Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Psalm 79:1-9; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13
Preached by Rev. Deacon John Warner
God or Mammon?
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
I was 30 year old, married with a new born baby girl, recently hired by the local community mental health center, and a rising star. I was initially hired to work with individuals with developmental disabilities but felt that I could have greater impact in their lives if I moved into management. Within approximately ten years, I was promoted into positions of increasing responsibility and salary until I was selected by the governing board as the center’s new Executive Director. Promotions have their downside. As you climb the corporate ladder, the positions become more political. When the mental health center encountered difficulty in managing increasing state demands with diminishing resources, I began to see the worse for my future. The board lost confidence in my ability to lead the center and requested my resignation. Although I was able to find another position, my salary was reduced in half. Having become accustomed to a particular lifestyle, I was worried how my family would make it. I asked Marsha if she thought I should find a second job. She wisely advised me that we should look at our budget, cut where we could, but delay the decision about a seeking a second job. As I look back upon this painful life experience, I am amazed that when you have your back against the wall, how well you can prioritize things, what is important and what isn’t.
Our scripture readings this morning include people who have felt overwhelmed by events and find their respective backs against the wall. Although Biblical scholars disagree on whom the speaker in the Old Testament reading is - possibly Jeremiah, Jerusalem or God – there is no doubt the speaker is experiencing despair, “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.” One has to look hard to find anything but despair in Psalm 79 in which the speaker cries to the heavens questioning when the Lord’s anger will be replaced with His compassion.
And then we have the parable of the dishonest steward or manager in our Gospel reading. It’s a tale about a steward who has been managing a rich man’s estate. His master has called him “on the carpet” to account for his wasteful spending. He sees the “writing on the wall.” He believes that he is about to be fired. Like me after my resignation, he is scared for he doesn’t know what the future holds. Possessing little marketable skills he begins to plan on how best to transition into unemployment. It is a sure bet that he won’t be receiving a letter of recommendation from his boss. “What about those vendors who owe money to my master?” he ponders. “If I reduce their debt significantly, one might be so grateful that they will take me into their home.” He then proceeds to reduce each debtor’s bill by 20-50%.
The term “wealth” used in today’s Gospel may not define in the way that you think. The King James Bible uses another word for wealth, mammon, which I believe communicates better. Mammon is derived from the Hebrew for “wealth or possessions in which one puts his or her trust.” During the Middle Ages, Christians began depicting mammon as any false god. John Milton carried this theme into Christian literature when he portrayed mammon has a fallen angel who worshipped earthly treasure over all other things.
According to the theologian William Barclay, there are three attitudes that we can take toward money:
a) We can regard money as the enemy and have nothing to do with it. This is what the desert fathers (and mothers), the hermits, did when they, viewed material things as tainted by human sin, refused to possess anything. This attitude if practiced widespread would be detrimental since the hermits depended on the generosity of others.
b) We can regard money as our master in other words to be a slave to it. The image that comes to mind is Charles Dickens’ character, Uncle Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, a miser whose obsession in accumulating riches was so strong that he didn’t care how he obtained it or whom he ruined along the way.
c) We can regard money as our friend, not to be avoided or to be worshipped, but to be used wisely and unselfishly.
How many times did Jesus talk about money? Well it is true that he talked more about the Kingdom of God than money. Not the Kingdom of God future but the Kingdom of God present - the Kingdom of God outside of the church doors.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that money is evil. Money by itself is not good or evil; it is just a thing. It the person’s intention regarding the money that intrinsically makes it good or evil. Some might reply angrily, “Money is the root of all evil,” as a Biblical support for their argument; however, they would be misquoting scripture. The correct quote is “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:10 NRSV). I believe money and the accumulation of wealth can become evil when its acquisition and maintenance becomes all consuming – when it becomes your mammon, your God worshipped.
Jesus’ last words are very demanding. “No slave 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.” We cannot be slaves to both God and mammon. Psychologist terms this behavior as “divided consciousness” or more commonly known as “multitasking”, a situation that can lead to disastrous consequences as some may have encountered if they attempted to text on the cell phone while driving a car. We cannot multitask God and mammon or wealth. Wealth is not a guarantee for salvation.
Again, I’m not being critical of wealth and an individual’s acquisition of it. After all, I am a fan of capitalism and the free market system. However, taking liberty with the Spiderman comic series, “With great wealth comes great responsibility.” Therefore, I leave you this morning with three questions to reflect upon:
1. How possessive are you of your wealth?
2. In what way might your wealth benefit the disadvantaged, those that the church is charged to serve through our baptismal covenant?
3. In what we have we benefited from our economic system and does this make us responsible for any who may have suffered from our success?