Sermon for Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
Money is power.
It is power to pay your bills. It is power to buy food. It is power to go where you want. It is power to rest when you feel like resting. It is power to build what you want to build. It is power to buy what you want to buy. It is power to be independent.
Money is power.
You can do things with money. Money can give you confidence. Money can give you security. And money can disappear overnight.
I think of the stories of the Wall street bankers, who in a matter of hours in October of 1929, saw almost everything they had wiped out. All of their power, their influence, their security, their future, gone. It had all just been ink on paper in the end. Just numbers in someone’s ledger, that with the scratch of a pencil are crossed out of the banker’s book of life.
Now Will Rodgers famously quipped that in New York people had to stand in line to jump out of windows. The real truth was less dramatic and even less funny. There wasn’t quite the immediate rash of suicides on the day of the stock market crash that is often reported, but in the days and years to come, the despair over losing everything did lead to an increase in people taking their lives. They had nothing left to hold on to.
Growing up I used to chat with my grandparents about what it was like for them growing up during the Great Depression. But as sharecroppers in rural South Georgia, they never had anything to begin with, so this stock market crash in far away New York didn’t really change their lives much, at least not directly. The only stock they owned was livestock. They didn’t even own the land they lived on.
What they had they worked for. The only financial growth they could hope for was the cotton or the corn growing in the field, and even that was almost totally dependent on forces outside their control. A dry summer could spell ruin.
Now money was power for them too, but much like the power supplied by the Rural Electrification Administration, it was not power that you could depend upon. I can remember that it never took much more than a gentle breeze for my Aunt Ollie’s lights to go out, and that was less than 20 years ago. Electricity was great, and if you had it, it sure made life easier, but you still had to know how to survive without it. You couldn’t put your faith in it. The same was true with money.
Money was great, money was helpful. You could do things with money, but you couldn’t depend upon it always being there. You had to know how to survive without it.
The problem with money is that it seduces you into thinking that it is dependable and that you have more power than you actually have. It makes you think that you can live completely independently of others. It makes you think that you have control over your future. And when you realize that you can use money and power to get more money and power, oh that is a scary day indeed. Because it is so easy to tilt the scales isn’t it?
It doesn’t take much for us to realize we can use other people to get more money and power. I used to work in management; I know what it’s like to be told to be told to increase productivity while cutting 20% out of my budget. It isn’t easy. Someone eventually has to pay…and then sometimes you wondered where the money was really going.
Sometimes we knowingly make unfair decisions to get more money; sometimes we don’t know and don’t want to know. Does it matter who makes my shoes or how they are treated or what their life is like? Should I care about where my food comes from or who grows it? And what about all these companies that want to exploit my desire to do the right thing by charging me twice as much for something just for slapping the label “ethical” or “organic” on it? Every trip to the grocery store you are caught between an ethical and an economic dilemma: you only have so much money to spend, but righteousness doesn’t come cheap. You can’t save the world and save money at the same time. So what do you do? Which eggs do you buy?
And then you realize you are falling into the same trap again…thinking that money will save you. But we can’t buy the world out of the situation it is in. Money just doesn’t have that much power. Money doesn’t last. Money is not eternal. In fact, money has a pretty short life, and so does the power that money brings with it.
The dishonest manager in Jesus’s parable today learned this the hard way. He thought he was sitting pretty with his little scam until he was caught out, and his power evaporated pretty quickly. He realized then that he wasn’t quite as independent as he once thought. He needed his neighbors. He needed family and friends. He needed relationships. All this time he had been focused on the money, but it was the relationships that really mattered. Not just the relationship with those working under him, but his relationship with his master as well. That was where his security really was, not in the money.
Today’s gospel lesson will probably leave us with plenty of questions, but what comes across loud and clear at the end is that God and wealth are not the same thing. You are either serving one or you are serving the other.
Now the Bible was written long before we talked about all the economic isms: capitalism, communism, socialism, those are only things we have been talking about for the last couple hundred years. So the scriptures aren’t really concerned with endorsing whatever your preferred ism is. What we find in scripture is a call for a radical reorientation in our lives away from the powers and principalities of this world and toward the power of God. Where we get our power fron and what we do with it, that is what scripture is concerned with. Power is not necessarily a bad thing in the Bible, God has power, and we are told to pray for our Kings and those in authority over us. We all have some degree of power in this world, even though it may not feel like it sometimes. It is not the amount of power that we have that matters, it is where that power comes from and what we do with it. And likewise, money isn’t necessarily bad; rich people are not necessarily forsaken, Jesus hangs out with them too, but he does observe closely where people store their treasures, because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What matters to Jesus is where you get your power from, and what you do with it. Is your power, your strength and your hope resting on what is in your wallet or is it coming from someplace deeper? If your power comes from your money, well have fun with it while it lasts, but watch out. Judgment day may come sooner than you think.
But if your power comes from God and the strength of the relationships in your life, then you are blessed. Because you have power that will never fade away. You have power that no depression or economic downturn can take from you. If you have that kind of power, then you can survive when the wind blows and the lights go out. And when you have that kind of power, you will really know just how much money is worth and what things in this world are worth working for.
You can have money and be saved, but don’t think for a second that it is the money that is doing the saving. Money doesn’t have that kind of power. Only God does. But of course, it’s always tricky to remember that when we are trying to decide which one to hold on to.