On Faith and Foodstamps
July 31, 2022
Psalm 49: 5-7
Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it.
Luke 12: 13-21
Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
Today’s sermon is titled On Faith and Foodstamps.
The two scripture readings we have today, one from the collection of Psalms and one from the book of Luke, are two of the 2,350 verses in the scriptures that speak of how to establish a right relationship with money and possessions. Two thousand-three hundred-fifty verses! There are 31,102 verses in the entire collection of scriptures in our Bible, so if we divided the scriptures into 13 equal sections, one entire section would be devoted to scriptures about our relationship with money and possessions. One of my least favorite verses would be in that section. It’s the familiar verse from Mark 10 that says, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Friends, I’d really like to ignore this topic altogether, believe me. But if a thirteenth of the Bible centers on one theme, we can’t afford to ignore it. What we can do, though, is to come at it from a different angle.
I titled this sermon On Faith and Foodstamps because, in looking back over the financial ups and downs of my adult life, I can honestly say that my faith grew more in times of lack than in times of abundance. There have been both extremes. There have been times when I had more money than I knew what to do with and there have been many more times when I was waiting for the next paycheck to buy things that cost less than five dollars, things like toothpaste and paper towels. This would be a good time for me to tell you that I have never gone hungry, and I don’t think my kids have either, except perhaps temporarily while on a camping trip. You should also know that I have a wide, strong safety net, thanks to my family and friends; I always knew I could call on them if need be, but those calls are really difficult to make, as you can imagine.
For twelve years, we relied on foodstamps, heating assistance and electrical assistance just to make ends meet. I am not proud of this, but neither am I ashamed. It was what we had to do to at the time. It was, initially, a lack of affordable child care for the twins that necessitated one adult staying home while the other worked. Month to month during those years it was a challenge not to overdraw our bank account. Every six months, we re-applied for assistance through two different agencies. The paperwork was extensive and there were many proofs of income to be gathered and then verified at two separate in-person interviews. People who scoff at “lazy people on welfare” have no idea the reality that so many families and individuals face. Here’s the real problem, though. It’s very difficult to climb out of the system once you are in it because any and every increase in pay earned results in a decrease in assistance. It’s a broken system, in my opinion.
I learned a great deal from navigating that broken system. I learned a great deal from living on edge, financially. The greatest lesson I learned, and continue to learn, is that there is a sense of security that can be found in most any circumstance. I have to wonder if this might have been what first gave humankind the idea of a divine being. How else can we explain a sense of security, a sense of safety, that, quite mysteriously, arises when there is very little else to hold on to.
On the other end of the spectrum, when our safety nets are large and strong, when our bank accounts and investments have a reassuring balance, and when needs are met with plenty to spare, it can seem as if our security and safety are the result of what we have managed to earn and to accumulate. I spent a few years at this end of the spectrum, with more money than I knew what to do with; I remember quite well the feelings of confidence and accomplishment and, had I dwelled there longer, I can imagine how I could have very easily lost touch with God…lost touch with the true source of my security.
Friends, we all know that security and fulfillment do not come from excess, not from excess of money or possessions or anything other tangible thing. What I hope to convey today is one idea for why that is. In my experience, when there is a lack, there is, as a response, a turning outward. When there is an abundance, there is often, a turning inward as a response.
We see this in the landowner who, when a bumper crop of grain is brought in, does not turn outward to share or provide for others; instead, he turns inward and makes elaborate plans for how to protect and store the excess. Can he ever have enough? Jesus is warning us about this specific kind of poverty, never having enough. In the book of Matthew, Jesus is recorded as saying,“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Jesus’s message echoes a wise one from a thousand years before who wrote the following words in the book of Ecclesisates, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Let’s not miss the point that it is not the money itself that is the problem, rather it is one’s relationship to the money, one’s “love” of money over love of God and over love of neighbor.
In closing, it is no wonder, really, that 2,350 verses in the Bible instruct us about right relationship with money and possessions. No matter how much or how little we have in tangible assets, our most valuable possessions are not easily grasped. I am thinking about life itself, and the love we share with one another. Thanks be to God, the source of all goodness. Amen.
God of all the seasons of our lives, I thank you for being with us in all we face. Help us to remember to look for the light of your guidance in every situation that challenges us. If we are in need of help, may we be just as gracious in our receiving as we are in our giving. In ways we seek healing, guide us to what heals; in ways we seek knowledge, guide us to sources of wisdom; in ways we seek meaning, guide us, Lord, to the people and the things that will bless us so that we, in turn may be a blessing to others. For our families, our town, our nation and all of humanity we pray for needs to be met, we pray for prosperity and we pray for peace. In the holy name of Christ, I pray. Amen.
I leave you with this ancient blessing, from the book of Numbers:
“May the Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.”