Good morning, Christ Church!
For those of us who were around at the time, how can we ever forget the “Go Go Eighties?” Wolves were roaming Wall Street. There were “Barbarians at the Gate.” Self-proclaimed “Masters of the Universe” were presiding over Vanities’ bonfire. And a very different Madonna was singing, “You know that we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.” Everything was “big,” from “big hair” to “big clothes” and big BMWs. According to F. Ross Johnson, then president and CEO of RJR Nabisco, the three applicable rules of business were: “Never play by the rules. Never pay in cash. And never tell the truth.” (Obviously, as we look around today, we can see that these guiding principles continue to be held by some.) The bottom line was that material acquisition was the ultimate goal in life and accumulating your millions as quickly as possible was the real sign of successful living. Cash was not only king. It had become the idol that many preferred to worship.
Personally, I am not sure that much has changed over the last 30+ years. There seem to be many who still prefer to bow down to this particular golden calf, even amongst those who at the same time claim to worship the living God. (For example, I am not a fan of the so-called “prosperity gospel.” I can’t find any instance in the Gospels where Jesus teaches us that, if we pray hard enough, God will grant us our very own Learjet.)
Jesus in his own day and age had much to say about our relationship to our material resources. In fact, over the course of his mission, he addresses this one topic more often than any other. This is certainly true in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. To live the Christian moral life is to take very seriously and with great love the relationships that we have with the world around us. This realization applies not just to our neighbors. It applies just as much, if not more so, to our relationship with God and our possessions. As we shall see, it really is impossible to love both at the same time. The critical lesson here is that we are not, nor ever will be, masters of our universe. That place is God’s and God’s alone. To grow into an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus is to know that we never really own any of the material resources we have acquired. We are merely stewards. Always have been and always will be. In the end, we won’t be taking any of our stuff with us. There are no trailers hitched to the back of the hearse. In that moment, God’s love will be all that matters.
Faithfully in Christ,
“Barbarians at the Gate,” Bryan Burrough and John Helyar, Harper and Row, 1990
“The Bonfire of the Vanities,” Tom Wolfe, Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1987
Madonna, “Like a Virgin,” 1984
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:19-24)
The remarkable fact about the discourse on discipleship found in Matthew 5-7 is that Jesus actually has a lot of positive things to say about accumulating treasures! Remember that those who are called to follow him are “blessed.” There are great rewards for those who learn to practice the disciplines of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting as God hopes and desires. We know that “our daily bread” will be supplied and all our debts forgiven. And Jesus makes it quite clear that we are to actively seek “treasures in heaven” that can never be broken down or destroyed.
Let’s throw into the mix that oft-misquoted verse concerning mammon serving as “the root of all evil.” Actually, the author of 1st Timothy has this to say:
“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.” (6:10 NRSV)
In other words, it is not mammon per se that gets us in trouble. Instead, it is our love for material things, eagerly acquired, obsessed over, hoarded, coveted, and yes, even worshipped, that gets in the way of our relationship with God in very deep and profound ways. We are all familiar with this old adage: if we really want to know where our hearts are, just look at our checkbook registers. That reveals all we need to know about what we really treasure.
I believe that this is what Jesus has in mind when he says, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” Health and seeking heavenly treasures go hand in hand. How you and I view our financial resources, and the further accumulation of the same, has everything to do with whether we see clearly or have been blinded. When building up the bottom line in order to own more becomes our reason for being, we have lost our way and are stumbling around in the darkness. When we understand that we are really stewards, and that our stewardship is about caring for God’s creation and all therein for the brief lifetimes that we are here, then we are standing in the light and seeing clearly. The love of God becomes the treasure we seek and our material wealth becomes the resource that assists us in living into God’s kingdom right here and right now.
Can’t we serve more than one master? No, we cannot, not according to Jesus. If the accumulation of wealth is the master we serve, then we are focused for the most part on earthly treasures, and Jesus has warned us how that will turn out in the end. If we choose to serve God, and seek the kingdom his Son came to proclaim, then love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, dignity, and respect for others become the treasures we seek; and our time, our talents, and our material resources will be used in the service of the same.
Now, how then do the economic and political system known as capitalism and the Gospel coexist? That’s a great question, if I don’t say so myself! I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the same. But I do think that the practice of tithing has something to do with it.