It’s time to talk about money matters. It’s time to talk about money, because money matters.
What’s your earliest memory of money? How healthy is your relationship to money?
(During the sermon delivery several people responded ‘out loud.’ They said: ” I remember getting an allowance of ten cents a week.I remember being able to buy candy with my own money.making decisions about where to spend my own money.not having any.watching my mother put money into envelopes to pay the bills.losing it.getting money under my pillow from the tooth fairy.putting a penny on the trolley tracks.realizing how long it took to save enough to buy a bike.etc.)
My brother Bill and I share early memories of money. He’s still a little embarrassed when he recalls how he gave me his big nickels for my little dimes. I caught on, of course, but Bill tells the story as a kind of confession! That’s why he insists on paying for lunch. I don’t hesitate to milk the guilt.
When we were a little older and we went out shoveling snow together-I was about seven and he was nine–he suggested we have a 40/60 split, since he could obviously shovel more and better than I could. After doing the math I struck out on my own 100% was a lot better than 40%. Money mattered.
I always had some money tucked away, and I liked it when my older brothers would ask to borrow money from me. Very empowering!
Growing up in a working class family that eventually included eight children colored my sense of money-a lot. Truth be told, it was very painful-the kind of pain that goes to the core of your being.
First of all, there was never enough of it. It took many years for me to learn that I had a sense of scarcity around money, the sense of scarcity that we hear from folks who lived through the Great Depression. There was also some sense of embarrassment around the money issue, which I won’t go into.
The point is that everybody deals with lots of money matters-things that have to do making a budget to live within your means things like the use of credit cards with interest rates v. debit cards; or refinancing a mortgage so you can roll all your credit cards into it. But then you have to decide on a whether to get a fixed or flexible rate.
We’re faced with money decisions every day-some small, like items in the grocery store-brand names or the store brand-does it really make a difference? Then there are big decisions, like life insurance-how much do you need? What about a car? Should you buy a new car or used car? Should you lease or buy?
Money is one of the big issues in a marriage-who takes care of the money? Who writes the checks? How are spending decisions made? Do the kids get an allowance? If so, how much? Is it contingent on helping out around the house? Chores?
Then there’s the so-called discretionary. How much do you give to charities and causes that promote your values, places like NPR and public television.Planned Parenthood and political contributions?
Money can be a very sensitive subject.
It’s time to talk about money in the context of the church-to talk about your pledge to the annual budget of the church. For some folks a contribution to the church is in the category of charitable contributions, since it’s discretionary. For others it’s automatically a part of the budget, like paying the mortgage, phone and electric bills.
One of our basic theological assertions is that each of us determines the kind of person we will be, as opposed to having that determined by Providence or Karma.
Abraham Heschel put it succinctly: “Being human is difficult. Becoming human is a lifelong process. To be truly human is a gift.”
One of the common themes in all religions has to do with what we call generosity, and the premise of this sermon is that generosity is generative.
Confucius asserted that generosity is the prime virtue. He was even more specific–he said ‘generosity creates the soul.’
The soul is,”The animating and vital principle in human being; the spiritual nature of humans; the central or integral part; the vital core; a person’s emotional or moral nature.”
Generosity is the first religious principal-all the others follow.
The question about generosity is the old chicken and egg question: which comes first?
There is a way in which, or an extent to which, an act of generosity creates the generosity in a person.
Wordsworth talked about ‘that best portion of a good man’s life, a thousand little unremembered acts of kindness and of love.’
“Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, which is so often read at weddings, talked about ‘faith, hope and charity.’ The King James translation used the word charity. RSV used love; and we usually hear, ‘faith, hope and love.’
Reading: ‘They Crossed a Street Together‘ by Jim Klobuchar
Six-thirty is not a bad time to be walking the city street. It reveals more to the stroller when it is quiet, because it gives him room and time to focus on what is happening and to notice the two people across the street.
One is walking in the intersection, a young woman of about twenty, wearing a plain beige topcoat, and hatless. The breeze tosses strands of hair over her eyes, and these she tries to dislodge by flinging her head back every few feet of progress. She cannot do it with her hands, because both arms are thrust into waist-high aluminum crutches. Her legs are enclosed in leather tresses below the knees, and she moves in deliberate, lunging strides, each precisely as long as the last.
The other person stands waiting on the curb. He is about fifty, thin, wearing an athletic jacket and a billed cap.
Halfway through the intersection the young woman stops and turns, evidently having heard something. The sound was the tapping of the man’s white cane behind her. She glances down the street and then slowly and awkwardly pivots on her crutches to retrace her steps. At about the time the light changes she has arrived back at the curb and, smiling, offers her hand to the man in the billed cap. They talk for a moment, and together begin crossing the street when the light turns again.
I don’t think it was until then that the man realized that his escort was crippled. His hand, holding her left arm where she had placed it, touched her metal crutch. He stopped. He spoke to her and he may have been apologizing for causing her a problem, or he may have been thanking her.
Of all the people on the street, why should a girl on crutches have to guide a blind man across the street? She laughed again and tugged at his cap and seemed to be chiding him. Who else on this side of the street? And why not a girl on crutches? And if he didn’t get in gear the light was going to change again. It did and a motorist drew up to wait. He was not impatient. He would have waited all night, because even as the man and the young woman walked past his idling car, he seemed reluctant to drive off.
The man with the cane put his hand on the girl’s shoulder and together they reached the other side of the street. He embraced her momentarily, and sought to touch her cheek. They were two people, strangers, sharing a very profound truth about themselves, and about each other, and it seemed that at this moment they understood something about humanity that others-less fortunate than they-might never understand. A minute later they were gone, in different directions, leaving the street a little less empty than it had been before.
This story touches something in me-something deep.
I think of the motorist who drew up to wait. “He was not impatient. He would have waited all night, because even as the man and the young woman walked past his idling car, he seemed reluctant to drive off.”
He was reluctant to drive off because he was witnessing something that went far beyond the simple act of one person guiding another across the street. It was a moment of grace; it had something to do with salvation. These are religious terms-grace and salvation. They have traditional meanings. But they also have meanings that we can bring to them. There are times when we witness something that teaches us something we need to know, or that reminds us of something precious. Grace.
Salvation has something to do with being saved from a life of shallowness or selfishness. We know, deep down, that generosity is generative; a generous spirit is not about money-but money matters.
The kind of generosity we want to focus on in this sanctuary, this house of worship, this place of religious education and inspiration, is not about money.or it’s not only about money.
Furthermore, I don’t want to talk you in to giving more money than is appropriate for you to give.
One of our famous Unitarian forebears, Bronson Alcott, did that. His daughter Louisa May, tells how he gave away the family’s money, he gave away their food, he gave away their fuel in the winter. He was ‘generous to a fault.’
(Bronson Alcott was a very admirable human being-more about him and his influence on Emerson, Thoreau and the Transcendentalists later.)
Point: I don’t want anyone to give more money to the church than they can afford.
Point: I don’t want anyone who cannot afford to give very much money to feel like ‘second class’ members.
I would encourage you to make a pledge-a promise to pay money in the future-that is consistent with your ability, and allows you to feel good.a pledge that feels right.
From time to time there are people who could afford to make a generous pledge who do not do so.
If you happen to fall into that category-and there are very few, by the way-then I would encourage you to think again.
We need your financial support to keep this ship sailing, but you need to be generous for personal reasons that have to do with the quality of your life.that have to do with the way you feel about yourself.
To a great extent we create ourselves-we determine the kind of person we will be.
You have the freedom to make your own decision about the amount of your pledge. No one will tell you precisely what it should be, the way they do with your property taxes, or your income tax, or your inheritance tax, or your excise tax, or the cost of your dinner or the toll charge over the George Washington Bridge.
You decide. Your freedom may be a bit of a burden.
Some people wish we had dues, so they don’t have to decide, and so that they know that ‘the other guy’ is paying his fair share. That’s not the way it is for us. That’s not the way it is regarding money, or your belief system. No one will tell you what you are supposed to think or believe.
We have no creeds or dogmas, except freedom and personal responsibility. I hope you’ll look at yourself the way the motorist looked at the woman in crutches guiding the blind man across the street.
Together we can move across from scarcity to abundance, from . to generosity.
Being human is a challenge-it’s difficult. It’s a lifelong process of becoming. It’s the ability to affirm oneself, like the voice that came to Moses out of the burning bush-to be able to say ‘I am that I am.’
It’s not about pride or arrogance. Indeed, it is characterized by humility.
Remember Michelangelo’s motto: I am still learning.
Are you still learning? Are you learning about yourself? One of the best teachers in the lifelong process of learning about yourself is money. Your relationship to money says more than most of us realize.
Close: You may remember the story about McGregor, who owned a famous vineyard that produced superb wines and wonderful cherry brandy. The minister of his church was a teetotaler of the first order, often sermonizing on the evils of alcohol. McGregor never took it personally, but he wasn’t pleased, of course.
When McGregor’s daughter was married there was a big party at his home and the minister accidentally sipped some cherry brandy and took an immediate liking to it. In fact he got into his cups, as they say, and when he got McGregor alone asked if would send a case of that wonderful cherry brandy to the parsonage.
The minister agreed, “Under one condition,” he said. “I want you to promise that you will write a letter thanking me for the brandy, and publish the letter in the church mailing.”
When the next issue of the newsletter came out McGregor was eager to see if the good reverend kept his promise. The letter said, “I’d like to thank McGregor for the wonderful fruit he gave and the spirit in which it was delivered.”
I hope you’ll make a responsible pledge with a generous spirit.