A Lent I
Holy Child and St. Martin Episcopal Church
Daly City CA
Behind the Fig Leaf
“Open, O Lord, the eyes of all people to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works, that, rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may honor thee with our substance, and be faithful stewards of thy bounty.”
Do you know what this is? (fig leaf)
Not very big, is it? Sort of a fig leaf bikini, it seems to me.
It’s what Adam and Eve used, the first reading says, to try to hide from God.
But you know from the story that they were not successful.
God found them. As God finds us. Which is what this Lenten season is about—letting ourselves be found by God.
We just heard this story from the book of Beginnings, of Genesis, that tells the beginning of our trying to hide from God. Adam and Eve have done the one thing that they were told not to do. Later there would be 10 commandments, but in the beginning there was only one: Don’t eat from the tree in the middle to the garden. So what did we do? We ate from the tree in the middle of the garden.
Then came the first “Uh-oh!” And that’s when we first tried to hide the truth—with a fig leaf, Genesis says.
The next 3 verses after today’s reading ends continues the story of the first attempted cover-up:
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden and I was afraid so I hid myself.” (Gen. 3: 8-10)
Clad in their fig leaves and taking cover behind the trees, they attempt to hide from God. But God calls out to them: “Where arrrrrrre yooooou?”
Now once found out, Adam comes clean. – I know: in a few moments he will try to blame everything on the woman, and she will try to blame everything on the serpent.
But first off, Adam comes clean and confesses: “I was afraid” he confesses, “so I hid myself.”
This is why any of us hide— because we are afraid. Why else would we hide except when we are afraid, when there is something in our life that we would like to avoid facing.
I was at a financial planning conference not long ago where I attended a seminar on “life planning.” In the financial planning profession nationally, there is a movement among financial planners that is called “life planning.” Life planning challenges the assumption that the role of a financial planner is to help the client to maximize their wealth. Instead, it begins with the question, ‘What is the wealth for?” In other words, the role of the financial planner is not simply to help you to get more money; it is to ask you, “What is the money for???”
Roy Dilberto, our former national CFP resident who has a practice in Kansas City, says that when they do an intake of new client, they have the client come in and they bring the client into a comfortable conference room and they ask the client three questions. The first question is, “If you had all the money that you wanted, what would you do?” The second question is, ‘If you knew that you only had 10 more years to live, how would you spend these next years ahead?’ And finally, “If you were to die at midnight tonight, what would be your biggest regrets?” March 13, 2011.
Here is where they bring out the box of tissues, for it is a question that stirs up deep feelings in us because it gets us in touch with places in our lives where we might want to make some adjustments. If for a moment we consider our how we are living our life from the standpoint of its sudden and inevitable end—which is of course is the whole point of putting ashes on our heads to bring to stark awareness that “we are dust, and to dust we shall return”—if we can for a moment imagine how our life would look from the perspective of all our chances to do anything different being completely over: then what does it feel like to us?
Of course, by the grace of God, our lives are not yet over, and we have this season of repentance, of turning, in which we may still make some significant changes in order to bring our lives more into alignment with what we know is most important in life, and with what alone lasts forever.
This third and final question asked by this financial planner of his new prospective clients—if you were to die tonight, what would be your biggest regrets?—is an apt question for us as we enter a season of coming out from hiding and letting our secrets be exposed to God who is merciful and will love us into a happier path.
It should not escape our notice that the person, the professional advisor, who is asking these three questions is a FINANCIAL advisor. He is someone who is seeking to help people come into more fruitful relationship with their money. I don’t think that I have to point out to you how rare this is, that people come into a relationship with their money, their financial assets, that is positive and meaningful for their lives.
In my experience as a professional financial planner as well as a priest, I come into touch with a broad range of people in terms of their financial circumstances and I can reliably report to you that there seems to be no direct correlation whatsoever between net worth and net happiness. Financially wealthy or financially poor, the genuine happiness of a fulfilling life seems to be as remote or as accessible to one as to the other. On a per capita basis, you may not find more happiness in Ross than you would in the Canal. It all depends, I have found, on what relationship a person has found with life and with their money as an expression of their life.
Do you remember the old Jack Benny gag in which the penny-pinching Jack Benny is accosted by a mugger who sticks a gun in his face and demands, “Your money or your life!” Finding no response, the mugger demands more urgently: “Your money or your life!” Jack Benny replies, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!”
Well, our money and our lives do get pretty twisted together, often in ways that we do not understand. Unless we have had occasion to explore our feelings about money, we are likely to still be living out whatever the messages were about money in the family we grew up in when we were still tiny youngsters. I won’t go into what these messages were in the household I grew up in, but I will encourage you to consider your own personal earliest experiences and how these may have blindly shaped how you feel about money today.
Perhaps you’ve heard enough about money now and want to get back to the Bible. Perhaps you recall the final words of Jesus from the Ash Wednesday gospel: “Where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.” This is how Jesus concludes his counsel to us about how we are to engage in our spiritual disciplines, disciplines of praying, and fasting, and alms-giving. Did I say alms-giving? Then we are back to money again. But if we examine the teachings of Jesus, then it is hard for us to avoid this topic that often makes us feel uncomfortable, because fully 40% of Jesus’ sayings relate to money.
The only reason that Jesus talks so much about the M-word is because his concern is for our souls, our hearts, and—as he says—where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. We invest our money with such deep and often unexamined meaning. I was a parish pastor for 12 years before I left parish ministry and became a financial planner. These two occupations seemed poles apart to most people. “So you abandoned God for Mammon!”, I was teased. But what I discovered is that there was about a 70% carryover from my skills as a pastor to my skills as a financial planner, from pastoral care and counseling to financial care and counseling. And this is because – as Jack Benny exemplified—there is a deep connection between our money and our life.
In one of the first interviews I was conducting as a financial planner, when the husband got up and left the room, the wife leaned forward and confided, “We tell you things that we haven’t even told our therapist!” Yes, I was thinking, or your priest.
When we peek behind our own fig leaf at the things we try to hide from one another and from God, we may find there our relationship with money. “I was afraid,” Adam explained, “so I hid.” It is easy in our culture to be afraid of money. We may be afraid that we do not have enough, or we may be afraid that we have too much, or that we are not managing it well, and so on and so on.
This is precisely where we want to listen for the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening, and calling out to us: “Where are you?” Because the mercy of God is bigger than our fear, and the forgiveness of God is bigger than our sins, and God can lead us out into a new place of resurrection. The direction is pointed to by Jesus when he speaks of getting our hearts and our treasure moving together in the same direction.
“If you were to die tonight, what would be your biggest regrets?” the financial planner asks. This is an exercise that can bring us to a clearer recognition of what it is that is most important to us. What is it that matters most to you in your life, what is more precious to you than anything else—perhaps more than life itself? The more clearly you can discern and name what is most important to you—your deepest values, your faith really—the more completely you can bring your life including your money into alignment with what gives your life meaning.
To the extent that we can get our lives and our money lined up with our hearts, we will know the genuine happiness that comes from knowing that we are on the right path, a path that leads to God and to being a blessing for others with whom we share this world during our brief pilgrimage on earth. To the extent that we get our financial assets—our income, our capital and our estates—lined up with our souls, our money becomes an expression of our hearts and our heart’s devotion and a source of joy. Imagine that: our money becoming a source not of anxiety, but rather of joy.
And the first step in this direction is precisely the step that we have already taken this morning of coming here to this place, before this Table, to come consciously into the presence of the one before whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid. –Before whom no fig leaves hold up. The one who dealt with his temptations so that he might help us with ours. The one who gave his life, and said, “Take eat, this is my body, given for you. Take and drink, this is my blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”
Our money or our life? God wants them both.
Thanks be to God!