The Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Ecclesiastes 1. 2, 12-14; 2. 18-23; Psalm 49. 1-9; Colossians 3. 1-11; Luke 12. 13-21 (view all)
This week we had one of those days in the year which every household dreads — Car MOT day.
Because you never know how much the bill is going to be, whether they’re going to find something wrong which you hadn’t noticed or weren’t prepared for. And you find yourself asking, ‘Will there be enough in the bank account to cover it, or will it go on the credit card? Have we budgeted enough?’
‘How much is enough?’ — this is often our question when it comes to money, especially since we live increasingly in a world of consumerism, where we’re bombarded with messages telling us we need more.
So what does a Christian attitude to wealth and money, grounded in Jesus’ teachings, look like in today’s world?
Rather than focusing on the scarcity of resources, or what might happen tomorrow, how can we live our lives grounded and rooted in the generosity of God? Is it possible to live a different kind of life, set free from financial worries in order to live simply and love generously?
There are perhaps two opposite, but compelling impulses in our lives when it comes to money:
The first is like the greed of the farmer, who wants to store up as much as possible so he is able to enjoy it for himself — some of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, may be able to relate to this.
The second, though is about needing security and control — similar to my own worries about getting the car serviced, we worry whether what we have will be enough, and whether we will be ok if something unexpected happens.
Both impulses are the same, though, in their result — when we indulge them, they both can ultimately only lead to a life of worry, selfishness and obsession.
Instead, as followers of Christ we are called to place our financial dealings in the context of our relationship with God. As Paul writes to the Colossians:
Set your minds on things that are above, not on the things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.Colossians 3.2
Faith in Christ negates both our greed for more, and our desire for control — because firstly, like the greedy farmer, when we die we can’t take our wealth with us! As the unnamed Teacher warns in our passage from Ecclesiastes:
Sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it.Ecclesiastes 2.21
And secondly, even in the uncertainty of our world, we Paul assures us our lives are hidden with Christ. Ultimately, in every way that really matters, for all time and all eternity, Jesus Christ has made us safe — we have died with him, in order that we too might be raised with him.
We can attempt to plan for every earthly eventuality, we can manage every penny as carefully as possible, we can take out every possible insurance policy. But no matter what we do, no matter how much we have, ultimately as human beings we cannot save ourselves — only God in Christ can save us, and has saved us, by his cross and resurrection, in order to bring peace over all our earthly arrangements.
So, how then are we to live, as those who are raised with Christ?
We are to clothe ourselves with a new way of living, a new set of attitudes, a new set of priorities, which are vastly different to those of our world. We are to live in the world in a new way, freed to live more simply, to love more generously, to hold what we have lightly, with a firm grip instead, on Christ and his kingdom.
As one author wrote of the early Christians:
‘For [they] are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe… They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all… To sum up all in one word— what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world.’
(from ‘The Letter to Diognetus’)
What the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world.
How can we be the soul of the world in the way we manage, save and spend our money as individuals? How can we be the soul of the world in the way we manage our finances as a Ministry Area, prioritising God’s kingdom over our own need for security?
How can we be the soul of the world in the political choices we make, prioritising the needs of the poor and marginalised in our society over our own fiscal benefit?
Because ultimately no matter what we do we cannot take it with us, and we cannot save ourselves. Only Christ can save us, the one who emptied himself entirely in order to give of himself most fully, saving us from sin and death.
The one who has destroyed the old kingdoms of control and comfort, in order to inaugurate a new kingdom of compassion and generosity. Our wonderful Saviour, in whom and with whom, our lives are hidden in God forever.
My friends, as we come to the Lord’s table this morning, may we come rejoicing in the incredible gift of God’s grace, and, by the power of the Spirit, find ourselves set free to live simply and love generously.