In God we Trust: The Dollar Bill
Talking about money in church seems to be troublesome for some folks, for some reason, and it may be a little uncomfortable for some. In the Episcopal Church we are in the middle of the annual giving or stewardship season, and parishes are once again talking about how the gifts God gives us is directly related to the gifts we return to God through our time, talent, and treasure.
Next weekend at St. Monica’s, we will celebrate All Saint’s Day, a Feast Day when we remember or commemorate all saints known and unknown. It is also, for many parishes like ours, the weekend we will make a commitment, pledging our financial support to continue God’s mission of reconciliation through the ministry of St. Monica’s. Next weekend is “Pledge Turn In” Saturday and Sunday and we will pledge to God, to offer a generous portion of what God has given us, more specifically, our Time, Talent, and yes, Our Treasure. It is a day that reminds us that it is still “In God we Trust.”
We find “In God we Trust” printed on every denomination of currency we have in America, and the history of its origin is quite interesting. “During the Cold War era, the … United States sought to distinguish itself from the Soviet Union, which promoted state atheism, and the 84th Congress passed a joint resolution ‘declaring IN GOD WE TRUST the national motto of the United States.’ The same day, President Eisenhower signed into law a requirement that “In God We Trust” be printed on all U.S. currency and coins.” (Wiki)
We have come a long way as a nation since Ike signed that bill into law a few decades ago. I wonder though, do we Americans still hold in esteem, that motto we find on our treasure today? Do we trust in God or ourselves? In less than 30 years, the United States has transformed into a nation where one-quarter (26%) of the populous claims to be religiously unaffiliated, and that was only 8% thirty years ago. Our commitment to trusting God has diminished in only three decades, and the mission of the church is being challenged by this shift in religiosity. To remain effective witnesses of grace, we Christians need to ask, do we still believe “In God We Trust,” or has our culture changed us so much, that we believe our national motto to be “In Me I Trust.”
Pride and Humility
The culture of “In Me I Trust” was present in Jesus’ time. In today’s Gospel reading we hear these words, “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” He said, “Two men who went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” These men came to synagogue regularly and participated in the rites of the religious system. Both men prayed, but both men were wrestling in different ways with their own faith journey, kind of like many of us do today.
Could we be like the Pharisee, who looked at the Tax Collector with condescension? Maybe we look at the person sitting beside us in church and think, “I sure am glad I am not like old Clara Belle over there who carouses around and lives a life of depravity, she hardly ever comes to church, and she talks about people behind their backs all the time.” In other words, could we be like the Pharisee who in his prayer to God said, “I am faithful God. Look at me, look what I do, what I give, and you surely know that I am special to Lord.”
Alternatively, could we be like the Tax Collector, who really does carouse around and lives a life of depravity, hardly ever coming to church, and talking about people behind their backs, but maybe we like him, acknowledges our failures, our need for grace, and we come before God humbled and willing to accept God’s transformation, asking for mercy.
These two men may represent each of us at different stages in our discipleship. I know I’ve been there myself where like the Pharisee who judged the Tax Collector, I compared myself to others. Likewise, I have been the Tax Collector a sinner, who really needed God’s grace. They, like us, are both saint and sinner all at the same time and thus we like them, all need to be transformed and seek right relationships (righteousness). We need to strive to follow Christ, not because it makes us look good, as if we are posting a “Look at me and what I do” post on Social Media. Righteousness does not come from us, but only from God. As David Lores states, “righteousness … is never enough. Why? Because it’s based on our abilities and accomplishments. And we will eventually fall short. Even more, it’s based on comparisons.” (1)
In whom do We Trust?
In his prayer the Pharisee bragged, “I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” The Pharisee followed the motto, “In Me I Trust” because the justification he sought before God was based on what he did. From his pride of accomplishment, his idea of righteousness was all about him and his efforts, not about God’s abundant grace.
The Tax Collector realized he could do nothing to bring about God’s justification to him. The Tax Collector believed in the motto, “In God We Trust. ” He knew he fell short and missed the mark. It was only by his admission of his utter dependence he had on God, his own inability to save himself, that he came to know that we “called or counted righteous no matter what we have done simply because God says so.” (1) The difference between these two people was the fact that they both knew in whom it was they put their trust, but one was in God, and one was in himself.
“IN GOD WE TRUST” is not the arrogant proud religiosity of a nation that believes, “God is on our side,” but a claim that we as a nation, and we as individuals are utterly and humbly dependent upon God’s abundant grace. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Humility is the opposite of pride. Karl Barth identifies pride as “the chief sin of the religious person, because it is fundamentally idolatrous it confuses Creator and creation, Giver and gift.” (3)
Jesus said this about our humility and God’s grace, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” It is when we acknowledge that all we have, all we are, and all we do are gifts from God, then the answer of in whom do we trust becomes clear. Then in our utter dependence on God, we respond to that kind of abundant love, returning to God, a portion of those Gifts God gives us. We become faithful stewards of our Time, Our Talent, and Our Treasure, as a reflection of whom it is we put our trust.
Today’s reading from Syrach reminds us, “Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford.” If it is “In God We Trust,” then we know the very breath we breathe is a gift from God. Our 401K, our home, and even the body we inhabit are all gifts from God over all of which, we are mere stewards, and only for a brief time.
Stewardship is not an annual church fundraising drive through which, we pledge to fund an operating budget each year. The vestry does make decisions about what ministries we will fund based on several factors, one being the amount of gifts given by God’s people. However, stewardship is a way of life. A way through which, we respond to God grace through a returning of the gifts of Time, Talent, and Treasure God has given us.
When we consider our stewardship are we like the Pharisee whose generosity was persuaded by a belief that everything over which he was a steward was stamped with, “In Me I Trust.” Alternatively, when we consider our stewardship are we like the Tax Collector, whose generosity was persuaded by a belief that everything over which he was a steward was stamped with, “In God We Trust.
Our Stewardship is simply a faithful response to God’s abundant love, through which we offer time for worship and service in ministry, we offer talents to do those things only you have been uniquely gifted to do, and we offer treasure, the tangible symbols of the work we do in the world each and every day. When we offer these things back to God generously, then we are clearly claiming that in all things, it is always “In God We Trust.”
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1; ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1956), p 458-513.