April 18, 1999
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Luke 24:13-35 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." 25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (NRSV)


2 Corinthians 5:16-6:10 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

1 As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,

"At an acceptable time I have listened to you,

and on a day of salvation I have helped you."

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see -- we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (NRSV)

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Did you ever notice the bumper sticker that says: As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in school. Probably the same thing could be said about taxes: As long as there are taxes, there will be prayer in the home: O Lord, grant that I might successfully deduct the full amount of my medical and dental expenses that exceed 7.5% of my adjusted gross income, and only those expenses that I paid for this year, regardless of the time when they were provided, except if I used a credit card in which case I can deduct them based on the date of the charge rather than on the date of the payment, if it be in the will and wisdom of the IRS and according to the provisions of publication 502, catalog number 15002Q, Amen.

When we first moved up here we had an accountant do our taxes, but the past few years we’ve purchased a computer program and plugged in the new figures. This year there was a new twist to the computer program as it offered a page of comparisons between our household and other households with similar income and taxes. It told us we were saving too little, investing too little, and giving away too much.

This business of giving away money is sort of an occupational hazard for me. Before coming here, as many of you know, I worked for a seminary. I was responsible for going to church boards, pastors, alumni, and interested individuals and asking for money. Early on some wise person told me that if I didn’t want to feel like a beggar, I’d better give money in the same proportion that I was asking from others. Obviously I couldn’t give as much as I was asking from them, because my job was to concentrate on people and churches of significant means. We had a number of major donors like the family that owns Pella Windows in Pella, Iowa, or Marble Collegiate Church, or the Hearst Foundation, and so on.

Our family couldn’t afford to give anything like the amounts they would give, but the thought was, and it proved to be true, that if I was going to maintain my self esteem and be successful in raising funds, I would have to learn how to give before I learned how to ask.

And believe me when I tell you this, I was not a quick learner in the school of giving. For some that may be hard to imagine, because I’m sure you think of me as such a generous, highly evolved kind of guy. But most of you know me better.

I mentioned at Easter how I had found some old football memorabilia though an internet auction. This is becoming quite the rage, and I often look to see what kinds of things are for sale. The other night I was looking at old camera equipment. Before we left Vermont for New Jersey we sold off a lot of stuff, and among the things I sold was a couple of old press cameras, Speed Graphics they were called. I had all kinds of accessories that went with these cameras as well - different film backs, lenses, and flash guns - the old kind that used flash bulbs. Those I sold for almost nothing, because who uses flash bulbs anymore?

Well, in the on line auction the other night I see several of these old flash units for sale and I thought I’d check out the prices. I figure $4 or $5 tops - maybe I’ll pick one up. Imagine my surprise when I see prices of $240, $290, $325. It seems that George Lucas bought up the market in these old flash units and used the handle part as the Jedi Light Saber in the Star War movies. Star War fans everywhere are now vying for these, and they will stop at nothing to get one.

Now, there was a time when the thought that I’d sold something for $3 that now would bring $300 would bother me, grate on my nerves, keep me up at night, cause me to grind my teeth. But I assure you, It doesn’t bother me at all !!@#%%#!!!!

It keeps coming back to me - I’m not good at letting go, and my appetite for things is insatiable. And because I’m challenged in this area, I know how important it is to have the guidance and encouragement that comes from being part of a religious community, a community that presents us with a mission bigger than our own gratification and guides us towards generosity.

I set before myself as a personal goal the attitude expressed in Paul’s letter to the Philippians: Philippians 4:12-13 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Paul has a similar thought In the second lesson we read this morning: We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see -- we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

As having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

There is a mystery here - a path less taken that can lead to a tremendous sense of wealth and well being and freedom. I don’t think it has that much to do with being poor or rich in the eyes of the IRS. It has to do with our attitude, our relationships, with what we love with all our heart and soul and might - for whatever that is, is our God; whatever weighs the heaviest in the balance of our affections, that is what rules our lives. The love of money is a slave driver, while the living God leads us out of slavery and into a land flowing with milk and honey.

In the life of the church there have always been those who want to solve the problem of money by simply declaring all such concerns worldly and somehow beneath the spiritual call of the believer. Early hermits left everything and went out to live in the desert. Ascetics renounced possessions and practiced many strange forms of self denial and even self punishment to overcome the lures of wealth and pleasure. Franciscan and Dominican monks became mendicants, poor beggars for the Lord.

But most of us, we have bills to pay and families to support. We want to be able to afford a nice meal, a movie, a vacation. Is this so wrong? Is this against the faith?

I think for our circumstances, perhaps the words of Clement, a bishop of the early church, might be a more useful guide. He wrote: It is possible for a man to unburden himself of his wealth and remain nonetheless sunk in habitual desire and hankering for it. How much better are the possibilities of the opposite condition, in which one not only possesses enough not to have to worry about possessions, but can also aid others as one ought. How much opportunity would we have for sharing our goods, if no one had any?

The key to being able to live by the truth Clement stated is found in that word, enough. It is echoed in a Chinese proverb: Those who know that enough is enough will always have enough.

I want to end this sermon with one last story. This also came over the internet, but I can tell you the effect it had on me was much different from the effect of either my Turbo Tax experience or the Jedi Light Saber discovery. The story is entitled, The Rich Family in Church:

I'll never forget that Easter. I was 14 and lived at home with my mother, brothers and sisters. We knew what it was to do without many things, for my dad had died five years before, leaving Mom with very little money.

A month before Easter the pastor of our church announced that a special Easter offering would be taken to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save and give sacrificially. When we got home, we talked about what we could do. We decided to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering. Then we thought that if we kept our electric lights turned out as much as possible we'd save money on that month's electric bill. The kids got as many house and yard cleaning jobs as possible and babysat for everyone we could. That month was one of the best of our lives.

Every day we counted the money to see how much we had saved. At night we'd talk about how the poor family was going to enjoy having the money the church would give them. We had about 80 people in church, so figured that whatever amount of money we had to give, the offering would surely be 20 times that much. After all, every Sunday the pastor had reminded everyone to save for the sacrificial offering.

The day before Easter, I walked to the grocery store and got the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and one $10 bill for all the change we’d saved. We were so excited that we had $70 for the sacrificial offering.

We could hardly wait to get to church! When the sacrificial offering was taken, Mom put in the envelope with the $10 bill, and three of us kids put in a $20.

As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. Late that afternoon the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn't say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a bunch of money. There were three crisp $20 bills, one $10 and seventeen $1 bills.

Mom put the money back in the envelope. We were the poor family? I knew we didn't have a lot of things that other people had, but I'd never thought we were poor.

That Easter day I found out we were. The minister had brought us the money for the poor family, so we must be poor. I didn't like being poor. I looked at my dress and worn-out shoes and felt so ashamed--I didn't even want to go back to church. Everyone there probably already knew we were poor!

We sat in silence for a long time. Then it got dark, and we went to bed. All that week, we girls went to school and came home, and no one talked much. Finally on Saturday, Mom asked us what we wanted to do with the money. We didn't know. We sure didn't want to go to church on Sunday, but Mom said we had to. Although it was a sunny day, we didn't talk on the way.

At church we had a missionary speaker. He talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun dried bricks, but they needed money to buy roofs. He said $100 would put a roof on a church. The minister said, "Can't we all sacrifice to help these poor people?" We looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week.

Mom reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope. She passed it to me, and I put it in the offering.

When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over $100. The missionary was excited. He hadn't expected such a large offering from our small church. He said, "You must have some rich people in this church."

Suddenly it struck us! We had given $87 of that "little over $100."

We were the rich family in the church! Hadn't the missionary said so? From that day on I've never been poor again.

As the apostle Paul said: We are treated as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

And, trust me, there’s no tax on that kind of wealth.

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Let us pray:

We give you thanks, O God, for the richness of life we discover when we come into right relationship with you and with our neighbors in Jesus Christ. His living presence transforms our lives and offers us freedom from anxiety and fear. He meets us on the road of life and welcomes us into the company of the faithful. May our lives be yielded to the influence of his spirit and our hearts made full by the abundance of his love.

In Christ your transform our relationships with one another. You reveal to us a new vision of community which breaks down barriers of class, of race, of creed, of ancestry and status. . You call on us to pray for enemy as well as friend, for stranger as well as family. Sometimes it is unclear to us how our prayers should be formed. We pray for peace in our world, but at what price? We pray for an end to hunger and homelessness, but where is our part in answering this prayer?

Guide us in our prayers and in our actions, in our life at home, at work, at school, and in this church. As you give us gifts, resources, abilities, talents, and opportunities, may we use them in your service. May we remember each day to take the time to offer our words of gratitude and our prayers for those in need of our comfort, healing, and help.

Especially today we pray for:

When we lack the words to express the depth of our prayers, may we experience the presence of your Holy Spirit with us, interceding on our behalf and bringing us your peace.

Fill our hearts with your compassion, and give us strength to serve those we pray for in their need, in the name of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

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