Summary: In times of financial stress, God knows the pressures on us. Our problem is that we want both material and spiritual security at the same time. The answer is faithfulness to the core values of ministry and witness.
A little snatch of dialogue from a television show caught my attention. Could it be true, or was it just so much pretentious hype? Could it be right, or was it just another exercise in excuse-making?
The character who spoke, I noticed, was dressed tres chic and lived in a lavish house with a spectacular view. To all appearances, she had it all. But what was this coming out of her mouth? "It’s much worse to have had money and then lose it than never to have had it at all!" What do you think?
I don’t know, do you? "It’s much worse to have had money and then lose it than never to have had it at all." Is having and losing worse than not having? I don’t pretend to know. Of course, I would be willing to run a little experiment. With your help on the first part, the having part, I’d be willing to see what it feels like … though I’m a bit squeamish about the losing part!
And who isn’t? These are days in which it is easy to feel squeamish and unsettled about material things. These are shaky days for a whole lot of people.
If ever there was a message whose time has come, the message for today is surely on time. If ever there was a Scripture which would speak to the days in which we live, surely the Lord’s word to the church at Smyrna is right on target. "I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich."
As you know, I plan my sermon themes and Scripture selections well in advance. I made my choice fully two months ago to bring you a Lenten series on the letters to the seven churches of Asia. That choice determined that I would be dealing with the church at Smyrna today. All cut and dried, right?
Who could have known then that in these months we would have been bombarded with all sorts of news about the shakiness of our financial situation? Who could have known that all across the political spectrum we would speak of enormous deficits and cutbacks in everything from school lunches to assisted housing? Who could have known? We feel like blaming somebody for a federal deficit that amounted in 1994 alone to 232 billion dollars! That’s billion, as in big, bulky, and blasphemous! I’m reminded of old Senator Dirksen, who used to say that up there on Capitol Hill, they spend a billion here and spend a billion there, and pretty soon it adds up to some real money!
Who could have known that our city would be faced with such incredible financial problems that the bankers would downgrade he city’s loans to the status of junk bonds? Who could have known, and who did know? Neither the new mayor, nor the old mayor, nor the old, old mayor who is also the new mayor ... none of these folk claims to have known.
We live in shaky times. Disturbing times. But more. This is a message whose time has surely come, because now some of us are facing job loss, benefit cuts, rent raises, and all sorts of anxious moments. Who could have known that this would happen? Just in the last week some of this happened, just yesterday! Who could have known?
And, as for our church, we too got a bit of a surprise. Your trustee chairman went to the bank to sign the final papers on the loan for our renovation work. When the interest rate came out at more than 10%, we groaned and said, "Who knew? Who could have known?" The banker told us to blame the Federal Reserve system; that’s not a lot of comfort.
And then, at the end of the week, who could have known that my insurance man would visit me and tell me I don’t have enough life insurance and I don’t have any disability insurance …and what if? Who knows? Who can know? These are shaky times.
So the message I have today is most timely. And as for the question, "Who knew? Who could have known?" ... I think there is an obvious answer. The planning and the timing of this message are not accidental. The answer lies in the first two words of our Lenten theme; the word of Jesus, the Lord of the church, is always this: "I know. I know."
This morning I want to focus on faithfulness in a time of disturbance, especially financial disturbance. I want to bring you good news in a time of troublesome news. I am convinced that the message of the Lord to the church at Smyrna is timely for the church at Takoma.
The first thing I see in this letter to the church at Smyrna is simply that our Lord understands our shakiness. He knows our anxiety, and He knows what it means. Christ never called us to live out in the dark. He never called us to be ignorant of financial and material realities. He does understand. He knows about such things. But His understanding them means also that He knows what our anxiety is really all about. He knows what it means.