explore your money story. To compare it to God’s money story. And to consider making your own stewardship practices a fuller expression of God’s story. And of who you are. And what you believe. 

So, we begin today, reading three short verses that we will be using for each of these weeks. Today, I am reading from the Common English Bible translation. 

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)

We begin today by considering the first verse. “Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom.”

In our book club this month, we read a lovely book written for middle school children - One Crazy Summer, by Rita Garcia-Williams. It’s the story of 11-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters. And of their experience in the summer of 1968 traveling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with a mother they barely know. When they arrive in Oakland, they learn that their mother has taken on a new first name. They’ve only heard about her as Cecile. Yet, she has changed her first name to more fully reflect who she is. Nzila. A poet’s name, she says. “A poet who blows the dust off surfaces to make clear and true paths.”

This is not something appreciated by 11-year-old Delphine. Just a few pages later, Delphine notes that a “name is important. It isn’t something you drop in the litter basket or on the ground. Your name is how people know you. The very mention of your name makes a picture spring to mind, whether it’s a picture of clashing fists or a mighty mountain that can’t be knocked down. Your name is who you are and how you’re known even when you do something great or something dumb.”

Your name is who you are and how you’re known. Isn’t that why Jesus begins his prayer the way he does? With a name that tells us who he is and how he knows God? Father. Parent. In the Aramaic, Abba? This is how Jesus addresses God and how he invites his disciples to address God. Up to this point, it was unusual to name God in this way. The Hebrew scriptures sometimes compared God to a father, but it is rare that they referred to God as Father. Jesus uses this title to reshape the disciples’ thinking about who this God is. Shifting their understanding from the angry God that the Jewish people had come to know. And instead expanding their understanding and relationship with God as one of parent and child. Giving them permission to call God, Father. And to claim their protected position as God’s own children.

Now, for some of us, to call God, Father, can be difficult. Especially if we have not had good relationships with our fathers. Or have had negative experiences with patriarchy. Yet, it’s important for us to understand that as we are created in the image of God, so God is in the image of human beings, possessing both male and female attributes. Parental attributes. Loving, compassionate, nurturing. Yet firm, establishing necessary boundaries for their children and in their relationships with their children. To call God, Father, or Abba, is to simply view God as parent.

But, as young Delphine notes in the book we read, one’s name is not just who one is, but also how one is known. However we address God as parent, we are invited to regard God’s name as holy. As God is holy. The Hebrews believed that the name of God was so sacred, that they used the word Jehovah. A word that in Hebrew could be pronounced without any consonants. Like a breath moving through their lips. Yehovah. A name spoken with whispered awe. Awe appropriate for such a powerful and deeply loving heavenly Father. A Father whose reign is not just limited to the heavens. But, a powerful and loving Father who seeks to pour out God’s heavenly reign into this world. “Bring in your kingdom,” Jesus teaches the disciples to pray. Bring in your kingdom of peace and justice. Your kingdom of love. Bring it to this world, this earth, this planet, this ecology, to these animals, to these people, even to the industry of our world. So that you, Father, might be fully experienced here. Just as in heaven. This is the prayer Jesus teaches the disciples. And what Jesus was living out on earth, offering and living into an economy, as Walter Brueggemann writes, “that was sure to collide with established economic patterns and with those who presided over and benefited from these patterns.” Jesus’ term for this alternative economy was “kingdom of God.” A social practice. And a set of social relationships there were consistent with the God of the covenant. The God of Israel. To mention this “kingdom of God,” was to call on Jesus’ disciples to remember who this God - this Father - was. [1]

It’s the same God we remember every time we celebrate communion and hear the Great Thanksgiving - the words that precede our receiving the bread and wine, the body and blood. In this thanksgiving, we remember how God moved over the waters. How God led Israel with a pillar of fire from bondage to liberation. We remember that still, small voice and then the prophets, proclaiming a new way - a new Messiah. We remember Mary and Joseph and the angels. The blind man and the leper. And the crowds that Jesus healed. Him walking on water. The little children running to him. We remember the justice he preached. The hosannas and palm branches. The love that changed the world. We remember this each and every week so that we do not forget who this God is. And so that we remember who we are. And, what our money story is to be.

So much of our beliefs and our behaviors are rooted in stories. Narratives that are personal, familial, societal, cultural, and religious. We subconsciously absorb and construct many money stories. Perhaps our money stories are about scarcity. Coming from or living in stories of fear and shame. Of never having enough. Perhaps they are stories that the church is dying and no longer relevant. Or the stories that our actions in this world won’t have any impact. 

How might we begin to unpack and reconstruct these stories to make them a better reflection of who we know God to be? Who we remember God to be. The God of scripture. The God who meets Israel in the wilderness with manna. Who, even in the midst of desperate and fearful prayers, provides. Abundantly. An extravagantly loving God. Never content with just a heavenly kingdom. But who pours out that love into a Spirit-breathed creation. To bring life and freedom. This is the God we remember.

May we, over these weeks, begin to tease apart our own complicated money stories. To rewrite them if necessary. So that they more fully reflect what we believe. Who God is. And who we remember and know this God to be. Our Father, Lord of heaven and earth. Amen.

Preached August 23, 2020, online at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Luke 11:2-4; Psalm 103:1-5

[1] Brueggemann, Walter. Money and Possessions. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016). 23.

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