Dr. Judith Stack holds a PhD in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary. She taught at the undergraduate and masters levels for over a decade and has worked as a faith formation and outreach specialist in Episcopal and Lutheran congregations. Here, Judy shares a personal story of money and meaning.
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’”
Standing in the sanctuary, the words from the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12 hit me hard. It was August and the upcoming school year was approaching. The obligations of my own teaching, kids going back to school, and the resumption of all the usual activities had me feeling overwhelmed. Despite the fact that I had more time and energy than I’d had for many years, I had decided I needed to conserve my resources. Say “no” more often. Scale back my expenditures of time and attention. I was going to build bigger barns to store up what I had.
God’s words came to me through this parable. To paraphrase, God said: “What are you saving yourself up for!?! If you died three months from now, what would have been the point of withholding yourself? Spend yourself now. Now is all you have.”
I thought of all the wisdom I had heard over the years: how God cannot pour more into a vessel that is already full but only into one that pours its contents out. That lakes that only take in and have no outflow become stagnant. The Dead Sea is dead because, unlike the Sea of Galilee, water only flows in and not through.
I also thought about my own lack of faith. My impulse to hoard my resources was really an expression of my lack of trust that God could provide more of what I needed if I used what he had already given. Did I really think God was so stingy? Or did I believe in God’s abundant generosity? What kind of God did I believe in? Was I going to trust in myself to provide what I needed (by storing up what I had) or trust God to fill and refill?
I determined to be a riverbed rather than a pond. For the next few months, I said yes to everything! And because of this, over the next year, while there were definitely times when I couldn’t keep all the plates spinning, I was immensely happy! I discovered that participating in all the things that I loved—particularly at St John’s, which at one point meant I was in 11 ministries, groups, and committees simultaneously!—gave me energy. The more I gave, the more I had. But that is just like God’s love, isn’t it?
While I don’t recommend this for everyone (the command to pour myself out like this was for me at that moment), I learned an important lesson and one which has continued to guide me: hoarding your resources—whether they are personal (time, energy, attention) or material (money and things)—is the way of a “fool,” as the parable says. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how God has ordered the world. We were built to be pipes, not pitchers. Everything God gives us is sent to us to be poured out for someone else. When we close off the pipe, we lose the flow. The wider we make the pipe, the more God can pour through us.
While this may not seem a completely apropos story for a series titled “Finance First,” one of the things that we have been seeing in our series “It’s a Wonder-full Life” over the last month and through reading the book Integrating Money and Meaning is how money and how we relate to it has everything to do with our wider perspective on our life resources more generally. Money is one tangible way we express our beliefs and priorities, and how we manage it speaks volumes about what we believe about God, ourselves, and others. Do we have a perspective of scarcity (which would lead us to store up) or one of abundance (that allows us to be generous)? Going forward, I plan, with God’s help, to make my next set of choices based on love, joy, and trust rather than fear about the future.
Finance First Fridays is a pastoral initiative here at St. John’s. Discussing finances can be difficult and bring up feelings of worry and shame. However, money is a real factor in all of our lives and an important topic to address. A look through the Gospels shows us that Jesus had a lot to say on the subject of finances. If you have a personal story you’d like to tell or a financial resource or article you’d like to share in a future Finance First Fridays post, please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull.