What would Jesus Buy?
By Rev. Ellen Quaadgras
Westminster Unitarian Church
November 9, 2017
I love Reverend Billy. Okay, so I don’t know him personnally, but I love him. I love the way he turns the flash and charisma and overstatedness of televangelism upside down and backwards.
Rev Billy is the “head” of the church of stop shopping, not your average church. He may not have gone to yale divinity school. But he’s preaching a gospel. He’s preaching our gospel, really. I love that when the interviewer asks. So, this isn’t about leaving the Christ out of Christmas, this is about credit card debt?
Credit card debt, overspending, overconsumption, overfocus on our things — it leads to all kinds of trouble.
Rev Bill is preaching the gospel of: back away fron the Walmart, back away from the Target, back away from the Home Depot
This guy is flashy, he’s charismatic, he’s fast talking, and he’s so practical.
Ya gotta love a practical televangelist.
“Slowing down your consumption is a spiritual act”
And Jesus was one heck of an activist.
Stop shopping children. Amen.
So here we are, thinking about abundance, in the month leading up to black Friday. Or what some prefer to call “buy nothing day.”
What does abundance look like for us, this month, next month? This year? What would Jesus buy? What would he do with his money? And more pertinently what would he tell us to do with ours?
It’s not an irrelevant question as we kick off our stewardship drive this month, either. A topic, that has a lot to do with money.
But this question about money is, of course, much broader than just supporting the congregation you care about. This question around what to do with our hard-earned cash, it infiltrate every part of our lives.
As do the longings, anxieties, jealousies, resentments, desires, and hopes, that all get attached, to money.
What, if anything, does one of the world’s greatest spiritual teachers, have to say, about that?
I think I was drawn to today’s sermon title because I am genuinely curious: what would Jesus buy?
Would he be drawn to the kareoke machine I was eyeing on Amazon?
Would he buy a suburu, or a saab?
Would he really favor a prius? Do we know that for sure? My brother inists he’s buy a ferrari, but that may just be projection, I don’t know.
What would Jesus have to say about Walmart and the Home Depot?
What would he tell us, today, about our carefully invested 401K’s, about college tuition funds, and pledging to the church?
I wanted to hear someone give some answers to my questions.
Unfortunately, I am the one writing this sermon.
So I had to come up with some myself.
I did a little digging.
Starting with Jesus.
Who seems to be all over the place.
On the one hand, we have passages like this one: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in a steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Or the one about the about rich man, the camel and the eye of a needle. You know the one? It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to get into heaven?
Or, the passages about flowers of the field that want for nothing, that neither labor, nor toil, nor spin, nor, by implication, make any money….
All of which would seem to imply Jesus as a pretty simple living kind of guy. Nothing extra needed, nothing fancy, no rich men need apply.
On the other hand we have Jesus’ preaching the benefits of investment with the parable of the talents. We have his penchant for eating with tax-collectors – who, by the very nature of their work, must have had some money. And prostitutes – one might imagine the same… ?
We have bottles of expensive perfume poured without moderation. He attends lavish parties with ever-flowing wine; stays with rich people, enjoys their rich foods.
He does not strike me as one who valued ascetisicm above all else, he seems to understand and appreciate something about the joys of material abundance.
So what do you make of that?
I still had no clarity about the kareoke machine. Or the Prius. Or what to do with my hard-earned cash, generally.
Luckily, there’s more.
Turns out, Jesus had quite a lot to say on the topic of money.
Turns out, in fact, that Jesus has more to say about the subject of money than just about any other. He spoke about it more often than heaven. More often than hell. More often than love…
One writer suggests this is not necessarily because it’s more important but because we humans are simply so prone to get confused about it, that we need more guidance around money, than just about anything else.
I did a quick search on the internet. You probably already know that money stress is the number one cause of divorce. But I was surprised to see that more than a 3rd of respondents in a USA Today poll said that keeping up with [basic] bills, like mortgage or rent or credit card payments, was their biggest financial worry. The average household’s credit card debt exceeds $7000 – just the interest alone adds up to $1000 a year. We spend too much – it happens so easily, from the 6 dollar coffee on the way to work, to the $20 lunches to get a break from the cubicle to the $200 cable and Internet bill we pay each month to see the movies and shows we want to see…
And we live in a society that is constantly telling us to spend, urging us, beseaching us, manipulating us.
We are trying to hold our own or swim upstream in a culture that is money crazy.
Maybe we feel we have little choice but to block it all out and just do what we have always done. Or we get swept up, and get in trouble or get behind. Or maybe a little of both at different times. I think it is the rare person who would say they are relaxed, flexible, and fresh-thinking about what they do, with their money.
Most of us could use a little some guidance, a little wisdom.
And it turns out I’m not the only one who’s looking to Jesus with these kinds of questions.
In fact, so are the very televangelists that Rev Billy is not-so-subtly spoofing.
I still remember the first time I saw them on TV, the tammy faye bakkers, jerry falwells and the oral roberts’ in the 1980’s. Televangelism was still new. I still remember how my jaw dropped, thinking – Really? People really believe this stuff? Give this preacher $10,000 and somehow a check for $20,000 is gonna magically come floating into my mailbox?
But people do believe this stuff, they did then, and they do now. To the tune of billions of dollars. Maybe you’ve heard of Creflo Dollar, or Joel Osteen. I have a friend who was quoting Joel Osteen to me just the other day. Or, the Secret, maybe you’ve heard of it, came out in 2007 – it was very popular at the time and got picked up by Oprah Winfrey.
They’re all promoting the so-called “prosperity gospel,” the belief that, basically, God will grant health and wealth to those who pray the right prayers and pray them the right way.
In this model, God is like a cosmic Santa Claus who will bend to your wishes. “The universe is your catalog.” This is a quote from the movie, the Secret. It features a scene depicting Aladdin rubbing his magic lamp and making a genie appear. If you follow the “creative process steps” (“ask, believe, receive”), like Aladdin, you can have anything you want.
And it comes with an easy out for the promoters – if you didn’t get the goods, you just didn’t believe enough.
Part of what’s interesting is that they base their thinking on the bible. There are passages, they say, that support their belief system, that make it clear, they say, that God wants us wealthy and prosperous, we just have to ask. If you do a google search for prosperity gospel, you’ll find the quotes. And you’ll find a lot of authors who differ in their interpretations of those very same passages.
What’s more interesting to me though is the fundamental concept that this whole line of thinking is based on, what Oprah refers to as a “law of the universe.” A law that says that what you focus on, expands. In the Secret, they call it the law of attraction. That when you think fearful, anxious thoughts, your draw fearful, anxious situations to you. That when you think loving, peaceful thoughts, you draw loving, and peaceful situations to you. And when you think about money, well, you draw it to you too, pretty soon, the green stuff is gonna come rolling in. That’s the theory, anyway.
So while I’m a little troubled by the problematic corollary that people somehow asked for negative situations in their lives…. by the potential to blame the victim in that way.
And while I personally am a little skeptical of the idea of a Santa Clause God waiting in heaven to fulfill our every individual hope and desires, and I’m not planning to spend time visualizing checks in the mail, there’s something to this law of attraction idea that intrigues me.
I even wonder if that may be part of where Jesus himself may have been coming from.
Now, bear with me for a moment.
Not that we can create every whimsical want we might have from the catalog of life, but that when we come from love, from caring for others, we create more love in our life. Not that we get to have anything we want if we just ask, but that when what we’re asking for is good for others and for us, and if we take some steps to make it happen, there’s a good chance it will. And that if we come from a place of trusting that we will have enough, that we may just find we have enough. That, after the basics have been taken care of, a feeling of wealth, of “being rich” is a state of mind, a state of being.
My colleague Gary Smith once asked the question: Does wealth consist of how much we are able to accumulate and possess? Or is wealth bettter measured by how much we feel we can afford to share?
Jesus was, as Rev. Billy so empahtically proclaimed in the video, Jesus was an activist. While he may have seemed to be all over the place, I think he’s jostling us, prompting us, nudging us out of our fixed ways of thinking so we might open up to something new. He knew we humans are prone to fear about money. He knew we humans are prone, even when we have enough, to hungering incessantly for more. And he knew we could get trapped, in our relationship with money – we get stuck in scrimping. We get stuck, in overspending.
I don’t think he was out to give us a simple formula: save more or spend more. I don’t think he’d have an opinion on kareoke machines, cafe lattes, or lunches out. I’m guessing his question would be about me, about you. Where’s your heart? Where are you coming from? What are you we’re buying it for, what’s motivating you? Because I think what Jesus, and just about every spiritual teacher I know, is doing, is pointing us to a source, in ourselves, that can guide our actions, a source within ourselves. A source that is inherently connected, that is inherently caring, that is yearning for that good of all. Because when we focus on that? The good expands.
Where your treasure is, Jesus said, there your heart is also.
Wherever we put our most prized possesions, our heart will follow. Wherever we put our attention, the rest of us will come along too.
So, we can make a choice. This is where I want my heart to be, so this is what I will do. This is where I will plant my feet, this is where I will give of my time, this is where I will participate, this is where I will give my money. Not because I’m buying somethng, not because I believe I will receive $10000 in the mail if I do, but because this is a good place for my heart, a good place for my kids, a good place to grow.
In her talk at the congregational meeting last Sunday Tracey unveiled the theme for this year’s budget drive. What’s your superpower? And how does this congregation help nourish it? I couldn’t help but notice that every one of the examples she gave were about community. Or relationship, or strengthening one or the other. Tom and Margaret’s Townsend’s superpower of noticing needs and taking care of them, almost without anyone even knowing the need was there. Sarah Quigg’s superpower of running a Christmas pageant – for the joy of all who participate and all who come to watch. Tracey’s own recognition of her inherently relational superpower, empathy.
So what’s your community-strengthening superpower? How does your participation here at WUC enhance it? Enhance you?
Where does your heart live? Where do you want it to?
What might happen if we all put our treasure where our hearts want to be?