February 24, 2019

God, Money, and Me

Passage: Psalm 24; Matthew 6:19-24

20190224 Sermon Rev


We can’t avoid hearing about, thinking about, obsessing over money.  Our nation’s budget is measured in trillions of dollars.  The net worth of Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates is measured in billions of dollars.  The price of construction for a business or church building can easily run into millions of dollars.  The price of a ticket to the Super Bowl is thousands of dollars.  All the while many of us in this room today would need to give serious thought to spending hundreds of dollars.


When we talk about money, people get anxious.  It’s not a subject we are comfortable discussing.  We have a tendency to categorize this subject as private – but how private is it really?  We send messages about our financial standing every day in conspicuous ways by the cars we drive, the houses we live in, the clothes we wear, the activities we participate in, the vacations we enjoy, the hobbies we embrace, and so on.  What we are really “saying” when we don’t talk about money is that this topic simply isn’t anyone’s business but our own.


In contrast to our silence on the matter, we discover a completely different attitude in Scripture.   The prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus and the writers of the epistles were anything but quiet about the issue of money.  Consider this comparison of topics and the frequency of their appearance in Scripture:  50 references to baptism; 225 verses related to prayer; 300 verses related to faith; 700 verses focused on love.  But at least 2,350 verses in Scripture have to do with money and possessions.  Sixteen of 38 parables spoken by Jesus are about money and possessions.  The only subject spoken of more often is that of the Kingdom of God.


So, even though it may not be very comfortable, we’re going to talk about money today.  This continues our series on stewardship. [1]  Previous topics were time, talent, physical health, and mental health.  Last week our guest speaker challenged us to think about blessing and worthiness.


Lessons in stewardship appear early in Scripture.  The first lesson we learn is that God is the Creator and because of this, ownership rights are God’s.  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[2]


David, in Psalm 24, makes the connection that since God is the Lord of the land (landlord), God is also sole owner of all that is.  The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers. [3]


It is repeated numerous times in Scripture the ways that God provides for God’s people.  In the Garden of Eden, food was plentiful.[4]  Escaping Egypt, Israel’s provisions were sparse but adequate. [5]  During the centuries, God became known as Jehovah Jireh – God Our Provider.  In spite of this proven track record, God’s people still complained and wondered about where their next meal might come from or whether they would die of thirst in the desert. [6]


Jesus spoke about money in the Sermon on the Mount.  The same Greek word is used as both the verb and the noun in Matthew 6:19-21 so a more accurate translation of “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth” might read, “Do not treasure up treasures on earth,” or “Do not hoard hoards on earth.”


Jesus warns against investing efforts and income in riches for ourselves.  It means basically the same thing as the parallel teaching in verse 24.  “You cannot serve God and wealth.”  Anyone who is serving possessions or wealth is not serving God.


These verses are not teaching against making a living.  They do not reject all possessions.  They reject stinginess or greed (treasuring up treasures), hoarding the income for selfish pursuits rather than for serving God and the needs of others.


A problem Jesus often identifies is greed, failure to care about the needs of others, believing that the fulfillment of life depends on how much one owns.  Jesus consistently diagnoses greed as causing blindness and distorted vision, foolishness and distorted thinking, dishonesty and a distorted relationship with God.  The contrasting way is to treasure up treasures in heaven, to invest money in God’s reign and justice, to participate with God in caring for people and creation with compassion and sensitivity.[7]


Jesus associated with people of all socioeconomic levels. He didn’t show favoritism.  He spoke about the various barriers people face related to their entrance into God’s Kingdom.


Let’s look at some stories from the New Testament about people and their relationship to money and possessions.


Zacchaeus, the tax collector, was a wealthy man.  Before faith, he cheated citizens and abused the poor.  After faith, he repented and made restitution.  He probably remained relatively wealthy. [8]


Joseph of Arimathea was another wealthy man.  He prepaid his own funeral and donated his tomb for the burial of Jesus. [9]


Women who associated with Jesus supported Jesus’ work and assisted in his burial.  They probably donated expensive perfume. [10]


A rich young ruler was unwilling to part with his wealth when asked by Jesus. [11]


Philemon was rich enough to own slaves and other property.  He forgave a runaway slave, both morally and financially. [12]


Joseph called Barnabas sold land and gave proceeds to believers. [13]


In contrast, Ananias and Sapphira sold land and tried to deceive the church about the proceeds to gain a reputation. [14]


Lydia was a worshipper of God who was baptized by Paul.  She was a wealthy businesswoman who opened her home Paul and Silas after they were released from jail.[15]


A group of rich young Christians written about by James exploited the tendency of some to cater to them because of their wealth.  They dragged other believers into court and slandered Jesus’ name.[16]


Simon the sorcerer longed for spiritual power and thought it could be bottled and sold.[17]


And, of course, we have the example of the very first Christian community.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.[18]


We might learn some lessons from these stories.  (1) Our relationship with God changes how we view and use our money and possessions.  (2) Generosity characterizes those who follow Jesus.  (3) When we love people it shows in the things we do and the projects we support.  (4) God is not fooled by appearances but sees the heart and responds accordingly.  (5) One main purpose for money is to advance the kingdom of God.


It’s not always easy to put these lessons into practice.  We all make personal choices about how to obtain and use money.  Some of us have much more choice than others do.


All of us use money to meet our basic needs and the needs of those we consider family.  For some, their income doesn’t cover or barely covers their basic needs.  Other people have varying amounts of discretionary income – money that can be invested, saved, or spent on nonessential goods and services.  Each of us has some choice in determining what is essential and what to do with any extra money we might have.


The choices we make in regard to money affect the other things we’ve been talking about during the past few weeks.  For example, how much money we want or need affects our use of time.  Some people are so money hungry that they work long hours in order to get richer and richer.  Other people work long hours at two or three jobs just to make enough to meet the basic needs of their family.


Financial status can have a direct impact on nutritional and physical health.  And physical or mental health affect a person’s finances – in their ability to earn money or in the amount of money they need to cover their medical costs.


These are just a few examples of ways money is connected to every aspect of life.


Since money is an integral part of life and an important topic in the Bible, and since we want to advance the kingdom of God, I wonder how we can help each other out when it comes to making good and wise decisions about our use of money.  Do we want to do that?


I assume the couples in this church negotiate and discern together how money will be viewed and handled in their household.  However, I don’t often talk with people in this congregation about how I use my money.  Even though I’ve been your pastor for ten years, it’s still a bit uncomfortable for me to see my salary and benefits printed in the church budget for all to see.  It’s humbling for me to know that some of your hard-earned money goes almost directly into my bank account.


Being a pastor and thinking about what your reaction might be has influenced my thinking and some of the choices I’ve made about using money – the house I bought, the size of TV I purchased (I wish I would have bought a bigger one), when to buy a new car – and I have asked for advice on some of these decisions, but there are many issues concerning money that I’ve kept private.  Is this the way it should be?  Is there a way we could become more open with each other about finances?


An area in which we do work together in making decisions about using money is in our church budget.  Let’s take a few moments to look at what we as a congregation do with our money.


Our Unified Budget is divided into four types of expenditures.  General Expenses include 24 line items that could be grouped into 3 categories.  Church Building & Office expenses include utilities, insurance, upkeep and repairs, cleaning, office supplies, postage, telephone, internet, and advertising.  Expenses related to our Sunday Morning gathering include worship resources, guest speakers, and Christian Education curriculum & supplies.  Money spent on congregational care and activities includes subscriptions to The Mennonite magazine, scholarships, social activities, peace and social concerns, and service projects.


The second type of expenditure, Pastor Compensation, covers my salary, pension, and health insurance


Pastoral Expenses, the third type, are continuing education, mileage, conference & denominational events, and a small fund I use primarily to buy Dillons gift cards to give to people asking for money for food or gas.


We used to take separate offerings for the fourth type of expenditures, Benevolences, but now they are part of the budget.  Locally, we give money to Ashby House, the Food Bank, and DVAC.  Church-wide benevolences include Western District Conference, WDC’s church planting fund, Mennonite Church USA, MCC, and Camp Mennoscah.  We adjust the benevolences each year so the total amount equals 10% of the total of the other three categories of expenditures.


Money comes in through two sources:  weekly offerings and rent from two churches who use our building.  Living Hope Bible Methodist Church is here Sunday afternoons and evenings, and Wednesday evenings.  United Church of God is here several Saturday afternoons a month.


We also receive and disperse money and other items that are outside our budget.  Restricted funds include building fund, youth fund, and special needs fund.  Money comes into these funds by special offerings or simply when someone decides they want to make a contribution.


Above budget giving includes annual collections of My Coins Count, periodic collections for MCC kits, annual collections for SouperBowl of Hope and Project Salina, quarterly meals for Circles of the Heartland, and ongoing collection of toiletries for the Martin Youth Crisis Center.  We’ve collected pillows for the Serenity Houses and will be collecting items for Ashby House in anticipation of Andy Houltberg coming to preach here next month.  We’ve just begun some projects for our neighborhood – school supplies to fill the blessing box outside our building and markers and snacks for Cottonwood School.  And, of course, many of you give direct donations to local and church-wide agencies as well as volunteering your time.


This list is encouraging.  It can also be a bit overwhelming.  None of us is expected to give to all of these all of the time.  But each of us can do what we can do.


What do our budget and our out-of-budget items say about who we are and what we value?  How do they relate to the lessons we’ve learned about what God values?


Some of us have been reading a book about Sabbath keeping by Anita Amstutz.  Anita describes spending time at a lake cottage.  Soon after she arrived, spotty mobile phone service prevented her from connecting with an electronic teller so she could find out her checkbook balance.  Frustrated, she put away her phone.  Then she began noticing her surroundings – a blue heron, a pair of kingfishers, the water, the fish, the trees, the mist, wind, and sunlight


Anita writes:  My preoccupation with my bank account and money began to fade away and I thought of Jesus’ teaching, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear….Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not more valuable than they?”  (Matthew 6:25-26). 


What seemed like a radical teaching in first-century agrarian Palestine began to make sense.  That living lake community was bound together in a plenitude of generosity and reciprocity.  My task that day was to pay attention to this cycle of nature’s generosity, to link my own abundance with this rather than disregard it.  As I released my anxiety and obsessiveness over my paltry material possessions, I realized that my wealth was much larger than my participation in human economies.  It was not measured in dollars, retirement portfolios, and stuff I owned.[19]


Like Anita, our challenge is to read the biblical stories and teachings within their particular context and determine how the truths of these lessons apply to us today.  For this, we need to be in a trusting relationship with each other.  We also need to be able to talk about subjects that may typically be difficult and out of our comfort zones.  Since we are all life-long learners when it comes to following Jesus, we can all contribute to the conversation, including conversations about money, and benefit from the experiences others bring.


I invite you to reflect on four questions.  In what ways does money have a god-like power?  How can money be used to advance the kingdom of God?  What is God calling you to do in your use of financial resources?  What is God calling our congregation to do with our resources?


May God grant us wisdom and joy in this journey of discovery and faithfulness.


[1] https://www.everence.com/resources/stewardship-education

[2] Genesis 1:1, New International Version

[3] Psalm 24:1-2, New Revised Standard Version

[4] Genesis 2:4-9

[5] Exodus 16:21

[6] Exodus 17:5-7

[7] Glen Stassen, Living the Sermon on the Mount, Jossey-Bass, 2006, pp-126-136.

[8] Luke 19:1-10

[9] Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53

[10] Luke 8:1-3; Luke 23:55-24:10; Mark 15:40; Mark 16:1

[11] Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30

[12] The Book of Philemon

[13] Acts 4:36-37

[14] Acts 5:1

[15] Acts 16:13-15, 40

[16] James 2:1-7

[17] Acts 8:9-25

[18] Acts 2:44-47, New Revised Standard Version.

[19] Anita Amstutz, Soul Tending:  A Journey into the Heart of Sabbath, Skylight Paths Publishing, 2018, pp. 36-37.

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