Well, I am sure that there are probably many Christian pastors around the country this morning who are going to be giving their annual stewardship talks or kicking off their church’s pledge drives today, because that Gospel reading from today's lectionary is just perfect for it. As we just heard, a poor widow puts everything she has into the collection, just a few pennies. And Jesus says that she gave more than anyone else there, because everyone else there gave up their surplus, what they had leftover, but she gave almost everything she had.
Now, I promise you that I am not going to be talking this morning about you giving more money to the church. I promise. In fact, in the seven and a half years that I've been your pastor, I have never once given a sermon on tithing, not one time. And the reason for that is, I don't really have to. This congregation is so incredibly generous, not just with giving to support our church, but to support our community as well, as we see with things like the Thanksgiving flour drive, and the Crop Hunger Walk, and the Holiday Giving Tree, just to name a few examples. It seems like every year we break a record, we give more to these drives from our church than the year prior. And for that we are so incredibly grateful.
Now when it comes to the Christian church and money, there tends to be two philosophies. And they're on two extremes. There are some Christian churches in America today who preach what's known as the “Prosperity Gospel,” that God wants you to be rich.
And certainly those pastors in their churches are really demonstrating that. The pastors live in mansions, and the churches have thousands of people and multimillion dollar facilities. Then there are other churches who teach the other extreme, that money is the root of all evil. And that being rich is a hindrance on the spiritual path. In fact, some of them believe that poverty is actually a very noble spiritual virtue. They point to Jesus, and Gandhi and Mother Teresa all being poor.
So, which is it? Does God want us to be rich? Or does God want us to be poor?
Well, you know, I want to say, first of all, that God does not want anyone to live in poverty. In fact, God is calling us to lift people from poverty. God is actually calling us to eradicate poverty from the planet. And we can do that.
Now, some of you know that there are religious men and women who throughout the centuries have taken a vow of poverty. Many of you know that I was a religious brother in the Catholic Church when I was a young man, and I took a vow of poverty. But during those years, I was not poor. In fact, I lived very well during those years. In the monastery, we had someone who cooked for us, so I ate very well. Also, during that time, I lived in a beautiful home. I wasn't homeless -- I lived in a grand, beautiful monastery. The religious vow of poverty doesn't mean that the religious person is homeless or hungry. What it means is that you own nothing, so that you can give everything.
So during the years that I took a vow of poverty, I didn't earn any money. I didn't have a salary, but I also didn't have any expenses. I didn't have a credit card or a bank accounts, I didn't own a car, I didn't have a mortgage, I didn't have any bills to pay. And I wore a monk's robe amongst other habits, so I didn't have to buy any clothes. And again, that's what the religious vow of poverty means. It means you're free from the burdens of money and possessions. You're free to give everything because you own nothing.
And that is really what today's Gospel reading is all about. It's really not about money. It's really about giving everything to God. And so that's my question for you this morning is are you giving everything to God? Are you giving God your all?
Now you may say, Pastor Sal, I don't have a vow of poverty. I have responsibilities. I have a family, I have a job, I have a mortgage. And I hear you. But the good news is this. You could still do all of those things, and you can still give everything to God.
So for example, you start your day, you're taking a shower, getting ready for work, you could be giving that time to God. “God, thank you so much for this body.” “God, thank you so much for my health.” You're sitting at your desk at work, even if you're paying bills. “God, thank you so much for this job. God, thank you so much for the money to pay these bills.” You're doing chores around the house, you're vacuuming or cooking. “God, thank you so much for this beautiful home. God, thank You for this delicious food.” In other words, you are not just giving God of your surplus time of what you have extra, like Jesus points out in the Gospel about all the other people. It's not just that you're giving God 10 minutes in the morning during meditation, or the prayer you say before you go to bed at night, or the one hour you come to church a week. That's your extra time. That's just surplus time.
Jesus is saying, this woman gave more than anyone because she's giving up her all -- all of her time. And something really extraordinary happens when you give God your all you receive, 100-fold. Just as Jesus said. Jesus knew this spiritual law of circulation or the spiritual law of giving and receiving. And it is very real. I've told you before spiritual laws are just as real as all the other laws that govern the workings of the universe. You don't question the law of gravity, do you? You just know that it works. Well, I know that this spiritual law of giving and receiving works, because I have seen it at work in my own life.
And this is how the law operates. We reap what we sow, just as the Bible says. So what I give out, I receive in abundance. So when I sow seeds of love, I receive even more love. When I give out Joy, I get even more joy. And when I express gratitude, I get even more things to be grateful for. That's how the law works.
The contemporary spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle says, “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance. Do you want to experience life to the full? Acknowledge God as the source of your supply, trust that all your needs are being met on time and in full and express gratitude.”
But you know, most people on the planet, unfortunately, are not living from that place. They're dwelling in another place I told you about this place before. And in light of Halloween last Sunday, I'll remind you again, they're living in a city called Scare, Scare City. Scarcity. They're living in a place of lack and limitation, and worry and fear. But you know, you don't have to dwell there. Jesus told us about another place. It's not a city. It's a state, the state of grace and gratitude. You get to choose where you want to make your dwelling place. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” You can dwell from that place. And gratitude is the key to the kingdom.
Here's why. When we express gratitude, we're fully rooted in the present moment. We're not worried or anxious about what's going to happen in the future. And we're not holding on to grudges that happened in the past. It is absolutely impossible for gratitude and fear to exist at the same time. They can't. So when you are expressing gratitude, you're fully rooted in the present, or as I say, in the Presence, capital P. You're putting yourself in the presence of the Presence in the presence of God. And when you dwell from that place you experience abundance.
Now the 13th century Christian mystic, whose name was Meister Eckhart, he said, “If the only prayer you ever said in your entire life was Thank you, that would be enough.” You know, Thank you is the best prayer ever. Like I said, It grounds you in the present moment, and it unlocks this law, this spiritual law. You know in the Bible Paul instructs us to pray without ceasing. And that always seems confusing for people. It's not saying that like you're supposed to be saying the Our Father 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That would be impossible. To pray without ceasing means those examples that I gave you earlier. Throughout your day, as you're showering, as you're vacuuming, as you're sitting at your desk, you are giving it all to God, you are giving your gratitude, you're being present. That's what it means to pray without ceasing. And what happens when we do that is we are putting ourselves in the flow.
Now the word affluent doesn't have anything to do with money. And sometimes we talk about an affluent community or someone's affluent, we think it means they're materially rich. But the word affluent means in the flow, you're putting yourself in the flow. That's why in our words of integration and guidance, this morning, we heard about storage units, because it's kind of like clutter. If you have so much stuff, you're kind of just saying to the universe, I already have too much stuff. So don't bring me anything else.
When we let go of worry, fear, anxiety, lack, limitation, we're uncluttering everything. So we're putting ourselves in the divine flow. And that is what the word prosperous is all about, as well. It doesn't have to do with money. I know a lot of people who have a lot of money in the bank, and they're living affluent, prosperous lives that have nothing to do with money.
Prosperity means to go forth with hope, to go forth with trust. That's what it means to live a prosperous life. I trust that the universe always has my back, that life is for me, never against me.
Believe that as Jesus said, “It is done to you, as you believe.” The thoughts you hold in your mind, produce after their kind. They multiply. So why would you be thinking thoughts of worry and fear and lack and limitation? They're going to multiply in your life! Why wouldn't you be thinking thoughts of gratitude and joy, peace and prosperity, because that's what will manifest. That's how the law works.
And so my friends, that's what I want to invite you to do. If you don't believe me, put it into practice. Try it out for yourselves this week. Do your best to focus on God throughout the day, to express your gratitude to God not just in the morning during your meditation time. But throughout the day, in everything that you're doing. And watch what unfolds. All of us can live the lives of fullness -- that rich, full, abundant life that Jesus promised. When we give everything to God, when we give God our all.
That is the good news of today's gospel message.
Reverend Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
by Rev. Nancy Piggott, UCC Minister
I confess to occasional thoughts as I notice self-storage units along roadsides. How does one keep so much stuff that there is not enough room in the house for all of it? Then I catch myself, because my hidden self-storage unit is the unfinished part of our basement. Every time I cart another box of “treasures” into our basement, I sheepishly remind myself, “Our kids are going to hate me.” The glare of my own hypocrisy sends me into a dark corner to pray a prayer of Henri Nouwen’s: Dear God, I am so afraid to open my clenched fists! Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to? Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands? Please help me to gradually open my hands to discover that I am not what I own, but that I am what you want to give me. Amen. Money is a topic most of us think should not be discussed in church, yet nearly two-thirds of Jesus’ parables pertain, in some way, to wealth or possessions. He was really concerned about the effect that has on our spiritual life. What Jesus is confronting is that our possessions are taking up so much space. What Jesus is asking each of us is, “What matters to you, finally?” The kind of materialism Jesus calls us to promises not a bigger collection of stuff, but a deeper engagement with people, particularly people in need. Being rich from Jesus’ perspective means emptying ourselves of surplus to create more justice and love. There are so many places where our energy, our ideas, our love could make all the difference. God is calling us to act, to use our energy, our resources, our time and talent to help others while at the same time enriching our relationship with God and humanity. We can become collaborators with God by using our surplus to create a world of liberty and justice for all.
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