By the Rev’d Jered Weber-Johnson
Like so many of you, I am now sharing an office with my spouse and partner. There are challenges, yes. We’re learning a whole new set of office norms and expectations (apparently I have a habit of leaving a trail of used coffee cups behind me). But there are many positives. I not only get the benefit of seeing her more often, I also get to see and hear her in her element “at work”. What’s more, since we both work in the church, I get the added benefit of gleaning pearls of wisdom from her work calls. One such pearl came as I eavesdropped on a webinar presented by Erin and her colleague Mieke Vandersall on the theology of money in the midst of a national health crisis for the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes. Later I asked if she would share it. I share some of their wisdom here in hopes that you’ll find it helpful as you consider your money narrative in light of the challenges, triumphs, and setbacks of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Their presentation started with Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the disciples on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius in the gospel of John – a text usually heard by the church in Easter. Do you remember it? In the bleak light of an early dawn, as the disciples no doubt lay exhausted on the piles of their empty nets, they hear a voice from the shore. Through the dark night, in the midst of their grief and confusion, they had continued doing the only thing they knew how to do. They fished. And, as my dad was sure to say on a bad fishing trip when our lines came up empty, “Fishin’ doesn’t mean catchin’!” Jesus calls to them from the shore and challenges them to cast their nets on the other side. Their obedience rewards them with nets too full to bring on board.
As with any of us in the midst of dark and anxious times, the disciples too are prone to returning to old narratives, to old ways of doing things, to the safety and comfort of the familiar. And, Jesus invites us again to try something new. What might that look like as we consider the subject of money — something about which Jesus never tired of talking? As Mieke said in the webinar,
“Jesus again and again invites us into a different story than the one …I have bought, placed my trust in, hook line and sinker… of the economy of the world, of my worth being connected by my ability to be effective, to produce, to provide, to be self-sufficient and independent, and I forget, too easily, the economy that Jesus proposed and advocated for. Walter Brueggman finds that the economic model based in biblical values is life and prosperity, wealth held provisionally, debt forgiveness, and the Kingdom of God, rather than the stories we hear and live of fear of not having enough, of hoarding, of being convinced that we don’t have anything to or can’t give.”
The old story of money in our world connects value and worth to widgets moved, posts liked, and dollars made. The new story of money we’re invited into is about grace, generosity, and liberation from fear. Like you, I am intrigued by and even find compelling this new economic model. But, it might feel incredibly difficult to hear or believe this new story when your work is drying up or you are laid off, when stock markets plunge and retirement plans evaporate, when healthcare costs are weighed against food costs. I am almost tempted to say that things have never looked so dire, but to say this would be to deny the abject poverty, the marginal economic state that so many have been living in our world for generations. Undoubtedly these are tough times. There is much to fear. And yet, the “new” story of God’s economy has been shouted from shores to empty boats in each new financial crisis and global pandemic. Jesus is always beckoning us into a more hopeful and life-giving economic reality, in the midst of our fears and grief and loss. Jesus calls us away from the old narrative and invites us to try something new.
So, what can you do? Whether you sail through this time with economic security, or whether you are already tightening your belt bracing for the hard times ahead, or whether this is but another in a long line of fiscal hardships, we can all do three things that bring us into this new economic reality, this new money story that Jesus tells. Again, with gratitude to Mieke and Erin for their inspiration.
- We all have something to GIVE. Even when money is tight, each of us is capable of giving – time, talent, prayer – something. Think of the myriad ways you are gifted. Are you a good listener? Call another member you know lives alone, or a friend struggling through a divorce, or a family member. Are you good at writing? Send notes and letters. Can you sew? Make some masks for doctors to wear. And, if you have the privilege of economic security during this time – give financially. Support a nonprofit whose donor base may be drying up. Continue giving to the church – our mission of creating community, supporting one another, and pointing to the overwhelming love and grace of God is more vital now than ever before. Give to the Rector’s discretionary fund so that we can respond with real dollars to families and individuals in need.
- We all can RECEIVE. Undoubtedly this is harder for some of us. But, now more than ever we can receive the care of others. We have a tendency in our culture to wave off the generosity of others, to project the air of self-sufficiency, and protest that others need not have bothered. But, sometimes in doing so we risk minimizing the gifts others have to give. So, take the call when someone checks on you, let your kids bring you groceries, accept the invitation to a virtual cocktail party. Sometimes our willingness to receive is a gift in itself.
- We all can ASK. There are many in our world who need to be invited, asked, called out to from the shore. What is it that I can do to support you at this time? What in your life can I pray about? Will you join me in giving to the cause? Do you have a sacred space or time in your week where you take time to be? Can I tell you about my church? Often the greatest gift is the invitation and the ask.
John’s third resurrection account ends with these three actions. Jesus invites them to a new way of fishing and then asks them to bring him some of their catch. The disciples give their fish. And, Jesus receives it. Then, all of it, the ask, the gift, and the receiving become something new, their community is reunited there around a fire and a breakfast. The disciples find themselves swept up in a new economy, in the presence of Jesus. Today I don’t know what it is you are facing. Whatever it is, Jesus is calling you out of grief and fear, out of an old economy that connects money to worth and into a new reality, into the knowledge that you have gifts to give, that you will receive, and that you can be a participant in drawing out and sharing the gifts of others in invitation and ask.
Wherever you are financially, your story and resources will be a gift to other members of the parish. To write a post, share resources, submit an article, or do an interview please contact Sarah Dull, Executive Administrator, contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull.