Temptation To Be Stingy

Written by Pastor Mark

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Today we are looking at the temptation to be stingy.  This is a temptation to be self centered, or myopic.  I believe this is the most universal human temptation.  The Christian faith is full of people who have advocated for only the care of “me and mine” while forgetting about the rest of the world.

I was listening to the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi this week.  He was in Portland.  He told the story of being a teenager in South Africa and being beat up on a regular basis.  He decided to go to the gym to bulk up so he could defend himself.  When his parents caught wind of his plans they shipped him back to India to live with his grandfather!  One night the young man could not find his pencil.  His grandfather told him he could not go to bed until he found it.  The grandson spent almost two hours looking for the stub of a pencil.  When he found it he asked his grandfather why, when it was almost used up anyway, it was so necessary to find it.  He was told that it took a lot of natural resources to make the pencil, and to waste such resources was a violent action against nature.  Also, there are many people around the world who lack such basic necessities.  When we can purchase physical items in bulk we can end up hoarding those resources while keeping them from those in need.   I almost tore up my Costco membership card after I heard the interview.

There is perhaps no more misunderstood passage of scripture than the one recorded in Johns Gospel today.  Jesus says, “You will always have the poor with you.”  Many have interpreted this to mean we therefore have no need to help the poor.  After all, they are always going to be around anyway, so why bother.  Why?  Because the verses in Deuteronomy that Jesus was quoting are strong provocations to bother about the poor, and to share:

10 Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”                                 Deuteronomy 15:10-11

Jesus is quoting a command to open our hands to those in need.  Does that mean we can’t celebrate?  NO!!!  Jesus both affirms the extravagant gift of Mary, AND says we are to care for the poor.  Not one or the other, but both.

In the first lesson Paul talks about how he no longer finds any value in the things of the world because of the extreme value of knowing Christ.  Peterson translates the comparison as “dog dung”.  That’s a pretty accurate description, except the actual Greek is human excrement.  I find Paul’s confidence and ability to totally remove any desires for the world’s goods irritating.  Or maybe I find them convicting.

Why don’t we have enough resources to help all of those who come to us in need?  Why aren’t we able to pay our staff a living wage?  Why are we constantly cutting our budgets?  It couldn’t have anything to do with all of the stuff I think I need, could it?  This season of Lent is a great time to consider the violence I am doing to creation and to the poor by my mindless consumption of the world’s resources.   I’m sure my spending and the lack of resources of the church could not possibly be connected.   Could they?

Quotes for the Week

“I quickly convinced myself that the true key to happiness lay in a modest standard of living which could be achieved with little difficulty under almost all economic conditions.”                                                                  Ben Graham, Investment Professional

We could have saved the Earth, but we were too damned cheap.”  Kurt Vonnegut

“He who does not economize will have to agonize”–Confusius

“Being frugal does not mean being cheap! It means being economical and avoiding waste.” —Catherine Pulsifer

“The trouble with the profit system has always been that it was highly unprofitable to most people.” —E.B. White

“I went to the bank and reviewed my savings, I found out I have all the money I’ll ever need. If I die tomorrow.” —Henry Youngman

1st Lesson Philippians 3:7-14 (The Message)

7-9 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

10-11 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself.

12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

Gospel Lesson John 12:1-8 (The Message)

1-3 Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus’ feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house.

4-6 Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces.” He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them.

7-8 Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.”

Questions for the Week

How do you think the disciples felt when a woman poured expensive oil on Jesus feet and wiped his feet with her hair?

Does your lifestyle cause harm to the planet and to others?

Do you feel as though you have it “all together?”  Why or why not?

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