Filed under: Christianity, Church, God, Grace, Inspiration, Jesus, Mercy, Religion, Sermon, Spirituality
Obsession with money can be an addiction. Its pursuit can dominate and take an inordinate amount of our existences away from us. Commercials about the proper retirement vehicles for your comfort are always flying across the airwaves. The implications in our culture are that if you are wealthy then you are spiritual, successful and whole, while those who are without money are lazy, unmotivated and sinful. Money is given supernatural power and when people with names like Greenspan speak our society hushes to listen to every last word. You may not remember what I have to say, but I am sure that many will remember that he criticized Bush’s rampant government spending well into the next election cycle.
Yet, with money we are not given much leeway in the Bible. Money is never a method of salvation and to look on it this way is idolatry against God. Our texts this morning are not very difficult to understand, but that does not take away their difficulty. They are texts that I would just as soon gloss over and move onto something much more “spiritual.” Yet, then I am again reminded that there is nothing more spiritual than money. I heard a few different views of money that struck me this week. They are current mythologies about money that I think are illustrative in light of our texts this morning.
On Tuesday I heard the story of J.K. Rowlings lifted up as an example of dreaming the improbable. It was a 10 second point by a theologian friend, but it made me think. She pointed out this well placed publicity item about this author’s background, which was reported quite extensively when the first Harry Potter book was released to the public. Rowlings was a single mother, writing in café; living off government aid and because of her persistent work at writing she was able to get her children’s novel published. This in turn made her a billionaire. What could be more inspiring than rags to riches stories? To hear of a person who, against all odds, succeeds and is rewarded with millions and in this case a billion dollars is something that gives us hope. Right?
Then I heard a teaser for one of the many interviews that former President Bill Clinton is giving to promote his new book and his global initiative. His new book is admirably titled “Giving” and its premise is, well, giving. From what I understand from the blurb on amazon.com this book gives an array of examples that mostly tell of how wealthy individuals give back to their communities as an example of giving. Oprah Winfrey, Andre Agassi. Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates are presented as sterling examples of how we can all be much more giving. The blurb that I saw before the interview pointed out how much Clinton would be able to help others with the new $100 million dollar donation from Intel. Intel is a company with, I believe, 19.6 billion dollars in assets and last year had a market capitalization of $127 billion. It is good that there are examples for the wealthy on how to give, because according to Jesus’ parable of Lazarus the absence of their generosity leads them to a fiery eternity of suffering.
It appears to me that these types of cultural myths could only exist in a country with extreme amounts of power and wealth. It is hard to believe that they would be inspiring to anyone who is suffering from the drought and famine in Malawi. In the absence of desperate subsistence and survival we might be tempted to look at the wealth that surrounds us as a method of salvation, but in the end we are reminded that this is far from the truth. We are surrounded by the myths of the rags to riches and that we can save everything because of money.
I hear it at the church all the time. It is one thing to dream, but we just don’t have enough money. We are a poor church after all, right? There is only so much that we can accomplish because of our meager means. Putting aside the fact that by no objective definition this church could be categorized as poor, it is the wrong way to look at money. Money will not save the church! We can all become bankers and miserly counting every penny that is placed in our accounts and foundations with fear of the church folding without enough. Yet study after study has shown this attitude in the church is deadly and may actually contribute to a church’s demise.
We are not dragons, sitting on piles of money and scorching anyone who would threaten to take it from us. Money is not the same as life. As Paul points out to Timothy the obsessive love of money is cancerously evil. Our wealth is found in something other than what makes the world markets crazy. Circling around what is necessary for us as Christ’s followers are lists of activities that will point us in the central seat of our faith. Paul is good at making lists. Living right, knowing God, endurance, love and gentleness are the fight of one who has faith. By the way those of us who are rich, which pretty much is our entire country by the worlds standards are commanded not to be arrogantly superior, put no hope in wealth, put all hope in God, to do good works, be generous and be willing to share. Ouch. If you are practicing these things it is difficult for money to take the center away from God.
Yet, what is at the center of our commitment as Disciples of Christ is also at the center of Paul’s words to Timothy. Why is it that we commit to all of these lists and turn our backs on the power of money? It is “the commandment.” This is to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind while loving your neighbor as yourself. Money itself is not evil, it is just one of the many gifts in creation. Yet, when money becomes the sole purpose of life and our salvation, a life obsession it displaces God and neighbor. It cripples us from doing the good works that we are called, as Christ’s body because we become consumed with fear of survival and it fuels a narcissistic culture that identifies a person’s wealth as the source of their power. This may be true in government, the market and our neighborhoods, but it must never be true in this place.
If survival replaces love and security replaces hope then we have diverted our attention from where God wants us to look. If you have money enjoy it, give it generously, share with others but do not horde it or turn it into your identity. If you do not have money do not make it an obsession that will keep you from living in the center of the love in which you are called. We are called to love each other, not to love money.
Photo by JekoSeventy
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