October 20, 2019
Once upon a time I was part of a Holy Trinity cadre of stewardship leaders — James Hugh Magers, Robert H. Bonner and me. Bob was the head of the Episcopal Church Center, Office of Stewardship and Hugh was his right hand. My job was that of the left-handed scribe and curriculum designer for Bob’s vision, The Stewardship Star. The two guys were legendary, itinerants preaching the gospel of abundance and I was charged with taking their thoughts, stories, charts, plans and turning it into a stewardship training curriculum.
Here is the original notebook — Bob’s Bible. After observing the two on the road many times and seeing the notebook, I told Bob I needed to have this material. It was too precious to hand over but he did make a copy and then charged me with the task of creating something that would stay organic — keeping the spirit alive and creativity at the forefront. In a few years, it became the foundation of TENS, The Episcopal Stewardship Network.
It was important work and holding it lightly is what I have done for more than thirty years. The work was centered in the gospel and the challenge no less daunting today than thirty years ago. Money is the most powerful symbol in our culture. Talking about it raises the most anxieties, touches the deepest secrets and uncovers almost all our fears.
Our perspective on money is varied — it comes from family, from culture, politics, business, experience and occasionally, when we are bold enough, it comes from the church through the story of the people of God and the most radical human who ever lived — Jesus of Nazareth who was fearless as he confronted the reality of money, power and wealth.
Parts of the Christian Church, especially in this country — a place of so much abundance — refocused the message of Jesus on “sin management” rather than life in the radical realm of God’s Kingdom. Under the topic of “sin management” we are sold the distorted gospel of prosperity that promises wealth and riches to the true believers. There is an entire religious empire built on this distortion of the Good News.
This is not the gospel! This is not the message of Jesus!
Today in Luke’s gospel, we move closer to Jerusalem and hear the parable of the unjust judge proclaimed. It is another of these great reversals where the unjust judge is a stand-in for God as anti-hero. For weeks we have been listening to parables from Luke’s gospel about how simple it is and how hard to hear and receive.
Lost coins and sheep, prodigal sons and banquets for losers, crafty managers and a grateful Samaritan leper are all part of the scandalous array of characters that Jesus uses to provoke his followers, confuse the crowds and taunt the powers that be — all are corrupt in their own way and all, all of us can only be redeemed by a love so great that we must be shocked into a new reality — the promise is not wealth or prosperity — the promise is not about earning your salvation through good behavior — the promise is not fulfilled through right belief or doctrine or ritual and the promise is not about a new power rising to replace the old.
The promise is about the utter and unrelenting faithfulness of God through Jesus the Christ who pulls us through the portal of death into a new reality of being, becoming the beloved children of God — all are welcomed, many choose a different path.
But when we choose to walk the way to Jerusalem, the cross, the grave and beyond, we become the people of “No Fear.”Your ticket has been punched, the train is on the move, the destination is everlasting life with God and the journey is taken with others who have decided they are tired of walking alone.
The price to us? Surrender the need to control and learn to live a life of gratitude — giving thanks for all things. Jesus tells his disciples to pray always and not to lose heart. It is another story of the unrelenting faithfulness of God. This is the call, it is at the heart of spiritual practice and the consequence is an experience of joy in the Kingdom of abundance and grace.
Do I live as if I believe that all of life is in the hands of the living God? Do I live a life of gratitude or not? We’ve heard two Midrash stories to shine the light on gratitude, generosity and the cost of the sidelong glance of envy. Today, I have another story — this is a true story of a man and his family who despite all signs of the contrary, lived in the realm of the abundance of God.
Sumith and Shanti de Silva were born in Sri Lanka and Sumith was ordained in the Anglican tradition. When their son Screeman was one year old, the doctor discovered that he had a serious heart defect. It was not something that could be treated in their country and they were told that they must take the baby to India or he would die. They did not have the money to travel or to pay the fees at the hospital and so they sold all they had.
hey sold everything they had — everything. People paid twice what things were worth and in two weeks they had the money needed to get to India and to pay the fees. They bought their tickets and sent the money to the hospital. When they arrived in India, they discovered that the money had never arrived. It was at this point the miracles began.
The hospital waived their fees and the doctor did not charge. Screeman was seriously ill and even in India they did not have the proper care. The de Silva’s were told that they needed to take the baby to America.
It happened to be Christmas when they were in India and Sumith went to church on Christmas Eve. Sitting next to him was a doctor, a pediatric cardiologist from Phoenix, AZ. He was on a four month project in India and he offered them hope.
Screeman was brought to the states and received a heart transplant and he thrived. Summit and Shanti stayed in the states and had two more children. For many years Sumith served as a priest in Montana taking care of three small congregations and his family.
I met Sumith in the Library at Diocesan House in Arizona in 1995. Screeman was in the hospital in Tucson, awaiting a second heart transplant. So beloved was this family that the churches in Montana continued to pay his salary while their son was waiting for his transplant. Sumith was at the office that day asking the bishop if there was a small congregation that might need his services. He offered to do this for no fee. He was simply being a servant. I had just the place for him and for the next few years, he and his family lived in Globe Arizona and served St. John’s Church. Screeman was now nineteen. He died before receiving a new heart but his life as a beloved son had been a blessing and full of grace.
Sumith and Shanti continued to serve St. John’s for several more years and are now retired, living in Tucson and still witnesses to a life of gratitude and generosity.
We have choices: to live in a realm that calls for gratitude and generosity, unleashing an abundant life or we can become hostages to the tyranny of scarcity. It is all about perspective. And at the end of the day, the ability to live this way requires only this, “In all things give thanks and praise.” It’s that simple and that hard. It is also our choice. We all have been given the ticket to heaven. Whether you live with a heart of thanksgiving or a spirit of selfishness, we will still arrive at the destination. The only difference is the quality of the journey. Amen.