Jesus spoke more about money than any other subject.
Partly because money talks, money -practically- gets things done. the generous giving of people who have been part of our church these past nearly 7 years has enabled us to turn this building from a semi derelict shell into a community resource and there’s much more to do. generosity is vital, we as a church plant receive no denominational funding we are entirely dependent on our congregation’s giving. money is a practical issue. I’ll say a bit more about that at the end.
but money is also a spiritual issue. The way we think about money and what we do with our money is unavoidably linked to our spiritual life and growth - to our happiness! Jesus said you cannot love both God and money. Whether you’re rich and you have loads of it or poor and you don’t have any the Love of money will suffocate your relationship with God. So... money...It’s a practical issue. It’s a spiritual issue.
v24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.'
Money has spiritual power says Jesus. The word, as you probably know, that Jesus uses is the word Mammon. The personification of wealth, riches, security. Money is just money but Money can rise up and take a form in our lives that rivals the place of God. Mammon - A Master that demands our service. That’s where we begin.
1. Mammon masters us.
Robert Bresson (was a French film director died in 1999. influential. 13 films over 40 year period). theme of money runs through all of his films to the point that his last film is called l’argent. money. It’s the story of a delivery man who gets involved in passing a forged note initially unwittingly and yet as you follow the trail of this forged note and the people who surround it with their love of money this man eventually ends up murdering a whole family. he’s in prison as a result and he has a conversation with one of his fellow prisoners who says to him. “i want happiness now on my own terms. Oh money, visible god, what wouldn’t we do for you?”
It's a powerful image isn’t it. a £50 note - a visible god calling for our allegiance. saying ‘serve me’.
Why would you serve money? seems ridiculous on the face of it - that a wad of notes in your pocket, or a string of numbers on your bank statement - has the power to control your life?
I guess status or significance would cause you to serve money. the things that money can buy!
But probably for most of us in our circumstances it’s about security isn’t it? if i have enough money in the bank, enough treasure stored up ...then i’ll feel safe.
Mammon masters us. A rival god. Well, Jesus sets out the alternatives plainly. You either trust in money to provide for your needs or you trust in the God who created and controls all the worlds resources - who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass of the fields.
If you trust in money there is no room for God in your life.
You cannot serve both God and Mammon. Mammon wants to master us.
let’s track back a bit now to vv22-23. pull the lens back and here’s a tough thing. Jesus seems to say in vv22-23 that it’s not obvious when you’re serving two masters. it’s not obvious when you’ve begun to love money.
2. Mammon deceives us
v22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
The verses sound a little bit strange but i think the point is fairly simple. eyes let in light and allow us to navigate our body around space. so, if i was to turn and walk in that direction... because there’s light coming into my eyes i can navigate my way around the piano etc..
but if you were to blindfold and spin me round and then set me off - i’d crash!
And Jesus seems to say at the end of v23 that you can reach a position where you think that you are in the light and yet you are in darkness. and how great then is that darkness. You have become self deceived. I think he’s saying that money has the power to deceive us. we’re serving it. but we don’t realise that we’re serving it until it destroys us. It’s very subtle. Money has the power to make us spiritually blind to it’s power.
How does Mammon deceive us? What are the destructive lies that we’re being fed? I’ve chosen 3 from Archbishop Justin Welby's excellent new book Dethroning Mammon (Mark Carney was photographed reading it on the tube)
1. Mammon shapes us to value most things that we can see and measure
Justin Welby tells the story of a lawyer friend who was handling the settlement of a divorce for the wife of a very wealthy man. the man had submitted to the courts a figure for his available wealth that seemed to be well below the truth. The lawyer asked the wife whether she had any idea how much he was worth and she was able to immediately respond with what was discovered to be the exact figure. How did she know? Well she knew because this wealthy man’s main occupation had been to weekly calculate the value of his liquid assets so that he could enjoy basking in how much he was worth.
Here’s the great deception: While he sat counting what he had something of far greater value - his marriage - was slipping away. Since he could not count his marriage he did not value it, Since he couldn’t measure it it didn’t define him. Yet he valued and was defined by his money. Mammon had deceived him into calculating everything on the basis of mammon’s values not those of Jesus Christ.
This happens everywhere and has always happened.
Think of the response when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume worth a years wages - what a waste!
Or, think of the response when a highly gifted woman decides not to go back to her successful career but instead stays home to be a mother or worse starts working for the church - what a waste!
Welby writes: “the problem with materialism - this prioritising of the tangible - is not that it exists but that it dominates. It shouts so loudly that it overides our caring for other things which we cannot see or measure but are of far greater value” (p41)
- relationships, the church, the environment, our children’s future..
Mammon shapes us to value most the things that we can see and measure
2. Mammon preaches an economy of scarcity that compels us to hold on to our money..
Scarcity - we’re using up the world’s resources, jobs are few - we need to accumulate and hold on to money.
The Economy of scarcity of course breeds fear.
Welby again: “Fear is a powerful tool of Mammon …and much of our politics draws on that fear.. So we are taught to fear the outsider and the stranger, especially the needy stranger. Fear has a crippling effect on any country or society. It encourages extremism and populism in politics. It establishes a hermeneutic of suspicion, a way of looking at the world which begins all relationships with the question ‘what are they trying to get out of me?” (p72)
We live in a world of abundance. There is plenty enough for every person’s need. But Mammon causes us to embrace the fear of scarcity, and that fear drives us to selfishness and to grasping what we hold ever more tightly.
third and final deception
3. Mammon teaches us to treat what we receive as ours
It’s my money to dispose of how i choose.
A few years ago in the UK there was a small tax increase for people on the highest levels of income. Quite a number of those affected seemed to find the imposition of extra tax to be entirely unreasonable, describing it as socialist confisaction or quote ‘worse than the nazis’. And some left the country to avoid the oppressive UK system. Now, many of those people, we know, are generous philanthropists. They have set up foundations to give away money to worthy causes. But this is the point - it’s their money to dispose of how they choose. (Welby, p59-60)
Dont’ you think like that? It’s my money. I own it.
But the problem with that belief, which Mammon encourages, is that if we own money, money can own us. If the relationship is that close. We think we’re using money but money is using us. Controlling us through worry. Distracting us from deeper matters…
Mammon deceives us, blindfolds us.. and we don’t know it until it’s too late and we are pierced by many griefs. People come pastorally and talk to me about all kinds of things but nobody ever wants to talk about their problems with money controlling their life..
Mammon masters and deceives us
How then do we
3 DETHRONE MAMMON
our third point
v19 Jesus says ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. (Don’t deceive yourselves. It doesn’t last. It’s not secure. You can’t take it with you) 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What does Jesus mean by ‘store up treasures in heaven?’
Remember, heaven is not a future state, It is the place from which now God rules over all. So i think Jesus is asking us to use money in a life centred around the rule of God.His rule is the most important thing. It’s that which is to grip our hearts not money. that’s why he ends this whole section of teaching, this chapter with v33 seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness and all other things will be given to you as well.
Dethrone Mammon by Enthroning Christ
What does that look like? Well, by worshipping Jesus we train ourselves to look at the world differently - not by the values of Mammon but of Christ
That will mean:
1. valuing not simply things which we can see or measured because 'what is not measurable may be valuable beyond measure.' (p40)
Mary anointing Jesus’ feet - from one point of view could be seen as the waste of a years wages but from another as the preparation for the burial of the body of God which would be denied Jesus when the time came. A recognition of the act of supreme value (the death of Jesus) enshrined in Scripture for eternity. No wonder Mary poured out her most valued possession. She wanted to pur out her life!
The talented woman who doesn’t return to her career but serves her child and her church (and incidentally i’m not making any judgements about what forms christian motherhood should take! why shouldn't it be a father remaining at home? what i am saying is that that decision) could be seen as a sorry waste of a life. But that would be to dance to Mammon’s tune. Perhaps that woman (or man) has a greater calling. Some things are more valuable than what we can see or measure..
We can’t see the future. We can’t easily see what we are doing to the environment. We can’t readily measure the effect of art, of kindness. And yet these things ARE the truly valuable things. Dethroning Mammon means valuing not simply things which we can see or measure
2. Dethroning Mammon means proclaiming not an economy of scarcity but an economy of abundance
Our creator is not a God of scarcity but a God of abundant ‘ludicrous’ generosity. Of beautiful flowers that bloom only for a day, of sunsets, of rainfall, of more manna in the wilderness than could ever be collected; of the abundance of wine at the wedding at Cana! of the basketfuls of leftovers after the feeding of the 5000, Our God is the Father who gave us THE indescribable GIFT OF HIS OWN SON!!!
Yes, our dismissive attitude to the value of that which we cannot see and measure - the environment, the future, - and our fear of scarcity causing us to accumulate and hold on has resulted in the raping of our planet; the unthinking consumption of resources. In God’s economy there is not enough for man’s greed … but there is more than enough for man’s need. Enough for everyone.
As God’s people we need to repent and retrain ourselves (through worship) to see the world in terms of abundance. Generous giving of our money (and it’s not just money, some of us hardly have any! - it’s also our time, our energy, our talents, our love) sustains and empowers the church and shares with the poor but more than that it dethrones Mammon. Radical Generosity drives out fear and hatred. We need to proclaim an economy not of grasping scarcity but of rich abundance.
3. Dethroning Mammon means treating what we have received not as ours (singular, personal, familial) but as ‘ours’ (plural, everybody, it’s for all)
The possession of wealth (money, talents, time) is a God given gift to serve others, to identify with people, to show solidarity, to build relationships of abundance and grace and to change the world for the better.
That’s what money is for.
[The Bible] is agnostic about the money and power you already have. [What The Bible is interested in is] how you use that money and power - whether you put it in the service of God, and use it to wash the feet of the world; or whether you put it in the service of Mammon, and use it to insulate yourself from those whose feet smell bad. (p97)
Welby says we should not be without hope! He cites numerous examples of what a society looks like in which Christ is enthroned and Mammon Dethroned.
The post second world war ‘Marshall Plan.’ which saw the USAtransfer what would be in todaysterms hundreds of billions of dollars in aid and support for the collapsed economies of both the vanquished and the victors on the continent of Europe.
The National Health Service. ensuring that every sick person would have treatment at the point of need.
The UK government’s Department for International Development which has become a world leader, improving, over the last years, the lives of over 100 million of the world’s poorest children and their families inspite of recession and a remorseless attack by the press and many in parliament.
Jubilee 2000 - the international coalition movement that secured the cancellation of more than a $100 billion of debt owed by 35 of the world’s poorest countries.
All the people who worked to make these things a reality were enthroning Christ over Mammon, whether they knew it or not. And for many of them this was their conscious motivation.
'When Mammon is dethroned and Christ takes his place we do not have cruelty but love and grace. We do not have shortage but abundance and human flourishing. We do not have deception, we have truth.'
How do we dethrone mammon in our own lives? recognising the value of the unseen; noticing the manna that daily God lavishes upon our lives?
It begins with Worship - centering, weekly and daily, our whole attention on the beauty and generosity of God.
And then there needs to be repentance - a practical outworking of generosity in the way in which we live our lives. How are you using the gifts God has given you for others?
I spoke about financial giving to church. Our church relies on congregational giving to exist and grow in a fiercely expensive city. We’re always up against it so please give generously to our church. At Easter we will be 7 years old and after Easter we will have a whole church meeting to present a draft vision for the next 7-10 years. Hopefully a compelling vision from God that you can give to! Enabling us to be a community of celebration and abundance in which , the outsider, the alien and the stranger are welcomed and where they may find company and healing and hope…