The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
Today we are experiencing a synchronicity of observances in the life of our church: it is both World Communion Sunday and the kickoff of our stewardship campaign. Initially, I thought about it as more of an eclipse, with one special Sunday covering the other, but as I thought more about it, it provides an opportunity for us to see our faith, our generosity, our giving in a global and a local context.
By a show of hands, how many of us think of ourselves as rich? A few years back the Occupy Wall Street Movement took aim at the “One Percenters” -– the people who are in the very top income bracket in our country -– and denounced the disparity of income in our country. And to be sure, even though that movement has dissipated, the problem of income inequality worsens. But it isn’t just a problem for us nationally…it’s a global issue. Let me ask you another question: By a show of hands, and looking beyond the United States, how many of think that you are not simply doing okay, but wealthy in the global scheme of things?
This may surprise you, but if your household income is $32,400 or more, you are a “One Percenter,” globally speaking. The median income for households in Fort Collins is $60,110, and the mean household income is $80,591. Does that help put things in perspective?
Median household income in Italy is just over $20,000 a year (one-third of Fort Collins), and in Portugal it’s just over $16,000 a year…those are developed European economies. In Angola, it’s about $3,500 a year, and in Liberia it is only $781.
Let me ask that first question again: By a show of hands, how many of us think of ourselves as rich? So, when we celebrate World Communion Sunday, perhaps it’s helpful for us to have a global perspective on our own wealth. [Jesus interrupts…]
* * *
[Jesus: Hal? … Hal?]
Who is that?
[It’s Jesus, Hal.]
No, it’s not!
[Sure, it is, Hal! Let me prove it…you know this one, don’t you: “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.”]
Yeah, that’s from the end of the Parable of the Unfaithful Slave. And if you really are Jesus, are you trying to tell us that I – we – have been entrusted with a lot and that we will be asked for even more?
[You figure it out, Hal. Duh! Okay, see if this makes sense: “There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day. At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores. (I know it’s gross, but I’m trying to make a point here…)
“The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain. Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us.’
“The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so that they don’t come to this place of agony.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them.’ The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their hearts and lives.’ Abraham said, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”]
Okay, Jesus, I’m feeling persuaded – since you are, after all, someone who rises from the dead. Can I ask you a question? Why is it that you are always talking about money? Are you trying to lay a guilt trip on us?
[Jesus: I talk about two things more than anything else, especially when I’m at dinner with sinners and tax collectors: love and money…both have a lot to do with you becoming a co-creator of the kingdom of God that I came to proclaim. And the reason I talked so much about love and money is that you have so much to give…sometimes you just need to be…well…prompted.]
Okay, then. Consider me prompted. And thanks for the reminder, Jesus.
[Jesus: No problem, Hal, and just remember, “I am with you always…even until the end of the age.”]
* * *
I know that’s a lot to think about. We’ve been showing you videos about how Plymouth is changing peoples’ lives and by extension why your financial support is so essential. And you can see all of those videos at plymouthucc.org/give. But I wonder if the reason that most of us give is that Jesus calls us to open our hearts, and that heart-journey helps us know where we should invest the money that has been entrusted to us.
When we examine ourselves, we know that we are rich by comparison to most of the world, even if Madison Avenue tells us that we are lacking and that our personal wants come before all else. And we know in our hearts that God has entrusted much to us and that we are being called to pay it forward, to go deeper, to give generously. You and I are being called by God -– and not by the advertising industry –- to put our treasure where our hearts are, to invest in the kingdom of God whose hallmarks are faithfulness, justice, peace, and freedom. That is a deeply counter-cultural message in our nation today.
I’ve thought in the past about the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler, who... [Jesus interrupts: Oh, yeah, that’s a good one!] Thank you, for that! I’ve wondered how I might respond if Jesus himself were to ask me face-to-face to give up all of my possessions and follow him. Would it make a difference if it was Jesus standing in front of you, asking you to search your soul and to use what has been entrusted to you for God’s realm? If you don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then you probably won’t be persuaded by someone who rises from the dead.
There are a lot of ways that you can invest in God’s realm. There are different ways to bring faith and justice and peace into God’s world. But for me, Plymouth and the United Church of Christ form the most immediate and sustainable way available. I know that all of us are in different financial situations, some have student loans, big medical bills, kids going to college, car payments, and that it isn’t as simple as saying, “Yes, Jesus, I’m going to give all that up and follow you.” But that doesn’t let us off the hook…it isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. [Jesus interrupts: “Yeah, Zacchaeus (Za-KEY-us) the tax collector to just give half of his possessions away, and…] Okay, thanks, Jesus. We get the idea. It’s not all or nothing; it’s do whatever you are able to do — the very best you can.
I started looking at that Graduated Giving Chart that was in the bulletin last week, and I did some math and figured out that Jane Anne and I should increase what we are giving, and both of us feel as though we need to put our money where our hearts are, and our hearts are here with Plymouth and the United Church of Christ. So, Jane Anne and I have decided to increase our pledge to Plymouth next year to $10,000. I don’t say that because I think you should give exactly the same, but because I don’t believe in asking you to do something that we ourselves are not doing. We’re trying to set an example and to encourage you to stretch. And it will mean some sacrifices on our part, which is not all bad…it makes us more intentional about our giving.
Plymouth is at a crossroads with great opportunities for ministry and mission ahead of us. I know that many of you find tremendous value in what we are doing here, in our community, and around the world. As you consider your pledge for 2020, please use the Graduated Giving Chart, be prayerful, and also put your treasure where your heart is.
© 2019 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact email@example.com for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 Thanks to Bill Tucker, who was the “off-stage” voice of Jesus.
 Luke 12.48 (CEB)
 Luke 16.19-31 (CEB)
 Matthew 28.20 (my translation)
 Luke 19
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.