We got a nice little note from our time share company the other day. They had been bought out by the largest time share company in the world and in the transition or somewhere along the way they found out that we had overpaid for some time and could take the rest of the year off.
Five months without payments. It sounds like one of those come-ons from the furniture stores or the appliance places that say “no payments until 2016!” as a part of the great deal they are offering. But this is after nine or so years of making payments and staying in nice places, it was an unexpected bonus, a visit from the money fairy.
Sorry, you don’t have a money fairy? I didn’t have one either until I met Debbie, but once Debbie entered my life, so did the money fairy. We were sitting in our living room in Alaska one day wondering what we could do for a vacation when the mail came and she got up and took a look and in the pile of bills was an envelope from a class-action law firm containing a check for my share of the Northwest Airlines settlement. Yes, I was one of the 7000 or so folks stranded on the runway in Detroit in 1999, traveling to Pennsylvania with my great aunt Mary.
To be fair, I wasn’t one of the very vocal complainers. I had grown up in Alaska and was pretty well used to being inconvenienced by snow but so long as Northwest was willing to settle the case, I was willing to cash the check.
There it was, and since I had frankly forgotten all about the case it was truly money from heaven. Like the time the insurance policy Debbie has carried since she was old enough to need car insurance, USAA declared a dividend to policy holders and a check for $300 just arrived from nowhere, the money fairy has been the deliverer of unexpected money for some time, about seventeen years, if you must know.
On the upside it solves a problem we’ve been having. When we bought the house the stove was aging but still in fine fettle but the fettle has settled a bit in the intervening years if you will and the little thermocouple in the oven went out a few years ago and we had that fixed and things are just fine, and then the automatic burner lighter in the front right, i.e. the most popular burner on the stove went out but it’s easy enough to light with a fireplace lighter but in the end what it boils down to is that I don’t want to repair it again, I’d like a new one.
We just didn’t have $600 or so to get a new one. I mean, if Caitlyn stopped living an interesting life, or if Debbie and I stopped living interesting lives, what with soccer and Children’s Chorus and a trip to Ashland next year and a trip to Europe next year and her recent exploration of taking up the drums which means we need to build her a sound-insulated practice space because she’s surely not practicing inside the house.
Wait a second, only Caitlyn is living an interesting life. <aside> Debbie we’ve done something wrong.
But life is already pretty balanced between income and outgo, we’d have to do some adjusting if we wanted to fit in a new stove.
Cue triumphant music! The Money Fairy approacheth!
That’s the way it has worked in the years of our marriage and even a little bit before. Things look dire and the universe responds with the well-placed check, the savings, the bonus, whatever it is and we have named that whatever the money fairy.
It is easy to not look the gift horse in the mouth, to just race to the bank before someone realizes that they’ve made a mistake and calls to ask for the check back. It is easy to just run out and enjoy yourself on the bonus money, the pennies from heaven.
But something odd happens when Debbie and I sit down and talk about what we should do about the mystery money. We each think we should probably give thanks by tithing out of bonus money. Whether or not we have the ability to tithe out of the regular monies, the paychecks etc. during the course of the year we’ve always sort of understood that if the money isn’t in the budget, then 90% of it is just as much a bonus as 100% of it would be.
The thing is, if we don’t talk about it, if we don’t ask each other the question, that terrifying question that Lutherans and church folk in general shy away from as if it were the third rail in the subway, a touch it and die proposition; when we don’t ask the question then we just spend the money like we’re supposed to but when leave that aside and just talk about it something strange happens.
We each think that the other one would hesitate in giving more. We seem to project our own fears on each other and act less generously until we talk it over and find out that we’re in harmony that an important part of a windfall is letting a bit of it fall on the body of Christ.
Now this is not one of those sermons where I tell you that you should all give ten percent of your income or that God loves a cheerful giver and all the rest of the tropes that have been circulating in the church world for centuries, in fact at one synod assembly they handed out a book of Presbyterian sermons on stewardship that were a catalog of the most shop-worn “do more, try harder” sermons about money, strained and tortured almost to the point of meaninglessness.
This is not one of those.
Nor am I holding up Debbie and I as paragons of virtue where stewardship is concerned. We’re just like most of you, muddling along and doing as much as we can and when I say most of you what I mean is that the rest of you are probably doing a little better.
What we are talking about today is the witness of the Syrophoenician woman. What does she have to do with Stewardship you might ask. Not a bunch and yet she leads the way.
This is one of those passages that gives people pause about their faith in Jesus, like at the wedding at Cana when he seems to mouth off to his mom. Jesus speaks of children and of dogs and clearly seems to know which category the woman is in. “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” He says and all of the unfairness of the world is encapsulated in that one sentence.
And that is the point. All the unfairness of the world is held in those harsh words, the words that this woman, not from the tribes, not of the people of Israel and yet still among them; she must have heard time and again when talk turned to blessing how none of it was for her, she was not of the chosen, she was not among the people of God, the house of Jacob, the lineage of Abraham, the people of the covenant and so she was unworthy of all of the benefits, outside the circle of God’s love, always looking in at what God can mean to a person.
She knows the script well, she knows that in the eyes of the people of Israel she has no cause, no right, no relationship that would enable her to ask for blessing. The blessing is for others, for the children of Israel and not for the dogs who come from without. Everyone knows this and no ripple of shock at Jesus words runs through the crowd, this is just how things are.
She had heard, however, that this teacher is different, that He teaches a different lesson, that the words He speaks are a blessing to all who hear them, that he is the in-breaking of God’s love in the world and so she asks for what she has no right to ask because she believes that perhaps in the new teaching there is room for her and for her daughter.
You aren’t supposed to ask. You are supposed to be afraid of the conversation the way church folks and pastors have been afraid to talk about money, she is afraid to talk about blessings but it is the same conversation, wealth and healing are just blessings from God, both can just land in your lap and both can be worked for, built and nurtured by using our gifts.
But in the end, both are frightening to us because they seem rare, sparse, finite.
There is only so much money, there is only so much wealth and so it is easy to see how we might become a little frightened that we will not get enough and so be a little hesitant to tell of how much we actually do have. After all, we know our own jealousies and envies and lusts and sin, others are probably just as bad, we should just hold onto it, keep it safe.
She just stands up and flouts convention and asks anyway, what has she got to lose? Her daughter has a demon and she needs it gone.
She believes and so she is bold to speak, bold to have the conversation and when Jesus seemingly slaps her down she does not shy away and retreat, she believes and so she is bold to speak again, asking not to skip over centuries of tradition to the front of the line but merely to be acknowledged as being in the line at all, a part of the creation that God called good in the beginning even if not a member of the chosen people.
She just wants to say that she believes as she knows Jesus does, that God’s love is for all of God’s children, including hers.
Jesus didn’t come to us and teach us about the Kingdom of God come near in order for us to retreat into old habits, even though we do it all the time. Even at Synod Assemblies from time to time a representative from a wealthy congregation will stand up and complain about how the synod and the smaller, poorer churches are spending their money. So it is in every congregation everywhere. Some people give generously and some people give more sparingly and nobody wants to feel like they are being taken advantage of.
As if there were not enough to go around, as if we were in control of the blessings given to us and had to trust in our own wisdom and not the gracious provision of Christ.
That’s what it is. I trusted my own wisdom when I assumed that Debbie, who pays our bills, would be more conservative when it came to giving out of our unexpected windfall and Debbie thought that I, always more skittish about money, would balk at giving more when we had it.
It is not until we are bold enough to talk, to have the conversation about what we value and what God values and how we might bring those two a little closer that we begin to trust God the way the Syrophoenician woman did, that God was on our side and we need not fear the conversation.
Jesus sounds harsh but it is as if He knows that she has it in her to speak and so he pushes her and she speaks anyway in what must have been a frightening moment. She asks for healing for her daughter, for the casting out of a demon.
How is it we are more afraid to talk about something as relatively minor as money? Let’s make this a Syrophoenician Month, a month of bold, faithful conversations, trusting in Christ enough to speak truthfully, trusting in grace enough to speak boldly and maybe coming to a better understanding, a little wisdom perhaps along the way.