Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Tale of Two Lemonade Stands

Matthew 22:15-22

Did you ever have a lemonade stand? The other day, I saw a picture on Facebook. It was a copy of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. Calvin and Hobbes was one of my favorites. I still really miss reading it. There was no date on the strip, but Bill Waterston only drew the comics for ten year, 1985-1995, so it’s at least 16 years old. In this strip, Calvin was trying to sell high-priced lemonade. Here’s the story:  
In the first panel, Calvin is sitting behind a box with a pitcher of lemonade on it. The price is scrawled on the box: $15.00 a glass. Susie points at Calvin’s sign and asks, “15 bucks a glass?” Calvin replies, “That’s right! Want some?”
Susie asks, “How do you justify charging 15 dollars?!” Calvin says, “Supply and demand.”
Susie points out that there is no one in line with her. “Where’s the demand? I don’t see any demand!” Calvin insists, “There’s lots of demand!”
Calvin continues, “As the sole stockholder in this enterprise, I demand monstrous profit on my investment! And as president and CEO of the company I demand an exorbitant annual salary! And as my own employee, I demand a high hourly wage and all sorts of company benefits! And then there’s overhead and actual production costs!”
Susie points out, “But it looks like you just threw a lemon in some sludge water!” Calvin explains, “Well, I have to cut expenses somewhere if I want to stay competitive.”
 Susie wants to know, “What if I got sick from that?” Calvin is not worried. “‘Caveat emptor’ is the motto we stand behind. I’d have to charge more if we followed health and environmental regulations.”
Susie waves goodbye. “You’re out of your mind. I’m going home to drink something else.” Calvin is angry. “Sure! Put me out of a job! It’s you anti-business types who ruin the economy!”
Calvin sits alone, with a very frustrated look on his face, then walks away from the stand.
In the last panel: Calvin says to his mother: “I need to be subsidized.”

More on lemonade stands later. In today’s Gospel reading, the main story is about money and what Jesus has to say about it. The leaders once again fall into a trap they thought they have laid for Jesus. It’s sort of fun to imagine the looks on their faces as they realize what has happened. The Pharisees ask Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?” In response, Jesus asks for a coin. Even though they are on the temple grounds where Roman money is forbidden, the leaders are able to pull one out of their pockets.
On a Roman coin of the day is an image of the current emperor and his name, and often the words “Son of God.”  This is a major reason why Roman coins were not permitted in the temple. They honor a god other than the Jewish God. With these coins, the people pay for all sorts of items, just as we do with our coins and currency and credit cards. Jesus simply says, “Give to the emperor what is due to the emperor.” Which seems to imply that he thought it was ok to pay taxes to the Romans. Since they all hated being governed by the Romans, yet were leaders because the Romans allowed them to be leaders, they would not have liked this answer.
Then Jesus says, “Give to God what is due to God.” Here’s the dilemma Jesus has created. Since God gives us everything we have, we owe to God everything we have. So, how much of what we have do we give to God? Jesus still hasn’t answered the question the Jewish leaders have asked him.
How do you feel about your money? How did you get it? Is it from your paycheck? Your retirement? Social Security? Withdrawal from savings? Bank robbery? J Do you have it because God made it possible for you to get it?
What is printed on our money? Images of former presidents and Founding Fathers of our country; legal tender; Unites States Treasury; important buildings; a value; other images and seals; serial numbers; the mint identification; date; “In God We Trust.”
Our money basically says what the Roman coins said. It is authorized payment for transactions, for goods, for housing, for transportation, for taxes. We use our money for a lot of the same things as money has always been used for. And our attitudes about money are much the same as they were 2000 years ago. Money is a good thing; we can get a lot of stuff when we have it, and the more money we have, the more stuff we can get.
Scriptures show, especially in the writings of the prophets, that those who had money worked hard to keep it by taking it from those who had less money. They tithed the income from small crops like herbs, but didn’t tithe the larger crops. They could easily have been Calvin with his lemonade stand.
Now I want to tell you about another lemonade stand, run by a girl named Alex. Many of you probably know this story. Alex was diagnosed with cancer before she was a year old, and managed to battle it for the next seven years as it returned again and again in her little body. At age four, she told her parents that when she got out of the hospital, she wanted to have a lemonade stand to raise money to help doctors fight children’s cancers. In the first year, she raised $2000 for her hospital. People all over the world learned about her lemonade stand and helped contribute to her fund. By the time Alex died at the age of eight, with the help of others she had raised over $1 million for childhood cancer.
What part does money play in your life? Is it a tool for doing good, like it was for Alex? Or is it a tool for obtaining more and more and more stuff for yourself, like Calvin? Or is it somewhere in between?
This week, I invite you to pay attention to how you use and think about money.
Do you believe what the money we use every day says? Do you trust in God in the way you use your money? Do you give to the IRS what belongs to the IRS? And to God what belongs to God?

Please pray with me. Gracious God, you give us so much. How much we have is not nearly as important as what we do with it. Encourage us to be generous with what you give to us, to make sure that all have more than enough. Amen