President’s Travelogue: Lent Reflection

Tags: , ,

Jay Smith, YTI President and Bridger Professor of Theology & Ethics

March 6, 2017

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

—1 Timothy 6:10 NIV

Loosening our grip in Lent

In all of my travels on this trip, I’ve seen massive, ancient buildings of worship. From village church buildings to great cathedrals. These edifices were built in a 400-year period of time between AD1000 and AD1400, a time of great investment in all things spiritual by Western culture. Each of these buildings took years to build; in some cases, centuries to build; nevertheless, they were built. Each building represented thousands and thousands of hours of labor and millions of dollars in today’s currency.

It is true that these buildings primarily were financed by kings and conquerors; nevertheless, the merchant and peasant invested in these structures too. They invested their money, their time and their lifeblood for God’s house in their midst. Just as the widow dropped her mite in the collection box, so did the people of the medieval world invest what they had into the church buildings and cathedrals of their day. In other words, they placed their very limited incomes into what they believed was right and true. They believed that in return, they would be loved and blessed by God.

The thirst of greed

Now let us switch to the 21st century. In Western culture, religious practice is in decline. Secular culture and its ambiguous spirituality are on the rise. The very idea of charitable giving is being questioned. This creates a culture in which consumers either hold on to every penny they earn for future needs, or they spend it as fast as possible on personal pleasures. Giving a designated portion – “a tithe” – to the person’s religious organization is naturally declining, while the person’s desire for “stuff” is increasing. Ultimately greed is winning the war with austerity. We now “buy” stuff to satiate our natural spiritual inclinations. Yet since “stuff” can never quench the thirst of greed, we buy more and more stuff, never being satisfied until we are in the grave.

What can we learn from the ancients to quench this thirst?

Loosening our grip on loving money

We need to loosen our grip on our “love of money.” We need to give generously and charitably to those social concerns that benefit our communities. We need to allow God’s direction to guide our spiritual investments as well as our material consumption.

In Christendom, we have customarily adopted the Old Testament “tithe” as our guide to giving to the church in which we participate. Yet, Christ asks for all of our person. The center of life for the person in the middle ages was the church – not simply the building, but the community and spirituality that it represented. The church taught them, baptized them, cared for them and buried them. To give to the church was truly an investment in the community as well as an act of worship.

This Lenten season, rethink your possessions – rethink how you give and how you consume. Let God have what is God’s – all of you!