The Value We Give


This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church for the 5th Sunday in Lent, 28 March 2004.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 43: 16 – 21, Philippians 3: 4b – 14, and John 12: 1 – 8.

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I have probably mentioned this before but I enjoy watching "Antiques Roadshow". It is not nearly as interesting as one when it first came on the air but that is because most of the "hidden" treasures have been discovered. Still, there are the occasional finds that amaze the owner who never really understood the value of what they owned.

But even with the undiscovered treasures that have been shown and undoubtedly still to be found, I find it amazing that people bring things in that are not as valuable as they think they are. In one particularly memorable spot, this couple brought in an undiscovered Van Gogh painting. This couple was absolutely convinced that they had an uncatalogued, undiscovered masterpiece. But the appraiser pointed out that it was not in Van Gogh’s style, it was not in any sequence of colors he would have used, it was nothing he would have painted, and the signature on the painting was not even his. Still, this couple left convinced that the appraiser was a fool and they were in possession of a priceless masterpiece.

At times we are like this couple, attaching a value far exceeding its true worth to something we own, in hopes that in doing so we will solve many of our problems. We think that if we find the right object or some how win the right contest, all of our problems will be solved or go away and we can have a new life. However, as Archbishop Oscar Romero once said,

"The absolute desire of ‘having more’ encourages the selfishness that destroys communal bonds among the children of God. It does so because the idolatry of riches prevents the majority from sharing the goods that the Creator has made for all, and in the all-possessing minority it produces an exaggerated pleasure in these goods." ("The Church’s Mission Amid the National Crisis", August 6, 1979 – Quote of the Week – Sojourners – 24 March 2004)

Reverend Romero was the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in El Salvador and a leading reformer in the country. He was assassinated on March 24, 1980 as he celebrated mass in San Salvador. If memory serves me well, the assassins were part of the government and they were not too happy about his role in bringing equality to the people of his country.

We are a people who give value to things that is way out of proportion to what it brings us. And we reduce in value those things that we should value most highly. Judas saw what Mary was doing as a waste of money, feeling that the perfume could have been sold and the profit used for the poor. There would have been nothing wrong with doing that.

In 1964 Pope Paul VI gave Mother Teresa a brand new Cadillac. She had it raffled off and made $100,000 which was used to fund her group’s mission work in Venezuela. In 1979, she asked the Nobel Peace Prize committee to use the money that would have provided for the customary victor’s banquet to use the money instead for the poor and homeless of Oslo, enduring an inordinately harsh winter that year. (From Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs, page 38.)

But there are also examples of the opposite. Dorothy Day, who can truly be categorized as one of the great servants of the Lord, once was given a diamond ring as a donation. Instead of selling the ring, she gave the ring to an elderly woman who took her meals at the shelter Ms. Day was operating. As important as it was for the elderly woman to have money to pay her rent, it was also important that she have her dignity as well. If the woman had wanted to sell the diamond ring, then it was her prerogative to do so. But it was also her choice to wear the ring. "Were diamonds just for the rich to wear?" Dorothy would ask her co-workers.

The value that we place on something must reflect what it is truly worth. Jesus scolded Judas because he knew what lie ahead; Judas saw only the moment.

In one sense that is what Paul is saying today as well. He has everything required for success in the society of his times. He was born into the proper tribe; he had the proper training; and he met the criteria of righteousness as defined by law. Yet, as he says to the Philippians, everything that he has is worth nothing unless he has Christ. And to have Christ in his life, Paul says, that he was forced to give up everything he had gained.

That is the challenge we face. How can we gain all if we must lose all? There is an impression among some that John Wesley, in his earlier days, emphasized giving away everything one had to the poor. The result of this has a negative impact on stewardship in the church, simply because people do not want to give all that they can.

But that was only part of what Wesley said, thought, and did. True, once he discovered what he could live on without too much hardship, everything over that was given away. But his precepts of Christian stewardship were to first earn all that you could, then save all that you could, and then finally give all you could.

And I think that is what we must think about. For in earning all that we can we must also be aware that the manner in which we do so must not harm others or ourselves. We should use our talents and our abilities in the most efficient manner, being careful not to engage in any activities that would be contrary to the laws of God or country. We should not make our living in such a way that it hurts our neighbors or endangers their lives.

Wesley wrote that idea at a time when there was a gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. He sought a new way of thinking, a new way of acting. Today, we might call his concept "socially-responsible." But he understood that earning money could not be done in such a way that you gave up your soul. He understood that you could not treat your neighbor in such a way that your gain was their loss. The same is true today.

As long as we see things as they were or as we wish they would be, we will never truly move forward. We are here today at the end of forty days of preparation. In one week Jesus will enter Jerusalem amid the cheering and shouts of the crowds. At the end of next week, Jesus will be hanging from cross, in pain that we can only imagine, suffering so that we will not have to, dying so that we may live.

In Isaiah, the Lord speaks and says that he is about to do something new. We are asked to look for and see the new thing. Paul speaks of the changes that he underwent upon encountering Christ. At the beginning of Lent, I put forth the proposition that Lent was a time to give up the old ways and begin anew, refreshed in Christ. I contrasted this with the common view that one should give up something one liked for the forty days in penance and denial. But penance does nothing if the old ways return.

Paul saw that what he gained from Christ was far beyond the riches and the value he had when he was Saul, the spoiled young lawyer. But in seeing the new riches, he knew he could not accept the present; he had to move forward.

So it is for us. We are almost at the end of Lent; we are almost at the end of preparation. Have we changed? How do we see ourselves now versus forty days ago? Do we place more value on what Christ means or do we place more value on the things we have? It is the value we give to Christ and the value we give to things in general that will tell us what Lent this year has meant.


1 thought on “The Value We Give

  1. Pingback: Notes on the 5th Sunday in Lent « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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