Sermons from St Faith's
Fr Dennis Smith, August 4th, 2013
Maybe the Archbishop of Canterbury should have been
asked to preach this sermon. After all, he’s had a lot
to say on the subject of money in the last couple of
weeks and he was a finance and/or executive for several
years before being called into Christian ministry, and
today we have to talk about money. And this isn’t easy
in a sermon.
Back in the 19th century the Victorians talked a lot
about death and kept rather quiet about sex; nowadays
death is almost unmentionable while sex is everywhere.
But then as now, the topic of money is almost off
limits, unless it’s to complain about bankers or to
wonder, in a vague kind of way, how poor people cope.
And when preachers talk about money they are being too
political or merely seeking publicity through
Despite what is often misquoted, the Bible doesn’t say
money is the root of all evil but ‘The love of money is
the root of all evil”. All our readings today point up
this subtle difference in their different ways. And we
could have read plenty of other passages. There is more,
much more in the Bible about money.
It’s a frequent theme of Jesus’ recorded teaching –
remember “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye
of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of
God.” Jesus talks much more about money than about sex,
compared with some Christians who seem to talk about
Today’s passage is one of the clearest. It’s in effect
an exposition of the tenth of the Ten Commandments, the
one about covetousness. Don’t be jealous”, he tells the
angry petitioner, “lest your desire for things eats away
at your love of God and neighbour”. Envy and greed will
destroy you from within and will undermine any sense of
community, just as much as disobeying the other nine
Commandments. It’s no different today. To say out loud
“one’s life doesn’t consist in the abundance of
possessions” as Jesus did, it to challenge the very
fabric of a society like ours.
Re-investing in larger barns appears to be a win-win
situation; it’s that most people aspire to do. For this
is the way to increase our gross domestic product and
who will question that? But Jesus isn’t teaching
economics, other than putting economics in its place.
When he says “from everyone to whom much has been given,
much will be required” he isn’t quoting Karl Marx, but
pleading for sense of priority and for justice.
Jesus knew that being rich and wanting more is
soul-destroying. It may make great television, but life
isn’t meant to imitate “Dallas”.
Our Old Testament reading is from that grumpy old man
known as the Teacher or Preacher. The book is ascribed
to Solomon but almost certainly his name was used simply
to get it published; it doesn’t sound like that rich and
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity; life is a hall of
mirrors, a house built on sand, a tale told by an idiot
full of sound and fury signifying nothing”. Which is, of
course, a wild exaggeration, but you can see where he’s
coming from. He is bombarded with Twitter, with
Facebook, with 24-hour rolling news, with inescapable
emails and texts – he want to cry “Stop the world, I
want to get off.”
Later in Ecclesiastes comes the more measured and
balanced passage. “There is a time for this and a time
for that, to everything there is a season”. But deep
down he knows that what matters isn’t working and owning
stuff but thinking and being someone. And that’s what
Jesus tells his anxious petitioner, if I dare use the
phrase “Calm down dear”. Peace of mind cannot be bought.
As the Psalmist puts it “There is no price one can give
for one’s life”. It can’t be bought.
Of course, being rich is relative. In a table of average
personal disposable income few of us here are seriously
rich, certainly not the clergy; but by comparison with
the majority of the human race we are all incredibly
rich. Which comparison should we use?
In a money box one day a twenty pound note met up with a
pound coin: “Had an interesting time?” asked the pound.
“Yes”, said the banknote, “I’ve been abroad and sampled
some fine wine and food – what about you?” “Oh well”,
says the coin, “I’ve been to church a lot!” It’s all
relative; spiritually a small coin from a poor widow is
worth more than the lavish cheques of generous
benefactors; but just because £5 will do a lot of good
in a developing country that shouldn’t stop us giving
£50. There can be no arbitrary figures.
But it remains sadly true that in austerity the first
casualty is generosity. Conversely the story of
Zacchaeus points up the symbolism of money and the place
of generosity in God’s plan.
After he had realised his wrong-headed corruption and
selfishness, his first instinct was to make financial
reparations, to which Jesus responded quite simply
“Today salvation has come to this house.
Another man, the so-called rich young ruler, went away
sorrowful when Jesus challenged him about his
possessions, because his reputation and, crucially, his
self-esteem, depended on what he had, rather than what
Zacchaeus finally got things in perspective; he will no
longer measure his status as a human being in terms of
passions. And nor should we.
There’s another illustration from the life of the
apostle Paul. When Paul and his friend Titus organised
their famous collection for the struggling church back
in Jerusalem there would have been many who said that
the Jerusalem Christians had brought it on themselves,
sharing their possessions and living by selling things
as if there was no tomorrow.
But Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Since you have
plenty at this time it is right that you should help
those in need; then when you are in need and they have
plenty, they will help you; in this way both are treated
equally”. I’m sure there were plenty who muttered
“socialist rubbish” or would have done so if socialism
had been invented!
This story only reinforces what Jesus taught about
people being more important than things. The Kingdom of
heaven is the land of enough. It’s a good place to be,
freed from greed and envy, impatient for justice but
also relaxed and generous in spirit.
In the land of enough we could go against the grain of
society if it beguiles us with the prospect of an extra
this or more of that and the empty promise that this is
where happiness lies. We live in such a vanity fair. But
what is an offer in the land of enough is true
happiness, what the Gospel calls blessedness, showing
our thankfulness to a generous God as best we can,
treating money and possessions as only means to an end
and never as an end in themselves.
Thanks be to God, Source, Guide and Goal of all
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