Matt 6:19-34; 1 Timothy 6:17-19
2nd Sunday before Lent
St Barbara’s 16.02.2020
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Over the last couple of weeks we have been looking at Jesus’ sermon on the mount – his call to his disciples to a whole new way of living, to a different rule of life. We started with the beatitudes, those encouragements to know ourselves (our need of God and value in Him), to love others through seeking justice, mercy and peace, and to hunger and seek after God. Last week, we thought about how we were to respond to difficult relationships – with generosity, courage and prayer. And this week takes us into another challenging area: our attitude towards money and possessions.
Before I became a vicar I used to work for the Christian international aid agency Tearfund. The work involved me spending time in poor rural communities, in Africa and Asia and South America, listening and helping people to think through what they could do to address their poverty. I usually began with the local church, one of the few functioning institutions in those communities. Over time, I began to learn that one of the most helpful questions to ask was simply this: “What is God doing among you already?”
The answers would vary from community to community, but they would often contain the seed for remarkable change. One group spoke of a women’s group that had begun to meet to help each other, not unlike our own Busy B’s at St B’s group. As the church and community discussed this, they became envisioned and excited to the point where they formed the whole village into small groups that could support one another. Another village torn apart by conflict identified the work of the church in peace-building as something that God seemed to be doing among them. Consequently, the whole village decided to get involved, leading to reconciliation and a more united community. Another group spoke of how a church in a neighbouring village had brought everyone together to build a water well, and now the village all had clean water. Inspired by seeing God at work in the neighbouring community, this village ended up building a school and a health clinic together.
The catalyst was to ask the question ”what is God doing and how can we get involved?”
When it comes to the question of our money and possessions, that may be a good first question for us to ask too.
In our gospel reading Jesus spoke of storing up your treasures in heaven, not on earth, where moth and rust destroy. The theologian Tom Wright helpfully points out that when Jesus talks about “heaven” here, he is not meaning a future place where we will go when we die – although that is an important aspect of heaven. Heaven here is meaning where God is right now, where his kingdom is growing and bearing fruit. Look for those places where there is evidence of God at work, and invest in those things. Use your money and resources to join in with the work that God is doing.
But that is not easy. For one thing it challenges us about what we value. Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We tend to use our money on the things that matter to us. Our bank statements can be indicators of what matters to us and what doesn’t – holidays, cars, family, housing, clubs and activities. If someone was to look at your bank statement, what would it tell them about what matters to you? Would they see things that value the kingdom of God? Now that may not mean your giving to church, though it may include that. It may mean the cost of fuel or the bus fare to visit someone in hospital; it may mean a higher food bill because you have given hospitality to a family member in need of support; it may mean the giving to a local charity who are doing great work amongst disaffected young people. The question is: does what we spend our money on reflect the value we place on God’s work in his world?
Jesus’ teaching challenges us about what we value. It also challenges us about how we see the world our world-view. We can view the world as full of threat and dangers, a world where we have to guard against every eventuality, because the worst will undoubtedly happen, a world where we have to hunker down, cling tightly to what we own, because who knows what could happen next. We can take a pessimistic, despairing view of life. In Jesus’ words, “if your eyes are bad (if you only choose to see what is bad), your whole body will be full of darkness”. Or we can view the world as a place where there is hope and opportunity to do good, where there are wonderful opportunities for us to get involved and make a difference, because God is already at work in our world. In Jesus’ words: “If your eyes are good, (if you are willing to look at the world with hope and faith) your whole body will be full of light.” When we look at the world like that, there is no end to the ways that we can use our money and resources in doing good. So a question for each of us is: do we choose to see the world with eyes of hope and faith?
Jesus sums it up by saying that you can’t serve two masters, you can’t serve both God and mammon, God and wealth. Mammon, wealth, ultimately wants us to use our wealth for our own ends, believing money is the thing that will keep us safe, happy, protected. God calls us to a different life: one where we see the potential for doing good and delight in doing so, allowing that to be our priority in the way we use our money.
But that may all sound quite scary. Our natural response, and certainly mine, is to say: If I live like Jesus is saying, what about having enough food to eat, what about having enough clothes to wear, what about having a roof over my head, what about my family’s needs?
But Jesus has already anticipated my concerns. He says: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink… or what you will wear.” Why? Firstly, he says, look at nature. Look at the beauty, the variety, the wonder of all the flowers in just a patch of wild grass. Look at the care, the attention, God gives to their delicate beauty, and these are just flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow. If God can care that much about flowers, how much more will he care about you and I, and meet our needs. Do not fret. God is a generous God who gives more abundantly than we can ever imagine. Trust in him.
Secondly, Jesus’ teaching opens up a window into his own attitude to wealth. For Jesus to talk about the lilies of the fields – the autumn crocuses, the anemones, the gladioli – and the birds soaring in the air – suggests that he was someone who delighted in the natural world, that he perceived beauty in creation and valued it and treasured it. Such things are not things that we can seize, nail down, own and secure. We can only own birds if we cage them, and then so much of their beauty is lost. We can only own a wild meadow if we sow one in our back garden, but it can’t really compare to the ones that are genuinely wild. Jesus delighted in the simple things, the things that are for free, nature and friendship; and things that are shared – parties, meals. Much of our anxiety can come from trying to hold on to things, securing them, guaranteeing things, when in fact our greatest joys in life come from things that can’t be bought: love, kindness, friendship, beauty. Don’t worry, Jesus says, you can always have the things that matter most.
And thirdly, if that may feel a little abstract, Jesus finishes on a very practical note. Who by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Worrying has little practical use. In fact it does us harm, not good. By all means, plan prudently and thoughtfully, but we are to place our futures into God’s hands, not spend our time worrying about them.
So how are we to sum up Jesus’ call to a different way of living when it comes to our money and resources. In Jesus’ own words, seek first his kingdom – look with eyes of hope and faith to see what God is doing in his world, and ask how you can use the resources God has given you to join in with it. And as you do so, there is no need to worry. God will take care of you.
Let us join in with the abundant, generous work of our God.