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Sunday Message Supplement for 18 September 2022: “Money Matters”

MESSAGE SUPPLEMENT

The scripture for today’s message is Luke 16: 1-13

Today’s message has Jesus telling a story about a rich man with a corrupt money manager. The wealthy man confronted his bad manager after discovering the ruse. Knowing that his corruption would soon put him out of a job, the bad 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 the manager’s duplicity, 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 . . . .” This seems to contradict Jesus’ claim that “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13).

People throughout history have developed remarkably creative ways to manipulate wealth in their favor. Jesus’ apparent encouragement to make friends from dishonest dealings suggests that wealth can be a means to more than just a fat bank account. Perhaps Jesus meant that making friends can lead to good things, hence the ends (building relationships) justifies the means (financial trickery). This interpretation doesn’t jibe with the vast majority of Jesus’ other teachings so we’re left with yet another intriguing mystery.

Not surprisingly, the lust for money is a prevalent biblical topic. The stark choice to either serve God or wealth remains valid and relevant. Many matters 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?

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 live contrary to culture’s twisted norms.  Christians have said and written much about how to serve God yet too many of the faithful fail to be ethical money managers. As a result, the Church has earned its reputation as a hideout for hype and hypocrites.

Humans are driven to obtain what they want no matter the consequences. As creatures caught between earth and heaven, between evil and virtue, humans 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. Do you control your money or does your love of money control you? Is wealth a master toward which you should surrender yourself?

Part of the solution to wealth addiction involves helping people live in a manner that is more humanitarian and compassionate. Money is crucial and civilization can’t function otherwise but that doesn’t mean that money should be worshipped as if it were a god. And regarding sharing the wealth, even Jesus paid his taxes without complaining about big government.

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 injustices and inequalities. All this reveals a need to teach people proper wealth management. People of faith must do better to promote financial responsibility and economic accountability.

Now consider the so-called “health & wealth” gospel, a huge component of modern Christianity that claims 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 (including the saints and apostles). On the other hand, the Bible teaches to ask for anything through faith and God will provide your desires.

People who enthusiastically claim God’s favor often assert that they will also reap financial blessings as some sort of divine reward. It’s not that God is guaranteeing wealth and riches—far from it! People transformed in their thinking and behavior may, by virtue of their spiritual and emotional renewal, become more productive and receptive to all sorts of earthly and heavenly blessings. You aren’t guaranteed prosperity but by cultivating spiritual intimacy with the Almighty you may also be set to make superior financial decisions.

Church traditions and biblical stories can support either side of the health & wealth argument. Yes, promises abound for those who follow God. Yet also be reminded that Jesus was crucified. This means that even the son of God can be treated horribly and die a grisly death. Jesus overwhelmingly taught that spiritual riches are far more important than worldly wealth and that more often than not, the latter can overshadow or even prevent the former.

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 tainted bath water. You can be creative and flexible in how you define prosperity. If you thrive because of your intimacy with God then no one can legitimately claim you’re doing wrong. Critics may condemn you out of jealously 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 spiritually rich?

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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