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Message Supplement for Sunday 22 September 2019: “Does Money Manage You?”

Today’s message addresses shrewd financial dealings by a crooked manager (Luke 16: 1-13).

The story begins as Jesus discusses a rich master whose money manager was stealing. The master confronted the manager and told him to explain what was going on. Knowing that his crime would soon put him out of a job, the manager acted cleverly by cutting the debts owed by his master’s customers. The wicked manager did this because he wanted to appease potential new employers.

When the master discovered his crooked manager’s crime, something unexpected happened: praise. Yes, the master congratulated his corrupt manager for his shrewdness in cutting the owed debts. Then to emphasize the point, Jesus says in Luke 16:9 to “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth . . . .” Jesus’ words are something to wrestle with, and another powerful statement comes in a subsequent verse: “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13).

The stark choice to either serve God or wealth remains valid and relevant since ancient times. Sadly, the earth seems to have an insatiable thirst for wealth and the greed which drives it. Most things in life boil down to riches and all the irresistible allure swirling around power and purse. Even more curious is that many Christians crave wealth and succumb to its temptations as much as non-Christians. What’s up with this?

Humans are driven to obtain what they want no matter the consequences. As creatures caught between earth and heaven, people are faced with the choice of one of two masters:  wealth or God. We might question whether the choice is a simple black/white matter, but the point is that we often need to choose between what enhances life and what destroys it. Each of us are facing the same questions: Do you control your money or does your love of money control you? And second, is wealth a master toward which you should sacrifice yourself?

Money feeds the world system, but people of faith are supposed to be serving God and goodness rather than gold and glitter. It’s easy to preach about this but it is far more difficult to struggle against culture’s twisted norms.  Christians have said much about how to serve God but history reveals that too many who’ve spoken about God have done a remarkably poor job representing the Christian faith. Sadly, the Church has earned its reputation as a hideout for hype and hypocrites. Part of the solution involves helping people live in a manner that at least matches their talk in church, and then perhaps the Christian message will resonate more authentically throughout humanity.

Money is crucial and developed economies can’t function otherwise. Even Jesus paid his taxes without complaining about big government. But admitting the necessity of money doesn’t justify overstating its importance. As if the love of money doesn’t cause enough trouble, using money irresponsibly compounds the trouble. All this reveals a need to teach people proper wealth management. The church must do better to promote financial responsibility and accountability.

What about the so-called “health & wealth” gospel, a form of which claims that your religious faith is a gateway to prosperity. Critics claim that the health & wealth gospel creates a caricature of God as a cosmic sugar daddy. On the one hand, there’s a long record of righteous people who have been poor and destitute by worldly standards (including most of the saints and apostles). On the other hand, the Bible teaches to ask through faith such that God will provide your heart’s desires. It is often through a creative and tenses interplay of opposite positions that illuminates life’s journey.

People who enthusiastically claim God’s blessings often believe that as their joy and hope rise, so also can their sense of being blessed. All of this may contribute to a spiritual and emotional state that ultimately leads to financial and material wealth. It’s not that God is guaranteeing wealth and riches—far from it!—but the people who are transformed in their thinking and behaving may, by virtue of their spiritual and emotional renewal, become more productive and receptive to all sorts of earthly and heavenly blessings.

Church traditions and biblical stories can support either side of the health & wealth argument. Yes, promises abound for those who follow God. Yet there’s the image of Jesus crucified, demonstrating that even the son of God can be treated horribly and die a grisly death. So, the encouragement is to pick your point of view wisely knowing that there are powerful arguments on the other side. The danger in all this is that there will always be a Bible passage or theological argument that can be manipulated for almost any purpose, to support any position that promises to give you what you want at little or no cost.

People of integrity may rightly reject a God conceived as some sort of dollar dispensing machine. But don’t feel that you must react too far in the other direction by throwing out the spiritual baby with the blessed bath water. You can be creative and flexible in how you define prosperity. If you prosper because of your intimacy with God then no one can legitimately claim you’re doing wrong. Critics may condemn you out of jealously and envy but that shouldn’t undermine confidence in your blessings.

Wealth addiction is especially dangerous, Jesus warned, because it becomes a master, twists thinking, and turns people away from fulfilled living under God’s love and truth. Therefore the truest riches are those that rust and moth don’t corrupt, and that thieves don’t break in and steal. Where is your treasure and what are you doing to become rich under God’s plan of life and financial management?     –Reverend Hoxey

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