I Corinthians 16.2
Joan woke up and hit the snooze button. More than once. Each time, she woke up to a new set of commercials, each one blaring in her ear what she should buy next. She rolled over and started swiping on her phone, passing another dozen ads as she used social media to wake up her brain. More commercials on the radio while she showered and on the television while she made her breakfast. She passed by a pile of mail on the table from the day before – filled with credit card offers and pleas for end of the year giving from nonprofits. She would have just as large a pile in her mailbox when she got home again today. On the way to work, the billboards changed every few seconds, giving her a constant stream of requests…suggestions…demands for how she should spend her money. Once she got to the office, she was inundated with requests: to throw in a few dollars for a birthday card for a colleague, to buy raffle tickets from a co-workers kid’s fundraiser, to participate in the company charity. It was no wonder that by the time her computer clicked on and she checked her bank account online, it had red numbers on it. Another month of overdrafts. Another feeling of failure to live within her means. She was exhausted and weary and overridden by guilt.
Joan is not alone. Depending on the study, some suggest that we hear between 3,000 and 20,000 messages every day about how we should spend our money. Logos on products. Media messages. Personal requests. All either whispering or shouting, “give it to me and you’ll feel much better.”
But we don’t feel better. How often does this kind of reality just leave us in a frenzy? We are overwhelmed by the needs and the wants around us, and we become frenzied in our hearts and our minds. Our spending is reactive and emotional and often associated with guilt or shame. Psychologists will tell us that unhealthy relationships with money and possessions are at the center of a host of unhealthy patterns. Marriages are destroyed. Families take on that anxiety about money. Our mental and physical health is degraded. And we enter this cycle to escape: like Joan, we feel bad about our out of control spending…so in order to feel better we go shopping or go out to eat…and end up feeling even worse about ourselves by the end of the month.
We live lives of frenzy and it destroys us spiritually.
Paul saw a similar situation shaping up in the congregation at Corinth. Corinth was a fast-paced, frenzied city that gave its residents countless stimuli and options for just about everything. Citizens found the need to keep up with their neighbors, if not race past them to the top. That frenzy found its way into the church there, as members took turns racing to the top of the social ladder, putting others down and boasting of their accomplishments. There were personality clashes, and they disagreed about which teacher was better and should be followed. There were theological clashes, as some suggested that they return to the old ways while others called for new ideas and new ways to look at God. And there were clashes over class, as the rich insisted upon their own clique that saw themselves as better than everyone else. The result in Corinth was a frenzy of angst, accusations, and disunity.
But Paul wanted to teach them a better way. Throughout the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul took on this frenzy head on. He gave them an alternative vision for faith, a different way of looking at the world.
His was the way of rootedness.
For 15 chapters, Paul reminded them of their rootedness in Christ, unified in one body. Every part is different, but you are all a part of the same body. They may look different and have different gifts, but the ways of love and grace and trust of God are what pulled them together.
And then, in the 16th chapter, he gets practical. A lot of people skip over the last chapters of Paul’s letters because they seem so pedantic and irrelevant. But for me, they are some of my favorite parts of the books because they make it more real. They are incarnational – proof that God comes to us even in the most ordinary and pedantic and particular of circumstances.
So, in today’s passage, we read this off-handed reference to an offering that Paul is taking up. It seems that Paul is going around to all these fast growing churches and inviting them to give to the church in Jerusalem. Remember that the church started in Jerusalem, and while that congregation has suffered from attacks from the religious establishment and Roman law there, his other missionary churches are all growing. So, this is a chance for them to give back to the mother church. To practice rootedness. This offering is Paul’s antidote to the frenzy. He is teaching them rootedness! It is an offering from the community, but it is also an offering for the community…helping them to learn from giving.
They practice rootedness by giving consistently – “on the first day of the week,” every week instead of whenever he showed up and made an urgent plea.
They practice rootedness by giving generously – “everything you have extra” goes to those in need.
They practice rootedness by giving communally – not just for people that they know, but beyond themselves.
He is moving them from frenzy to rootedness.
From scattered to centered.
From chaos to community.
And his lessons to the Corinthians could not be more relevant to us today. I think about mowing my grass. Think about it…when we mow our grass, do we look for the highest part first, and march across the lawn with the mower…until we see this other part that looks like it might need it to, except we get distracted by this section that also needs to be mowed? I hope you don’t mow that way! My guess is that you mow like I and everyone else does: you start on one end and go back and forth until it is done. Maybe you do the perimeter first, but then you come back in a pretty logical fashion and mow it all one strip at a time, right?. That’s the way that most of us mow…but how many of us spend and give more like the crazy-making lawn-mower? Give to this over here, until we read a really great article about this nonprofit and then write a check and then, wait a minute, did I write that check for that bill? It is no wonder we live in a frenzy.
For here we are in the middle of a world of frenzy, just like Joan. We face all of these pleas for giving and spending and having. But perhaps there is a better way. A more rooted way.
I have loved hearing from our generosity team over these last several weeks, as they have taught us about stewardship. Ken and Sarah and Bill and Craig, and Anne here in a few minutes – each of them have taught us about stewardship by offering examples of rootedness. Examples from their experience with this congregation and why it matters to them. They haven’t given us “Seven Guilt Trips About Why You Should Tithe!” like some finance committees do. Instead, they have talked personally, about why the church is important to them. About how it has rooted them. And I am thankful for their words.
In fact, I am thankful for all of those who have given time preparing and organizing our Project One62 emphasis. I think it has been a wonderful example of rootedness. Like Paul, they have taught us of the importance of giving regularly, and consistently, and generously. They have rooted us in prayer, reminding us why we are able to give in the first place. They have explained why it is important to plan for a budget, why it is important to pledge. Just like Paul taught in the 16th chapter, if we flit back and forth toward whatever tugs at our heartstrings in the moment, then we end up like Joan, wondering where all our money went and why we cannot seem to live within our means. They have taught us that the antidote to such frenzy is rootedness. In God. In community. In thinking and praying through a plan.
But, as our generosity team and all of the Project One62 leadership has taught, there is a better way. The way of rootedness. Rooted to Christ, to community, to generosity. Rather than living beyond our needs and scattered and stressed, this way of rootedness makes us more centered. And gives us the chance to help those we really want to help. Those who are really in need.
We have two dogs in the Sturtevant household.
One is a terrier mix, and he is the definition of frenzied. When I let him out in the backyard, he will leap off the deck and run around the yard in chase of anything that is moving. He will run halfway up the fence after a squirrel, and then chase after a bird, and then try to grab at a leaf that is falling, and then when he can’t find anything moving, he starts digging holes to see what he can find underground. He is always skittish, always hungry, always thirsty.
And then we have a second dog. A poodle mix. When I let him out in the backyard, he goes out on the deck, makes a circle, and then comes back toward the door to come back in. If I go out on the deck with them, he will look at me until I sit down and then jump into my lap right away. Poodles are the definition of rooted. Give me a lap and that’s all I need.
There is power in rootedness. Power in knowing whose lap we sit in. Power in living a life of gratitude and grace and thanksgiving and community. While the world around us chases after all that glitters in an attempt to assuage the guilt that they feel, we can rest assured that we are loved and there is nothing that we can do that will change that. Today, rest in the lap of the one who made you and loves you more than you love yourself.