Monday, February 04, 2013

An idea for livening up that annual parish meeting

Part of my dog and pony show at every annual parish meeting --- ours was Sunday --- is a motion to cash in the endowment and distribute the proceeds among the poor.

The motion never has drawn a second and, to be brutally frank, I wouldn't vote "aye" if given the opportunity (yes, friends, I'm nothing if not a hypocrite).

But the point of the exercise is to spark a little discussion and it generally does  ---  every congregation, no matter how small or large, needs to justify its existence at least once a year. Seriously. Churches are hellishly expensive to operate. Just for giggles, try dividing annual budget by average Sunday attendance --- not the number on the membership rolls.

The response to the question always is interesting. Some who have been around a while just roll their eyes --- "There he goes again." Some I think look forward to the discussion. But others go all defensive: "Just what do you think we're going to do if the church burns down?"

It would be unnecessarily inflammatory to respond, "collect the insurance."

Or, "how are we going to pay the bills?" OK, that monthly interest check, no matter how modest, does help make ends meet.

But one question before we got down to serious discussion Sunday just blew me away: "So are you playing devil's advocate?"

Oh golly. What an opening. What an opportunity for a snark. And darn it I didn't have the guts to grab the vicar's Bible, turn to Matthew 19 (or Mark 10 or Luke 18), and start reading.

Remember that parable?

This rich guy comes up to Jesus and asks, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus responds, keep the commandments and --- oh, by the way, "love your neighbor as yourself."

Still not satisfied, the guy asks, "what do I still lack?"

 Then Jesus delivers the zinger: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, Matthew tells us, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Afterwards, the big guy rubbed salt in the wound while visiting with the disciples: “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

In the end, we had a good discussion --- partly because I had the good sense to leave well enough alone. The guy who asked the question would give the shirt off his back to the poor, after all, was not really talking about serving as an advocate for the devil and did not deserve to be singled out.

But I still wonder. When that inconvenient parable arises in a churchy setting, pastors, priests and parishioners alike tend to just explain it away --- Aw shucks, folks, Jesus couldn't possibly have meant that.

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