Sunday we began a worship series entitled The Wonder-Full Life that seeks to mine treasures from scripture, is illustrated by the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, and informed by the book Integrating Money and Meaning: Practices for a Heart-Centered Life by Maggie Kulyk. We discussed how money is a necessary thing that causes great stress in life. For the followers of Jesus, they were seeking survival and inner peace while wrestling with money in the Roman empire.
Their coins bore the image of a false god and one of these coins had to be paid for the census tax. Could they use these coins, pay the census tax, and be faithful? The Herodians insisted, “Yes! And you should.” To not pay the tax would threaten their freedom, perhaps their life, so they had to pay the tax to survive. The Pharisees, on the other hand, suggested the census tax should not be paid and the coins should not be used if you wanted to be faithful to your Jewish identity. They offered shame and guilt rather than peace. Jesus, the Christ of mercy over sacrifice, affirmed payment of the tax while proclaiming God’s rule over all the powers of the cosmos and the world that sought to bring shame on the common people.
We then discussed how a changing economic scene, especially since the recession of 2007, has placed a number of stressors on our financial lives. We struggle to save for retirement even though we are living longer. We wonder how we will afford to send our kids to college. Some of us have to wonder if we will be able to pay the bills this month. Or if we will be able to pay the rent or mortgage. Or if we will be able to feed our family. We struggle to survive. Meanwhile, we are repeatedly told we must be self-sufficient to be worthy or have value in this life. We are shamed if we need help. Yet we also know that, for many of us, there are people with much greater needs than ours but we struggle with generosity because we fear not having the money we need. We beat ourselves up.
But if we consider our relationship with money part of our spiritual practice, we can find that money can be part of a life filled with the wonder of God’s love and grace filling our lives and stretching into the lives of others needing survival and peace. We can start doing this through contemplation. You may begin with this exercise adapted from Maggie Kulyk’s work in Integrating Money and Meaning:
Find a quiet place and set aside time to think about your past. Close your eyes and move through your childhood. Think about your first memory connected to money. How old were you and what happened? Write it down. Starting with your earliest memory you can recall, repeat this process until you reach the present day. Think about your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, and any other family members and how their relationship with and attitude toward money shaped you. Try to write down an experience for each year from your earliest memory to today to get the fullest picture of your relationship with money. Think about how these experiences shaped your willingness to spend money, what you spend money on, your attitude toward generosity toward your neighbors in need, and your beliefs and attitudes toward giving in church.
Think about where your relationship with money is driven by a desire to survive. Think about where this relationship is driven by shame. What are your greatest joys related to money? What are your greatest fears and stressors related to money? In what ways has the influence of your family shaped your relationship with money in positive ways? In what ways has the influence of your family shaped your relationship with money in negative ways? In what ways might you be more Christlike with your money as it becomes a part of your spiritual practice?
Take a break. However long you may need. Come back to where you completed the first exercise, this time for silent meditation. Breathe deeply in and out. Find a good rhythmic breathing pattern. Now simply listen. What is the Holy Spirit saying to you today? In what ways is your relationship with money Christlike? What are the growing edges of your relationship with money? In what ways do you need to show yourself the compassion God shows you in your relationship to money? In what ways do you need to show your neighbor the grace God has shown you in yours and their relationship to money? What else might the Holy Spirit telling you?
As you go forth from this exercise, go forth with grace and peace. To go deeper on your relationship with money, I encourage you to obtain the book Integrating Money and Meaning which is full of thoughts and other exercises regarding our relationship with money that cannot be covered in the sermons. Whatever you do, be sure you have compassion for yourself this day.