Summary: Money may actually distract us from Kingdom priorities. Some things money cannot buy are compassion for the needy, passion for the lost, and love for one another.
I begin this morning with an invocation from my favorite poet,
the bard of Baltimore, Ogden Nash, who addressed our
favorite god in prayer:
“Oh, money, money, money; some may think thee holy.
But I cannot figure out how thou goest out so fast and how
thou comest in so slowly.”
Ogden Nash, like most of us, found that there is generally
more month than money, and so considered himself poor.
But of course he was not poor, and neither are you and I.
Yes, some of us are in financial distress. Yes, some of us
need a jobs or maybe a better job. But few if any of us are
destitute; I know none of you in hard-core poverty. In fact,
by the standards of much of the world, we are rich. We have
enough; maybe not as much as we owe, and certainly not as
much as we would like. But we are not poor; we are rich.
And yet in some ways we are poor. In the places where it
counts we are impoverished. There some things we really
ought to have, but which money cannot buy.
The Apostle John is now an old man, exiled on the Isle of
Patmos. He lets his eye wander to and fro among the
churches of Asia, and he comes to the church at Smyrna.
Smyrna was one of the finest trade centers of the ancient
world. Smyrna was wealthy enough to have constructed an
immense temple to venerate the emperor Tiberius. Smyrna
was where merchants from every direction converged.
Anything made anywhere in the Roman Empire you could
buy at Smyrna. Any whim you might have could be satisfied
in the trading stalls of Smyrna’s marketplace. Silks from the
far east, spices from the islands. Gold from northern Africa,
beasts of burden from Egypt. Slaves from the interior of
Ethiopia, timber from the forests of central Europe. It all
came together in Smyrna. They were rich there, filthy rich.
Smyrna’s people thought that money could buy them
anything they wanted.
There was a church in Smyrna. One of those little bands of
Christian believers planted by missionaries. Only a few
years before the good news had come to Smyrna, and now
there was a church, well established, on its way, with a fine
tradition and good people. A bright future for that church,
because even though the politics of the Empire were hostile,
still these Christians had resources. They could have hung
out on their little corner of the city for a long time to come,
with no immediate problems. But the Lord of the church
speaks to them and suggests that wealth is not all they
suppose it is: “I know your affliction and your poverty, even
though you are rich.” I know more about you, brothers and
sisters, than you think I know. And I know that despite your
bank accounts, you are poor. In the things that I measure,
says the Lord of the church, you are poor.
There was a church in Takoma. One of those many bands
of believers planted on nearly every corner of the capital city.
Well established, with a fine tradition and good people. The
pastor there at Takoma loved to talk every year at annual
meeting time about the bright prospects for its future. He got
very caught up in statistics. He liked to remind this church in
Takoma that they had three million dollars worth of property,
they were out of debt, and they had thousands of dollars in
invested funds. He especially loved to tell the people at
every business meeting how much better they were doing
financially this year than last year. But the Lord of the church
spoke to him, this pastor, and said, “I know your affliction
and your poverty, even though you are rich.” I know more
about you than you think I know. And I know that despite
your bank accounts, you are poor. In the things that I
measure, says the Lord of the church, you are poor. So
pastor, tell them: there are some things their money cannot
For example, money cannot buy compassion for people in
need. Money cannot make you love people. People need
things and put claims on us, and sometimes we don’t like
it. They want things. They need expensive stuff. Children
want shoes. Young adults want a college education. Wives
want to be clothed and husbands want to be fed. Where
there are people, there are wants. And you may have the
resources to pay the bills, but that is not the same thing as
having a compassion for the needs of people. Money cannot
I sit on the boards of a couple of organizations that were
formed to meet certain human needs. But the leaders of