Faith Matters - Gospel Economics

It is a smack upside the head: “Lotto Jackpot Now $17 Million.”  National economic crisis or no, gaming remains a recession-proof way to pay some of the government’s bills. The billboard beckons to one and all on the interstate. Generally I don’t even see it. Today it kidnaps me and takes me to a part of town where I don’t generally venture after dark. I begin to imagine how much money we are actually talking about. That would be 17 followed by six zeroes. Even someone numerically-challenged knows that we are talking real money here.

My mind begins to imagine what I could do with that kind of wealth. A siren knocks and I open the door and set an extra place at the table. Even after I care for the needs of my Uncle Sam, there would be money and enough to get some things done: good things, wonderful things, render-unto-God things. Sweet Jesus, I am ready to book passage on that cruise ship.

I begin to imagine what a huge endowment would mean to the holy work of people and places I care deeply about: UMCOR, VIM, Habitat, Haiti, Shalom, Salaam, Hungry, Homeless and Hapless. My brain reels and I smile at the difference my lucre could make, the joy I could bring, the rescue I could effect, and the ministry I could purchase. I think that if I give it all away I would be left with nothing but peace of mind. Some pocket change would be enough for me. God knows, I would be happy to do it anonymously.  

It is a complete fantasy, of course. I don’t play Lotto or take overnight trips with any of that fraternity. I am offended that the government panders to our hope. I resent that what is most precious is priced so cheaply. That does not even take into account the reality that we have about as much chance of winning this game played with house rules as we have of being abducted by extraterrestrials. Instead of challenging us to share, we are enticed to get, not by using our gifts of body and brain but by the fickle whim of ping-pong balls. What kind of house can you build on the false hopes of the needy?  

Reality notwithstanding, I ascend the gangplank to the ship. Harmless enough on a morning ride to town I suppose, but my journey reveals something of a deeper desire, a persistent heart-longing of those who dream of Shangri-la or Arcadia. Although, admittedly, we know full well it will most likely turn out to be like the man behind the curtain in Oz. It is a reverie rooted in the hope of “more.” If only I had more, then I would have enough, then I would be satisfied and then I could afford to be generous.  

It is the ancient, new-every-morning myth of happiness by addition. I don’t believe that I believe it, but that doesn’t stop me from imagining it. I must partially believe it because my daydreams betray me. If only I had that money I could do more and better. Of course, it flies in the face of the other truth by which I claim to live. Caught between what I say and what I dream, I wish this ship would dock and let me to slip quietly ashore when the crew is sleeping.  

What I say I believe is an opposite truth: the Gospel call of abundant life by subtraction. It calls to mind St. Paul speaking in Philippians of Jesus “emptying himself.” The hymn to Christ speaks of emptying, humility and obedience. We have no evidence of which I am aware that Jesus ever sought to acquire anything.

Everything was borrowed: stable, loaves and fishes, donkey, upper room, cross and tomb. His life force was broadcast, subtracted, and left behind as he lived. There is less of him so there can be more of others. It is the model of the servant. He invites, “follow me.” I recall that John Wesley left nothing behind but a few teaspoons and a movement.  

There is a daily fork in the road. Worn smooth is the way of addition: life measured by accumulation. The road less traveled, on the other hand, is littered with what has been set down, given away and thrown aside by those with empty hands and full hearts. But that is not the prevailing wind blowing in our culture. It never will be. It is foolish and incomprehensible. It is the way to be taken up only by those who have taken Gospel Economics 101: life measured by what is left behind.  

Moving on down the interstate, the lotto invitation fades from view as some gracious truths take up residence in the passenger seat. I will never win the Lotto. All that I will be able to leave behind I have. My discipleship is expressed by what I do with what has been given to me. It is unfaithful for me to hold out for better terms.  

My eyes shift focus to the rear view mirror and I look carefully on the road behind.  

God’s peace.

Chuck Johns   

By: Reverend Chuck Johns On 2/1/2009