February 27, 2011. Eighth Sunday after Epiphany. Emily Guthrie

posted Mar 2, 2011, 2:04 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Mar 2, 2011, 2:37 PM by Terry Brady ]

Midnight Financial Worries, Monday Morning Decisions 

& The Promise of our Faith

Matthew 6:24-34

Let us pray:

Creator God, help us to live as if we abide in the palm of your hand, that we might let go of our anxiety and embrace that we are valued beyond our imagination.   Amen

It’s 3:00am. And you’re awake.  

‘I haven’t saved for my children’s college education… ‘ 

‘I can’t afford shoes for my child whose feet just keep growing…’

‘How am I going to pay down this insane credit card debt?  I wonder if anyone knows I am living on borrowed money.’

‘I haven’t saved for retirement, shoot I can’t pay my bills today.’

‘I don’t know how long I can afford to live on my own. Where will I go? ‘

‘I can’t afford to go see my brother in Kansas, but I have to, I’ll worry about the credit card debt later.’

‘What will happen when we can’t afford round the clock care?’ 

‘What if I can’t find a job? Will I be able to afford a place to live?’

‘How is it possible that healthcare costs so much?’

‘What will happen to my family if something happens to me?’

‘What’s my problem, everyone else seems to be making it just fine! God! I’m such a failure.’

Well, does any of this sound familiar?  

We worry. And I think it is a rare person who does not worry about money, some of us secretly, some of us openly, some of us less, and some of us more.  Some have a goal of getting to a place “where they don’t have to worry about money.” But then you have to hire someone to worry about your money! (And trust them.)  You might say that many of us obsess about money, it drives our decision making, our sense of well-being, and if we’re not aware, our very sense of value in the world.

We live and breathe in a society where we are often evaluated by our monetary worth.  Our success is determined by our value in the marketplace.  Even coming here week after week, it takes a great deal of energy to think otherwise, to live otherwise, doesn’t it?  The gospel this morning starts with a stark pronouncement: “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Or using the original Aramaic word, which is familiar to some of us from the old translations: “you cannot serve God and mammon;” mammon, meaning money and possessions.  

It’s one of those “sayings” of Jesus that is so difficult to carry into our Monday – Saturday lives, isn’t it? It’s relatively easy to affirm on Sunday morning that “I serve God” or “I am going to try to seek God’s righteousness” but on Monday when the gas bill comes and we’re short, or on Thursday when we are faced with budget decisions at work, or on Friday when we have to decide if we can afford a vacation, or for some of us who on any day stand in the grocery store and wonder if we can afford to feed our children. In the midst of any of our myriad daily acts of buying food and balancing our checkbooks, of selling and acquiring, the power of money and possessions challenges our Sunday hopes.  

What an incredible Gospel passage – brilliant in its understanding of the human predicament. We are anxious about money, and it gently affirms that these aren’t abstract questions: we need clothes, food, shelter, and money to care for ourselves and our children. It recognizes that we worry. We worry about these things and more.  We fear that we are not valuable.

We cannot serve God and mammon; therefore, Jesus posits, if we are caught in our worries about money, about how we will live and get by. When we are stuck in that place of anxiety over whether we have enough today, or if we will have enough tomorrow, regardless of the level of ‘enough’, we effectively serve our money and possessions and whether we recognize it or not, have pushed the holy to the side.

But does this passage mean we shouldn’t be concerned at all about money? We shouldn’t plan for the future? We shouldn’t worry about saving?  Will God just provide? This always reminds me of my college chaplain who during exam week would remind us in his booming voice “God will give you strength for your exams, but God will not be doing the studying!”  No, something else is going on here than the idea that God will pay our gas bill.

As Jesus suggests, if we strive first for the Kingdom of God that it just may assist us in letting go of our worry, putting in perspective our fears of how we will live…and free us to make those hard choices and face those difficult days with courage. Striving first for the Kingdom affirms that our value is not based on our net worth but our identity as beloved children of God.  We are valued – more than the glorious birds of the air – and that value cannot be changed by the amount of money in our pocket or in our 401k. Our value is not determined by what we have but by who we are as children of God. 

Perhaps the promise put forth here is that if we embrace our value, our true value, and know it deep in our souls, our relationship to money and our possessions changes. Seeking the radical ways of the kingdom opens our hearts to be aware, to be conscious of how all parts of our lives, including our money and possessions, fit into this primary identity as the people of god.

 When we live as if we are held in the palm of God’s hand, valued in this most fundamental way, how will this affect our daily journey? For me, knowing that I am not valued by my money – I’m freed to actually talk about my money! I’m incredibly privileged to do work here – and be paid by all of you in your generosity.  I am privileged to have a husband, a life partner who contributes to our household needs. So in turn I must wrestle, as I think we all are called to, to examine the intersection between our Sunday and Monday lives – and consider our relationship to our money.

As many of you know, I am paid $52,000 to work for and with you all – and paid healthcare and benefits.  So what percentage of this money can I afford to give back to this community? To give to those who cannot afford to pay for basic needs? Even thinking through this question reveals my position of privilege not poverty, even with those midnight worries about college payments and retirement plans and aging parents. Jesus might be on to something:  When we strive for the kingdom, knowing that our value does not depend on our wealth, we put our money and possessions in perspective. We can then talk about money without embarrassment, without shame, without fear that we might offend, or be exposed as having little, or much, or judged as irresponsible or uncompassionate. We are freed to encourage one another to make choices about how we make and spend our money that better reflect those kingdom values.

Something shifts in our orientation of life when we breathe in the spirit and breathe out our worries. Money loses its grip on us when we live as if we were valuable – more valuable than we can imagine – as glorious human beings. And I look out and see glorious human beings, generous and loving, particularly when we as a community stand up and claim again and again that no one, no one is worthless.

 We cannot serve God and wealth. Then whom shall we serve? Let us hear the gospel today with open hearts, honestly acknowledging where we are with our money, and take the gospel into our daily lives so that it might relieve our worries (whatever time they may occur), ooze into our Monday morning decisions, and free us to explore a new way of living. Let us struggle together to seek first the way righteousness, the way of justice, love and mercy, so that we can claim our value and out of this great abundance, be freed to serve the people of God with our hearts and our money!