The Rev. Steven Paulikas
June 2, 2019
All Saints’ Church
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of really good tv out there right now. You may not have liked the finale of Game of Thrones. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some other interesting stuff…
Jesse and I recently watched a documentary film called “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.” It’s about a woman named Elizabeth Holmes. Maybe you’ve seen it or heard about it. Elizabeth Holmes was an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. She founded a company called Theranos that said it had developed a machine to test blood in small quantiites, so that the next time you needed a blood test, you’d only need a pinprick instead of one of those big vials of blood. Like many things in the world of startups, Theranos claimed it would revolutionize and “disrupt” the way we do things. Instead of going to the doctor, you could test your own blood—and do it frequently—in order to monitor your own health.
Like any startup, Holmes had to raise money from private investors. They liked her and trusted her. She played the part of the bold young entrepreneur, and rich investors and the media alike ate it up. She posed for photo shoots for the covers of magazines and profile pieces. Elizabeth Holmes raised nine hundred million dollars for Theranos during its years of operation.
The problem was that there as never any machine. In fact, none of the people who gave her all that money even saw it actually work. As Holmes made bigger and bigger promises, she caught herself in a web of lies and half-truths to try to appease the investors, until the truth was finally revealed. The company became worthless, and Holmes’ reputation was ruined.
I’ve been thinking about this film for the past couple of weeks. For me, it says a lot about the spiritual crisis of our culture. It’s a crisis of faith. Because, when it comes down to it, money is nothing more than an instrument of faith. All those investors—they handed over their money based on nothing more than a belief—belief in a person, belief in the commercial application of technology, belief in their own judgment of character.
Of course, their faith was misplaced. We live in a time and place with a tremendous amount of money. In fact, this is the richest society that has ever existed. But money is just an instrument of faith. That means there’s actually a whole lot of faith to go around. The problem is that we as a people just don’t know where to put our faith. We are seduced by lies and bright shiny images—like a blood testing machine that would defy the laws of physics. This is how a rich people suffers a crisis of faith. It imprisons itself in its own fantasies.
To all this, Holy Scripture has a simple answer. Put your faith in God. Ignore the fantasies of your own making, because God’s graciousness is the most real and concrete thing we experience. God is the God of the righteous, the poor, the children, the marginalized. Those are the people Jesus loved up to the end. Put your faith in these things, and your faith will be in the right place.
Today we hear the remarkable and moving story from the sixteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. It’s hard not to feel the raw emotion of this poor little girl. She has been enslaved by an unscrupulous man who uses her sorrow as entertainment for paying customers. Could you imagine your child—or anyone’s child—being used in this way? Their challenges sold for profit to crowds eager to see something strange and exotic? It’s unthinkable. But here she is, following the apostles around. And she keeps repeating something that was bound to get their attention, saying, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”
Here is this girl, herself a slave—and possessed by a spirit—saying that Timothy, Paul, and Silas are the slaves. Have you ever come across a person who accuses their opponent of being the very thing that they are? Maybe a public figure? Of course not. Anyway. The slave girl’s obvious misrepresentation tells us she is really crying out for help. Paul casts out the spirit, and the girl becomes free. But the girl’s owner is infuriated. The only way he can make money off her is if she is possessed by this spirit. He can only profit if she is unfree. Now that she has been freed from the spirit, he can’t get is money. So he turns Paul and his friends over to the authorities and has them flogged and thrown in prison.
What sort of nightmare is this money-obsessed society? One that’s willing to sacrifice children for profit? One that has misplaced its faith. The girl’s owner is so taken with his faith in money that he is willing to let her suffer so that he can get some. But the apostles’ faith is in God, and their faith sets the girl free. It also sets her owner free, free from the poison of a misplaced faith. The apostles’ faith is so strong that it eventually frees them from the prison sentence they receive for their act of faith—and sets free the prison guard to boot.
These men learned all they knew from Jesus and were empowered in their faith by the Holy Spirit. The other people in the story don’t stand a chance against these things. They placed their trust in the things of this world: power, status, a corrupt system of justice, empire, and of course, money. Their faith was misplaced. But even in their ignorance, the light of faith is not extinguished, nor is the power of God to set free hindered. In the end, everyone is free—free to put their faith where it really belongs.
Next week, we will bring our pledges and donations for the Abounding in Good Works initiative to renew our church’s facilities for our children and youth and the wider community. This whole initiative is an act of faith. It’s putting our faith in the future of our children and their spiritual formation. It’s putting faith in the future of this parish to create a place for children who have yet to arrive at the threshold of this church. But above all, it’s putting faith in God’s power to nurture, form, and equip our kids to become the saints of God.
Yes, one of the instruments of this faith is money. But let me tell you: if Elizabeth Holmes can raise almost a billion dollars for nothing based on faith alone, then I have every confidence that we can raise the money we need to create the space we need for God’s ministry. And if you have a billion dollars to donate, please see me after the service.
But seriously. I used to think that talking about money in church was uncomfortable. But now I know the only reason its uncomfortable is because our society has some pretty distorted ideas about it. This misguided faith is a spiritual crisis—and where else are we supposed to talk about those than in church. I mean, how is it possible that in a world where people will voluntarily give a billion dollars to a liar, that any of our children should go without anything they need? Abounding in Good Works is our response to the needs of the children and youth in our own community. But it is also an exercise in making sure that our faith is in the right place.
The spiritual life of a Christian is a passage into ever-greater freedom. Like the apostles, we follow Jesus from falsehood to truth, from disorder to order, from death to life. Along the way and as our faith grows, we become equipped with all the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit—the power to heal, to lighten the darkness, to speak truth to power, and to set others free. No amount of money can get you from here to there. These gifts cannot be bought and sold. No one has ever paid for a miracle. It is faith and faith alone that sets us free, and where we place our faith sets our souls on their spiritual courses. May all our hearts and minds always be set on things above and not earthly things, and may our faith be always in God and God alone.