Summary: God wants us to view money as a gift from him and to be used in God-pleasing ways.
The Apprentice. Have you heard of that reality show now in its second season? The host of The Apprentice is the New York-based real estate tycoon, Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has gathered the supposed best and brightest business executives and given them the chance to compete for the opportunity to work for him for a six-figure salary. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of a couple of episodes but it’s clear to me that greed is what motivates the players on the program. For example in one episode the two teams competed to see who could come up with an ice cream that would sell the best on the streets of New York City. One team decided they could sell more ice cream if they made it known they were donating a portion of the proceeds to a charity. It was obvious that they really didn’t care about the charity; they were just using it to sell ice cream and win the competition.
Let’s be honest, money is a big part of our lives too isn’t it? Even we, who claim to be followers of Jesus, often show ourselves to be more “apprentice” than “disciple” in our attitude towards money. Our text today illustrates the dangers of loving money and urges us to be more “disciple” than “apprentice” in regard to it.
The Israelites of 750 B.C., the people to whom the prophet Amos spoke, lived for making money. So much so that it made God sick. Their love for money led them to trample the needy and toss the poor aside like garbage (Amos 8:4). While I’ve never physically trampled the poor (at least not that I can remember), I am ashamed to admit that I have walked by them without giving them much more thought than the trash that litters the sidewalk. By nature that’s how self-absorbed I am. This self-centeredness becomes most obvious when people ask me for financial help. I’m reluctant to part with my money, not because I think the person asking for it may abuse it or doesn’t really need it, though that’s often what I hear myself say. I don’t want to part with my money because deep-down inside I think I’m entitled to keep every penny I’ve worked for.
That attitude is definitely more “apprentice” than “disciple” isn’t it? To begin with, the money we have is not ours; it’s God’s (Ps. 24:1). One way in which God wants us to use his money is to be open handed to those who are in need. Now that doesn’t mean we should give cash to every person who asks for it. Sometimes that would be harmful, especially when we don’t know what that cash will be used for. Let’s not use that as an excuse, however, not to give. There are many other ways to show kindness to the poor. We can give to the local food bank. When we do, let’s not just give the canned goods we find stashed way back in our cupboards, you know, the ones we’ll never use anyway. What would that say about our attitude towards the people who make use of the food bank? It certainly doesn’t say that we love them as we love ourselves. Instead why not make a point, even a habit, of buying groceries for the food bank?
“But Pastor, I already give all I can to the church. Isn’t that more important anyway?” Yes, God wants us to give our best to him but that doesn’t mean that disciples of Christ will give just to the church. We will also want to show our love for God by giving to help the poor around us. That will be easy to do when we remember the words of King Solomon: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD” (Proverbs 19:17a).
The Israelites of Amos’ day showed themselves to be more “apprentice” than “disciple” not only by their disregard for the poor, but with their constant thoughts about making money. Merchants who dutifully suspended selling operations during New Moon and Sabbath holidays, as God had commanded them to do, fidgeted through the worship services on those days wondering when they could get back to the business of making money (Amos 8:5a).
Does that sound familiar? Do we dutifully come to worship because we know this is what God wants us to do but while we’re here our mind wanders as we think about all the things we could be getting done at home? Instead of focusing our attention on the Scripture readings do we use this time to brainstorm new ideas to present to the boss or our clients? During the sermon do we count up the hours we worked last month and dream about what we’re going to spend our paycheck on? Although no one else may know that our thoughts are more “apprentice” than “disciple” when we are at worship, God does and he is not impressed. We really are no better than the people of Amos’ day are we?