Luke 15:11-24, Proverbs 21:5 & 20
(Much of the structure for this sermon is suggested in Adam Hamilton's Enough Stewardship Guide, and adapted for use at Liverpool First UMC.)
Enough: Wisdom and Finance
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most-loved of the parables of Jesus. I’m not sure exactly why that is, except that maybe we all pictures ourselves to be a bit like the prodigal, wandering away from God, making foolish choices, and hoping, and finding that God welcomes us back with joy no matter how foolish we’ve been. Personally, I would admit I am much more like the older brother in the parable than the younger son, and I suspect that is true for a good many of us, especially in the life of the church, but I’ll save all that for another sermon! Today, we’re really only focusing on the first part of the parable, and this younger, prodigal son. Prodigal is one of those words that we use incorrectly so often that most people are starting to understand a different meaning for it than originally intended. We often hear or use prodigal to mean wandering, or lost. A prodigal is one who has wandered away, gone off life’s intended course. But actually, the word prodigal means extravagant and wasteful, one who spends recklessly and without control. The parable’s title refers not to the son leaving home, but to the son squandering his inheritance. With the correct understanding of this key word, our focus on the parable might change. It isn’t primarily, perhaps, a parable about wandering away from God, but a parable about being wasteful with the gifts God gives us. With this reading in mind, perhaps we are all more like the prodigal son after all. What are you doing with the good things that God has put into your hands to have care over, to be stewards of?
Last week we talked about Affluenza and Credit-itis – which I think we can sum up into wanting more, and wanting it now. And somehow, even we attain close to the degree of financial security we’re looking for, we are still not careful with our money, and actually waste it here and there and everywhere until we’ve lost the bit of security we thought we had. I don’t know about you, but I find that paying with debit cards instead of with cash sometimes makes me shockingly mindless of what I’m spending. Just a quick, easy swipe of the card. I know, I know, you’re supposed to be careful, save all your receipts, budget, balance, and so on. But, frankly, well, let’s just say those kind of details are not my strong suit. Not too long ago, though, my bank unrolled a feature online where I can look at a lovely pie chart that shows me what categories I’m spending my money in. It includes categories like utilities, gasoline, groceries, a new rather large category for me: mortgage payments, and then categories like restaurants, general merchandise, entertainment, and “other.” This month we’re working through Adam Hamilton’s book called Enough, and he suggests that the two primary ways we waste money are on impulse buying and eating out. He’s got me pegged, certainly. If I added up all the money I spent on eating out in a year, well, I shudder to think of the total. Do you find yourself wondering what happened to the money you had? Are you making wise decisions with what you’ve got? What would your pie chart look like? How much are you wasting of what you’ve been given? How much of a prodigal are you?
Creating new patterns for ourselves when it comes to our money and resources starts with clarifying our purpose, our priorities, and our relationships. Why do we exist? What are we here for? Despite all the messages society shouts at us, we are more than consumers! Our purpose is not to consume and accumulate and spend. We were created by God, who loves us, to care for God’s creation, to love God, and to love one another, to care for those in need, to glorify God, to seek justice, and do mercy. That’s our purpose. And that means that everything that we do, everything that we have, is meant to help us fulfill our purpose. Our money, our gifts, our possessions – all this is meant to be used to help us fulfill our calling – “to serve Christ and the world through the church, missions, and everyday opportunities.” (1)
What are your goals? Hamilton suggests that if we have a sense of what God is calling us to do, then we need to start planning to respond to that call. What is your purpose? What do you want to do for God? And how are you going to start doing it? If you are really compelled by these questions, Hamilton has some resources for seriously asking and answering these questions for ourselves, and I would love to see where God is leading us. I think we also need to ask these questions to ourselves as a congregation. What is our purpose? What is God calling us to do? And then what’s our plan? Are we using our resources in the best ways we can to serve God’s purpose for us?
“Barbara Glanz is a motivational speaker who conducts workshops for large companies. One day she was speaking at an event for the employees of a grocery store chain. She talked to them about how they saw their life purpose, suggesting that their work was more than stocking shelves or ringing up customers' food purchases or delivering supplies. She told them that every person they met was an opportunity to bless someone, to live out a higher calling or mission.
The employees were inspired by her words, including one nineteen-year-old grocery bagger named Johnny. Johnny, who has Down syndrome, took her words to heart. He went home and tried to think of ways he could be a blessing to others. Finally, he came up with a plan. Each night he would search the Internet for a positive saying that would encourage people. Then he would print out 300 copies and carefully cut the sayings into individual strips. The next day, he would put one of the sayings in the grocery bag of each of his customers while saying, "I put a saying in your bag. I hope it helps you have a good day. Thanks for coming here."
A month later, the manager noticed that Johnny's line was much longer than the others. Even when he announced that there was no waiting in lines 2 and 3, no one budged. People wanted Johnny to be their bag boy. He touched them and filled them with hope. Johnny got it. He was pursuing a mission that was bigger than his personal satisfaction.” (2)
Can we say the same for ourselves? Are we pursuing a mission that is bigger than our personal satisfaction? Can we articulate our mission? Do we use all that we have been given to support what we’ve said we’d set out do?
Today, we are celebrating All Saints Sunday, a day when we remember members of our congregation, as well as the loved ones we carry in our hearts, who have died during the last year. It may seem like a strange combination – All Saints, with a conversation about how we use our resources. But maybe it’s not such a stretch at all. When I think of the saints in my life, I think of people who were remarkably content, regardless of how much they had stored up for themselves. I think of people whose lives were marked by giving of themselves freely for the sake of others. I think of people who were pursuing a mission in life that went beyond their own satisfaction.
Today, our Chancel Choir sang an anthem, which is also a favorite hymn of mine in our hymnals, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” Listen again to the last verse: “They lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus' will. You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, in church, by the sea, in the house next door; they are saints of God, whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too.” Saints of God, loving to do Jesus’ will. God helping, let us mean to be Saints too, sure of our purpose, and striving, every day, to live in ways which let us carry out our mission of service in God’s kingdom.
(1) Hamilton, Enough Stewardship Guide, 73.
(2) Hamilton, Enough, 48-49.