As we considered a rather discouraging Treasurer’s Report last week, I told the Church Council very firmly that I am not going to preach about money. I don’t like to do it because I am personally not very interested in money, and also because I don’t think people want to hear about it money when they come to church. Nor will I fall into the trap that has captured so many, and promote to the “prosperity gospel”, the bizarre and dangerous idea that God wants us all to be rich. God never promises any such thing. Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, Jesus says, and I’m with him on that one.
Besides, I’m just not good at wheedling money out of people. I happen to like giving money away, and so I am not much in sympathy with people who don’t. Money, in and of itself, doesn’t have any value, and neither do most of the things we buy with it. As our faithful friend Xuming Sun pointed out on her return from two months in her native China, we can know we are a rich country by the things that end up in the trash here, as for instance by the furniture and electronics we set out on the street.
One of the great missions of Christ’s church is to help us dissolve our vain attachments to material things so that there is room in our hearts and minds for the real treasure, for the things of the spirit: hope, love, faith…in other words for the energies of God.
Someone told me once that the church in the cemetery* burned down because the old “resistance dimmer” used to lower the lights in the church at the end of the service, wasn’t properly shut off on that fateful Easter in 1977. I don’t know about that, but I do know how a resistance dimmer works: they were standard equipment in theaters for decades. A resistance dimmer involves introducing extra coils of wire into an electrical circuit, so that the electricity can be made to pass through these coils by lowering a handle. Increasing the resistance to the electric current means that less of it gets through to run the lights and so they become dimmer. It also means that over time the coils heat up, and if the current isn’t shut off, eventually the dimmer will catch fire.
I don’t have any way of knowing whether this is what happened at the old church that day, but it is a perfect metaphor for what happens when a soul becomes obsessed with material things. Attachment to material things resists the flow of spiritual energy in our hearts and minds. As that resistance builds up, our (spiritual) light gets dimmer. Eventually it all burns up. (If you don’t like this resistance dimmer analogy, Jesus teaches exactly the same thing in parable after parable.)
So where does this leave us? The plain fact is that, if we are Christians, we are generous with our money and our stuff, with our time, our prayers, our love. Generosity is the Christian lifestyle. Generosity dissolves our toxic attachments to money and material things. One of the first things that happened among those touched by the Spirit in the days after Pentecost was the eruption of a joyful, generous (even reckless) giving-away-of-money (Acts 4:32-37). There were no pledge drives back then, just “glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). Suits me fine: I hate pledge drives.
I once belonged to a church whose attitude to paying its way was, to my mind, perfect. If funds were low, an announcement was made in church: “The General Fund of the church is open for contributions.” Nothing else was said; nothing needed to be. The people knew what to do, and they did it with glad and generous hearts.