Faithful Finances: Week One
Jan. 8, 2023
David R. Collins
Today we’re starting a new sermon series for the new year about the thing that we all spend most of our time earning and spending and a good deal of the rest of our time worrying about: money! We’re calling the series, Faithful Finances, and for the next six weeks that’s what we’re going to be focused on. If you made New Year’s resolutions, I’ll bet that at least one of them was about money. I made three, and the third one was about money. I’ll tell you what it is later.
We’re doing this series because you asked for it. Not in the sense that “oh you sure asked for it.” But some of you literally asked us to teach on what the Bible and especially Jesus have to say about this incredibly important and also sometimes touchy, subject. And we’re doing it now and not during stewardship season because, and maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this…I might get my union card revoked… but giving to the church is not the most important thing that the Bible teaches about money. It’s in there! Don’t get me wrong, it sure is. But it’s a part of the process of what God ultimately wants for all of us regarding our finances. That we trust God with them, and are generous, and even sacrificial, with them.
Jesus taught about money a lot. He taught about money more than he taught about heaven. But he didn’t teach about money as much as we hear about money in the news, and on social media. Our world is obsessed with money. It worships it, and worships the people who have it. You’ve no doubt heard the fact that in 2017 that 8 people possessed as much wealth as half of the planet, and that over the last three years, their wealth doubled, while 160 millions slipped into poverty. If we put that in terms of just our country, America’s billionaires own twice as much as the bottom half of the country. And I’ve noticed that far too many are aficionados for the taste of their boots.
But don’t worry, I’m not gonna get into politics, I’m just making an observation. Because emulating the rich, believing and acting on the ads that they pay for us to listen to, and trying to live beyond our means, has lead to some other serious issues. Like the fact that as of last year, the average person is $ 96,000 in debt. And that’s a misleading statistic, because not every person is in debt. 25% of Americans are debt free. That’s not as good as I’d hope it would be. No wonder things are the way they are…no one can afford to try and make them any different.
And that’s just the effect on our country. When you look at what our country is doing to the world because of our consumption, well, it’s a little bleak. Even though we are just 5% of the world’s population, we use 25% of the world’s oil. All of that is from the way that we spend money.
So what can we do about it? Well, we start with a little sermon series called Faithful Finances.
Being faithful with our finances isn’t just about wise stewardship that will end up benefiting us financially in the long run, though it will do that. Faithful finances is first and foremost about our relationship with God, and our commitment to God’s mission in the world. That mission is all tied up in the world’s health and well being, and that is all intertwined with the currency the flows around the world to make things happen, and each and every one of us is woven into it.
So we start with ourselves. We get our houses in order, and then we can address the rest of it. We start with the Bible. We start with what Jesus taught. Because he taught that the first thing that is at risk for each of us in our relationship with our finances, is our souls.
In his most famous teaching, the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew tells us that Jesus taught,
19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Money is a heart issue. It’s a soul issue. It’s the biggest indicator of what our priorities actually are. Jesus puts it this way, too.
22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body.
Both the eye and a lamp bring things into focus, all depending on where you point them.
So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
So if what you look at, if what you think about most of your day, is money, or the things you want, then that’s what’s inside of you, too. Now if you’re struggling to feed your family, then that’s not darkness so much as it is for those of us who have our needs met, and are still looking… at stuff, and money, and possessions.
This is actually the resolution I was telling you about earlier. This year I am choosing to eliminate shopping as a hobby. I ended up with a bad habit after going to the DealNews website, multiple times a day for almost twenty years, it’s funny how things like that work. And I’d spend money on things I had no idea I needed until I went there. But it’s not just that. Wanting things became one of the big things I would think about on any given day.
Jesus tells us here, he tells me here, that what you give your attention to…makes its way inside you. It fills you. What you look at, what you think about, what you give you attention to, becomes your god.
I think that’s why Jesus says what he says next.
24 ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
If your life is devoted to money, then you can’t really serve God. You can financially support people who are serving God, and that’s nice, but you can’t serve God yourself, and that’s a problem. If that stings a little, you’re probably coming up with examples of rich people who do seem to serve God, and there are a few who come to mind. But we have to ask ourselves…are they the rule? Or are they the exception? And does the exception still prove the rule, or not?
It’s not about the money. It’s about what the money does to your heart. As that venerable saint of Brooklyn famously noted…”Mo money…mo problems.”
And not that we should ever feel sorry for the rich, but we definitely shouldn’t emulate them. Because you can’t serve God and wealth.
Twelve years ago, Boston College's Center on Wealth and Philanthropy posted the results of a four-year study of the wealthy they did. As part of the study, one hundred and sixty-five households with an average net worth of $78 million responded to a survey which was summarized in The Atlantic, by Graeme Woods, who writes,
“The respondents turn out to be a generally dissatisfied lot, whose money has contributed to deep anxieties involving love, work, and family. Indeed, they are frequently dissatisfied even with their sizable fortunes. Most of them still do not consider themselves financially secure; for that, they say, they would require on average one-quarter more wealth than they currently possess. One respondent, the heir to an enormous fortune, says that what matters most to him is his Christianity, and that his greatest aspiration is "to love the Lord, my family, and my friends." He also reports that he wouldn't feel financially secure until he had $1 billion in the bank.”
Now it’s easy to make fun of that guy, and satisfying! But that’s me, too. I just want a little bit more, and then it will be enough. I’ve said many times that “I know money won’t solve all my problems, but what if my only problem is that I don’t have enough money?” But Biggie was right, may he rest in peace…Mo money, mo problems. Or as Jesus much more powerfully put it, You can’t serve God and wealth. The biggest problem in the world is not being able to serve God.
There’s something about having more money than you need that’s like bringing a magnet close to a compass. The needle just can’t find north. Your heart just can’t connect with God.
This isn’t just an issue for the rich either. Jesus goes on and says to all of us.
25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
So all these things that we g