a sermon based upon Luke 12:29-34
In our Lord’s Prayer, we say: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Isn’t it good to know that when you read the words on the good old American greenback dollar, not only does it say in BIG letters “In God We Trust”, but in the fine print we are assured this bill is “legal tender for all debts public and private”!
So, not only are our “debts” covered by the love of God and the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who forgives our debts -- Hallelujah, praise God! -- but (apparently, if they are to be trusted) by the full authority of the United States federal Treasury! All debts, public and private, can be alleviated if we just get our hands on enough cash!
Have you ever asked yourself: What is money? How’s it work?
I see it as “compressed time” -- or “solidified energy.” Let me explain: We are paid for our hours of labor, for the diligent application of our skills learned over time, and as compensation for the fact that we could have spent those hours elsewhere doing other things for other people. (!) The money I make is in exchange for the hours I gave up to serve the people and programs of Alpena’s First Church. For you, it’s the same principle… whether it is at Besser or at LaFarge, as a teller at the bank or a check-out clerk at Neiman’s, whether you are working for the sheriff or for the school system… or for whomever you make your hours and your skills available for “hire”. You are “exchanging” your hours and your skills for some agreed-to amount of money.
Because you pay my salary, I see my hours being compressed into cash-value; my energies are being solidified into an amount of currency, as a “medium of exchange”… which will be acceptable to others in society -- others, who do not come to this church, nor who expect me to perform any services for them directly. If they get some of my cash, that is enough for them. I don’t need to preach at them, or to counsel them, teach them or heal them. They accept the “compressed cash value” -- the “solidified energy” -- the money.
Using money as a “medium of exchange” frees us up to do things at a distance, to engage in commerce with vendors who would not otherwise barter with me. The notion of “singing for your supper” is a thing of the past. In today’s economy, we simply pay the singer in cash so that they can then go to the restaurant (or grocery store) of their choice to get their own supper for themselves.
Money is our “medium of exchange” -- the basis of our “trade-agreements” (in the original meaning of that word). We “trade”… That is, we exchange our products or services into money/currency, so that we can then “exchange” that cash/currency back into whatever goods and services that we want. Or we can save it.
Now, I know you knew all this. But perhaps you never really thought about it. Perhaps you never realized that your money represents your life -- accumulated by the sweat & toil of your brow, and all the hours you had to spend to earn it.
Perhaps it will help you get better control of your money if you think of it (as I do) as “compressed time” and “solidified energy.” Your energy! If you’ve traded your working hours for money, what you have in your checkbook is the sum of those hours and your talents, in a form that can be exchanged for something else. In other words, you can now choose how to spend it.
Because you work hard for that money, and it represents your life (all the hours you could have done something else!), spend it on those things that do the most good for the things you believe in. Let your treasure reflect your values… as Jesus indicates it will.
Food, shelter, & clothing for you and your loved ones (your aging parents and your dependent children) of course! That must be of first importance, for all of us… Basic needs for ourselves (and those who are dependent on us) to survive and to flourish. That’s job #1 for the money you earn. Don’t ever short the ones you love, or yourself!
Insurances & retirement savings follow in importance (in my opinion), because they will sustain those necessities for us (and for our loved-ones) when our income-potential ceases. I’ve got to admit: I’ll turn 65 in another month! Patty & I have to seriously consider how many more working years I still have in me! A sustainable pension (or annuity), as well as Social Security, take a lot of time to build up.
And don’t forget your necessary transportation expenses (car payments, gasoline, auto insurance) as well as some entertainment.
But once those four or five high priority items are covered, I urge you to consider: what do you value most? Spend the money, which you have spent your life gathering (or your ancestors spent their lives accumulating) on things that make a real difference to you. “Where your treasure is,” said Jesus, “there your heart will be also.” You can discern where your deepest values are… when you look at how you use your money.
We live our values everyday in a million little ways … mostly without even noticing! How we spend our money is like a snap-shot of what we value. So, what do you spend your money on? If you save it, ask yourself: to what end are you doing so?
Look at your personal family budget -- or if you don’t have one, just look at your typical “spending habits” -- and I think you’ll see that Jesus was right: “Where we put our treasure, there our heart will be also.”
How we use our money is an indicator that shows what we’re made of. Money is “a medium of exchange”. In other words, we use money to express ourselves & to demonstrate our values. We use it to buy stuff and to pay for things. We show our selfishness… or our compassion -- our personal priorities or our sense of human solidarity -- by what we choose to spend ourselves on. The idea is as simple as the phrase: we put our money where our mouth is.
Just last week, Boris Gerber announced on behalf of the Mission Committee that we collected $2,020 for Heifer International animals to help develop family farms and help to sustain villages around the world. (Wow!) That use of your money demonstrates your values… and will make a world of difference to those villages!
Similarly, just last week, following the interment of her Mother’s ashes in our Memorial Garden, Joie Truchan (Manitz) donated $500 to our church’s Mission Fund to help finance the Alpena County Drug Court, because that was something Joie knew that Phyllis Manitz would have supported. Generous gestures like that not only make a difference to the people who receive such gifts, it shows something about the values of the giver. We put our treasure where our heart is.
Generally people think fondly of money… We like to have it; and we’d like more of it, if possible. If we had a little more “disposable income”, a person could do more good, beyond merely covering our necessary bills. The more “discretionary wealth” we have at our command, the more of an impact we might have on those matters about which we are concerned… or supporting things that we value. Money is (as I said to the children) a publicly accepted “medium of exchange” – legal tender for all debts public and private.
Money itself, then, is not the root of all evil… unless we let it go bad. Money is just as able to do good… if the giver so chooses.
There is no doubt that, in our society, money talks! The problem is, we don’t always like what money is saying! Some people who have inherited a whole lot of money do not have the same values as the generations before them from whom the assets have derived. Sam Walton’s values, for example, did not pass along to his heirs at Walmart… He was proud to “buy American” but his children insisted that the vendors produce items more cheaply by moving their manufacturing overseas, primarily to China. Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s hamburgers, also would probably not have bought tomatoes from Mexico & elsewhere overseas, in order to avoid the extra 50-cents a bushel required by Wendy’s former Florida growers.
Money is not an end in itself; it is a “means” toward other ends.
Some of those uses of accumulated wealth may build-up the common good – like the world-wide philanthropic work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, or locally the Besser Foundation, the United Way, or in some small way our own Comstock Fund. But it is glaringly obvious that a great many uses of money (wealth) is being used to concentrate power in the hands of fewer and fewer people at the expense of many. Money talks. Have you been listening?
As I said, we are generally positive about having money, and most of us would like to have more of it! But, the “messages” that control our financial behavior may be based in a guilty feeling of having too much money… or on our fears of having too little.
The “reality” of how wealthy or how poor we actually are may have less to do with it than our memories from childhood and the messages that came with them. Let me give you an example, using (if I may) my own family:
My mother Dodi’s father, who worked for J.C. Penney and sold insurance -- saved every penny and put things away for a rainy day. My dad’s father, on the other hand -- a dirt-poor rancher & game warden -- wanted his family to have everything. And so, it was my mom who grew up worried about money, unable to spend it -- even though they had plenty -- while my dad grew up giving money away, even though they had little.
I grew up in that tension between my mother’s “frugal” money messages and my father’s more “prodigal” attitude. My mom wanted every bill paid in full as it came in; her side of the family bought insurance policies on all us kids as investments. My dad, on the other hand, put the family deep into mortgage-debt in order that we might live well in the present, knowing that he’d be good for it over time. Time payments would even things out. There is a lot of that notion (“buy it now, and pay for it over time” – “live on credit”) in our day! Many people are addicted to credit cards…. Maxed-out and paying exorbitant fees for the privilege of borrowing money at 20% interest!
To my dad, “debt” was a measure of how much people trusted him, enough to invest in him. My father’s financial hero was Walt Disney: who was $5 million in debt (at one point) to build DisneyLand, with just Walt’s dream to secure it, plus his good name on the line. For my dad, having a dream to pursue and having a good name -- a reputation of integrity -- would lead (eventually) to great things, regardless of the debts one had to take on along the way to get there. Debt, to my mom, on the other hand, was so fearful that we were taught to rinse out our paper cups and dry them for later use; we turned over our kleenex to use both sides of it!
When we went out to eat, we five kids learned it was best to order the cheapest thing on the menu, regardless of what we may have wanted to eat. In fact, that was where the “conflicting” messages about money came into clear focus for me:
While my dad read down the menu food-items first, choosing what he wanted; my mom read it from the price-side first, then looking to see what the food-item was. If it wasn’t altogether bad, she would choose the cheapest item on the menu.
I have inherited “money messages” from both of my parents, as well as from my own experiences… and from Patty’s, also – after all, my money is her money, too. Our house (for example) is held in joint-ownership as are our bank accounts here in Alpena and in California. My flamboyant disregard for money is kept well in bounds by Patty’s careful, frugal, fiscal attention to detail. (And I am grateful!)
Because my family lived in the biggest house in town -- in Cadillac it was the Cobb Mansion (built by the lumber baron of Wexford County), here in Alpena it was 240 State Ave (where Dr. Currier now lives) -- some folks thought we were rich. That’s because we “lived” rich, on beautiful property in a big house.
But because we were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, due to those mortgages & business investments, we couldn’t afford what our friends had. We couldn’t take trips as a family, like our friends did. We shopped at flea markets & rummage sales. I wore my brother’s hand-me-downs. He was just one year older than me, so I grew into them easily enough. (I wore Ron’s hand-me-down clothes every year from childhood through high school.)
My Mom once boasted to the neighbors that she had fed her family of seven for just 77-cents. Top-Ramen Noodles, freeze-dried with veggies and spices in a styrofoam cup. They were on sale for 11-cents a piece, at Cunningham’s Drug store… one for each of us… just add hot water! (I remember that meal... and I remember her boasting about it – about all the money she had saved!)
These are just a couple of my memories about money matters in my family. I share them as examples of how your own memories of money will tell you a lot, if you take a moment to step back… and see what they taught you about who you are (relative to earthly treasures) and about how “money matters” work in this world. I want you to take control of your money, instead of just letting old messages dictate the terms.
In today’s text, Jesus said: “Do not seek what you are to eat, and what you
are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek
these things! And your Father [God] knows that you need them. Instead, seek
his Kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the
“Sell your possessions, and give alms (that is, use your assets to do good).
Provide yourself with purses that do not grow old; with a treasure in the
heavens that does not fail; where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12: 29-34)
I believe that if we tend to our “purses” (that is, if we look after our cash) like the good resource it is supposed to be, we’ll have a healthy relationship with our money… and it will begin to grow over time -- taking care of us in our lifetime, and perhaps even able to look after our loved ones we leave behind. Remember, it’s your money! You own it; don’t let it own you! Don’t let it become your master!
There was another occasion in which Jesus said that no one could serve two masters, because we would inevitably love one and hate the other. We cannot love both God and material Mammon. So, I suggest (as Jesus did in today’s text) that we love God, and seek His kingdom above all else… which will allow our decisions about our material well-being, our possessions & money, to follow naturally.
In other words, Jesus gives us permission to spend freely where we WANT our heart to be, and trust that our heart will catch up. Your heart will follow where you place your values. So, don’t just give to those things that you already care about (as good as that is). Give to things that you WANT to care about. Ask yourself: ‘If I were the sort of person I long to be… what would I do? How would I spend my money?’ Then go ahead and do what you would do IF YOU WERE that sort of person. Put your treasure where you WANT your heart to be. And when you do (according to Jesus in today’s text) your heart will go there, too.
Everything I’ve said about my finances, I presume is most likely true for you, too. Above all, remember, it is your money! It is (in fact) your life that’s been compressed into cash-value… your energy and time that’s been “solidified” in tangible assets. Make use of it!
I pray that you will get control of your money… treasure it without fear, grow it without guilt, and use it for Heaven’s sake.