Excerpted from the NC Council of Churches Lenten Guide, “Journey to Justice”
Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Talking about money makes some people uncomfortable. I am learning this more and more as I get older and have to deal with financial experiences: buying a house, planning for retirement and healthcare, etc. The way we talk about money, and, more importantly, the way we spend our money, speaks to our values. Whether we like it or not, faith and money are connected. Two of today’s texts also speak about money, specifically about our economic priorities. The Gospel reading offers a negative example of what not to do with money in the temple, and several of the Ten Commandments address economics and the ways that we should or should not acquire “things.”
One place where we often fail to discuss money effectively is the church. Stewardship Sunday can be awkward; pastors don’t want to seem like they are asking for money all the time, and church budgets are only topics for finance committee meetings (and who wants to be on the finance committee?). However, what would Jesus say if he saw how our churches are spending their money? What would he think about our capital campaigns, building renovations, and new facilities? Would he be horrified or pleased with how we pay our child care attendants, janitors, and groundskeepers who keep our churches running? Visiting our churches, would he criticize our economic priorities, marketing campaigns, and budgets the way that he scrutinized the economic priorities of the temple of his time?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but these types of questions first emerged for me in a meeting with the Latino Community Credit Union. I was there to discuss ways to reach out to the immigrant community, but as I learned about credit unions (like I said, I am in the learning process about money), I began to realize that our banking choices reflect our values and beliefs. I want to use my money to invest in my community rather than in an institution that finances things that aren’t in accordance with my values, such as private prisons and industries that ignore environmental concerns. I began to wonder about the local church—have churches thought about where they invest their money? Often, we get so caught up in whether we have enough money and how we spend that money (which is important) that we don’t think about the effects of other economic decisions.
Lent is a season to prepare ourselves for new life and beginnings. It is a season of giving up and taking up. We give up things that are important to us in order to refocus our lives on God. For many people this might be giving up a “thing” in your life: coffee, chocolate, or even your cell phone. However, there are many other traditions in Lent besides fasting or giving something up. Lent is a time to center on God, to reinvigorate one’s prayer or meditation life. This Lenten season I encourage you to reflect on how the choices that you make, especially economic choices, embody your values and principles. I pray that we can all use this as a time to grow closer to God and simplify our lives amidst the very complicated world that we live in.
Prayer: Enable this church to do your will. Make it vulnerable that it may walk with others in humility. Make it outward looking that it may care deeply for our world. Make it a community that embraces social responsibility. Make it compassionate that it may reveal your Spirit. Make your church whole that it may live in simplicity. Enable this church to do your will. Amen.
(from the Council’s lectionary on “Tax Justice”)