21st Sunday After Pentecost
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one for whom all things are possible. Amen
There’s a bit of folk wisdom
that I think we’re all familiar with,
the wisdom that prohibits
the discussion of religion, politics and money in polite society.
And while this is probably a smart rule to follow
around the dinner table at Thanksgiving
(because you just never know what Uncle Bob is going to say)
we have taken this prohibition to the extreme,
to the point where we rarely if ever discuss these topics,
even and especially at church- the exception being religion of course.
And this is a problem,
because while we might wish we could separate
each part of our lives into individual compartments and boxes,
the truth is that they are all intertwined,
what we believe about God
should impact how we deal with money and society.
So as disciples of Jesus
we neglect part of our spiritual formation
if we fail to take time to consider how our faith impacts
all the aspects of our lives,
including how we handle money.
In our gospel today,
Jesus teaches about money,
actually, if we look closely as Jesus’ teachings
we find that they are often concerned with economics,
Jesus frequently mentions the poor
and teaches care for the poor,
and not just in a causal here have some sandwiches and old clothes kind of way,
but care that gets at the heart of why people are poor,
care that overturns the systems
that have allowed some people to amass a great deal of wealth
while many don’t have the basics.
“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Jesus teaches the disciples.
It is impossible to separate our money/ resources
from our life of faith
and Jesus points to this again and again.
The man in the gospel finds this out the hard way,
he runs up to Jesus and asks him
“what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
and Jesus quizzes him a bit,
finds out that he’s been diligent about keeping the commandments,
living a life of faith
and we are told that Jesus looks at the man and loves him,
and out of love says “you lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.”
and when the man “heard this he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
It’s a shock to find out
that even if you’ve lived a godly life
when it comes down to it
you love your stuff more than eternal life.
Then Jesus turns to the disciples
and comments about how hard it will be for someone who is rich
to enter the kingdom of heaven,
it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
that’s how hard it is.
And the disciples look at one another and ask
“then who can be saved?”
Because while they might not be the most well off,
they’re doing okay,
they’ve got enough to eat and a purpose in life,
so will it be hard for them,
followers of Jesus to enter the kingdom of God?
And Jesus responds to their confusion “for mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
The man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life,
and Jesus out of love
told him to do something that he knew was impossible for the man,
revealing to him and the disciples watching,
that he was asking the wrong question,
the man assumed that he had the power to achieve eternal life.
if we’re not careful that’s what wealth will do,
it will lead us to ask the wrong questions,
it lures us into believing that we are self-sufficient,
that we do not need God
because we are able to do everything for ourselves,
even make sure we inherit eternal life,
and that Jesus says that is impossible for humans,
salvation is up to God
and we must trust that it is so,
we must have faith.
Faith in God is not about hoarding everything that comes our way,
wealth is not a sign of God’s favor,
but nor is faith about throwing every material thing away,
we heard in our psalm for last week
that God created humans to be caretakers of creation,
food, clothing, housing, meaningful occupation are all necessary for life,
all provided by God,
the key is how we use these resources
in a way that all have what they need as God intended.
But because sin entered the world,
some hoard while others starve.
It is because of sin
that we believe we can take care of ourselves
and I’d say it’s even because of sin
that we don’t like talking about money.
Which is all the more reason to talk about it,
not in the way of bragging
but in the way of working out as a community
how to take care of the resources that God has entrusted to us,
and when we talk in this way,
we keep God at the center of our lives,
we recognize that only God has the power to save us,
to invite us in to the kingdom of God
and because of Christ,
we believe that God has already extended that invitation to us,
we are saved,
it is all God’s doing, not ours.
And because we are saved we are freed from the need
to believe that we can or have to save ourselves.
Now of course, it is always a struggle
to determine just how much is enough,
enough to keep, enough to give
and in this struggle there is grace.
This week I was reading “A Christian View of Money: Celebrating God’s Generosity” by Mark Vincent, and in it he remarked on this struggle
“If we experience the vast chasm between our good intentions and our hopeless inadequacy, we are blessed because we know our need for God. When God’s grace meets us, we realize that salvation means peace and wholeness, and we cannot hoard anything. We cannot be selfish with income or possessions because of the generous God we serve.” (pg 61)
What we need is God.
Everything else is details,
when we realize this
we are freed to follow Jesus rather than money.
We are freed to share what we acquire
because we have all we need,
we are freed to talk about money in community
because it is a tool to be used
not a means of salvation,
a tool to follow Jesus
in overturning the way of the world
that leads to some amassing great wealth
leaving some without the basics,
and yes on our own that’s impossible,
but with God, all things are possible. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.