16 September 2018 Money and Moths Martin Baker
Over the next three weeks we are going to look at three topics which Jesus spoke a lot about. Things that are part of all our lives. Worry, grief and fear. And in the Gospels, these deep emotions and experiences, all connect to our faith and our relationship to property and things.
It is most likely that the Gospel of Matthew, which we hear from today, was written for people who would have had plenty to worry about. Matthew was written for Jews who had converted to Christianity. These Jewish Christians had seen the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Roman army. The temple was central to the life, worship, history and culture of their community. These Jewish Christians suffered persecution not only from the Romans but from their own community as well – who by then were seen more and more as heretics. These Jewish Christians had scattered into Syria and especially to Antioch which is now in Turkey near the Syrian border just above Lebanon.
So you have been through a lot. You have seen the centre of your historical faith, the Temple in Jerusalem, destroyed by the Romans. You may have fled your homeland. And you have been caught up in this new faith that spread first from Jerusalem and was quickly moving through Jewish and non-Jewish communities through the Roman Empire.
On one hand you have a new faith but on the other you may have lost so much. You have every reason to worry. And what is more, you have arrived in a large wealthy city of Antioch surrounded by temples, other gods and all other kinds of worship.
And you hear these words read out to your little gathering of Christians. It seems that they may have been meeting in a cave at this point. And you would be hearing what Jesus said. About how worry undermines faith. About how a false attachment to money and goods undermines our faith in God’s provision.
One of the key challenges in the text is that the greatest threat to our faith does not come from somewhere out there, not from the gods in Antioch, or the Romans, but comes from the things that are most familiar to us, from even the feelings and insecurities within us.
New Testament Scholar Craig Blomberg said “The greatest danger to Western Christianity is not, as is sometimes alleged, prevailing ideologies and beliefs such as Islam, the New Age movement or humanism, but rather the all-pervasive materialism of our affluent culture”
So we bring these terrible experiences, these very real worries and fears, we are a small group within a somewhat hostile environment and we hear these words today.
19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 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!
24 "No one 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. You cannot serve God and wealth.
25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you -- you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."
Let us pray
I did something a little foolish a couple of weeks ago.
I was ordering on the internet and somehow I pushed the order button three times. SO rather than order one of these things, an attachment for a roof rack, I ordered three of them.
And I only realised that I had done this when I saw the receipt come through.
The company I brought these things from, contacted me to query to order, because they thought it strange that anyone would want to order three of these, and I said I had made a mistake, and they said they would refund the difference.
And I waited for the refund. A minute went buy, a second minute went by. Then 1 day went past and then 2 days and then 3 days and then 4 days. They’re going to keep my $200 dollars I thought. Who are these people ? Is this some fraud I have been sucked into - taken advantage of! How am I going to tell my wife? And all those people warning you about buying stuff on the Internet. They're all right!
Has anyone else found themselves caught up in a spiral of anxiety? They are quite deep feelings aren’t they? And at their worst, for some of us anyway, these spirals, can colour everything else that is happening. That $200 worry that sits there, when I am having dinner with friends. When I am gazing out on creation and its splendour.
Of course there was no issue, it was just a process time through the credit card system.
I think these are some of the most difficult passages in scripture to talk about. Because they’re about things we almost never talk about.
What is it about money that can so consume us? It seems to me that we sometimes give money an almost sacred power. And that seems to be coming through in our text this morning. You cannot serve God and wealth. In the older translations it said, you cannot serve both God and Mammon. More powerful in a way. . There is almost a sacredness we give to this mammon money god.
And if you don’t think so , I’ll give you an example. Which might see me lose my job. But the sacred quality we give money.
If I asked everyone here to just quietly whisper in the neighbours ear how much they earned last year, or if they owned a house, how much they thought their house was worth, or if they have had savings how much were their savings worth, would we be overwhelmed this morning by the quite sound of whispering voices?
The God revealed in Jesus or the God Mammon. You can’t serve both. There is a choice to be made. One or the other.
Partly it is a cultural thing.
Sandy and I went to a little church when we were in Samoa a few years ago. And at the door as you come in, behind a little desk sits the church secretary. And in a large ledger records your name and how much you were giving this Sunday. Everyone can see what he is writing down. And if for some reason you give an especially large amount that morning that would be announced at church.
Jesus says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.
Despite our smaller families, we read that the average New Zealand house has increased 25% in size in the last two decades. And one of the fast growing sectors in commercial real estate, is the personal storage industry. All those buildings on the edge of Auckland city devoted to storing people’s excess stuff. The researcher into the huge growth of the storage industry tells us that the three drivers for this are death, divorce and dislocation – a growing number of transient people who don’t identify with any community.
The real estate people agree with Jesus. The connection between some of our most devastating life experiences and our accumulation of stuff.
Could that be Mammon talking to us. Do we in some deep way associate our value and significance, our security with how much stuff we have?
These teachings are difficult but it is really important to remember that this is the Gospel. All Jesus’ teachings are good news. And so the two things we are not to do when we come across difficult teachings is to give up or to indulge in some sort of triumphant self-righteousness. We are neither so bad that we cannot follow Jesus nor so good that we don’t need to.
What is Jesus asking from me at this point in my life? What change? What repentance is he asking from me?
There are two parts to our reading this morning.
One is about wealth. One is about worry.
My grandmother would tell me that while money doesn’t make you happy, if you are going to be miserable , money at least means that you can be miserable in comfort.
But our scriptures are saying why allow worry to dominate in your life at all. In fact Jesus goes further than that. The worries we feed on actually undermine our joy, our love and our most important relationships- with God and one another.
Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.
We can easily misread this text. Believe in God and then you’ll get the gold watch. It is the heresy of the prosperity Gospel.
First of all let’s remember that we stand on the shoulders of martyrs. People have given their very lives for their faith in Jesus. In our comfort we forget that Christians are some of the most persecuted believers in our world. The people hearing this text, in that cave in Antioch persecuted dislocated, would have know all too well the cost of following Jesus.
Strive first for the kingdom of God, it’s all about following Jesus in his concern for the poor, his kindness, and hospitality love acceptance . These things of eternity. And all these things will be given to you. It’s about the new life, the abundant lif, those early Christians found in their new community that came to be called the church. The depth of friendship, the sharing of resources, the caring for those in need, the new found security they discovered from one another.
The plastic bags in the ocean, my blood test results, the septic tank, my roof rack , what am I going to wear, have I got enough bread for lunch, did I get that lasagne out of the freezer, the rates the insurance. The children – I almost forgot the children. And the dog. How could I forget the dog ? And her birthday. Anything else I’ve missed off the list?
So many things to get in the way.
And Jesus looks at us and says. What are you really worrying about ? You are loved beyond measure. You have the promise of an eternal inheritance, you are my children. Too many things are getting in the way. Seek first the kingdom of God. These other things, as important as they are, will find their place if first you come and follow me.
So, three things this morning.
The practical thing. Let’s look around and see the things that ‘moths can eat’ and ‘rust (or rot or corrosion) destroy’ in the end. What don’t we need anymore? What do we have that we do not ever use? Consider giving it away, sell it, use the money for something worthwhile. Bring it to Free Week!
The second thing is to pray for discernment. Is my attachment to things getting in the way: of my relationship with Jesus, with my family, with other people?
And the third. Striving first for the kingdom. What am I using my time money and gifts for? The gifts of the spirit provide a pretty good benchmark. Love, joy, peace patience kindness goodness and self-control. Are these things part of my life?
To worry less, and to love more, might be the two most important things we can do as we seek to follow Jesus.
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