From those to whom much is given, much is required.

October 20, 2013

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

Suppose you are a comic book collector and dealer. You make a decent living buying and selling comic books on line and in flea markets. You spend a lot of time rooting around in other people’s discards, again on line, at flea markets and on stoops. You also go to a lot of garage sales in the country. You like your life. You are an astute and educated collector. You have developed an expertise. One day you get to a stoop sale where you discover an extraordinarily valuable comic book, worth at least a thousand on the market. You are astonished. You are gobsmacked. Your voice trembles a little when you ask its price. The owner has respectfully rapped in the comic book in plastic. He probably knows its value, and that is why you are excited to pop the question. “How much would you take for this one?” He says, slightly embarrassed, $20.00 It could be worth more but I just want to get rid of it.” You have just joined what we call in my business, an ethical dilemma. An ethical dilemma has to do with what’s wise and fair, especially what’s wise and fair in relationship, as exchange.

He has at least three options, all laid out in our text for today. “From those to whom much is given, much is required.” Your first option is to pay the 20 bucks and run. You got a deal. Your second option – after all this is a stoop sale and the owner clearly doesn’t know the value of his treasure – is to say would you take ten? Your third option is to tell the owner the truth, which is that he has something of value that he shouldn’t just throw away. You go into partnership with him. You offer 500 and make 500. You do a fair exchange, adjusted by experience and knowledge. You give and you take. You also get. You give and receive.

Because this is stewardship Sunday, an ancient pagan rite in which churches participate, the day churches raise money for our annual budget, I could suggest another idea. You get the comic book for 20.00 and give the 1980 profit to your favorite charity, which might even be Judson. That was not an ethical statement.

The text we are muddling here is understood as part of the wisdom genre in New Testament terms. We are continuing our Top Ten Series today and also trying to raise money for our budget. You will be exhorted to pledge today, given a card and a chance to pledge on line. There is no need to be apologetic about this. We just need to do it and we will do it. I hope you will give. I also hope you will get. In terms of the Top Ten messages, I’d like to send towards you, consider this one. Don’t pledge if you aren’t getting something here. Don’t just be a giver. Be a getter. Wisdom is balancing your giving and your getting, your self and others, you’re full self with your hungry self.

There is nothing so sad as a gift refused. Ask incarcerated people what it is like to be disemployed. Or an actress who can’t get a job and knows she can act? Or a designer who is unemployed for so long that he begins to wonder if he can design? Or a social work “case” who is humiliated to have to ask for help but has no other option?

The wisdom in this scripture is here: you want to balance your life as a giver and a receiver. You want to lift others up and you want to be lifted up. You do that by getting power and releasing power. You join a circle of fair exchange, where you both give and get.

As John Mc Cain said about the Republican Party this week, the only people who still like them are their relatives and paid staff members. That is not true of us. Just the opposite. More and more people whom we don’t even know come here hoping we can help them get strong enough to be a help to others. Your pledge makes this reputation possible, that here you might be able to get some help.

There is a place north of here, called Spuyten Dyval. It is a place of very strong currents and very close to where the initial exchange of monies happened to steal this comic book, I mean, island from the natives. The two rivers that surround us collide and they make waves. What we want from religion I believe is this great collision of our maximum self-interest and our maximum self-emptying. All of religious giving, so often so sanctimonious, is designed to yield justice and a world where all people can give their gifts as a way of getting a life. We exist to manage the strong internal currents in human beings as well as those outside of us. Those strong internal currents, wisdom tells us, are the desire to give and to get and keeping them in balance. When we have too much, we give it away. When we have too little, we ask for help. These are good ways to live. I hope that we will stop distorting religion into giving only. Let us be getters too.

One of our members is really sick. She is unemployed and trying to get on disability. She may go bankrupt on her way and become homeless. Her sister called her last week to ask her for help for her daughter, our member’s niece. Spuyten meet Dyval. Should she try to help her niece? Should she bless out her sister? Should she collapse into one of those strongly hard place where you don’t know what to do, like a comic book collector faced with a great opportunity to sin? Or gain?

Alice Munro, the Canadian short story writer, just won the Nobel prize. She was too frail to attend the ceremony to receive it. An interviewer asked her if she had any regrets. Yes, said she, I regret the time I spent worrying that I wasn’t a good enough mother and housekeeper, that I was so selfish that all I wanted to do was write. Can you imagine that Alice Munroe feared that she wasn’t domestic enough? I can. Her gifts were directly in confrontation with her scripted role as a woman. She decided to get. To write. What a wonderfully selfish act! Imagine if she had decided to be more “giving?”

So back to Judson. There are two Judsons, one is just Judson, a small band of fellow travelers who take care of each other, sing songs, have rituals, make the space safe enough to have a quarrel about God, and along the way got magnificently stuck with this block and steward it for the world. Then there is The Judson and that is what other people, non-members call it. We are close to a process that will invite others to participate in our magnificently interesting capital needs. Call it a Community based capital campaign. Michael Kimmelman, NY Times architect critic, writes the story, “Once again, we climb the steps to the old Judson….” We need to count on our community – the one we help and give to – now to help us. It is wisdom, and it is fair.

Today I am talking to Judson, not The Judson, to you who are members and friends.

I am not talking to the Village Independent Democrats who meet in the “Garden Room,” or the Moslem Democratic Club of New York City or the New Sanctuary Movement or The Sex Workers Alliance Committee or the Possibility Project or Movement Research or any of our other friends. Today is for us. If you get something here, I hope you will want to give it away.

Our slogan is that we are a church that is a little bit different, committed to making a difference. You may prefer our other elevator speech, that we are a fusion of arts, politics and spirituality. Or the very short elevator speech: we are an open community and dislike any kind of censorship of the spirit or its many movements. You may like our embroidered one, “the heart of the heart of the Village.” Your favorite slogan for “the Judson” may be more pedestrian, as is mine: that we are one of the Research and Development(R and D) arm, for the progressive religious community in the U.S. Or maybe “Judson Off Center.” Or that good old favorite, “the little church that could.” I will never cease to be amazed at what comes out of that little kitchen.
Here strong currents collide. People give and people take and that is good. Churches are not just about giving. They are a safe place to get wisdom. You have seen it in our moderators the most. Sometimes even in the ministers. So what would I like from you today? A generous annual pledge. And also tell somebody here, or me, or Michael, or anybody, what you really need. In other words, get the exchange right for your comic book collection and let us be a part of it.

Your pledge will secure the adventure of Judson. Your giving will also get you something.

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