The work of faithful living in God's real world is good work...but its work that we need to do together and I would enjoy your partnership.
"Living in the Real World"
I find this reading from Matthew to be provocative, challenging.
- It comes from the part of Matthew's gospel known as the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus instructs us on discipleship, that is what following Jesus looks like in everyday life.
- In this section Jesus talks about our relationship to our financial resources
- Just before these verses he says, "Where your treasurer is, there your heart will be also," and then this call to be clear about your relationship to God and money.
Look at these two verses again.
- No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other, You cannot serve God and wealth.
- But strive first for the Kingdom of God and God's righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
How do you hear this text from Matthew? Can you take it seriously for your personal life?
My brother and I had a number of conversations about money over the years.
- We were very different in our outlook on most things. He had three academic degrees -- in physics, electrical engineering and a Master of Business Administration.
He would read a text like this and say, "That's nice, but it's, Pollyannaish ... This isn't what it's like in the real world."
- You do have to take responsibility to feed, clothe, and house your family.
- These aren't spiritual issues, they are everyday life issues, and the Bible isn't always helpful when it comes to life in the real world.
I asked him, more than once which world is the real world?
He would roll his eyes on this one and say something like, "Don't be a jerk; you know what the real world is like."
- I am not sure that I know what the real world is like. I know about the world that we have created, and I know that it is different than the real world that God has in mind.
Is the real world the world with the terrorists, crime, road rage, child abuse, poverty and starvation?
Does the cover of this week's Economist portray the real world?
- Barbarians at the vault...
Is this the real world, or is it the world that humanity has created through our brokenness and our decision to serve the wrong master?
This seems to be the real world that Jesus challenges in parables and interactions with people.
- Jesus has a different vision for the real world
- And Jesus calls us to that vision, and he sees our relationship to our material resources as a passage into understanding God's vision of the real world.
Jesus returns to again and again to the relationship with have with our money. For Jesus, this is a spiritual issue;it is at the heart of things that distract us from following God's vision of the world.
One of our greatest challenges for managing life with Christ at the center focuses on what we do with our money. If for no other reason, because money is very important to us. So important that we place our material resources at the center of our lives.
- Most people will never have enough money, for the present or future.
- It belongs to us. We own it, earn it, invest it, spend it.
- And don't talk about it in church- keep to spiritual topics.
- For Jesus money is an expression of our spiritual lives -- we may not like it...
This reading from Matthew is often translated as "One cannot serve God and Mammon." As if Mammon is dirty.
- The word "mammon" is translated as physical property or money. It is ethically neutral; the only value it has is the value we assign to it.
- It has the same Semitic root as the word AMEN.
- It is a solid word. We need mammon to live in the world.
- But it is not to be the center of our lives. It is not to be the energy around which we will organize all other energies.
- Our material wealth is not the most important thing that we attend to, nurture, and manage.
There are some consequences when mammon, our material wealth, becomes the center.
- We say we've chosen to serve God and not mammon but in our daily lives it is mammon that sets the priorities and determines our choices.
- We would like to be more abundant toward the poor but we need so much for ourselves.
- We would like to spend more time with our children but there's so much we want for them.
- We begin to think that our money is the most important element in living in the real world.
Jesus asks us to place God at the center. Let that be the energy source; let that be the relationship that we attend to. God at the center brings wholeness to a broken world: God at the center changes all relationships, not least our relationship to our possessions, our money.
Lynn Twist in her marvelous book, The Soul of Money, describes our lives as conduits through which blessings and life flow. She says when we hold back on our resources, when we dam them up someone downstream will not have a sufficient amount to live their lives.
We experienced that with the Feed My Starving children project:
- You blessed that project with your resources. You gave your time, and your time and your resources flowed through your lives as we gathered together to pack more than 455,000 meals.
- Some of you have seen pictures of the children fed by these meals in places like Haiti, children who were starving, emaciated, bearing expressions of fear and pain became smiling children who wanted to be teachers and doctors and engineers and pastors.
- That is Christ's real world.
Recently, I saw piece on the news about the Glen Canyon Dam restoration project:
- The Dam has been in place on the Colorado River since 1963, and it has drastically changed the entire ecosystem in the Grand Canyon.
- Animals, birds and plants were endangered; sandbars, important life systems had deteriorated because the water these systems received from annual flooding had been taken away, dammed up. It was changing everything. The canyon had become impoverished.
- Last year the US government released billions of gallons of water from the dam to see if parts of the river valley -- downstream could be restored. This spring there are new sandbars in place, plants are coming back, and animal and bird habitat is being restored.
- When I saw that piece I thought that is the stewardship that god is calling us to practice. Let these gifts flow through us to give life, restore what is dying, and provide for a future.
- We are the conduits of the gospel: this is what is real. The deterioration, pain, and brokenness: that isn't the real world. It is a world without God at the center.
Three weeks before my brother died of esophageal cancer. He said, "It's a shame that you have to be looking at death before you realize what is most important. The money isn't important. God in Christ is important. Lliving with that is important." He had changed his notion of the real world.
Now, I know that living with Christ at the center of life and managing our material resources with that as guide isn't an easy thing to do.
We need support in faithful living, faithful management of life resources with Christ at the center.
At the beginning of this sermon I asked the question: Can you take this text seriously for your personal life?
- With that question in mind I would like to put forward an invitation for those who may be interested, to join in a conversation about our faithful relationship to God and Money.
- Please let me know if you would like to join me and other interested people to talk about and support each other in managing these resources from a Christ center.
There is a box at the information center where you can fill out a card and place it in the box. Or give me a call at the Incarnation Office.
The work of faithful living in God's real world is good work, but its work that we need to do together and I would enjoy your partnership.
In the long run, we are shaped by what we attend to: by what we claim at the center of life. Jesus issues this clear call for a life that is centered in faith, centered in the Gospel. We will attend to that.
Glenn Taibl is a stewardship leader, a member of the Financial Stewardship Team at Luther Seminary.
Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa (ignaciogarcialosa.com) via Flickr. Used by permission.