Job is a harsh, strange story.
It raises more questions than it answers.
But the part in today’s lesson is a simple answer
to a complicated question: how do relate to our stuff.
We devote our days and nights acquiring material possessions,
cash, those abstract numbers on accounts
that measure our wealth,
and our status in the socio-economic hierarchy.
Job had done well at all of that.
He had earned it. He had it.
Then through no fault of his own, he lost it.
Without his stuff, it was as if he no longer existed himself.
It had claimed his very identity.
So Job cried out to God for 37 long chapters of complaint.
After all that, at Chapter 38 verse 1, we read:
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.”
The answer comes in a series of rhetorical questions:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
. . . Who can tilt the wineskins of the heavens . . .?
Can you hunt the prey for the lion . . .?
Who provides for the raven its prey
when the young ones call to God?”
The point of the string of poetic questions is simple.
It all comes from God.
“All things come from thee O Lord.”
“For you are the source of light and life.”
A basic principle in philosophy of religion is contingency.
The very existence of everything depends on the existence
of something else reaching back in the great Chain of Being
until we get to the one Reality that depends on itself alone – God.
Job had made a mistake.
He thought he had what he had because he deserved it.
That isn’t how it works. It’s all a gift.
“But I’ve worked hard for what I’ve got,” we want to say.
Maybe so. But how did we get to be here in the first place?
Who gave us the hands, the minds, the strong backs
or whatever it is we have parlayed into acquiring stuff?
God. It all goes back to God.
In the 16th Century, St. Ignatius of Loyola
saw this basic point of all religion and prayed:
“Accept O God my memory, my will, my understanding,
All that I am and all that I have, you have given me.
I give it all back to be disposed of according to your good pleasure.
Grant me only the comfort of your presence and the joy of your love.
With these I shall be more than rich and shall ask for nothing more.”
In that moment, Ignatius was set free.
It was freedom because,
as long as we are struggling to establish our own worth
and acquire enough wealth to make ourselves ok,
we are in bondage to the system.
We can never be self-sufficient.
Self-sufficiency is the carrot in front of the horse’s snout.
The horse keeps straining toward the carrot it can never quite reach.
Some decades ago the world’s richest man was an oil tycoon,
named J. Paul Getty.
A young journalist once asked him,
“Mr. Getty, how much money will be enough?”
J. Paul Getty replied, “A little more. Always a little more.”
That was Mr. Getty’s dealing with our stuff .
There is another way – St. Ignatius’ way.
“All that I am and all that I have you have given me.
I give it all back.”
Ignatius’ way is an act of acknowledgement and trust
-- acknowledgment that all we have is just on loan from God;
and trust that when we empty ourselves,
God will fill us up again.
This, brothers and sisters, is the way of life.
Life breathes. We breathe in. We breathe out.
But when it comes to our wealth, fear kicks in.
We inhale and try to keep inhaling and inhaling,
without ever exhaling – it doesn’t work.
Compulsive acquisition and retention
is how we lose spiritual consciousness.
Every time we exhale it is an act of trust that the next breath will be there.
When we give to God, it is an act of trust that God will still be there
and that God will still be the giver of life
in whom, as Paul said, we live and move and have our being.
I am going to let you in on a spiritual secret.
The Church needs our money.
She can’t do God’s Mission without it.
The Church needs to receive our money
-- but not half as much as we need to give it.
We desperately need to exhale,
and make a party of giving.
We need a breath of freedom.
We need to give because our money has a tighter hold on us
than we do on it.
A gift is a way to claim freedom in faith.
Now if we really want to exhale,
if we really want to let go of the money
and get ourselves free,
we won’t fret overmuch
about whether the Church is spending “our” money
the way we want it spent.
That isn’t giving. It’s buying influence.
Our souls will be better off if we write the check and let it go.
But most of us aren’t there yet.
So let’s look at what the Church does.
The Church worships God
and worship takes bread, wine, oil, vestments,
altars, books, and a host of material things.
The Church isn’t an air plant.
It is rooted in material reality so it costs money.
You support a priest so she can be there for people
in times of joy and times of trouble.
She is here to baptize, marry, counsel, and bury.
When people pass through life’s trials,
they need God to be present not as an abstract idea
but mediated by a person of God
trained in pastoral arts and soaked in prayer.
The Church’s money goes to Episcopal Migration Ministries
making new homes for Syrian refugees.
It goes to Episcopal Relief and Development
combatting disease and starting economic programs
to lift people out of severe poverty
(defined as living on under $1 per day)
in Haiti, Kenya, and around the world.
The Church challenges the power brokers
to actually care for people.
For years, human trafficking legislation in Nevada could not even
get out of committee until we weighed in.
Then it passed unanimously.
We were the first to support adequate funding for public schools.
We delivered the votes for the Care Act so families know
how to meet the needs of patients when they come home.
We got Medicaid to increase funding for home health care
to keep people out nursing homes.
We build schools and safe houses in Kenya
to save girls from genital mutilation and forced marriage.
But most of all we proclaim a gospel of love
In a world where religion is too often a pretext for hate
We are the outward and visible sign of a God
who created and loves Black and White, rich and poor,
straight and gay, Jew and Muslim – all of us.
If you can’t make a gift to God without strings attached,
then feel free to look at what we do.
I have no problem with that, because what we do is the gospel,
and as Blessed Paul said,
“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,
for it is the power of God that brings salvation.”
Today we begin inviting your pledges.
We will cherish and celebrate them whether they are large or small.
In our church we teach proportional giving.
We give in proportion to two things.
First, we give in proportion to the wealth we have.
Second, we give in proportion to our faith.
Where each of us stands both economically and spiritually
determines what we can do.
I wish you all well economically but more importantly
I wish you well spiritually.
There is no pressure. No guilt. No blame.
We must each do what we can at this point on our journey.
The standard is there in 2nd Corinthians chapter 9:
“Each of you should give what you have decided
in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion,
for the Lord loves a cheerful giver.”