But as we come to the tree the current turns us parallel to it, and all of a sudden, the current catches the keel of the canoe, and flips it over, tossing us both in the river. The canoe is sucked under the tree and heads down river without us. I climb up onto a branch sticking up front the trunk and watch Bob go under the tree after his new canoe. Of course, being immortal teenagers, we don’t have on life vests and any cushions we may have had are long gone.
I don’t remember how long it takes Bob to get the canoe, and the paddles, but soon enough here he comes paddling up river to get me.
A great memory, to be sure, and for me an image of the life of faith: The river is the flow of the Divine Life and we are in a boat we call the church, that is meant to flow on the Divine River and work to save those who are caught on trees, rocks and snags.
But then, we make some bad choices and end up out of the boat and holding onto a branch for dear life. Now the river looks like our enemy, while the branch looks like our friend. But the branch isn’t salvation, because if we hang onto it forever, we’ll miss the true adventure of riding on the River of Life.
Of course, Christ, like my brother, at mortal risk to himself, goes after the capsized church, empties it of water, and comes back to get us.
And then we face the major decision of our lives: in our fear do we hang onto the branch which feels like health and salvation, or do we let go of the branch, and in what looks like a perilous move, climb back into the boat with Christ.
Jesus says we can’t do both!
In my flawed image, the branch to which we cling may represent many things, for there are many things that snag us in life: the power of sex has capsized countless boats, as have such things as racial pride, ethnic prejudice, and “-isms” which are the worship of things that aren’t God and aren’t capable of giving us life: a healthy love of country becomes a blind nationalism when we worship the nation as an infallible god; a healthy love of science becomes a fundamentalist scientism when we worship science as an infallible god, to which we give our lives.
Jesus warns us about all these things that sink our boat, but the one danger Jesus spends the most time talking about is the mortal danger of worshipping our Money, our Wealth.
Today, in that first strange parable, Jesus tells us NOT to use our money to make more money, but instead to build community and make friends.
And the gospel ends with Jesus being straightforward: he says we can’t serve both God and money. We either serve money and use god to build the kingdom of the Self. Or we serve God and use money to spread God’s kingdom of healing and forgiveness.
We can either cling to the branch or we can let go of the branch and step into the boat, but we can’t do both. We have to choose which action we believe will give us the most life.
Money has always been a huge block to my ability to ride the River of Life. The fear of—the fear of—not having enough money causes me to cling to my money, instead of sharing it with others.
This is what happens to the people the Prophet Amos is preaching to today:
this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
It’s not just greed that makes them act this way, but also fear, fear of not having every desire met.
Because of my personal fear, I find healing and peace come as I practice facing my fear through sharing my money in a systematic way. It’s sort of like finally turning to face that monster that is chasing us in our dreams, and finding it’s not a monster after all.
My chief practice for the past 35 years is to figure out each year what percentage of my income I give to the church.
I encourage you to try it: take time today to figure out what your percentage of giving to the church is.
For example: you take your income, if you’d like use your net income after taxes and college debt payments, and divide that net income into your annual pledge to All Saints’ to see what percentage you are giving.
Let’s say that your net family income is $80,000 and your pledge is $400 a year—that means you are giving one half of one percent.
If your net is $80,000 and you give $1600 a year you are giving 2%.
If you are giving $8,000 which is 10%, which is the Biblical standard that means you’re giving back to God 1 penny and keeping 9 pennies for yourself.
Once you determine your percentage, consider raising that percentage for 2020.
I’ve had a number of parishioners who when they get to 10%, find they so enjoy the freedom of living with a spirit of abundance and gratitude that they move to 11%. They have let go of the branch and are shooting the rapids with Christ at the helm.
On July 30, 1956 a joint resolution of congress signed by President Eisenhower put the phrase “In God we Trust” on all of our currency. “In God We Trust” also became the official motto of the United States, replacing “E Pluribus, Unum”, “out of many, one”.
As an aside, I wonder: if we’d left “E Pluribus, Unum” in big print on our money, would our country be as conflicted about immigrants?
Of course, no law or motto, can make us let go of our false gods and get into the boat with Christ.
After all, as long as the branch holds, we can believe the illusion that we are safe.
Safe, that is, until we realize we are missing the experience for which we are born: being generous people on the River of Life.
I invite you to join me in praying again the Collect of the Day:
“Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”