Be Careful Little Mind What You Think
Exodus 20:15, Matthew 26:26-30
November 1, 2015
Back in October of 1987, Melvin Kiser was driving around Columbus, Ohio in his company truck when the unthinkable happened. There on Interstate 71, Kiser found he focused on a van roughly two cars in front of him. The reason that the vehicle caught his attention was because it was actually an armored car and believe it or not the back door was slightly ajar. As Kiser continued to watch, he began to see bags fall from the armored car onto the highway. Inside of the bags were $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. The bills were completely untraceable. In all, and in just minutes, the van from the Metropolitan Armored Car Service lost over two million dollars in unmarked bills. Melvin, a 31 year old telephone repairman, picked up over $57,000 off of the side of the road that day. Eventually police would estimate that roughly 100 other people, just like Melvin, stopped and helped themselves to a bag or two of cash as well. In fact, of the $2 million that fell out the back door of the armored car, the authorities only recovered half a million dollars which means that $1.5 million found its way into the hands of passing motorists.
I highlight Melvin Kiser from the story because he did what we would all like to think we would do. Despite being an ordinary fellow with plenty of bills to pay and also with plenty of dreams as to what he would do and what he would buy if he ever had excess funds, Melvin chose not to keep the money. Why? Because according to him, it simply wasn’t right. Instead Melvin Kiser took the money – $57,000 in untraceable cash – right back to the police and turned it in. After all, it didn’t belong to him. (From People Magazine, Nov 30, 1987, Driving Along Minding His Business Melvin Kiser Ran Into $2 Million – then He Did the Unthinkable, by Margot Daugherty)
You have heard it said that there are two types of sin. There are sins of commission and there are sins of omission. To refresh your memory, sins of commission are those bad decisions that we make and the wrong-headed acts that we commit while completely aware of what we are doing. Sins of omission, on the other hand, are those sins that we commit when we fail to do what we should have done. Rather than blatant acts, they represent our failure to do anything at all or to remain passive in the face of profound opportunity.
When we think of the eighth commandment not to steal, it feels very much like a sin of commission and truth be told it is. Often times, in countless ways, we take things that don’t belong to us. And, this doesn’t mean simply going through another’s possessions and taking what belongs to them. No, we also willfully steal by lifting things from the internet for free that we should be paying for, by using other people’s ideas in research papers for school without giving them credit, by willfully and knowingly fudging on our tax returns, or by falsifying our expense report at the office. It all seems innocent but that doesn’t make it any less a willful act against the eighth commandment of God. (This idea of stealing as commission and omission comes from J Ellsworth Kalas in his book The Ten Commandments from the Backside)
At the same time, the eight commandment is also focused on sins of omission. For so often, we fail to do with our resources what we should have or could have done. We fail to share what we have with others. We fail to recognize that as believers God expects us to be generous. And, we fail to embrace stewardship, as a lifestyle is one of the things that Jesus spoke about most.
Why was it that Melvin Kiser didn’t keep the money that he found on that fateful day back in 1987? Simply because he recognized that it did not belong to him. When we say “it doesn’t belong to me” it is a reminder not to take something that is the property of another. But, it is also a reminder not to hoard our possessions for in the end, they don’t belong to us either. Ultimately, it all belongs to God.
This is the perfect command to reflect upon as we celebrate communion. After all, this table is about God’s willingness to share. It is about the recognition that God’s love for us and our love for God and for one another is ultimately seen most clearly in our generosity.
In Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory, Greene tells the story of an unethical priest preparing to be executed for his moral failures. The priest worries about his coming demise not because of the pain and agony that awaits him so much as his fear of approaching God empty handed – with nothing to show for his life. I would say that just as great a fear in 2015 should be our fear of entering the presence of God with our hands full while as if it all belonged to us. Today, in this meal, let us not forget that one of there greatest commands is the call to live generously. Amen.