I was back in Old Basing celebrating Eucharist and preaching this Sunday, before being back on the road again next week.
The Epistle and Gospel spoke about money, at times using some quite militaristic language I thought, but also about listening to God, to Jesus’ example and instructions for living a life that helps to extend the Kingdom of God. To understand my reference early in the sermon, it will help to know that my training incumbent Fr Alec has previously served as a padre in the Guards during the Afghan conflict.
I wonder how many battles you’ve fought in your lifetime?
Some, like Fr Alec and others among you will have fought in, or at least witnessed personal, armed conflict with a dangerous aggressor.
I’ve been reading my great-uncle’s diary, written at least in part during the Battle of the Somme, and it has struck me forcibly that in battle, listening to, and passing on accurately, commands and current positions is vital; you need to know when to move forward and where to, else your battle line will not be covered by supporting fire; you need to be aware of when retreat is the only option; and you need to listen to those around you, to know where the fighting is fiercest. And if those in command are ill-informed, misdirected, or won’t listen to the wisdom of those who have seen and experienced the front line, however junior their rank, then the battle becomes an even more pointless waste of life than it was already.
Many of you will have fought other battles. Battles with various illnesses, battles to get members of your family the support they need, battles of a legal nature when things have gone wrong or accidents happened. And quite probably we have all fought a battle with money in some way.
However rich or poor we are, most of us will say we could do with a little more money. And of course there are untold millions of people in the world, for whom a little more money would make a massive difference. They’d be able to eat more than one tiny meal a day, perhaps have a roof over their head, and be able to afford to send their kids to school. They could leave behind sheer misery, and yes, probably be content with their improved financial lot.
For some people, much of their dealings with money have given rise to uncertainty and stress. Those of us who have lived through the massive fluctuations in the mortgage rates and styles of the 1980s and 1990s, or held savings in more recent financial crises, will know that money will come and go. Listening to best advice doesn’t always guarantee financial security, especially when the greed of a few jeopardises the whole financial system. But, the front line of the battle in individual families is always whether food can be put on the table, clothes on our backs, the rent or mortgage paid, and some form of transport be afforded to get us to work or school. When all is said and done, here in the western world, that is about ALL we need.
Money is NOT of itself evil. Money was a human invention to make the movement of goods and services easier; in and of itself, money is not a bad thing. But when money becomes the thing that we listen to the most, whether we desire more and more of it, or whether we’re in debt because of desiring more and more of what it can buy, then we’ve started on the slippery slope to worshipping it, and that is idolatry. Money isn’t evil. Loving it IS, as our passage from 1 Timothy 6 this morning famously points out.
Loving money, or the things it can buy, makes us greedy, and whether held individually or corporately, loving money will stop us having a generous heart, and that was the rich man’s problem in our Gospel parable from Luke 16. He couldn’t even make the effort to give the starving man at his gate the crumbs from his table. We’ve all seen images of starving people, those on our own streets and those around the world. Written in the pain of their pinched faces and the pattern of their skeletons protruding through thin, fleshless skin, is a picture of what greed can do – even when some of the cause is natural disaster. If we listen to our politicians carefully, we can hear greed in their words too, when the profits made from the sales of arms, far outweighs the increase of a few million in the aid budget to the very places under fire from those armaments!
So in the battles generated through the idolatry of money that leads to greed at a personal or national level, how do we as Christians decide who to listen to, and then how to act?
Money can come, and can go. God doesn’t. He is the constant. His is the voice of instruction that should guide us. In our parable, Abraham listens to the rich man in torment in Hades who has, too late, seen the revelry of his lounging pass away (Amos 6:7). Realising the error of his ways he wants to save his like-minded brothers. Unlike similar fables of it’s time, in Jesus version of this story, there is no happy ending but rather the stark reminder that the rich man and his brothers’ had failed to listen to the voices of Moses, and the prophets like Amos, who taught God’s law. The Law included among other instructions the requirement to enable “the alien, the orphan, and the widow” to collect the gleanings in a field and the last olives from your trees, “so that God may bless you in all your undertakings.” (Deut 24:19-20)
God has not required those who have money, or other forms of wealth, to simply give it away willy nilly. It is as possible to be a wealthy Christian, as it is to be poor one who remains financially secure. The key in battling to handle our finances with integrity as Christians, is not only to listen to wise financial advice and hope it’s at least half-right, but to listen to scriptures like those today. These scriptures, and others like them, are the battle commands we’ve been given and should lie behind all our financial dealings; to fight with our faith and our money those battles that stand for Jesus’ priorities of love, gentleness, endurance, generosity, and other good works, including feeding the hungry at our gates.
With the Foodbank, our support for Christian Aid and other charities, the occasional purchase of the Big Issue, we are caring in small ways for the Lazarus’s at our gate. But, the characteristics of love and generosity aren’t just about us behaving better towards others for our own peace of mind to show we’re better people; they are the essential requirements of being in Jesus’ army. However, it isn’t about buying our way into God’s Kingdom either, it’s about living by faith from the point that we declare for ourselves a belief in the resurrection of Christ on through our lives. We accept our place in this battle through baptism and confirmation, and we will be constantly challenged to move our financial battle lines forward making appropriate forays and sacrifices along the way, listening for the instructions both scriptural and otherwise that show us when to advance, or retreat, and where the fighting is fiercest for those around us. Those will be the places where our generosity of spirit, and our money, is needed most. There will come alive our calling to fight in Jesus’ army.
Let us pray:
Loving Lord who has given us much
We thank you for the example of generosity set us in scripture;
We repent of those times when we have not been generous.
We repent of those times when greed has made our finances precarious.
Open our eyes to the needs in the world, those on our doorstep, and those further afield,
And grant us wisdom to prioritise your kingdom in the financial decisions that we make.