Sunday, February 27, 2011

Epiphany 8A

“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.”

Jesus makes it seem so easy; so cut and dried.

No doubt Jesus was right. Serving God and wealth is impossible because they demand two very different things from us. God puts us on a mission for the healing of the nations, for justice, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.

What does money ask us to do? I think it’s different for everyone. God puts us in a common mission. Money pulls us inward.

What is money to you? What’s your relationship with it?

For some, it’s just a number on a bank statement. They receive it in the mail, open it up, make sure that the number hasn’t gone below zero, and throw the paper in the recycle bin.

For others, it’s a game. How much can I accumulate? How can I make the number go higher and higher?

Still others fear money. They get a knot in their stomach every time they go to the bank. Money - or lack of money - represents judgment on their lives.

Another group equates money with life and status. Others with self-expression.

One financial self-help book said that money is a tool, nothing more and nothing less. Money helps us get stuff. It’s the means by which we transact with others.

But I agree with the guy who said that money is energy. It represent possibility. He said that people freak out if you burn a 5 dollar bill because all the possible uses of that five dollars is lost forever. It’s wasted energy.

We Christians have a difficult relationship with money. Many of us don’t like to talk about it. Some think it’s unspiritual to discuss such earthly matters.

We’re uncomfortable with money-talk in church because money is so personal. How spend our money tells us a lot about ourselves and what our priorities are. As Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there you heart is also.”

I’m always suspicious of some of my Christian friends who are hostile towards those who have money. One colleague of mine was celebrating Canada’s recession and slow recovery because she believes that a market-based economy is idolatry; that large corporations are destroying communities and hurting the earth.

That the capitalistic impulse is born from sinful greed, that economic self-interest only hurts the poor and most vulnerable in our society. That if you have money, it means that you’ve taken more than your fair share. That if you’ve feasted on good food, it means you’ve taken the food out of someone else’s hungry mouth.

You can’t serve to masters.

I used to think that way. Until I got a job and ventured out beyond the safe group-think of seminary pub nights.

I’d like to ask my friend if she’d change her tune when the bad economy starts affecting her community. When people lose their jobs they don’t have anything left over for the offering plate, which makes it harder to pay her salary. And I’m guessing her friends at the bank won’t accept her sanctimonious theologizing in lieu of a mortgage payment.

Whether we like it or not, we’re caught in Jesus’ trap. Our lives are so intertwined that we are forced to serve two masters.

After I got a job (this one) and started connecting with people from a vast array of economic backgrounds, I began to wonder if we’re thinking about Jesus’ words the wrong way. Jesus isn’t accusing rich folks of worshipping money. He’s challenging ALL of us in how we think about wealth.

I’ve met rich folks who are extraordinarily generous. Not just because they can be, but because they want to be. They see their wealth as a positive energy that they can share with others.

And I’ve met folks of moderate and limited means who are tight-fisted, who worry about every nickel they spend, whose lives revolve around their bank account, and who judge others according their own miserly, selfish standards. The master they serve is clear.

For example, I recently met someone who said that she NEVER bought something unless it was 80 to 90 percent off the regular price. She would spend the day hunting down bargains, or demanding the rock-bottom price.

On what seems like ultra-careful stewardship of her resources can easily devolve into a worship of money, a fear of scarcity. She may be saving a lot of money, but she’s also spending a lot of time. And money is a renewable resource. Time is not.

We assume that rich folks serve the god of wealth, and that the rest of us are immune to the idolatry of money.

Yes, there are classic cigar-chomping capitalists who, from their private island vacation homes in the Caribbean, deny medicine to cancer stricken children in developing countries. They serve one master. But they don’t define everyone who has money.

After all, if that is the standard, then everyone here stands guilty, no matter your economic situation. As much as I joke about how much money I don’t make, I know that I am one of the richest people in the world, percentage-wise. The overwhelming majority of people in the world live on a fraction of what I make.

And when I remember how rich I really am, I feel tremendously grateful. And I feel a sense of obligation to share what I have with those who have much less. Not just in terms of money. But in my labour and my time, so that more people can share in what God has some abundantly provided for us.

Serving the god of wealth means is to serve a god of scarcity. Serving the god of mammon says that we don’t trust the God of abundance; that we don’t believe that the God who made heaven and earth supplies all that we need.

Of course, I’m not talking about being reckless with what God has given us. Of course we know there are Christians on the OTHER end of the spectrum who say that our job is to use up all the resources of the earth because God is just going to destroy the planet anyway. And if we don’t pillage the planet, then we’re being disobedient to God’s call to “subdue” the earth.

Economically self-serving biblical interpretations aside, serving the God of abundance means being careful stewards of what God has provided for us. It means making sure that people everywhere can share in what God has given us, and that future generations will be able to enjoy the fruits of creation.

Serving the God of abundance means being generous with all that we have, because we serve a God who is generous with everything God has created for us to you.

We are generous because God is generous. We share our abundance rather than scarcity because God is a God of abundance. We serve a God who delights in providing for the world, who celebrates life, and who rejoices in generosity.

That’s why 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.

God feed the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field. God makes it rain on the just and unjust because the kingdom of heaven, God’s reign of justice, mercy, forgiveness, and abundance, has come among us.

May this be so among us. Amen.


Blogger Joelle said...

Nice job. I had a hard time with this one. I went more with the not worrying and how we don't serve wealth because we are worried. We worry because we have made wealth our god. I wasn't really happy with it but I may post it anyway.

6:47 AM  

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