Wembley Downs Uniting Church
Into the Needle`s Eye (Revd Neville Watson) 25.5.2008
Reading: Matthew 6: 24-34
Money is a crucial issue in the scriptures. There is more about money in the New Testament than any other subject than the Kingdom of God, and even then (as in our passage today) the two of them are linked together. When we deal with the question of money we are not dealing with a few verses. We are dealing with a major theme of the Bible. So let’s start with some basic concepts 1. First of all let’s be clear what Jesus meant when he said `Blessed are the Poor`. Was Jesus sanctioning poverty? No way! Not for a moment! What he is saying is that the poor can look forward to not being poor, for that is part and parcel of the Kingdom of God – the world as God wants it to be. In Matthew’s gospel the danger of eulogising poverty is recognised and it is changed to Blessed are the poor in Spirit. Blessed are those who are not possessed by their possessions. Both approaches are important, and, in the end they are both about the same thing: our essential relationship to God and its consequences. You cannot love God and Money. You have to choose where your security lies. Where your treasure is, there is your heart also. The crucial issue of our day is our preoccupation with material things. It is destroying us at it and will destroy us. You can gain the whole world but if it is at the cost of life, true life – you are an idiot (and that is the actual word used in the story of the barn builder – fool, idiot.) This is the message of so much scripture. This is what Jesus is on about when he says `Blessed are the poor` – that our preoccupation with wealth in our society stands in the way of life in all its fullness. You cannot serve God and Money! You can’t have it both ways! For a rich man, a person hooked on wealth, for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven is like a camel going through the eye of a needle. 2. The next thing we have to be clear about is that the bible is about justice and those who carry the burden of human injustice - those without enough to eat and drink, without land or property or political voice. To suggest that God blesses the injustice that we see in the world today is blasphemy of the worst possible kind. The God of Jesus is a God of justice. The prophets we read this morning make this very clear. The prophets are those who feel for God and with God. They experience what God is going through. They experience what God is experiencing. They do not speak for themselves, they speak for God. Invariably their message is prefaced with the words `Thus saith the Lord`. And then they let it rip. `I take no delight in your sacred ceremonies… Spare me the sound of your songs…let justice flow like a river`. (Amos 5) ` Is this what you call a fast? The fast I require is to loose the fetters of injustice and set free those who are oppressed`. (Isaiah 58) There was no justice and when the Lord saw it he was displeased. He was outraged that no-one intervened`. (Isaiah 59) `What does the Lord require of you but to act justly, to love deeply and to walk humbly with God`. (Micah 6:8) The prophets made it crystal clear that God is a God of justice. What do we mean by justice? It is seeing that every child gets his or her due. Robert MacAfee Brown puts it clearly: `When society is so organised that any child is deprived of the things that he/she is entitled to have (such things as food, clothing, education etc) that society is unjust`. There is, of course, nothing new in this. Aristotle defined justice as `giving every man his due`. The UN Declaration of Human Rights says much the same thing. Paul expresses it as `A matter of equality`. Some see human rights as natural – whatever that may mean! The bible sees it as a God given right, that we live in an unjust society, and that things have got to change. The prophets leave us in no doubt about this. 3. What is the cause of this injustice? The bible relates it to anxiety, to fear of what might happen, to fear of what the future holds. I discovered the other day that the words `Do not be afraid` are found 365 times in the bible – one for each day of the year. It is a constant theme of Jesus. Do not be afraid. Do not be anxious. Jesus speaks of it in our passage in a figurative and poetic sense. Birds and flowers can be our teachers when it comes to our dependence on God. Those who put kingdom matters first will have their needs met. So, three points in introduction, 1. We are dependent on God for life – and life in all its fullness. 2. God is concerned about injustice in the world today and calls for change 3. The cause of our preoccupation with wealth lies with anxiety about the future. We are afraid. And the call of Christ is `Do not be afraid`. What then to do about it? In the light of Jesus’ statement that we cannot serve God and money, should we then give everything away? Clement of Alexandria tackled this question as early as the second century and came to the conclusion that such a practice was economically and socially unworkable. Not only would the giver then become a part of the problem of poverty but if everyone gave away what they had, within a short space of time the world’s resources would quickly accumulate in the hands of the few. The solution, according to Clement was to use one’s wealth as if one didn’t own it – which one doesn’t! Are there any simple practices that might help us personally to face up to the reality of wealth and injustice? Over the years, some of us have tried a number of practices. One has been tithing, the very old practice of giving to charity and Church a tenth of one’s net income. This is an Old Testament practice and with modifications still has a lot to recommend it. It is simple and easy to put into operation. The problem is that in the light of stories such as the Pharisee and the tax gatherer, and the widow and her mite, tithing doesn’t get a very good press in the New Testament. There is a further problem in that a tenth is of little significance to the wealthy, but it can be of huge significance to the poor. Another practice is the Zaccheus approach. Zaccheus you will remember gave half of what he owned to the poor. Some of us have tried, not giving away not 50% but only 1% of our net worth – and have been astounded at how large the sum is. It is an interesting exercise – to work out our net worth, the value of our house, the capital value of our pension etc and see what a miserable 1% comes to. You may be surprised. Yet another practice that some of us are using at the moment is to give due weight to the second commandment of `loving one’s neighbour as oneself ` and to give it a pecuniary aspect. The idea is that when one spends on oneself, one should also spend on one’s neighbour. This too can end in a rude awakening – especially when in a few days time Margaret and I leave on an overseas holiday. Practices such as these may or may not awaken us to the realities of our lives and the reality of the gospel. In the last analysis, however, it an issue of lifestyle – to recognise that how we live diminishes or increases our awareness of our basic relationship to God and our awareness of the injustice that is everywhere around us. What is the lifestyle we must adopt to make us aware of the two essential aspects of poverty – our poverty towards God and the unjust poverty of our neighbours. I want this morning to suggest that there are two basic issues concerning lifestyle (1) The first is to vigorously deny that God blesses the rich. This is a very popular heresy today. It lies at the heart of the mega churches like Hillsong whose Minister has written a book stating how wealth points to the blessing of God. Twenty thousand people attend Hillsong Services each week. The Pharisees of Jesus day also believed wealth was a sign of God’s favour. They looked to passages in the Book of Deuteronomy saying that, if you obey God you will be blessed in war, in the market, in the field and at home. Prosperity according to the book of Deuteronomy is a clear sign of God’s favour. Blessed are the rich. And on to the scene comes Jesus saying `Blessed are the poor`, and telling stories of the poor going to heaven and the rich going to hell. Any wonder that the relationships, to say the least of it, were somewhat strained! But Jesus doesn’t leave it there. He takes it further and says that the world’s preoccupation with wealth gets in the way of what has been called our greatest capacity – to relate to, to respond to, the ever present God seeking to bring peace, love and fullness of life to us and our world. `Where your treasure is there will your heart be also`. Or as Martin Luther puts it `Whatever is most important in one’s life is one’s God.` If the acquiring of wealth is our primary concern, then our relationship with God is not! This is a consistent theme of the New Testament. This is the context of our Gospel passage. The world may be preoccupied by wealth; Jesus is not. Rather than seeing it as a sign of God’s favour, Jesus sees it as a stumbling block. (2) The second aspect of lifestyle is to seriously consider how much we have, how much we need, and what we should do with the surplus. This is where the rubber hits the road, and it is no easy matter – as many of us have experienced. There are many within this congregation who have sought to put their money where their heart is, and who have found how complicated and difficult it is. The real issue, the real problem with respect to money, is our attitude towards it. This is in essence what Jesus is saying over and over again – and this is what the Church is or should be about. It is seeking first `The Kingdom of God` – the world as God wants it to be. The Kingdom of God is an alternative way of viewing reality. It offers us a whole new way of viewing the world and our life within it. We do not emphasise this enough - and let me emphasise as I have done so much of late that this is not so much a matter of the will but about a transformation at the heart of our being. Healing does not in the final analysis come by the will but by the heart. It is our attitude which is all important. What is really required is a change of attitude – and this is what I would suggest is the primary role of the church: to change attitudes. And this is why the Church’s budget is so important. To support the Church and its changing of attitudes I believe does far more than anything else. I am aware of course that many churches reflect rather than reject society’s attitude towards money. They spend it on themselves. I do not believe that this is the case in this church. I know of some people who support relief for third world countries but do not support the church. I understand their view but disagree with it. What is fundamentally required is a change of attitude. The real issue, the real problem is a change of attitude, a change of perception, a change of direction. And this is what the Church is about – conversion – a turning around, a facing in the opposite direction. In 1964 I spent a weekend at the Ecumenical Institute in Chicago. I cannot remember anything of what was said. What struck me forcibly was that at the beginning of the weekend the figure on the worship table was pointing in one direction at the end of the weekend it had been turned around. After the conference I asked the organiser why he hadn’t pointed it out, and he simply smiled and said, `If you don’t see it, you don’t see it`. I think that is probably true of most of life, of life itself. It certainly is true of money and wealth. We desperately need a change of attitude to money and wealth and justice and injustice. Where your heart is, there is your treasure also. Or is it the other way around? Where your treasure is, there is your heart. I doubt if it makes much difference. But it makes a huge difference to the words that I am about to say `Let us worship God with our offering.` Let us express the worthship of God with our money. Let us not make a God of our wealth. Let us worship God with our wealth. Let us worship God with our offering.
130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882
Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands, Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands