Radiohead Stewardship

The English rock band Radiohead, having grown tired of the “decaying business model” of record labels that produce and distribute recordings, recently decided to produce and distribute their own album, cutting out the label altogether.  

There are two ways to obtain their latest work, which is titled “In Rainbows,” both of which must be accomplished on the band’s website.  You can order a “discbox” comprising two discs, two vinyl albums, and a booklet for £40 (around $82); this will be shipped to you on or before December 3rd.  Or, you can order a digital download that includes most (but not all) of the songs from the discbox, in a slightly lower fidelity of recording.

If you choose to order the digital download, a few clicks of the mouse on your computer eventually takes you to the checkout page.  On that page, where the price should be there are just blank spaces to be filled in by you, the consumer.  A question-mark stands helpfully beside these blank spaces.   Click on the question-mark, and the following message appears: “It’s up to you.”  Since you are now a little confused, there is another question mark immediately below that one.  Click on the second question mark, and you are reassured: “No really, it’s up to you.”

A writer in the New York Times recently reported that when he bought the download he paid absolutely nothing for it, which is, by some accounts, what about a third of the first million or so of Radiohead’s downloading fans have done.  Some others have paid as much as $20.  The average price seems to be about $8.  But you can, of course, get it for free.

Jonny Greenwood, one of the band members said of this experiment, “It’s fun to make people stop for a few seconds and think about what music is worth, that’s just an interesting question to ask people.”

It has been some time since any of our Sunday readings mentioned money, and certainly it’s been some time since the topic was raised from this pulpit.  I was so relieved to find Zacchaeus bring the subject up in today’s Gospel reading.  Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, and Saint Luke tells us he was rich.  For whatever reasons, he was eager to meet Jesus.  One suspects he did not know what was in store for him.  Jesus invites himself over to Zacchaeus’ house.

What happened inside that house we don’t know.  Did Zacchaeus break down and confess his sins?  Did he decide he needed to assuage some guilt?  Did he receive an anointing of the Holy Spirit?  Have a vision?  Did Jesus tell him a secret?  Twist his arm?  Or did Jesus just “make the ask,” as they say these days?

Whatever it was, by the time Jesus was done with him, Zacchaeus was proudly announcing that he was giving half his fortune away to the poor.  Half of everything he had!  That Jesus sure does know how to make the ask!  Whatever it was that happened to Zacchaeus, we know what it was worth to him: half of what he had… which is no small number for a rich guy.

So, now, here we are.  In a week’s time each and every one of us (and a number of us who aren’t here today) will be given a card with some blank spaces on them, where numbers are meant to go: indications of your financial support for the work of the Gospel in this church.

And there are a lot of different ways we could phrase the question to try to help one another choose the numbers we are going to put there.  It could be interesting to ask, like Radiohead, what the music’s worth.  It would be interesting to think about what these buildings are worth, or the gardens; what a Bible Study session is worth, or a morning at the Soup Bowl.  It could be interesting to try to calculate what the friendship and love of a community like this is worth, or what a prayer is worth, or a sermon.

And it might be interesting to try to calculate what it’s worth to be in the presence of the living Christ, who joins us here whenever we gather in his Name.  It might be interesting to figure what it’s worth – whatever it is that happens when you are alone with Jesus, when you feel his presence in your life, when you rely on his love, his strength, his mercy, his friendship.  Do we even know what it is that happens to one another when we are inside this house with Jesus?  And could we ever say, really what it’s worth?  Half of everything I have?

It is one of the most remarkable aspects of our relationship with Jesus: though he has given us everything we have, and though he gave his life for us, he never really makes “the ask.” Because we can, of course, have everything from Jesus for free.

If this parish really is what we try to be: a place where Jesus’ love is made known in his blessed Sacraments, and in and through one another, then it seems fair to phrase the question this way: What is the love of Jesus worth to us?  What’s it worth?

And isn’t it amazing that in the face of such a complicated and multi-faceted question – that surely means something different to each and every one of us – the answer is so simple:

It’s up to you.

No really.  It’s up to you.

Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
4 November 2007
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia

Posted on November 4, 2007 .