Preacher: The Venerable Peter Lock, Archdeacon (2001-2009)
12 August 2007, 10:30 (Trinity 10)
The headline in yesterday’s paper had a certain chill to it. ‘City hit by biggest crisis for a decade. Shares slump amid worldwide panic. Property prices and jobs may be hit.’ 1 The story was of course about the £56 billion which was knocked off London’s leading firms as the FTSE index dropped nearly 700 points over the last month. Other stock markets lost similarly worldwide. It may seem a strange starting point for a sermon, and indeed some may echo the Catherine Tait schoolgirl character so well mimicked by Tony Blair ‘ Am I Bovvered?’ Well yes I am if
my pension and savings are going to drop significantly. The only gain the pundits suggest is that my mortgage may not go up. Some also may say what has that got to do with faith in Jesus Christ on a Sunday morning? What is the connection between the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is about personal salvation and my relationship with God and the Stock exchange and money markets around the world? I think my answer would be – quite a lot, actually.
Perhaps it’s worth saying that Jesus made more references about money and possessions in either direct or story form than he did about sex, for money expresses value, and as St Paul said, the love of money is the root of all evil. 2 And in today’s gospel Jesus acknowledges that ‘where your treasure is will your heart be also’ 3 , which the more you think about is as much a warning as an observation.
We know of the power or money to do good and create wealth. We have more material goods in our generation than any before us, and I think it’s on record that this country possess more mobile phones per head of population than any other.
We also know of that money can seduce people into actions which will lead to the ruin of others, if not of themselves. Even Jesus himself was to know that there was a price on his head – 30 pieces of silver. 2 I Tim 6.10 3 Luke 12.34
Corporate money too can help or hinder poorer nations in their battle against not only disease but debt, hence the importance of the G8 conferences. Now I am no economist (that’s obvious)– and I’m not coming at this from that angle – I wouldn’t dream of that – I have enough difficulty reading church accounts now that they seem to have got more complicated through the demands of the Charity Commission and the new acronym SORP. I come at this from
the perspective of the faith I follow, and it is obvious that money and its use is an important part of our stewardship of God’s creation. We believe in God who entered into human life. The incarnation of Jesus Christ in human history was to raise the profile of human life and relationships to a new level. Matter matters. So does money.
And in our gospel reading today we are challenged to sell our possessions and give alms. It sounds a crazy thing to do, for if we sell everything and give away all we possess we then become dependent on others. Nothing is solved. But maybe Jesus was leading up to his next observation which I have already quoted – ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ That was what he was wanting to get across to his hearers, and in a typically rabbinic way of teaching by expressing extremes, he got home the truth underlying the whole of his teaching contained in this chapter of Luke, which is what it means to live by faith. For the Christian the real treasure is actually your faith, for it is faith which governs the very way we live and our understanding of God and love itself.
Throughout the gospel story we hear of people taking a new and radical view of life through faith in Christ. The fishermen who left their nets took an enormous risk that was going to affect their livelihoods. No fish meant no money. Zachhaeus the tax collector who had made a lot by overcharging people (love of money again!) having entertained Jesus to a meal in his house vowed to return to them fourfold what he had taken from them. I bet that went down a bundle with the kids when they learnt they wouldn’t be getting the usual allowance from dad!
Of course the treasure they had found was a faith that was real and rooted in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Their personal faith then led them onto revaluing their attitude to everything – their relationships, their understanding of God, of humanity, their responsibility to the state, whether they should pay taxes (you remember the trick question that Jesus was asked another reference to money which I think he took seriously and said you pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s?).
For the Christian today I would surmise that there are a number of areas which we have to follow as far as our money is concerned.
1. The old chestnut – that our money isn’t our own. We hold all things in trust to God. ‘All things come from you and of your own do we give you’ words often used at the offertory in the eucharist. We remain accountable to God for all that we have, not just in money but in whatever we own and whatever we earn, in all the gifts and abilities he has bestowed on us. We are stewards of his creation. We have a responsibility to do all that we can to support ourselves, but the use of our money does not end there. Charity might begin at home but it doesn’t end there. We are stewards.
2. We are to be generous in what we do with all that we have by giving in ways which will enhance and help others who are in need. In our day and age this will always have a financial implication, which each one of us needs to calculate and enjoy spending on others. And that calculation is based on how much we respond to the generous love of God. Too often I suspect that we consider that calculation rather like someone who when asked what he did as far as giving money to the church was concerned replied: ‘I throw it all up in the air. What God wants he keeps and I keep what falls to the ground’.
3. If we take seriously fair trading then we may have to pay more so that others get a fair wage. Of course, fair trading is not only confined to our dealings with third world countries. It takes in the Stock Exchange too. Those whowork in that area of life carry a great responsibility as has been implied by what the papers were reporting yesterday.
4. Faith in God leads us to trust him. Maybe we have to live more simply that others may simply live as Dean Edward Patey once said some years ago. One of our leading building society often advertises on TV with a jaunty little number that ends with people forming a big blue cross. It’s as if X marks the spot where the treasure is. For the christian that takes on another dimension. The cross of Christ is the place where true treasure lies. He is not buried treasure but risen – his selfless love is the measure of our wealth and the guide for our giving.