If you know anything about churches, you know that most churches have their annual giving campaigns in the fall. Therefore, it probably doesn’t surprise you that I am writing about money and possessions. But to tell you the truth, this reflection wasn’t inspired by our current Annual Giving Appeal, as it was inspired by receiving Walter Brueggemann’s most recent book, Money and Possessions, and simply reading the Introduction. The book surveys the entire Bible’s take on money and possessions. In light of that survey, Brueggemann suggests that there are six theses that provide a frame of reference for what the Bible says on this subject. As I read each of these theses, I had this thought again and again: Can we even begin to imagine how much more fully and abundantly—let alone less anxiously—we would all live if we allowed God’s perspective on money and possessions to be our own. Over the next few weeks, I would like to reflect on each of these theses.
Thesis number #1 is that “Money and Possessions are gifts from God.” At the very beginning of the biblical testimony in the book of Genesis, we hear that everything was freely created by God, and just simply given to us to enjoy. The only appropriate response for such an awesome gift is gratitude. But this isn’t the only testimony in the Bible. A counter-testimony is represented by Pharoah. Pharoah believes that he is the source all that is. For Pharoah the Nile river is not a gift, but “my own, I made it myself (Ezekiel 29:3). Pharoh’s perspective is that of the old Smith/Barney commercial: “We make our money the old fashioned way—we earn it.” The biblical story offers us two contrasting approaches to what we have: We have either been the recipients of God’s abundant generosity; or we are the source of all that we have. The former approach leads to peace that comes from placing our trust in a power beyond ourselves; the latter leads to anxiety that comes from depending on our own ingenuity to survive.
Our society cultivates the latter approach—a self-reliance that produces enormous anxiety. The church cultivates a reliance on the generosity of God, which challenges the status quo by cultivating gratitude for the abundant unmerited, freely given gifts that we receive every day. Our primary way of doing this is gathering every Sunday for the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the BIG THANK YOU! Eucharist means acknowledging that everything—absolutely everything—comes from God. When we gather around the Lord’s table, we practice an alternative attitude toward what we have.
In addition to gathering weekly for the BIG THANK YOU, one of the best disciplines we can adopt is a daily recounting of what we have received. We are all prone to dwelling on what we didn’t receive in a day, and to be sure we need to lament those disappointments. However, it is often the case that a day has been filled with more gifts than we ever dreamed, but all those blessings have been overshadowed by one misfortune.
May we notice the gifts we are given today and say thank you.