Faithful Finances Week 2 January 15, 2023 The Rev. Megan Collins
Let's talk about money. Money can do all kinds of things. Money can buy food. With enough money, you can buy a house, or a car, or take a trip. We’ve all heard the saying "money can’t buy happiness." Let’s be honest. Sometimes, it can. Money can buy chocolate fudge brownie ice cream in a waffle cone. You can even pay them to put sprinkles on it. Money can buy a new pair of sneakers that make you feel extra fast on your morning run. Money can buy a new car that is super shiny and has that smell of new car on the inside. Money can buy a massage, or a new phone, or a trip to Hawaii. These things are all pretty great. They make us happy. On the flip side, not having enough money can certainly make us unhappy. If you don’t have enough to pay your bills, or get the things you need, it’s hard to feel happy about anything else. So money can buy happiness. I won’t pretend that it can’t. Our problem isn’t the money, in and of itself. How could it be? Money is just paper bills, or plastic credit cards. It’s numbers we type into our computer or send over Zelle. It’s an inanimate object, it’s a means to an end. Money itself isn’t out to get us. Money can buy us anything we want.
Money isn’t the problem. We are. We realize pretty young that money can buy things that make us feel happy when we buy that piece of candy or a new toy. That feeling of happiness is great, for a little while. But happiness from consumption is temporary. The ice cream runs out, a newer phone gets released, the car doesn’t smell so new anymore, and the happiness fades. Then we chase more of it. We chase those brief spurts of happiness like a drug, that lift us up but then drop us back down so we spend again. We have to keep buying more and more things, spending more and more money, to find happiness. The problem isn’t money. It’s us. Money can buy happiness. But it can’t buy the things we are really chasing. Happiness is fine, but what I really want is fulfillment. I want life to have to have meaning. More than happiness, I want joy, a real joy that holds up against the harder days. I want to feel content instead of restless. Money can buy happiness, but it can’t buy fulfillment and meaning and joy. When we spend to find these things, we are asking money to do something it can’t. But this doesn’t mean those things are out of your reach. Let’s take a look at the gospel of John, chapter 4, verses 5 - 15.
"So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Our problem isn’t that we want to feel joy or contentment or fulfillment. The problem is that we think money can buy these things. The problem isn’t that we want the water. The problem is we are drinking from the wrong well. We are trying to buy things that we can only get through our relationship with God. If you go looking for happiness by buying things, you’ll always be thirsty for more. I’m not talking about buying the things we really need. You need clothes and food and a place to sleep. But are you buying things you don’t need to try and find joy? Are you chasing more possessions just to feel better about your life? Because drinking from that well will never satisfy you. With each purchase, for a moment you will feel satisfied but then you need more.
Jeremiah 2:13 says “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”
Instead of coming to God, the fountain of living water, we try and get the water ourselves, making our own cisterns, but it keeps leaking out through the cracks. Then we are thirsty all over again. Money can buy a lot, but it can’t buy everything.
Here’s the good news. God offers us the things we are actually chasing, the things we really need. You can feel joy. You can be content. You can have fulfillment and meaning in your life. These things are not out of your reach. They are the things we can;t buy but we find when we grow in our relationship with God. Jesus promised the woman at the well that “those who drink of the water I give them will never be thirsty.” The problem isn’t the money.
The problem is when we put money where only God should be.
This is true not only in why we spend, but in how we see our money.With that, let’s look at our second question. Our first question today was why do we spend? And our second is whose money am I spending?
Whose money am I spending? Ummm . .. . mine? You’re right, at first glance, of course, it is yours. You earned it. You went to work, you did your job, and they gave you a paycheck. Money didn’t just fall out of the sky. The money is yours. (Well, unless you are in debt. Then it’s really not your money. It’s the bank’s money. And they want it back). But, assuming you are not in debt, whose money is it? The answer seems to obviously be “yours.” So then when we say your money is really God’s money, what on earth do we mean by that? Let’s look at another passage, this one from Deuteronomy 8:11-18:
"Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes that I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them and when your herds and flocks have multiplied and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock. He fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today."
The passage doesn’t say you can’t have a house or food or possessions. But it does say this: Remember everything God has done.
Remember where you came from. It’s easier to cry out to God when we have nothing. But when you have everything you need, when life is really comfortable, it’s tempting to think you got there all on your own. This is one of our biggest temptations when it comes to money, thinking we don’t need God anymore. But Deuternonmy tells us to not forget God, and to remember everything God has done for you. Remember that it was God who brought you through the difficult times and gave you what you needed to earn the money you have have now.
What do we mean when we say our money is really God’s money? We are pointing to the truth about who we are.
You belong to God.
Everything about you belongs to God. Your home, your family, your job, your money, it’s God’s. Remember, this is what you signed up for. When we commit our lives to following Jesus, to being a Christian disciple, it’s not a piecemeal decision. We don’t get to give some of ourselves to God but not all of it. We can’t be all in for wanting God’s grace, but not interested when it comes to obedience. When you follow Jesus, you are submitting everything to God - your will, your plans, and yes, even your money. This starts with replacing any entitlement you feel with gratitude for everything you have. Take a step back, and instead of thinking about everything you want, notice everything you have. Think about how grateful you are to have a roof over your head and food on your table. Set down your ego and remember how much God has done for you. Then let this gratitude and humility loosen your grip on what you have to be more generous with others, which we’ll talk about later in the series.
We looked at why we spend, and whose money it is. Let’s take a few minutes to look at our last question for today. What are God’s priorities in my spending? This is where all of the things we are talking about today get practical, and a bit complicated.A good basic practical principle to start with in exploring this question is one you already know. Don’t spend more than you have.
Have a budget that reflects your values and your best understanding of God’s priorities, and stick with it. Avoid spending more than you have in going into debt, and especially consumer debt. Don’t spend more than you have. But here’s where this gets complicated. Sometimes we do need to borrow money or spend what we don’t have so we can have a place to live or get the basics for our families or go to college or even to get the health care we need. How do we know if we are being faithful in our finances when we spend? We revisit our first two questions.
Why am I spending, and whose money is it? Am I spending more than I have because I had an unexpected medical bill? Or is it because I am chasing happiness by buying new things that I don’t need and can’t afford? Am I spending in a way God would want, or am I trying to put something in God’s place? In other words, of course God wants you to be able to go to the doctor, but God is probably less interested in you having a $10,000 birkin bag.
One last thing for today. God’s priorities in our spending also mean thinking about how your spending impacts others in the community and around the world. I’ll be honest, this one gets even more complicated to live into. How does your spending lead to food getting wasted? How does it affect the environment? How does your spending impact the treatment of workers who produce what you purchase? What are ways you can minimize harm from your spending by getting a used item, or researching a company’s labor practices and trying to support those who treat their workers ethically. This issue is a big one, and one that takes a lot of time to think through. So don’t try to do this all at once, or you will get overwhelmed and give up. Start small, thinking about one purchase at a time, or research one company you support. Then go from there.
Being faithful in our finances is a complicated business. It’s a process that we work on, one day at a time. But if you put in the work, it’s worth it. You can spend in a way that reflects your faith and your values instead of feeling embarrassed by your credit card statement. You can use your money to encourage businesses to have better practices that honor our belief that every person is made in the image of God. You can feel free from the cycle of spending, from chasing something that will never satisfy you. You can experience the joy and fulfillment God offers to you.
Next week we will look more at what generosity really means, and we’ll hope you’ll join us.