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Money Matters
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 controversy.

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 nothing else!

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 selfish King.

“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 he was.

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 Blessedness.

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