Psalm 27:1, 4-9, Matthew 4:12-23
Few Christians realize that money is a dominant topic in the Bible. It has more than 2500 references about money and related topics. Jesus himself did not shy away from the topic. The New Testament says more about money than heaven and hell combined. Five times more is said about money than prayer and faith. Money and how we use it is a spiritual issue.
Money, Money, Mission
It's my privilege this morning to talk to you about money. Few Christians realize that money is a dominant topic in the Bible. It has more than 2500 references about money and related topics. Jesus himself did not shy away from the topic. The New Testament says more about money than heaven and hell combined. Five times more is said about money than prayer and faith. Money and how we use it is a spiritual issue.
Jesus used the metaphor of the steward to describe our role in relation to God and to our lives; we are stewards of the earth, our lives, our relationships, our possessions and our money. I want to briefly outline the three principles of Christian stewardship.
1. As Creator God owns everything. The psalmist puts it this way, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it." While it belongs to God, it is God's nature to share it all with us with freely and joyfully.
2. Those who follow Jesus are managers of what God has freely given us. We are entrusted to manage the resources we have been given. The way in which we manage is meant to be aligned with our hear and our purposes as made known in Jesus Christ.
3. When we forget the first two principles, more often than not we imbue money with god-like status. We begin to serve money, rather than money serving our ends. This is the reality of the culture in which we live. Our culture has imbued the Market with god-like qualities. It is omniscient. We must not intervene in its mysterious workings. It is omnipotent. Left unfettered, it will provide for everybody's needs. This is the lie of our culture. That's it in a nutshell. God owns it, God entrusts it to us, we manage it, and when we forget money becomes a god, and when it becomes a god we'll do anything for it; destroy the earth, kill each other, hurt children, refuse to help others, and sacrifice our deepest held convictions to acquire it. Getting this sorted out really is a matter of life and death.
This morning I want to focus on the stewardship of money in particular. Because we live and move and have our being in this culture, Christians are often confused about money; caught between two competing spiritual systems. Unless we constantly remind ourselves about the true nature of money, and of the principles of stewardship, we easily slip into confusion. My own life reflects a certain confusion about my relationship with money. I've been in three distinctive phases.
The first phase I would call the Naive phase. This lasted for the first 30-35 years of my life. I didn't care about money and I certainly didn't worry about money. Secretly I thought I was pretty holy. I knew nothing about finances. Planning for retirement was the furthest thing from my mind. I thought a stock market was a place you bought ingredients for soup. But Naivete about money is not a spirituality of money. And while Jesus didn't worry about money at all, neither was he naive; he and his followers received financial support from people who did know a thing or two about money.
The second phase I'd called my Age of Anxiety. It lasted until very recently to be honest, and I still struggle with this way of being in relationship with money. If I didn't care at all about money in the first phase, in this phase I became a little obsessed with it. One day it dawned on me that I was mortal, that I was going to get old, and when I was old I was going to need financial resources. The financial industry was telling me that I need a couple of million dollars to be financially secure. I woke up, and with this awakening came, I have to admit, anxiety. Partly it was just such a steep learning curve. I had to learn about RRSP's, investing, the difference between a bond and a mutual fund; but I really got into it. I started trading some of my own money. I saw that some people were getting very rich investing in tech stocks for example, learned all about chip technology and then bio-technology, read dozens of financial books; got greedy, took a bath, which was a particularly painful part of my financial education.
The third phase I'd call a phase of stewardship or Joyful Possibility. I can utilize what I learned in my anxious phase to increase the amount of money I make available to serve Christ and his purposes.
Lynn Twist is the founder of the Hunger Project, the goal of which is to eradicate hunger on the planet. She lectures of the philosophy of money. One of her lectures is called The Soul of Money. Ms. Twist helps us to understand that money is an inanimate object, with no intrinsic authority. We made money up to help us trade goods and services. It has no power but the power we give it, and it has no soul. The only soul it has is that which we give it. We can choose to imbue it with the soul of greed and narrow self-interest, in which case it will create a culture which reflects greedy and self-interested souls. Or we can imbue it with the soul of compassion, generosity, and humanity. The Christian would say we can imbue our money with the soul of Christ. This becomes consecrated money, money that we are delighted to invest in creating a better world for our children and our children's children.
What are the qualities of giving when it is consecrated or purified money?
It is generous. Our nation and the nations of the world have discovered the joys of generous giving in response to the tragedy in South-East Asia. I'll bet if you asked most of the Canadians who have given over 150 million dollars before the Tsunami if they had any extra money to give away, they would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that things were just too tight, they were barely making ends meet, etc. etc. Then, our hearts opened, and just like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, 150 million consecrated dollars appeared. We have so much money in the developed world to share, if we had the heart. The problem is that we've taken it out of circulation, because we have bought into the myth of insufficiency.
We believe the ads that tell us we don't have enough, we are not enough, buy this product and you'll be complete; attain this lifestyle and you'll be fulfilled. So we use our money to buy stuff we think we need to make us complete as defined by marketers. Friends in Christ, God made us perfectly just the way that we are. Research shows that there is a correlation between happiness and money only up to the point at which our needs are being taken care of; beyond that the correlation between happiness and money breaks down. What makes us happy is being able to share what we have been given with others, and share it generously.
Consecrated money or purified money is money which is given joyfully. Ms. Twist believes that money given grudgingly influences the impact of the money given. She invites us when we send our taxes to the government to take joy in the fact that they are going to be used to teach our children, build our roads, and provide medical care. Money given joyfully to the church, and imbued with the soul of Christ, manifests as stirring music, meaningful worship, transformative preaching, stew for our homeless friends, a hospital visit, a beautiful memorial service, sacred space so that groups can meet and do their work for a better world; money with the soul of Christ, given joyfully and generously manifests as a small group holding each other in prayer or a Christian education program helping people to deepen their life in Christ; money given joyfully helps our children to know the stories of Jesus; it makes it possible for me to teach seminary students about leading a congregation; it creates that rarest of things in this culture of individualism; it creates a spiritual community caring for one another, praying for one another, reaching out in love to the community. Consecrated money is money which is given joyfully knowing that it is going to help to create God's dream for humanity. That's another way of talking about Mission. Your money has made all this possible and much more. Thank you for making this possible.
Money imbued with the soul of Christ, and given for Chris's sake is given regularly and proportionately. As inspiring as the recent outpouring of money has been, imagine what would happen if each of those people sat down and said to themselves, "You know, that wasn't such a sacrifice. In fact it made me feel better than I've felt in years. 'm going to give generously and joyfully and I'm going to do it every month, because God knows there are lots of people who need it more than me" One of Annޞ𣭐ޔٔ's friends came to this realization herself after the recent tragedy. One of her children volunteered her services to take pledges for the Red Cross. As she heard people committing all this money, she realized that up until this point on her life, her own giving had been sketchy. She is now going to budget giving at the beginning of the year, and give off the top, rather than at the end of the year with what is left over. That's regular giving.
Proportionate giving is making a decision to give a certain percentage of one's income, joyfully and generously, to help to create God's dream for humanity. So, for example, Ann and I have been working toward a Biblical tithe, 10% of our gross income. We are not there, yet, but we're close. We're at about 8%. We filled out a Pre-Authorized Remittance form so that our contribution to the church could be withdrawn automatically from our account.
Friends, following Christ means learning to understand money and how we give it as a spiritual issue. For me it meant a journey from naive to anxiety to joyful possibility in Christ. Money can be our voice, our way of declaring and manifesting God's dream for humanity. Lynn Twist ended one of her lectures with an inspiring possibility. She invited us to become known for what we allocate not what we accumulate.
We don't have financial problem in this congregation friends. We have all the money we need and more. It's just not in full circulation yet. We have so much money that in a few years our problem is going to be how we allocate all the money we have left over at the end of the year. We'll have to have a meeting to brainstorm what we want to manifest with the extra money, which parts of our mission we want to enhance. We're going to discover the power of money when it's employed in the service of God's dream. May it be so.
Bruce Sanguin is pastor at Canadian Memorial Church, Vancouver, B.C.