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Tevya's BMW

Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church
Eugene, Oregon
October 15, 2000

Mark 10:17-27

This test is challenging for preachers and listeners for at least two reasons:.  First, it is a very familiar story.  The problem with familiar stories is that as soon as we hear them, we go into automatic listening mode.  Yawn, Heard this one before.  Hurry up and get this over with, will ya?  Sound familiar?  Second, if we are honest, it is a troubling story.  How many people here have sold all their possessions and given the money to the poor in order to follow Jesus?  If this is the standard for inheriting eternal life, either we better have a BIG yard sale or we're all in BIG trouble.  Since few people are willing to seriously entertain such a prospect, we conclude that Jesus didn't mean this to apply to us.  And if he's not talking to us, then we don't have to pay close attention and we can begin worrying about more pressing matters, like how to get tickets for the Rose Bowl.

Before you make all your mental arrangements for Pasadena this morning, however, I invite you to consider another possibility.  To do, I need you to use a little imagination.  Picture here a very humble home.  In the driveway is a well used car that has seen better years.  The yard is well kept, but small.  In it works the man of the house, father of two.  Like most fathers of modest means, he worries about paying the bills and he dreams of an easier life.  A man of faith, he often talks to God as he works, only this time, he is about to get a response.  You might think of it as Fiddler on the Roof meets Bill Cosby.

Tevya: (singing) If I were a rich man, (I'd by a BMW), dabba dabba dabba dum.  All day long I'd fiddle fiddle fum (and play golf), if I were a wealthy man! I ...

God:  Tevya!

Tevya: Who is that?

God: It's the Lord, Tevya.

Tevya: Right.  What do you want, I've been good.

God: Tevya, do you love me?

Tevya: Do I love you, that's my line for my wife.

God: Yes, but Tevya, do you love me.

Tevya: Do I love you.  Lord do you know how many committees I am on?  I've got the Property Committee, the Worship Committee,  the Education Committee, the Stewardship Committee, the Choir, the Board, the Deacons, the Tuesday and Thursday night support group for parents who never see their children.  Lord, it's all for you !

God: Yes, but Tevya, do you love me?

Tevya: Well, I suppose so.

God: Then Tevya, if I made you a rich man, would you still love me?

Tevya: Lord, how I would love you!  I would praise your name all the day long.  The gifts I could shower upon you.  Lord ten percent of what I make know isn't much but ten percent if I were rich, well that would really amount to something.

God: Tevya, ten percent of what you make know is 100% more than I received from you last year.  If you want to amount to something, you might start with that.

Tevya: Well, Lord, please forgive me.  I know I have been behind in my commitments to you but times are hard and I have a family to support, a growing family.  There are so many bills I have to pay. I try to make each dollar stretch but it's just not enough.

God: Yes Tevya, I know.  Let me tell you a story.  There once was a rich businesswoman who ran for President.  She divided her assets among three trusted advisors to manage while she was off campaigning.  When she was elected to the office, she called each of them into to account for their investments with her money.  The first said, Ms. President, we have done very well with your money.  We put it into self-help housing and micro loans for family businesses in developing countries.  We have only earned 3 percent, but thanks to you, thousands of people now have homes or their own businesses.  The President said, Well done good and faithful servant.  I shall make you Secretary of HUD.  The second advisor said, Ms President, we also have done very well with your money.  We invested in socially responsible mutual funds to reflect your values and though the funds did not do quite as well as some of the market, we still earned you better than 6% on your money.  The President said, Well done good and faithful servant, I will make you Secretary of Treasury.  The third advisor said, Ms. President, we done even better with your money.  We bought up small farms across the west, converted them to high-yield cash crops, moved the labor intensive crops to South America where the labor is cheap and earned you better than 10 percent on your investments.  And because we knew you are a compassionate person, we also gave two percent of that to your favorite charities.  At that the President became very angry.  You knew I am a compassionate person and yet you used my money to destroy family farms, displace workers and foster chemical-based, non-sustainable farming.  Out with you.  And she made him Ambassador to Antarctica.  Now Tevya, do you know the point of that story?

Tevya: Vote for Jeff Miller?

God: No Tevya, the point of the story is whoever is faithful in little, will be faithful in much.

Tevya: O Lord, if you are looking for someone faithful in little, you have come to the right person.  I'm faithful in little.  If I didn't clean out the refrigerator in the church basement, who knows what would be growing there now.  If I didn't eat a piece of Mrs. Smith's zucchini pie no one else would and she would go home offended, never to return.  And who do you think who sharpens the pencils in the pews?  Well I don't, but I see to it that someone does.  I'm faithful in little in Lord, you can count on me.

God: Tevya, never mind, I'm sorry I brought it up.

Tevya: O but Lord I have been thinking what we need in this church are some really nice improvements to the building.  We could really use a gym for our youth and a store front for our clothing closet.  We have plans for some new fellowship space so we don't have to crowd into the basement any more.  And we could use a new elevator that goes to all 3 floors.  And I'd really like to get us some of that new video equipment so we can do really neat visual stuff in our worship services.  And I've been thinking it would be neat to have an open baptistery with a waterfall and lots of greenery and a skylight overhead so the sun shines through and makes a rainbow in the mist.  Then when people see it they will be reminded of their baptism and the covenant they made with you and boy they would be impressed!  If I were rich, I could make it happen, for you of course.

God: Tevya, do you remember Micah?

Tevya: Micah, the tailor?

God: No, Micah the prophet.

Tevya: O sure, I remember Micah.

God: Then tell me Tevya, what does Micah 6:8 say?

Tevya: Let me see, don't tell me, I know this one.  We learned it in Sunday School.  Um, can I use a life line?

God: No Tevya, this is not a game show.

Tevya: Well I bet more people would read their Bible if it were.

God: Really?  Would you like to name, oh, let's say the ninth son of Jacob for a chance at eternal life?

Tevya: You wouldn't.

God: I always loved Bible trivia.

Tevya: Like Micah 6:8?

God: Hardly trivial Tevya.  One of my most important teachings.

Tevya: O, of course.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

God: Nice guess Tevya, but Micah 6:8 says, What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.

Tevya: OK, we can do without the waterfall, the rest of it could be done very humbly.

God: Tevya, I think you miss the point.  Tell me, what is a BMW?

Tevya: A BMW?  Just a car.

God: Just a car, Tevya?

Tevya: Well, OK, so it's a nice car.  Leather interior, Blaupunkt quadraphonic CD/am/fm/cassette radio that will knock your socks off, a 4.0 liter engine with overhead cam, fuel injection, 32 valves, air suspension, adjustable shocks, Michelin radial tires, sun roof, metallic finish--it's a nice car.

God: Sounds expensive Tevya.

Tevya: Well sure, Lord, but quality has its price and if you make me a rich man, I could afford it without any problem and still have plenty left over for you.

God: Left over, Tevya?  Tell me, can you walk humbly in a BMW?

Tevya: No, Lord, but you sure can ride comfortably.  No one walks these days anyway.

God: No one Tevya?

Tevya: Well, OK, you have your street people, the homeless, few unemployed and low income folk, but no one important.  Even the preacher has a fancy motorcycle, or used it before he had kids.

God: We are not talking about the preacher, Tevya. (phew)

Tevya: Well then, what am I supposed to do?

God: `Tevya, you say there are homeless in your community.

Tevya: Yea, I found one just this week sleeping on our porch.  But I took care of it.

God: You provided him with shelter?

Tevya: No, I told him he couldn't sleep there.

God: Tevya, what have you done for the homeless?

Tevya: O well, we have our trailers, that takes care of two or three.  Then there are the food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas.   Plus there is the Interfaith Shelter.  I support all those things.  I do my part.

God: I see.  Tevya, do you love kindness.

Tevya: Certainly Lord, I love kindness.  Some of the kindest people I know are rich.  When you have a lot of money you can afford to be kind and very gracious.  If you made me rich I sure would be kind to all those people.

God: And open your home to the homeless?

Tevya: Well no, Lord, you can't do that.  You never know what those people might do.

God: No room at the inn, Tevya?

Tevya: O no, there is plenty of room, at the mission.

God: A home for the homeless?

Tevya: That's right, if you consider a dormitory a home.

God: And they can stay at this mission as long as they need?

Tevya: Sure, as long as they are out by breakfast.

God: Sleeping in a dormitory, out by breakfast, sounds very comfy.  So if I made you a rich man, what would you do for these people?

Tevya: Ah, Lord, there is my plan.  If I were rich, I would start a business, a factory where I would put people to work, give them something productive to do.

God: So they could make a profit?

Tevya: No Lord, I make the profit, they make minimum wage.

God: Oh, with minimum wage they could buy a home?

Tevya: Heavens no Lord, you can't buy a home on minimum wage.

God: No?  Then a car, a BMW perhaps?

Tevya: No Lord, you don't understand, you couldn't afford a BMW on minimum wage, maybe a well used car, like that one in my driveway.

God: But they could support their family?

Tevya: You can't support a family on minimum wage, unless both parents are working and you don't have any major expenses and never get sick.

God: So Tevya, how would you family workers support their families?

Tevya: Well Lord, we have public assistance, you know, food stamps and the like for people like that.

God: I see, so you would do your part Tevya by giving these people a job at minimum wage and they would still be dependent on others for their basic necessities while you make a profit and buy a BMW.

Tevya: Lord, you make it sound so criminal!

God: Thank you Tevya, I almost forgot, what about justice.  How would you do justice as a rich man?

Tevya: O Lord, justice, I am all for it, law and order, we need to make our streets safe again.

God: That is certainly true Tevya, but I was thinking about justice for the unemployed, the widows, orphans, poor, oppressed--the people in your society who have no voice.

Tevya: Ah, no voice, democracy!  yes sir, one person, one vote.  I'm all for it and as a rich person I would support more democracy, encourage people to vote, maybe even run for office myself.

God: Tevya, by voting, could these people gain those things they need?

Tevya: Well Lord, not exactly.  You see you vote for the person who you think is going to give you the things you need, and if enough people vote the way you do and that person actually follows through on their promises, maybe you might get some of what he or she promises.

God: And Tevya, as a rich person you would also work to elect such a person, who will help those in most need?

Tevya: Of course, Lord, it depends on their stand on taxes.

God: I see, you would want them to raise taxes to pay for such things.

Tevya: No, no, no, you want them to lower taxes to stimulate the economy to provide for those things as well as to reduce the deficit to keep inflation down.

God: I may be dumb Tevya, I'm only God, but how do you lower taxes and reduce the deficit at the same time?

Tevya: That's a good trick, but that's why we have politicians.  They are experts in something called fuzzy math.  A scientist at MIT had a theory which explained how this math works but someone found out he hadn't been taking his medication.  The idea is that if we stimulate the economy with the right cuts in programs and taxes, most will benefit some.

God: Most, not all?

Tevya: Of course there might be some painful choices we have to make.

God: Painful for whom, Tevya?

Tevya: Well, it's hard to tell, Lord.

God: And you would do your part by providing more jobs at minimum wage.

Tevya: Yes, but when you do that, you can hire more people and that is more payroll on the tax roles and that also helps stimulate the economy and reduce the deficit, so we all benefit.

God: And you make more profit.

Tevya: Certainly, Lord, that is what fuels the economy.

God: And buys more BMWs.

Tevya: Have you got something against BMWs?

God: Tevya, I know lots of good, wonderful, gracious people who drive BMWs.  Some of my biggest supporters drive BMWs.  It's not the car Tevya.

Tevya: Well then Lord, what is it?

God: I only want what's right for you.

Tevya: What's right for me?  What have we been talking about here?  We have been talking about what's right for the poor, what's right for the homeless, what's right for the unemployed.  I'll tell you what's right for me.  What's right for me is a decent car in which I can get some respect and a comfortable home that I can enjoy and a sufficient income so I don't have to worry about my bills and I can sit back and enjoy life for a change.  Then I would be in heaven.

God: O is that what it is about Tevya, getting to heaven?  I can arrange that.

Tevya: That is just a figure of speech, Lord.

God: But you do want to get to heaven don't you Tevya?

Tevya: Most certainly I want to go to heaven.  Everyone wants to go to heaven.  It's just that most of us aren't in any hurry to get there.

God: But Tevya, to get to heaven, you must work for my realm and that means giving up the BMW.

Tevya: Have you been listening to me Lord?  I don't even own a BMW.

God: Yes Tevya, I know you don't.  But let it go.

Tevya: Let it go?

God: Yes, let it go.  Let go of those things that possess you.  You dream of becoming rich.  You fantasize of winning the lottery.  You make all these plans  of what you will do with all this money.  Let it go Tevya, let go of what possesses your soul and depend on me.

Tevya: O Lord, you know I want to.  You know my heart.  I really do but it is difficult Lord. Maybe if you show me the way.

God: OK, Tevya, I'll try.  Make a hole with your hand.

Tevya: (holding up hand with thumb and fingers in a circle.) Like this Lord?

God: Well, smaller, Tevya.

Tevya: (smaller circle) How about this?

God: That will do.  Now Tevya, can you drive a BMW through that hole in your hand.

Tevya: No Lord, you can't drive a BMW through that hole.  You couldn't even drive a Yugo through that hole.  You might go through that hole but I don't think I can.

God: Tevya, listen to what I say.  It is easier for a BMW to go through that hole than it is for a rich person to enter into my realm.

Tevya: But Lord, then it would be impossible for any of us.

God: Not with me, it's not Tevya.

Tevya: Lord, what would you have me do?

God: Tevya, what I have been trying to say to you is that the riches of my realm are much closer at hand to you than you realize.  Look through that hole, Tevya.

Tevya: (holding hand up to one eye) OK, I'm looking.

God: What do you see?

Tevya: Well I see a lot of faces looking very quizzically at me.

God: Yes Tevya, there are the riches of my realm. They are not in a bank, or in a pocketbook or in a nice car or a big house, but there, in your hand.

Tevya:  (still looking through hole at congregation, pull hand away, look at congregation, open hand and reach out to the people.)


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